Men's Health Your Body is Your Barbell

8

Chapter

BODYWEIGHT 8: ROW

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#4 ROW

The Row is the best exercise to build your entire back side. Pulling your body up works your biceps, forearms, lats, upper back/midback, traps, and rear shoulders. In addition, because you’re pulling your body in a horizontal position, your lower back, glutes, and hamstrings have to work hard to keep your body in a rigid Plank position. Even your abs have to kick in to stabilize your spine so that you don’t hyperextend your lower back. The Row is also easier to perform than a Pullup because you’re pulling less of your total body weight.

The bodyweight Row offers advantages over the barbell Bent-Over Row: One, the body-weight Row doesn’t require as much hamstring flexibility and lower-back strength as pulling a heavy barbell from a hip-hinged position. Two, the bodyweight Row allows you to quickly adjust your body angle and foot position to make the exercise easier or harder as needed. With a barbell Row, you have to set the bar down and then add or subtract weight. Three, the bodyweight Row is the exact opposite movement pattern as the Pushup. The better you get at Rows, the better you will get at Pushups. The Row is the first bodyweight exercise in this book that requires equipment of some kind. After all, you can’t really pull yourself unless you have something to hold on to. The best options are a Pullup bar that’s set at about hip height or a TRX (or another suspension trainer) that you can anchor to a door, wall, ceiling, pole, or tree. If you don’t want to spend money on equipment, here are some alternatives perfect for rowing at home or in a hotel room.

Images Place your body underneath a sturdy table and hold on to the table sides with your palms facing each other, or the bottom end of the table with an underhand grip, or the top end of the table with an overhand grip. If you have a long enough towel, you can wrap it around the table and hold one end in each hand.

Images Hold on to a horizontal pole or railing with both hands or grip a vertical pole, ledge, or tree like a baseball bat. The towel-wrapping technique works here, too.

Images Grab each edge of a door frame with the same-side hand with your palms facing away from your body. Or grab a single edge of the door frame with the fingertips of both hands, which really challenges your grip.

Images Hold on to the seats of two sturdy chairs that are ideally hip height off the floor.

Images Place a thick broomstick over the tops of two boxes or chairs of even height to serve as your rowing bar.

The ROW Progression

Level 1 Ground Zero: HANGING BRIDGE

Level 2 Beginner: ROW

Level 3 Intermediate: SELF-ASSISTED SINGLE-ARM

Level 4 Advanced: SINGLE-ARM ROW

Level 5 Superhero: PLYOMETRIC ROW

Level 1: Ground Zero

HANGING BRIDGE

The Hanging Bridge is to the Row as the Plank is to the Pushup. It sets the foundation for all the progressions to follow by teaching you how to hold the start with a hollow-body position. Use a hook grip as much as possible. Wrap your fingers over the top of the bar and your thumb under the bar. From there, try to clasp your thumb around your index and/or middle finger. Flex your wrists slightly so that your pinkie finger will slide over the top of the bar. This is your strongest gripping position. It puts your shoulders into the most stable position because it creates an external rotation force that screws them into their sockets. If the bar is too thick to use a hook grip, wrap all five digits over the top of the bar and press your thumb into your index finger to lock in.

FOOT PLACEMENT: Keep your feet together. Though technically this provides you with a smaller base of support than a wider foot placement, it makes it much easier to engage your hip and core muscles to maintain a neutral spine position with a slight arch in your lower back.

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How to Do It

Starting Position

 Grab the bar or handles of a suspension trainer with a hook grip.

 Set your head in a neutral position with your ears aligned with your shoulders, hips, and ankles, and look between your hands.

 With legs fully extended in front of your body and your heels on the floor, lift your hips until your body forms a straight line from your head through heels.

 Assume a hollow-body position with your toes pointing up. Squeeze your legs together, tense your thighs, glutes, and abs, and pull your ribs and shoulders down.

• Pull your ribs and shoulders down.

• Don’t let your hips dip.

• Your body should form a straight line from head to heels.

• Tighten your abs.

• Clench your glutes.

• Squeeze your legs together.

Perfect Execution

 Hold this Hanging Bridge position for time while actively maintaining hollow-body form for the duration of the exercise.

 Focus on deep belly breathing to prevent your ribs from rising.

Your Goal

You should be able to do multiple sets of 60-second holds before moving to the next level.

Regressions

MAKE IT EASIER: Increase your base of support by widening your hands or your feet.

EVEN EASIER: Bend your knees and place your feet directly underneath your knees.

