Top 30 Row Variations For A Stronger Back & Healthier Shoulders

THE PAIN-FREE STRENGTH SERIES

Instantly Break Pain-Free PR's in Your Bench, Squat and Deadlift.
GET STARTED FOR FREE NOW

The Pain-Free Power of The Row

The upper body pull pattern may be the most misunderstood upper body movement, especially as it pertains to developing bulletproof shoulders and a resilient back. While we know that strong, stable, pain-free shoulders depend on pulling more than pushing throughout a training week or block, many athletes and lifters confuse the type of pulling based exercises they should be prioritizing in training, and the types that should be more closely monitored in terms of volume and loading. Simply put, building resilience via the pull pattern depends not only on sound execution, but differentiating the vertical pull from the horizontal pull pattern AKA the row in terms of the way it affects long term shoulder development.

The most popular pull across almost every demographic of physical fitness takes place in the vertical plane of motion, the pull up. From CrossFit kips to military PT testing, the pull up has been ingrained in our physical mentality for decades. But it’s important to remember that not all pulling variations were created equally, especially as it pertains to biomechanics.

The vertical pull more closely resembles a push-based motion – it places the shoulder into internal rotation during the dynamic concentric action of the movement itself. This can present as a problem, especially when chronic internally-rotated daily positions and overly internally-rotated training compound to create a shit storm of generalized front-sided shoulder pain, which is now a leading pain point amongst the active population.

While there’s nothing wrong with internally-rotated movements at the shoulders, they must be monitored closely to avoid chronic overuse and dysfunction through the front side of the gleno-humeral joint and the shoulder complex in general. Because of the popularization of box-based facilities, the majority of pulling is centered around the deadlift and the pull-up, which are both internally-rotated movement patterns at the shoulders.

In order to create full-body stability at authentic recruitment of the shoulders through the pull pattern, the horizontal pull, also known as the row, must first be mastered before introducing the more complex vertical pull variations off the pull up bar and beyond. And even for those who have earned the right to pull up, there are unique pain-free shoulder advantages to the row pattern above and beyond what the pull up is able to offer.

Why You Should Row More Than You Pull Up

While well executed vertical pull variations are not inherently dangerous, very few lifters actually present with the requisite movement and skill capacity to train these more advanced movements without performance or orthopedic repercussions.

Too much poor vertical pulling not only places undue stress on the shoulder joint under too much volume and intensity due to the natural internally rotated glen0-humeral (true shoulder joint) biomechanics of the movement, but it also only targets a fraction of the musculature that the horizontal row is capable of hitting, while staying out of internal rotation. And when executed pristinely, the row can move the shoulder into external rotation to prioritize more pain-free training volume in the horizontal plane of motion while rebuild positions challenged via daily postural stressors.

The back and upper shoulders were designed to function as primary stabilizers of dynamic actions that usually take place in pushing movements. This means that these patterns can be trained hard, and under high relative intensities, while literally being trained daily. Mastering the pull from a stable core and posterior hip unit will help develop the strong backside that can support both athletic and functional endeavors alike, and that’s exactly why the row pattern must be a top priority for developing long term shoulder health and wellness.

So yes, if your goal is to build a big, strong back and help mitigate the risk of shoulder injuries while building long term shoulder health, you need to start prioritizing the horizontal pulling pattern as your #1 pain-free shoulder indicator lift – NOT the pull up. And because earning healthy shoulders takes loads of total volume through the row pattern that thrives on intelligent novelty and slight variations off the staple movement pattern, we’ve put together the most detailed pain-free rowing resource the industry has ever seen. Here are the top 30 row variations for stronger backs and healthier shoulders.

#1 Suspension Trainer Row with Band Resistance

Key Coaching Notes:

  • Place a band across the hips to implement accommodating based resistance
  • Use a suspension trainer or rings to allow hands and shoulder to move freely
  • Cue core and hips to brace maximally around a neutral spine
  • Kick heels into the ground actively with toes up in dorsiflexion
  • Row back explosively driving the elbows while allowing hands to rotate naturally
  • Control the eccentric through a full range of motion keeping tension at all times

#2 Single Arm Landmine Meadows Row

Key Coaching Notes:

  • Place barbell into landmine position in an attachment or corner of a room to stabilize
  • Stagger your stance parallel to landmine hinging at the hips over a neutral spinal position
  • Grip the collar maximally or use straps to secure hand position on end of barbell
  • Place opposite forearm on knee to help maintain brace and position
  • Allow a stretch at the lats without losing tension at the bottom position
  • Drive up leading with the shoulder and elbow moving together, allowing shoulder blade to move
  • Accentuate the eccentric lowering under control, maintain shoulder blade dynamic stability

#3 Decline Single Arm Dumbbell Row

Key Coaching Notes:

