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Strength Training Technique: 8 Ways to Screw Up a Row

Written on October 31, 2012 at 11:45 am, by Eric Cressey

Today, I’ve got a video tutorial on common rowing technique mistakes for you:

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58 Responses to “Strength Training Technique: 8 Ways to Screw Up a Row”

  1. Robert Says:

    Great tips, my physical therapist advised me to use the row to assist my recovery from rotor cuff surgery. Could you demonstrate a proper seated row

  2. george Says:

    Eric,
    An excellent video. Very helpful for personal training! Perfectly stated without being too technical.
    Thanks,
    George

  3. Carolyn Says:

    Great tips, Eric. Lots that I’ll use on myself!

  4. ben Says:

    really, super good video. Man, I used to be guilty of every one of these. After years of reading the right people,and really learning to feel and know my body I _hopefully_ have gotten better. At least I’m conscious of this stuff now. I still am a little unclear of the last one where you mention doing an row improperly by using pretty much solely elbow flexion. If you could just expand on that a little. I’m not sure how to tell/feel if I’m doing a row with too much focus on elbow flexion, and I’m guessing therefor not sufficient back/lat usage.

  5. Eric Cressey Says:

    Thanks, Carolyn!

  6. Eric Cressey Says:

    Thank you, George!

  7. Eric Cressey Says:

    Robert,

    All of these cues are exactly the same for the seated row; you’re just in the seated position and using both arms simultaneously.

  8. Kevin Says:

    EC, do you prefer the standing one arm row to seated rows? Which would you choose as your primary option?

  9. Ulrik Larsen Says:

    Excellent 8 errors Eric! Very few people would have added keeping the elbow away from the body but we have always taught controversially that if the elbow is squeezed tight to the lateral trunk it will engage the lat in a quazi-stability role and depress the scap as you say. Leads ironically to poor lat development.

    Love all your scapulo-humera teaching. We call it “lurching” when the HOH anteriorly glides and the scapula downwardly rotates creating rhomboid dominance in the row.

    May I add two more errors? Kinking at the wrist into ulnar deviation or wrist flexion. Secondly having no thoracic rotation seems to me to be dysfunctional on a single arm row.

    Nice video love to meet you one day.

  10. McB Says:

    I’m consistently astounded with both the depth and breadth of your knowledge! Thanks. Been seeing a few differing opinions surrounding upright dumbbell rows. I’m guessing same mantra; it’s about “how” you perform them right?

  11. Chris Says:

    Eric, what sort of soft tissue work or stretches are generally recommended to help combat anterior humeral glide? Thank you.

  12. Nicholas St John Rheault Says:

    Great 1st Annual Clinic at CP, and it’s always great to have educational tools at the fingertips. Thanks to you guys for your time and expertise….

    Nicholas

  13. yogamaria5 Says:

    Great tips. I too have stopped using the cue “back & down”. I now cue, “upper back, back, wide and down” This seems to get my clients into feeling their back more as you said from the inside out.

  14. Jordan Syatt Says:

    Robert,

    It’s an old article but it’s still got fantastic information and Eric provides great videos of both good and bad seated row technique here: http://bit.ly/W8g5Vd

  15. Julio Romón Baillo Says:

    Great video Eric!

    Ever thought of upgrading your camera? Your videos would look better with hd quality, you know, so we can appreciate those rowing back muscles…

  16. Derrick Blanton Says:

    Unfortunately, I discovered these things the hard way. EC speaks the truth!

    For me, that anterior humeral glide gets more likely with TRX rows, or rows that allow active external rotation. That combination of humeral extension and external rotation is like a double force pulling the humeral head forwards, and also seems to promote that arms too close to the body position. A three-fer!

    So I usually do my rows pronated to a 45-degree angle. Humeral head out of the way, and seems easier to get the rear delts in on the mix as well.

    On the scaps, I always try to visualize myself as a puppet, and the strings are pulling right through the middle of the traps and rear delts. Not above or below, but right down Main Street. Seems to help.

  17. Eric Cressey Says:

    Kevin,

    Yes, I use the standing 1-arm cable row much more often.

  18. Eric Cressey Says:

    Great points as well, Ulrik; thanks for your contribution!

  19. Eric Cressey Says:

    Chris,

    Soft tissue work on pec minor and subclavius are good ones, but truthfully, it’s more of a stability issue. People just need to learn how to center the humeral head in the socket.