EASIEST: Decrease your body angle by performing an Inclined Hanging Bridge. This is easier because you’re holding less of your body weight. This will work best while holding on to a pole, railing, or door frame or by using a TRX suspension trainer. These gripping options allow you to walk your feet forward and backward to make the move harder or easier as needed.

Progressions

MAKE IT HARDER: Use a narrower grip. Progressively bring your hands closer together until your thumbs are touching.

EVEN HARDER: Perform a Feet-Elevated Hanging Bridge by putting your feet on a sturdy box or bench.

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HARDEST: Perform a Single-Leg Hanging Bridge. Lift one leg off the floor and focus on squeezing the glute of your supporting leg to keep your hips square to the ground (a). Further decrease stability by performing a Single-Arm Hanging Bridge. Place the hand of your working arm directly underneath your same-side shoulder, your feet shoulder-width apart for balance, and then take one hand off of the bar (b). Feeling strong? Next, raise the leg opposite your nonworking arm (c).

Level 2: Beginner

ROW

The Row is the exact opposite movement pattern of the Pushup, making it a perfect exercise to superset or alternate between. Rows require you to keep your forearms as vertical as possible. This will save your elbows. A good rule of thumb is to perform at least as many total sets and reps for Rows as you do for Pushups. If you have shoulder pain or do lots of bench-pressing with very few pulling exercises, then do two to three times the sets or reps of Rows as you do of Pushups to correct this structural imbalance.

There are many grips you can use. A normal grip is overhand, about shoulder-width apart. You can go wider to make your upper back and rear shoulders work harder or closer to make your forearms and biceps work harder. Use an underhand grip to shift the work more to your biceps. If you’re holding on to a set of parallel bars, the sides of a sturdy table, or even the outsides of two chairs of equal height, then you can perform Rows with a neutral grip with palms facing each other. Using a TRX (or another suspension trainer) allows you to rotate your hands as you pull, which tends to be easier on the shoulders.

Your Goal

You should be able to do multiple sets of 10 reps before moving to the next level.

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How to Do It

Starting Position

 Grab the bar or handles of a suspension trainer with a hook grip.

 Set your head in a neutral position with your ears aligned with your shoulders, hips, and ankles, and look between your hands.

 With legs fully extended, lift your hips until your body forms a straight line from your head to heels.

 Assume a hollow-body position. Squeeze your legs together, tense your thighs, glutes, and abs, and pull your ribs and shoulders down.

• Brace your core.

• Squeeze your legs together.

• Don’t shrug your shoulders or round your back.

Perfect Execution

 Initiate the movement by pulling your shoulders down and back and driving your elbows tight to your sides.

 When your elbows are bent at 90-degree angles, hold this position for 1 or 2 seconds and visualize trying to crack a walnut between your shoulder blades.

 Reverse the movement and repeat.

• Keep your elbows bent 90 degrees and your forearms vertical.

• Keep your chest up.

• Squeeze your glutes.

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Regressions

MAKE IT EASIER: Increase your base of support by widening your hands or feet.

EVEN EASIER: Bend your legs and place your feet underneath your knees.

EASIEST: Decrease your body angle by performing an Inclined Row. Stand holding a pole, door frame, or the handles of a suspension trainer. These gripping options allow you to walk your feet forward or backward to change the incline of your body. Lean back until your arms are straight. This is the starting position. Now bend your arms to pull yourself forward and return. Repeat.

Progressions

MAKE IT HARDER: Progressively bring your hands closer together until your thumbs are touching.

EVEN HARDER: Lift one leg off the floor and squeeze the glute of your supporting leg to keep your hips square to the ground.

HARDEST: Increase the body angle by performing Feet-Elevated Rows (shown). Place your feet on a sturdy box. This forces you to pull more of your body weight. Make it super hard by elevating your feet above shoulder level.

• The higher your feet, the harder the exercise.

Level 3: Intermediate

SELF-ASSISTED SINGLE-ARM ROW

With these Rows, one arm does about 70 percent of the work or more. One option is the Uneven Row. The hand of the working arm should grab the rowing bar as normal. The only difference is that you place a thick towel or rope around the bar and hold the ends of the towel in the assisting hand. The lower you grab on the towel, the greater the mechanical disadvantage to that arm—making it harder to assist and further challenging your working arm. I like this option because gripping a towel with your assisting hand works your grip in a more complete way, providing a greater challenge to your thumb and palm muscles.

Your Goal

You should be able to do multiple sets of 10 reps per side before moving to the next level.

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How to Do It

Starting Position

 Grab the bar with your working arm just underneath your shoulder.

 Wrap a towel around the bar and grab both ends with your assisting hand.

