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What Muscles Do Barbell Rows Work?

What Muscles Do Barbell Rows Work?

Nicollette Guido |

What Muscles Do Barbell Rows Work?

If you want to build muscle in your back and tone your arms, you may be wondering, “What are the best barbell exercises to accomplish this?”. We’re here to announce barbell rows are the exercise you have been looking for.  

This highly effective lifting exercise builds upper body strength while simultaneously working core muscles and toning the lower body as you complete each rep.

Let’s take a look at the benefits of barbell rows, including which muscles they target and why adding them to your workout routine will help you get the upper body you’ve been dreaming of.

Do Barbell Rows Build Arms?

First and foremost, barbell rows build arm muscle. Regardless of if you choose to go with a women’s Olympic barbell or universal 45 lb bar, the combination of having to lift the barbell off the ground and then pull it in toward yourself is a movement that predominantly targets and uses your arm muscles.1 The secondary muscles in your back are also very much engaged, but the arms do the bulk of the work.  

Typically a set of barbell rows is executed without setting the barbell down. This means that your arms not only have to complete the reps, but they also have to continuously hold up the weight you are pulling in toward you and pushing out away from you.

This exercise, much like the bench press, builds muscle through controlled movement while also forcing the arms to stabilize and control the weight at each stage of the exercise.

How Many Barbell Rows Should I Do?

The amount of barbell rows you should do largely depends on the results you want to see. You’ll also want to try out different sizes of barbells to determine how much weight you should be lifting and for how many reps.

For example, if you are looking to tone your arms and sculpt your back, you should be doing barbell rows two to three times per week with moderate weight.

However, if you want to see noticeable changes in how big your arms are, then you should be doing barbell rows three to five times a week with as much weight as you can handle.

Typically three sets of 15-20 reps is considered a sufficient amount of time to spend on barbell rows, especially if you are incorporating other arm-building workouts to target this muscle group.

Remember, when attempting to build muscle, especially upper body muscle, it is important to diversify your strength training routine, so the muscles continue to accumulate mass evenly.  

What Body Part Do Barbell Rows Work?

In order to effectively answer this question, we must first establish that barbell rows can be executed with two different styles of grip. While the underhand grip is the more common of the two, there are those who prefer an overhand grip when participating in this exercise. 

According to the lifting enthusiast at BarBend, barbell rows that use an underhanded grip primarily focus on targeting the lats and the biceps.2 The pulling motion used to complete the barbell row, while the hand is facing the ceiling, almost mimics a smaller, more controlled bicep curl.

Additionally, when the hand is facing the ceiling, the secondary muscles in the upper back become less engaged, forcing the lats (the muscles that extend out from your neck across the tops of your shoulders) to quite literally do the heavy lifting instead. 

Alternately, the overhand grip does a better job at targeting the triceps and the mid-upper back muscles. The reason being as the grip shifts to being overhand, the arm muscles rotate in the arm socket, pushing the engagement away from the neck and shoulders and down the back.

Here is a basic distinction to help you easily understand the difference the two grips have on the muscle groups. An underhand barbell row forces the inside of the arms and shoulders to work harder, whereas the overhand barbell row forces the triceps and mid-back to work harder.

Are Barbell Rows Worth It?

Barbell rows, also called bent over rows, are a great lifting exercise for those who want to build lean muscle in their arms and back. Men’s Health is adamant that in addition to helping broaden the shoulders while adding definition to the back, and increasing arm size, this stimulating barbell exercise also helps to tighten and tone core muscle.3 Finally, barbell rows are excellent for helping with balance as they encourage a firm stance and steady feet, forcing the lower body to remain still while the upper body moves swiftly with big movement.

The dichotomy between the stillness of the lower body and the big movements of the upper body is what causes the core muscle to remain engaged. This engagement causes the abdominal muscles to contract and constrict, which in turn creates the stabilizing force the lower body needs to remain still. This is how the barbell row works the abdominal muscles to help with ab sculpting despite it being a predominantly upper body focused workout.

The real benefit of bent over rows is that even though it is an upper-body workout that targets the arms and back, the interconnectivity of this specific strength training workout makes it engaging for the entire body. Yes, there are certain target muscle groups that benefit more than others, but this exercise really benefits the entire body working the legs, abs, and upper body simultaneously to create a cohesive workout in one simple movement.

In other words, yes, barbell rows are absolutely worth it. Especially if you are using the proper equipment. Here at Tru Grit, we’ve crafted a wide variety of barbell products and bumper plates to help you get started or continue progressing in your weight lifting journey. Now that you know what muscles barbells work, you may be wondering, “What muscles do barbell squats work?”. Onto the next exercise!


Built With Science. How To Do Barbell Rows.

Barbend. Do The Bent-Over Barbell Row For Back Strength And Size.

Men’s Health. Build Major Back Strength And Protect Your Shoulders With Barbell Rows.