  20. Eric Cressey Says:

    Mike,

    I’m not really a big fan of any kind of upright rows.

  21. Ellen Stein Says:

    #7 looks like my 82 year old Dad…LOL

  22. Hidayat Says:

    great video! very applicable to my clients. this will add value to my personal training. Thanks Eric!

  23. Eric Ruth Says:

    I want to echo what McB said above. I’ve been watching your vids and reading your articles for a couple years. Consistently impressed by your ability to give clarity. Great coaching! Thank you. And your impromptu powerlifting session the other day was crazy – you’re 5 pounds heavier than me and about a 1,000 pounds stronger. No doubt you practice what you preach.

  24. Eric Cressey Says:

    Thanks, Eric!

  25. Fraser Dods Says:

    I don’t know of many other strength coaches that can recognize, differentiate, and explain arthrokinematics vs. osteokinematics! Impressive. One point – you mention that placing your hand on the anterior shoulder will give you feedback about anterior humeral head translation (true), but as a tactile cue, placing your hand on the posterolateral corner/posterior deltoid and gently pressing anteriorly into protraction will, by what Gray Cook describes as Reactive Neuromuscular Training (RNT), provide a stimulus to facilitate posterior shoulder recruitment and proper retraction. It seems counter-intuitive, but works…

  26. David Hall Says:

    Great Info, Just started Phase 3, 3-day, of show and go program,for the 3rd time now ! Had great results over the last year with your program.
    What type/brand/model of cable machine are you using in this video ? Thanks for posting !!

    Regards;
    David Hall

  27. Whitney Says:

    Great video. Always a good reminder. Thanks for the great info!

  28. Ben Altgilbers Says:

    Great tips Eric! I’ve found rows and pulldowns/pullups to be some of the most “butchered” exercises with clients starting out and through general observation. If someone can take away even 1 or 2 of these it would help them out tremendously. Awesome stuff!

  29. Conor Says:

    Great tips Eric! I was always one to keep my arm tight to my body as I didn’t know any better until now. Awesome information! Keep it up!

  30. Tavis Bruce Says:

    Hey EC,

    Question regarding excessive scapular depression…

    I’ve developed a hypertonic lat on my throwing side (feels stuck to the inferior angle, rib cage). Definitely a result of this excessive scapular depression you referred to in your video combined with demands of daily throwing, etc. Aside from correcting technique, any suggestions to remedy the lat situation? Currently trying self-release, accumulating 10+ min of daily fascial stretching.

    Thanks! Great post Eric!

  31. John C Says:

    Eric,
    Great information, you have a gift for knowledge transfer that is easy to follow. I am working on NASM CES cert and this video really reinforces that information and goes beyond.
    Is this the kind of information I would expect in the mentoring program? I love the videos since I am a bit of a visual learner. I have followed you writing for several years thanks for all that you do.
    John C

  32. Eric Cressey Says:

    Tavis,

    Lat soft tissue, low trap work, and overhead shrugging variations (I like wall slides w/overhead shrug).

  33. Eric Cressey Says:

    Also, Tavis, get rid of holding any heavy weights in your hands temporarily – so no DLs, farmer’s walks, DB lunges, etc for a short period of time.

  34. Eric Cressey Says:

    Thanks, Ben!

  35. Eric Cressey Says:

    Hi David,

    Thanks for the kind words!

    It’s a Paramount.

  36. Eric Cressey Says:

    Agreed, Fraser; good stuff.

  37. Keith Says:

    I have been paying a trainer for a long time to not point any of this out! Thanks Eric

  38. Eric Cressey Says:

    Keith,

    Ha! One of the funniest posts I’ve ever had on my site. Fantastic!

  39. Andrew Williams Says:

    Eric,
    Extremely informative. These screw ups are seen far to often is commercial gyms. Do you Travis could benefit from a band lat stretch ( possibly from half kneeling ) in a warm up or as a filter? Seems like it could allow the retraction/depression of the scapula to be more mid trap-low trap driven rather then lat.

  40. Eric Cressey Says:

    Andrew,

    Thanks for your kind words. Question, though: Travis who? Not sure who you’re referring to with that question.

  41. Andrew Williams Says:

    Eric,

    That was supposed to say Tavis refering to the fellow that posted above regarding a hypertonic lat.