  • Place 3 plates under the head of the bench to achieve a slight decline angle
  • Kneel on the bench with opposite leg out to the side
  • Brace hips, core and shoulders with opposite hand gripping into bench
  • Allow the dumbbell to arc forward placing a stretch at the lats
  • Drive the dumbbell back towards the hip flexing hard
  • Accentuate the eccentric out into a stretch while keeping full tension on back

#4 Single Arm Low Cable Row

Key Coaching Notes:

  • Put a single handle attachment on the low cable row setup
  • Hinge your hips over and maintain fully braced neutral spine
  • Generate tension with opposite arm out to side maximizing fist grip
  • Row back with handle in hand keeping the rest of the body strong and stable
  • Resist unilateral load wanting to side bend and rotate body
  • Use full range of motion with slight stretch of lats and peak contraction on back

#5 Feet Elevated Suspension Trainer Row with Chains

Key Coaching Notes:

  • Position the feet into an elevation on bench
  • Place chains over the hips to resist the movement
  • Keep the suspension trainer or rings perpendicular to the floor
  • Brace hips, core and shoulders together and row up against gravity and chains
  • Allow hands to move freely into strongest positions
  • Maintain full body tension throughout the entire set

#6 Dual Handle Neutral Grip Low Cable Row

Key Coaching Notes:

  • Place two separate handle attachments on low cable to allow freedom of hand rotation
  • Hinge hips back and maintain neutral spinal position
  • Drive elbows back while allowing hand to rotate
  • Keep chest and torso upright with neutral head, neck and mid back position
  • Allow shoulder blades to slightly protract but keep dynamic stability at all times

#7 1.5 Rep Dual Handle Low Cable Row

Key Coaching Notes:

  • Position your body hinged back and neutral spinal position
  • Place two separate handles on the low cable machine setup
  • Row back through full range of motion, let out half way, row back, then let out all the way
  • Keep constant tension on the back at all times

#8 Bent Over Trap Bar Row

Key Coaching Notes:

  • Stand inside of the trap bar and deadlift up into standing position
  • Hinge the hips back and hold a stabilized static position
  • Row up out of the neutral grip position and allow slow eccentric down
  • Finish each set by bringing the hips back into neutral position then lower bar

#9 Seated Banded Low Row

Key Coaching Notes:

  • Position your body into a seated position on the floor
  • Attach a circular JRx Band band to a stable surface with a low anchor point
  • Grip each side of the band maximally in the hands
  • Allow hands to rotate freely as you row to find strongest position
  • Utilize full range of motion and peak each contraction

#10 Supine Dual Handle Cable Row

Key Coaching Notes:

  • Position your body lying supine on the ground with hips and knees bent
  • Feet should be flat on the floor actively pushing into the ground
  • Head, neck, mid-lack and lower back all remain in neutral position
  • Drape chains or weights over the hips to pin yourself to the ground
  • With dual handles on a cable unit positioned over the chest row down
  • The ground will keep you from over rowing the range of motion
  • Accentuate the eccentric up through a full range of motion

#11 Kneeling Single Arm Kettlebell Row

Key Coaching Notes:

  • Kneel on the bench with the opposite leg out
  • Kick on stability from the hips and core bracing maximally
  • Grip the kettlebell with maximal force and row up towards the back up
  • Accentuate the eccentric down into a slight stretch at the bottom

#12 Side Plank Single Arm Cable Row

Key Coaching Notes:

  • Side plank up into a strong and stable position with elbow and bottom foot in ground contact
  • With top arm, grab a cable handle attachment
  • Row back allowing hand to rotate naturally
  • Do not get pulled out of solid stabilized plank position

#13 Kneeling Single Arm Kettlebell Row with Banded RNT Method

Key Coaching Notes:

  • Attach a circular band onto a kettlebell handle for RNT Row Method 
  • Stabilize your hips and core in the kneeling position on the bench
  • Keep tension in the band at all times
  • As the kettlebell is rowed up, drive back towards the hip against the bands
  • Accentuating the arcing movement in this setup

#14 Multi-Grip Attachment Low Cable Row

Key Coaching Notes:

  • Place a multi-grip attachment on the low cable row machine
  • Hinge your hips back and maintain a neutral spinal position at all times
  • Row back allowing the shoulder blades to rotate naturally
  • Peak contractions and accentuate eccentric out through full range of motion

#15 Medium Neutral Grip Low Cable Row

Key Coaching Notes:

  • Place the medium neutral grip attachment on the low cable setup
  • Out of the neutral grip, drive back the elbows
  • Peak the contraction deep into the new found range of motion
  • Accentuate the eccentric out through a full range
  • Maintain hip, pelvic and spinal neutrality at all times

