8 Row Variations to Build a Barn Door Back
Having a strong and thick back helps lift bigger weights and commands respect. When building a bigger back, some exercises may help you achieve your goals better than others.
Many of these exercises can be brutal and will push you to the limit — and that’s okay. Some exercises are easier to learn than others, but your back will respond when you learn them.
Related - How to Build a Big Back
A common saying is “you gotta row to grow” so here are eight row variations you can use to build a bigger back. But before we get into the variations, there are three key factors about training your back I’d like to talk about.
Back Training Key Factors
You’re going to have to lift heavy through a full range of motion getting the best contractions you can.
#1 - Range of Motion
A long range of motion stimulates your back to grow. Does the exercise allow you to work your lats through a huge range of motion?
#2 - Contraction
Do you feel your lats working? Some exercises are easier to get a good contraction than others — think about a bicep curl versus a barbell row.
Take the time to practice executing perfect form and feeling your lats every rep.
#3 - Weight
In order to achieve the level of compression required to grow, you’re going to have to use some heavy weights.
Light reps can help improve the mind/muscle connection but you will need to lift heavy in order to stimulate your back more. These heavy weights will allow your body to forcefully squeeze the muscle and make a difference in terms of results.
So let’s get into the eight variations.
8 Row Variations to Build a Barn Door Back
#1 - One Arm Barbell Row
This one is going to need to be done with a t-bar row machine or by stuffing a barbell in the corner of the gym.
Once you rig up your setup, bend forward so that your torso is parallel with the floor, and keep your knees slightly bent.
Grab the bar with one arm behind the plates and place your free hand on your knee for support.
Row the bar straight up, keep your elbows in, and get a good contraction on your lat. Slowly lower the bar back to your starting position. Don’t allow your torso to sway or use momentum.
#2 - Meadows Row
This exercise will also need to be done in a corner or in a landmine attachment. This time, you will have your body and hands placed above the weights on the collar.
Hinge forward with a staggered stance, gripping the barbell with an overhand grip with one hand.
Drive the elbow behind the body while retracting your shoulder blade. You’ll pull the barbell towards your hip until you have a solid contraction and then slowly lower the barbell back to the starting position.
#3 - Smith Machine Row
I don’t use the Smith machine a lot, but when I do it’s for rows.
Set the barbell so it’s just below the knee. Keep your torso rigid and bend forward. Grab the barbell with an overhand grip and unlock it from the machine. This is going to be your starting position.
Perform rows, ensuring proper form, a great range of motion, and ensuring you are getting a great contraction with enough weight on the bar.
#4 - Low Cable Row
Seated cable rows are a great exercise and they are fun to do burnout sets with.
You’re going to need a low pulley row machine. Grab a V-bar so you can row with your hands in a neutral position.
Sit down, put your feet up on the platform or crossbar and grab the handle.
Keep a natural alignment of your back and bend so that your torso is at a 90-degree angle from your legs. Your back will be slightly arched and your chest should be sticking out. Pull those shoulder blades in.
#5 - Dumbbell Row
Dumbbell rows are great because you can allow your body to move naturally. Stand and grab a dumbbell in each hand.
Hinge forward and get your torso roughly parallel with the floor and begin the exercise by driving your elbows behind your body and retract your shoulder blades.
Perform for a full range of motion, ensuring you’re using enough weight and getting a good contraction.
#6 - Trap Bar Row
This exercise is just like it sounds — get inside of a trap bar and do bent over rows.
This is going to take a bit of time to get used to, but the neutral grip of the bar will push your back without any pains.
Maintain a tight torso and never get sloppy with your reps.
#7 - Pendlay Row
I love Pendlay rows because of how much sheer power you get to produce.
You will start a Pendlay row basically how you would a deadlift. You’ll want to take a slightly wider than deadlift grip width and your torso should be bent 90 degree to your legs.
Keep your shoulders protracted and your thoracic spine taught. Your cervical spine should be in a neutral position. This is your starting point.
Initiate your row and pull the weight up into your abdomen as powerfully as possible.
Slowly return the weight to the ground and allow the weight to dead stop before you perform another rep. It’s similar to deadlifts how you will let the weight settle and then rip it off the ground.
Don’t cheat yourself.
#8 - Supported Rows
Chest supported rows are great because it removes any user error from a normal bent over row.
It’s almost impossible to keep your entire body from swaying or using any momentum while lifting, so the supported rows are the answer.
Grab a couple of dumbbells and lean onto an incline bench.
Perform a row with a great range of motion, get a good contraction, and keep the weights heavy.