  42. Derrick Blanton Says:

    Eric (#38), I think Andrew (#37) is referring to “Tavis”, and his hypertonic lat dilemma, (#29).

    This numbering system is great, ha ha! (Also, maybe Tavis could do some one arm hangs from a pull up bar?)

  43. Eric Cressey Says:

    Andrew,

    Stretching the lats is certainly fine. In some folks, you just have to watch out for exacerbation of anterior shoulder symptoms (commonly see cranky biceps tendons with lat restrictions because of the anterior humeral glide that is present).

  44. Carlos Mendez Leo Says:

    Thank you for the greatly didactic video.

    Question: What are your 2 o 3 best advices for greatly involving the latissimus dorsi in a row?

    Thanks,
    Carlos Mendez Leo

  45. Carlos Mendez Leo Says:

    Eric, 2 more questions if you will:

    1. What do you think about doing rows for singles, say, at an intensity where I do 5 reps before deviating from “perfect form” and I stop?

    2. I always try to favor my weak side (left) to avoid lagging parts, inbalances, and to give it what genetics didn’t (dominancy / and a better ability to gain strength).

    So currently to stimulate my left rear deltoid, my grip for rows is right hand supinated and left pronated.

    Do you think this is a good idea?

    Thanks again.

    Carlos

  46. Eric Cressey Says:

    Carlos,

    Most people heavily overuse the lat in a row, to be honest. I have never had to cue anyone to use it more.

  47. Eric Cressey Says:

    Thanks for the kind words, John. Yes, this is typical of the great content that is up on Elite Training Mentorship each month. I think you’d really like it.

  48. Gavan Wray-Mccann Says:

    Eric your the man,That is the most comprehensive and user friendly(in regards terminology)that i could possibly have heard awesome thank you.
    Cheers mate Gav Australia love ya stuff!

  49. Eric Cressey Says:

    Thanks, Gavan!

  50. Kieran Says:

    Hi Eric. Fantastic post. Still watching it most times before rowing to make sure I’m doing it right. I’m still a little confused about ‘packing the shoulder’ though. It seems in this video you’re allowing the full range of scapular motion but I’ve also seen that you should keep the scaps tight and just row with your elbow. Admittedly this was with 1-arm DB row but surely it’s the same movement? Really trying to sort out posture so help is much appreciated!

  51. Eric Cressey Says:

    Kieran,

    I’m not an advocate of rowing with the elbow, as it forces humeral extension past neutral, which can create some anterior shoulder issues. 1-arm rows can be tricky for scapular movement because they tend to be so lat dominant because the elbow has to stay close to the side.

  52. Kieran Says:

    Ah ok. Thanks for your response! Don’t want to make too much out of this but do you not advocate them full stop or just for scap work? I’m just really trying to build up stability there but also some total upper back strength and mass due to too much pressing. Currently using resistance bands (instead of cable) to get the groundwork down with an overall aim of flexibility/stability to do barbell work (rows and deadlift). Decent substitute?

  53. Eric Cressey Says:

    Kieran,

    Full stop? Not sure what you’re asking.

    Yes, that’s totally fine as a substitute.

  54. Kieran Says:

    Sorry, poorly worded. Or maybe a British thing. Just to clarify I meant do you not like 1 arm rows as an exercise or do you not advocate them as an exercise to help with proper scap functioning as they’re so lat dominant?

    Just found myself getting overwhelmed by – ‘packing the shoulder’ ‘active shoulder’ etc. Finding it tricky to feel any work in my lower traps/middle back with the resistance bands, that’s all

  55. Eric Cressey Says:

    Kieran,

    They can still be used effectively as a scapular stabilization exercise as long as they’re performed correctly.

  56. Sepand Says:

    Great video. I wish you could talk about the seated cable row once and discuss all the grip variations. Some people do the seated cable rows the way Arnold did it in Pumping Iron to get that extra stretch (very curved back at the beginning of the movement). I never understood whether that was a bad form (for the general population) or not.

  57. Steve Says:

    Eric,

    My gym doesn’t have a cable. Do you think barbell/dummbell rows would do just as good a job in helping correct muscle imbalances provided i use your tips from this article?

    Regards,
    Steve

  58. Eric Cressey Says:

    Steve,

    Won’t be quite as good, but you’ll still be able to make solid progress. You can also sub in bands for cables, in many cases.

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