Barbell Row Vs Dumbbell Row Which One Is The Best?

Barbell Row Vs Dumbbell Row The age old debate which..

Barbell Row Vs Dumbbell Row

Barbell Row Vs Dumbbell Row Which One Is The Best?

Barbell Row Vs Dumbbell Row

The age old debate which is the better Row, barbell or dumbbell?

In this article we will be going over each exercise, how they differ and then the final answer which one is better barbell or dumbbell.

Barbell and dumbbell rows are compound multijoint exercises that help develop a powerful, muscular back.

The Wolvesfitness system advocates heavy weights and low repetitions that put considerable stress on the musculoskeletal structure, emphasizing the need for proper technique to reduce the risk of injury.

Consult a certified fitness trainer if you are unsure how to perform any exercise.

Lets start with:

Performing Bent Over Barbell Row

Exercise Instructions
  1. Grab a barbell, load some weight on it and set it down in front of you.
  2. Stand with your feet at around shoulder width, bend at the knees, and squat down to grip the bar with and overhand grip (thumbs at the bottom) and your hands wider than shoulder width apart.
  3. Keeping your back straight, stand straight up so you’re holding the bar in front of you against your waist.
  4. To get into the starting position bend your knees slightly, and while keeping your back straight let the barbell slide down your thighs until it drops just below knee level. This is the stance that should not change throughout the set.
  5. Now pull the bar up to just below your chest.
  6. Squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top of the movement.
  7. Then slowly lower back to the start position.
  8. Repeat for desired reps.


​Bent Over Row Tips:

Make sure you bring the bar up to the correct position. Do not bring it up too high (to your chest) or too low (to your stomach).

Control the weight throughout the exercise. Don’t allow it to drop quickly and pause for a count of 1 at the top of the movement.

And finally (most importantly) keep your back straight! If you bend at the back, you’re using to much weight.

Keep your head up, and eyes looking forward throughout the whole movement. You might want to use a weight belt and squeeze the back of the belt with your lower back. This will ensure that you keep your back straight.

Do the bent over row in front of a mirror or get a training partner/personal trainer to check your technique.

Performing Dumbbell Row

Exercise Instructions
  1. Set up for the one arm dumbbell row by grabbing a flat bench and sitting a dumbbell on the left hand side at one end.
  2. Position yourself on the left side of the bench with your right knee and right hand resting on the bench.
  3. Using a neutral grip, pick up the dumbbell with your left hand. Pull your shoulder blade back while keeping your arm straight. This is the starting position for the exercise.
  4. Slowly pull the dumbbell up as far as possible.
  5. Pause and squeeze your shoulder blades together, and then slowly lower the dumbbell back to the starting position.
  6. Repeat for desired reps and then repeat for your other side.


​Dumbbell Row Tips:

Keep your head up and eyes facing forwards, as this will keep your back straight.

Your shoulder blades shoulder be pulled back throughout the set.

Do not let the working shoulder drop down at the bottom of the movement. Keep your entire torso fixed!

Pull the weight straight up while keeping your elbow tucked in. 

Focus on pulling the weight up with your back muscles and not your forearm.

Effectiveness of the Barbell Row

The barbell row, also known as the bent-over barbell row, is a challenging movement that engages your latissimus dorsi (or lats), rhomboids and trapezius.

Your body position forces the erector spinae of your lower back, as well as other stabilizer muscles such as your hamstrings, glutes, abs and obliques, to kick in to stabilize your body.

This reduces the effectiveness of barbell rows in developing your upper back, because energy and focus is diverted from the target area while firing your stabilizer muscles.

On the other hand the barbell row is crucial to gaining muscle and strength because you are able to easily apply the principle of progressive overload by adding extra weight to the barbell each workout.

Effectiveness of Dumbbell Rows

The dumbbell row works your lats, rhomboids and trapezius without the stress on your lower back associated with barbell rows, and your body position requires less activation of your stabilizer muscles.

You are able to focus more on the target muscles and achieve a greater range of motion, particularly the scapula retraction and depression that is essential for fully engaging your lats and rhomboids.

Weights and Variations

If you are an experienced weightlifter and can handle very heavy weights for the single-arm dumbbell row. Make sure you perform the exercise with proper technique and full range of motion to fully work your lats and rhomboids.

One disadvantage of using heavy weights is you may be a bit fatigued when you switch arms. Avoid this by working your weaker arm first.

Alternatively, do two-arm dumbbell rows by lying face down on an exercise bench with the incline set at approximately 60 degrees.

So Which is the Better Exercise?

As the bent over two dumbbell row is quite similar to the barbell row. It is more relevant to compare the one arm bent over row to the barbell row.

In terms of muscle recruitment, it seems that the barbell row recruits a slightly higher percentage (93%) of the lats than the one arm bent over row (91%) as determined by EMG studies – refer to article ‘Back Training’.

This however accounts for perfect form, which many trainers don’t exhibit, especially when they are lifting heavier weights.

Unfortunately barbell rows require such neural drive to maintain a correct posture throughout the exercise to prevent injury that it can actually detract the exercise.

The erector spinae, glutes and hamstrings can also be highly recruited as compensation, to the extent that there’s minimal activation of the lats, which are meant to be the focus of the exercise!

This problem is less of a concern when performing the one arm bent over row as you are already on a stable base.

By focusing on the one arm dumbbell rows, you can easily lift more weight.

In order to achieve structural balance, for every set of chin ups, complete a set of dumbbell rows.

Strong athletes will need heavy rows to achieve results.

You can vary this by using thicker gripped handles and thus your requirement for weight will decrease by 10-15%.

Both exercises should be incorporated into your workouts to vary the stresses it places on your muscles.

Greater stress can help provide better adaptations and to prevent plateaus.

As long as perfect form is utilized. Both exercises are similar in their ability to work the lats and to give you the massive back that will make you respected in the gym.

Daniel Messer, RNutr, CPT
Daniel Messer, RNutr, CPT

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