Rowing for Back Development and Why Elbow Positioning Matters


A row isn’t always a row

The positioning of the elbow and the path that it takes in relation to the body can dramatically change the part of the back being emphasized.

This is important to know because one, your lack of development in one area or your over development in another part of your back could prove to be helpful or hurtful to how you are performing your movements and two, if you care about how your body is shaped and proportioned, training smartly to put the muscle in the right places and not in others makes a world of difference.

Not always but generally when you keep the elbow tight to the side like how Howorth is positioned in the image you will be targeting the lat with some teres involvement. But if you were to bring the elbow out to the side more, away from the body, you’ll get the teres and mid upper back like the rhomboids and traps.

Don Howorth performing Dumbbell Row
Image: Don Howorth performing Unilateral Supported Bent Over Dumbbell Row

I love performing my rows how Steve Reeves performed them regardless if I am targeting the lats or the teres and that is leaning forward, keeping the torso down and not raising it as I row toward the body. It is best to use a variety of angles, grips, planes of motion when working any muscle and the back is no different. For a classic development, train classic and use variety.

Steve Reeves Cable Row Illustration
Image: Steve Reeves Cable Row Illustration
Don Howorth performing the Long Pull Row
Image: Don Howorth performing the Long Pull Row
Don Peters performing Vince Gironda Race Dive Row
Image: Don Peters performing Vince Gironda Race Dive Row
Larry Scott Instructing a Cable Row
Image: Larry Scott Instructing a Cable Row
Larry Scott performing Long Floor Pulley Pulls
Image: Larry Scott performing Long Floor Pulley Pulls
Mike Mentzer Unilateral Bent Over Supported Dumbbell Row
Image: Mike Mentzer Unilateral Bent Over Supported Dumbbell Row
Reg Park Supported Bent Over Bilateral Dumbbell Row
Image: Reg Park Supported Bent Over Bilateral Dumbbell Row
Reg Park Bent Over Barbell Rowing
Image: Reg Park Bent Over Supinated Barbell Rowing
Robby Robinson Supported Bent Over Unilateral Dumbbell Row
Image: Robby Robinson Supported Bent Over Unilateral Dumbbell Row
Vince Gironda performing Long Floor Pulley Pulls
Image: Vince Gironda performing Long Floor Pulley Pulls
Vince Gironda performing Low Pulley pull and Reeves Alternate Rowing, A Muscle has Four Sides
Image: Vince Gironda performing Low Pulley pull and Reeves Alternate Rowing, A Muscle has Four Sides
Vince Gironda performing Low Pulley Rowing from Racing Dive Position and Two Dumbbell Rowing aka Prone Bench Row, A Muscle has Four Sides
Image: Vince Gironda performing Low Pulley Rowing from Racing Dive Position and Two Dumbbell Rowing aka Prone Bench Row, A Muscle has Four Sides
Vince Gironda performing Low Pulley Rowing Racing Dive Row 45 Degrees Pulley Row, A Muscle has Four Sides
Image: Vince Gironda performing Low Pulley Rowing Racing Dive Row 45 Degrees Pulley Row, A Muscle has Four Sides
Vince Gironda performing Reeves Alternate Row, A Muscle has Four Sides
Image: Vince Gironda performing Reeves Alternate Row, A Muscle has Four Sides
Vince Gironda performing Two Dumbbell Rowing aka the Prone Bench Row, A Muscle has Four Sides
Image: Vince Gironda performing Two Dumbbell Rowing aka the Prone Bench Row, A Muscle has Four Sides
John Grimek Row
Image: John Grimek Bent Over Barbell Row

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