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I do rather love a good one row.
Maybe not as much as I love Peanut Butter...(mmmmm).
But we've had our sweaty moments together in the gym.
The likelihood is so have you.
After the all conquering bench press, they're probably the most popular exercise in the gym....ok after bicep curls, squats, press ups......look, they're really popular.
And a lot of the time they're not being performed optimally or even very well.
In most cases there are little adjustments the person could make that would change the exercise completely and massively boost the result they get from it.
We owe to our backs that they get the results they deserve, therefore we're going deep, deep, deep into how to perform the one arm row and all the little nuances and adjustments to get the most from this awesome exercise.
So let’s get stuck in.
What the hell does it do?
It’s a big time back exercise, primarily it’s the lats having all the fun, with some small assistance from the elbow flexors, mainly the biceps.
However, when you set up correctly the core also gets to join the party. There will be a little work for the smaller muscles of the shoulder that play a role in stabilisation.
But why do I need to know this?
A massive part in nailing any exercise, is feeling the effort coming from the area that is meant to be working. Weight training is counter intuitive for the body.
The body likes to find the most efficient and energy saving way of doing just about anything. But you’re aim isn’t to just move the weight from A-B, it’s to fatigue specific muscles to force them to adapt.
So where should I feel it?
Here’s your lat's.
The observant reader will notice that they're bloody massive.
It runs all the way from your shoulder to your hip. This means that as you lift, you should be able to feel the effort coming from your back. Anywhere between the shoulder and hip, when you get it really nailed down you’ll likely feel it the whole way along, as the muscle squeezes and contracts to move the weight.
The set up
This is where your core gets in on the action.
You pop one knee and hand on the bench and have one foot on the floor. The foot on the floor side is also the side you’ll lift the weight from.
There are four key things I look for in a good set up.
Have the knee directly under the hip, something like this.
Rather than underneath the body like this.
Having the knee under the hip may feel a lot more challenging to set up at first, you may even feel your abs light up like crazy.
But you'll develop greater strength and stability....or should I say....GAINZ.
It's all about the gainz bro.
The hips and shoulders should be squared off.
In other words, we want the belt line to stay level and the shoulders to stay level.
Rather like making a box with the torso.
To do this I often find it is simpler to put the supporting leg out to the side of the body and wide from the bench, rather than the more traditional foot behind the body.
Getting into a position a little like this.
Good head position.
Keep the chin tucked, like the image above, rather than staring straight ahead.
Even if there's a mirror right in front of you, resist the urge to check out how magnificent you look in your tussle with the dumbell.
Keep the head neutral.
Staring in front is likely to have a see-saw affect and cause the lower back to drop into excessive extension.
The final point is with the supporting arm.
It can be easy for the shoulder to go into a slump.
Shoulder stability can be increased on this arm by thinking about “reaching” into the bench.
The end result should be a long spine.
If a client struggles with picturing themselves in this position, I’ll tell them to think about getting their bum and head as far away from each other as possible.
This helps to prevent the dreaded rounding up through the upper back.
I call this “dreaded” as in this position the lats are unable to effectively work and you can guarantee that all the work is being taken through the arm.
Let’s get lifting
Now you’re set it’s time to grab the dumbbell.
I’ve heard some very good coaches suggest using a light grip on the dumbbell to help increase the effort from the lats.
Personally, I like to go for a really strong grip on the dumbbell.
A strong grip creates a radiation effect. Not only are the muscles in the forearm fired up, but also the stability muscles of the shoulder such as the rotator cuff and even the core.
Think about the handle of the dumbbell being like playdough and you’re trying to squish it through your fingers.
This next bit will likely take a lot of thinking about and I suggest you use a weight lighter than you usually do to get the hang of it.
Try to initiate the lift by using your lats.
Make the back muscles go tight and squeeze them, rather than the more common way of using the hand to initiate the movement.
Remember it’s a back exercise and the arm is almost just coming along for the ride.
To really get a feel you can try slowing the tempo of the lift down.
Aim for 2-3 seconds lifting, 1 second pause at the top to squeeze the lat, then 3 seconds lowering.
As you lift think about pulling through the elbow rather than the wrist.
At the top of the movement there are a few key points to watch out for.
First, the elbow shouldn’t end up too far past the body.
You can see there isn't enough room to slide a hand between my arm and my torso.
Which is a good thing.
If there is enough room between the elbow and the torso to slide a hand through you can be sure that a bit of a no-no has occurred.
The top of the arm bone will have dove forward in it’s socket (anterior humeral glide if you want a fancy name for it).
This means the lat is no longer engaged as it should be, plus this movement overtime can seriously irritate the front of the shoulder capsule and give you nasty ouchie.
Second, there should be a slight gap between the side of the torso and the elbow, rather than the elbow rubbing the torso.
I’ll cue a client by placing my hand on the side of the torso and telling them to miss it.
It’s just a few degrees of movement difference but it allows the shoulder to move through a happier range of movement.
Third, as you lift the upper back should maintain or move into extension. This can be aided by inhaling as you lift the weight. Inhaling drives extension through the thoracic spine and helps to keep the shoulder a happy camper.
How To Improve Your Technique
Sometimes getting to grips with all the bits of this exercise can be surprisingly challenging, especially if you’re relatively new to weight training.
What can really help is using a cable to practice the technique.
I've used this many times when teaching the movement and nearly every time it has provided an aha moment for someone who has struggled to feel their lats firing with the dumbell or just struggled to maintain a good position on the bench.
Set up in a standing position and focus on feeling the lats. The decreased challenge to the grip seems to help the movement feel more natural.
Another cue that often helps here is thinking about drawing the shoulder blade down and back across the body as you lift. Almost like pulling them into the back pockets of a pair jeans.
Another cool option is a bilateral bench row.
It takes the stress of the core as the bench provides the external support, but there is still the stress on the grip and the need to control the dumbbells.
That's just about everything covered.
All that's left is for you to grab yourself a weight and put this into practise.
So how was it for you?
Was this useful?
Drop a comment below and let me know your thoughts.