 With your legs fully extended, place your feet on a bench.

 Assume a hollow-body position. Squeeze your legs together, tense your thighs, glutes, and abs, and pull your ribs and shoulders down.

• Shift your weight to your working arm.

• Your assisting arm holds a wrapped towel.

• Keep your hips and shoulders square.

Perfect Execution

 Initiate the movement by pulling your shoulders down and back and bending your elbows.

 Once you reach the point where your working-arm elbow is bent at 90 degrees, hold this position for 1 or 2 seconds and visualize trying to crack a walnut between your shoulder blades.

 Then reverse the movement and repeat.

• Crack a walnut between your shoulder blades.

• Grab lower on the towel to make it harder.

Regressions

MAKE IT EASIER: Increase your base of support by widening your feet.

EVEN EASIER: Improve your leverage by bending your legs and placing your feet directly underneath your knees.

EASIEST: Inclined Self-Assisted Single-Arm Rows. This is easier because it requires you to hold less of your body weight. This will work best while holding on to a pole, railing, or door frame or by using a suspension trainer. The gripping options allow you to seamlessly walk your feet forward and backward to make the move harder or easier as needed.

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Progressions

MAKE IT HARDER: Use less assistance and decrease your leverage with the Archer Row. Fully extend the arm of your assisting hand directly to the side to force your working arm to bear the bulk of your weight. Complete all reps using this working arm before switching arm positions and repeating the exercise for your other arm.

EVEN HARDER: Perform an Archer Row but progressively use fewer fingers of the assisting hand on the bar until only one or two fingers remain.

HARDEST: Perform Single-Leg Self-Assisted Single-Arm Rows. Lift one leg off the bench and really focus on squeezing the glute of your supporting leg to keep your hips square to the ground. This variation will enhance the glute and hamstring work for your supporting leg.

Level 4: Advanced

SINGLE-ARM ROW

In this move, if your abs, Lower back, and hips don’t work perfectly in concert, your body will twist and turn like you’re getting down at a ’70s disco. That’s why unlike in the other levels, you should start with your legs bent and feet underneath your knees to make the task more manageable. It helps a great deal to reach your nonworking arm on the body side of the bar or past the handle as you pull up. This will provide some counterbalance.

Though you want to minimize body rotation and keep your hips and shoulders as square to the floor as possible, it’s okay to rotate your trailing shoulder and hip up and over toward your working arm as you pull up into the top position in kind of a diagonal fashion. However, you must do so with your hips and shoulders moving together and with no twisting at the lower back.

Your Goal

You should be able to do multiple sets of 10 reps per side before

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How to Do It

Starting Position

 Using one hand, grab the bar with a hook grip. Extend your nonworking arm toward the ceiling.

 With your legs bent and your feet underneath your knees, lift your hips until they are fully extended and your body forms a straight line from your head to your knees.

 Place your feet wider than shoulder-width apart for extra stability.

 Assume a hollow-body position: Clench your glutes, brace your abs, and pull your ribs and shoulders down.

• Reach your nonworking arm in front of the bar as a counterbalance.

• Your body should be straight from your knees to your head.

• Use a wide stance.

Perfect Execution

 Initiate the movement by pulling your shoulders down and back and driving your elbow tight to your side.

 Once you reach the point where your elbow is bent at a 90-degree angle, hold this position for 1 or 2 seconds and squeeze your shoulder blades together as if trying to crack a walnut between them.

 Then reverse the movement and repeat. Keep your hips fully extended throughout the movement.

• Hold for 1 to 2 seconds.

• Don’t twist your lower back.

Regressions

MAKE IT EASIER: Perform Eccentric Single-Arm Rows by only doing the lowering portion of the exercise (lower for at least 3 to 5 seconds) and then cheating back up into the top position by pulling up equally with both hands.

EVEN EASIER: Perform Isometric Single-Arm Rows by holding the top (or bottom) position.

EASIEST: Eliminate your body angle by performing Inclined Single-Arm Rows. This will work best while holding on to a pole or door frame or by using a TRX suspension trainer while standing straight. The gripping options allow you to walk your feet forward and backward to make the move harder or easier.

Progressions

MAKE IT HARDER: Decrease your base of support by bringing your feet closer together until they touch.

EVEN HARDER: Lift the same-side leg of your working arm off the floor and squeeze the glute of your supporting leg to keep your hips square to the ground.

HARDEST: Increase the relative loading by fully extending your legs straight out in front of your body. This makes it ultra difficult to keep your hips fully extended and requires you to pull more of your total body weight. Make it even harder by elevating your feet. If you can pull that off, you’re crazy strong.