#16 Dual Handle Low Cable Row with Band at Wrists

Key Coaching Notes:

  • Place a light resistance band around the wrists to resist against abduction
  • With dual handles on the low cable row setup, row back pulling against the band
  • Peak the contraction on the back pulling band apart
  • Accentuate the eccentric out through a full range of motion

#17 Close Neutral Grip Low Cable+Band Row with Iso Holds

Key Coaching Notes:

  • Attach a blue JRx Band to the low cable row setup
  • Place a close neutral grip attachment to the low cable row machine
  • Row back through a full range of motion and hold the back position for 3-seconds
  • Peak tension with the iso hold then accentuate eccentric out
  • Drive hard into the bands and cables both simultaneously
  • Maintain strong and stable core braced position

#18 Bent Over Landmine T-Bar Row with Band

Key Coaching Notes:

  • Position the landmine into specific attachment or in a corner of a room to stabilize
  • Stand facing the collar of the barbell
  • Get a circular band around each foot and drape over barbell
  • Hinge hips over in a strong static position and place close neutral grip attachment on bar
  • Row back through complete range of motion loading with smaller diameter plates
  • Accentuate eccentric out and maintain position of hips, pelvis and spine at all times

#19 Half Kneeling Single Arm Cable Row

Key Coaching Notes:

  • Kneel on the knee that is one the side that will be rowing
  • Opposite arm will be out to the side tensioned maximally with grip fist
  • Tension the hips with the glutes and adductors while bracing the core
  • Row back against the cable that is slightly higher than shoulder width
  • Maintain stable position even while being pulled out with anti-rotational forces

#20 Dual Cable Chest Supported Low Row

Key Coaching Notes:

  • Place adjustable bench at 45 degree incline angle and position body chest down
  • Place two separate cables in each hand with a handle
  • Row back letting the hands rotate naturally
  • Peak the squeeze and accentuate the eccentric out through a full range of motion

#21 Dead Stop Single Arm Dumbbell Row

Key Coaching Notes:

  • Stagger the stance and hinge the hips over the body
  • Get your chest and shoulders as close to the ground as possible
  • Start the dumbbell on the ground and row up from a dead stop position
  • Allow the dumbbell to rest on the ground between every single rep
  • Drive up explosively to move it form zero to movement every rep

#22 Kneeling Dead Stop Single Arm Kettlebell Row

Key Coaching Notes:

  • Achieve a kneeling position on the bench with full body tension at the hips, core and shoulders
  • Start the kettlebell on the ground before every rep
  • Move it explosively from a dead stop position
  • Ensure you are not over rotating or compensating with momentum to move the KB

#23 Split Stance Single Arm Dumbbell Row

Key Coaching Notes:

  • Split the stance and hinge the hips back
  • Use opposite hand on the dumbbell rack or solid stable surface for stability
  • Row back the dumbbell towards the hip and allow a stretch at the bottom range of motion
  • Maintain neutral spine, hips and shoulders at all times

#24 Chest Supported Low Cable Row with Strap

Key Coaching Notes:

  • Position the adjustable bench up at 45 degrees and position chest down
  • Attach a strap to the low cable row setup with two handles
  • Keep your palms facing down at all times as you row back
  • Allow the shoulders to stretch forward slightly, and peak contraction on back side
  • Pull the straps apart as you row back to activate the upper back

#25 Chest Supported Low Cable Row with Straight Bar

Key Coaching Notes:

  • Position the adjustable bench up at 45 degrees and position chest down
  • Attach a straight bar to the low cable row setup and get an overhand grip shoulder width apart
  • Keep your palms facing down at all times as you row back
  • Allow the shoulders to stretch forward slightly, and peak contraction on back side

#26 Chest Supported Low Cable Row With Medium Neutral Grip

Key Coaching Notes:

  • Position the adjustable bench up at 45 degrees and position chest down
  • Attach a medium neutral grip attachment to the low cable row setup
  • Keep your palms in neutral at all times as you row back
  • Allow the shoulders to stretch forward slightly, and peak contraction on back side

#27 Chest Supported Low Cable Row with Rope

Key Coaching Notes:

  • Position the adjustable bench up at 45 degrees and position chest down
  • Attach a rope to the low cable row setup
  • Keep your palms facing down at all times as you row back
  • Allow the shoulders to stretch forward slightly, and peak contraction on back side
  • Pull the rope apart as you row back to activate the upper back

#28 Kneeling Landmine Meadows Row

Key Coaching Notes:

  • Position the knee down on the bench and stabilize the full body brace leading with the hips
  • The landmine setup should be perpendicular with the bench
  • Strap to the collar of the barbell and use smaller diameter plates for loading
  • Drive the shoulder up using movement at the shoulder, scapula and elbow
  • Ensure all moving parts are being utilized sequentially with smoothness

#29 Landmine T-Bar Row with Close Neutral Grip Attachment

Key Coaching Notes:

  • Setup the landmine in the attachment or in a corner of a room
  • Hinge the hips over and use a close neutral grip attachment on the bar for grip
  • Pull into position with neutral spinal mechanics
  • Allow smaller diameter plates to be loaded to maximize range of motion
  • Move through full range of motion peaking the squeeze and accentuating eccentric out

#30 Rotating Dual Handle Low Cable Row

Key Coaching Notes:

  • Place two separate handle attachments on the low cable row setup
  • Allow the hands to move naturally to generate tension and strength
  • Keep neutral spinal mechanics at all times and maintain proper brace

BONUS #31 Kneeling Single Arm Kettlebell Row with Chains

Key Coaching Notes:

  • Attach chains to a kettlebell for accommodating based resistance loading
  • Kneel on the bench with opposite leg extended out and full body brace
  • Row up hard against heavy chains and control eccentric out.
  • Maintain proper body position at all times

BONUS #32 Side Plank Single Arm Y-Row with Hip Abduction

Key Coaching Notes:

  • Achieve a side plank position on foot and forearm
  • Position the cable overhead in line with the body
  • Raise the top leg into position activating the lateral hip group and hold
  • Row down through a Y range of motion peaking the contraction at the lats
  • Let out eccentrically through full range of motion and slight stretch

BONUS #33 Split Stance Bent Over Single Arm Kettlebell Row

Key Coaching Notes:

  • Split your stance and hinge your hips back
  • Use opposite hand on bench for support of isometric hinge hold
  • Grab a kettlebell and row back towards hip
  • Complete rest pause with lighter weight to pure failure

BONUS #34 Dual Handle Supinated Low Cable Row

Key Coaching Notes:

  • Place two separate handle attachments on the low cable row setup
  • Hinge hips back with neutral spinal position
  • Fully supinate palms up towards ceiling and keep them there
  • Row back engaging hard with lower lats and biceps
  • Flex every rep hard and let out through full eccentric range of motion

BONUS #35 Rotating Suspension Trainer Row with Iso Holds

Key Coaching Notes:

  • Grip the suspension trainer with hands and kick heels into ground for full body tension
  • Row up X amount of reps and hold the top position for X seconds
  • Maintain neutral positions at all times, especially through isometrics

BONUS #36 Close Neutral Grip Seated Low Cable Row

Key Coaching Notes:

  • Attach the close neutral grip to the cable setup
  • Sit on a weight bench perpendicular to the cable setup
  • Sit with full lower body support, feet driving into ground and neutral spinal position
  • Row back to stomach flexing hard each rep and letting eccentrically out through full range
  • Ensure proper brace at the core to support position throughout set

About The Author

Dr. John Rusin

Dr. John Rusin is a sports performance specialist and injury prevention expert that has coached some of the world’s most elite athletes including multiple Olympic gold medalists, NFL and MLB All-Star performers, and professionals from 11 different sports. He has also managed some of the most successful barbell sport athletes in the world including world record holding powerlifters, CrossFit Games athletes, and IFBB professional physique athletes.

His innovative pain-free performance programs have been successfully implemented by over 25,000 athletes worldwide including his best selling training system Functional Power Training, which has revolutionized the way coaches and athletes develop strength, muscle and performance pain-free. Dr. Rusin’s work has gained him the reputation as the go-to industry expert for rebuilding after pain, injuries or plateaus.

THE PAIN-FREE STRENGTH SERIES

Instantly Break Pain-Free PR's in Your Bench, Squat and Deadlift.
GET STARTED FOR FREE NOW

6 Comments

  1. paul February 18, 2019 at 7:21 pm - Reply

    Aww man, how about the Gorilla Row? One of my faves

  2. […] Top 30 Row Variations For A Stronger Back And Healthier Shoulders: Courtesy of Dr. John Rusin on […]

  3. […] Top 30 Row Variations For A Stronger Back & Healthier Shoulders By John Rusin […]

  4. […] Top 30 Row Variations For A Stronger Back And Healthier Shoulders […]

  5. moaddo March 23, 2019 at 6:24 pm - Reply

    great article bro; For more information, see these people how they were and how they became and the real instructions they followed incredible
    Here: http://bit.ly/2OoDZKe

  6. […] a link to some back training variations by Dr. John […]

Leave A Comment

THE PAIN-FREE STRENGTH SERIES

Instantly Break Pain-Free PR's in Your Bench, Squat and Deadlift.
GET STARTED FOR FREE NOW

THE PAIN-FREE STRENGTH SERIES

Instantly Break Pain-Free PR's in Your Bench, Squat and Deadlift.
GET STARTED FOR FREE NOW