Level 5: Superhero

PLYOMETRIC ROW

One of the big knocks on bodyweight training is that it doesn’t allow you to train explosive pulling power like you can with weights. Olympic lifting movements like Snatches, Cleans, and High Pulls or even kettlebell exercises like Swings allow you to transfer force from your lower body through your upper body by forcefully extending your ankles, knees, and hips and pulling a weight with your arms. The Plyometric Row is the body-weight answer. Start with your legs bent and your feet underneath your knees to make the task more manageable. Also hold the top of the rowing position for 5 seconds before each explosive rep to keep your form clean in the beginning. Later, you can progress to performing continuous reps without pausing.

Your Goal

You should be able to do multiple sets of 10 reps.

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How to Do It

Starting Position

 Grab the bar or handles of a suspension trainer with a hook grip.

 With your legs bent and your feet underneath your knees, lift your hips until they are fully extended and your body forms a straight line from your head through your knees.

 Assume a hollow-body position: Clench your glutes, brace your abs, and pull your ribs and shoulders down.

• Get ready to pull explosively and lower quickly.

• Hang with straight arms.

• Space your feet wider than hip width.

Perfect Execution

 Initiate the movement by pulling your shoulders down and back and driving your elbows tight to your sides.

 Once you reach the point where your elbows are bent at 90-degree angles, hold this position for 5 seconds and visualize trying to crack a walnut between your shoulder blades.

 Then quickly reverse the movement and lower your body to the starting position and then immediately pull right back up to the top position as fast as you can and repeat. You must keep your hips fully extended throughout the movement.

• In this progression, let go of the bar and quickly regrip to make it harder.

Regressions

MAKE IT EASIER: Hold the easier bottom position with your arms fully extended for 5 seconds.

EVEN EASIER: Perform Inclined Plyometric Rows. This will work best while holding on to a pole, railing, or by using a TRX suspension trainer. The gripping options allow you to walk your feet forward and backward to make the move harder or easier as needed.

EASIEST: Perform Jump Squat Rows. Integrate a Jump Squat with a Plyo Row for an unmatched total-body metabolic move. Assisting with your legs allows your arms to pull less weight and to be more explosive. This works best by holding on to a pole or, ideally, the handles of a suspension trainer that is anchored to a wall. Squat until your arms are fully extended and then simultaneously jump up and pull your hands to your armpits, going airborne. Land softly into the bottom of the Squat, pause, and repeat.

Progressions

MAKE IT HARDER: If you’re holding on to a straight bar or two parallel bars, allow your hands to go airborne at the apex of every pull and then regrip as you begin your descent. Add a clap at the top or change your hand placement midair, alternating between a wider grip, normal grip, closer grip, or even a mixed grip with one hand overhand and the other underhand.

EVEN HARDER: Extend your legs straight out in front of your body. This makes it ultra difficult to keep your hips fully extended and requires you to pull more of your total body weight.

HARDEST: Increase the body angle by performing Feet-Elevated Plyo Rows. Place your feet on a stable box, bench, chair, or ottoman. Make it super hard by elevating your feet above shoulder level.

Variations

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1. Elbow Bridge

Place only the backs of your arms on the floor with your elbows close to the sides of your body. Now push through your elbows and try to lift your upper back and shoulders off the ground and hold that position isometrically for time. You can also do reps up and down, if you’d like. You can make this move easier by fully extending your hips like you would with a Hip Thrust. You can make it harder by fully extending your legs straight in front of your body.

• You can even row without a bar.

• Press through the center of your feet.

• Squeeze your shoulder blades together.

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Variations

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2. Handless Row

Place your body between two chairs, benches, or boxes of even height. Then place your elbows on top of the elevated surfaces. Feel free to place a padded mat, towel, or pillow on the surface to make it more comfortable for your elbows. Next, bend your legs and place your feet directly underneath your knees and then raise your hips until they are fully extended without moving your lower back. Hold this position throughout the movement. Finally, drive your elbows downward as you pull your shoulders down and back and lift your chest up. Once you’ve gone as far as you can go without letting your shoulders shrug or glide forward, squeeze your shoulder blades together and hold that position for 1 or 2 seconds and then reverse the movement and repeat.

• Tense your abs; don’t let your hips sag.

• If you don’t have a pullup bar, you can use steps or boxes to row.

• Place your feet directly under your knees.

• Squeeze your shoulder blades together.

• Hold this position for 1 to 2 seconds.

• Raise your hips so your torso is flat.

Variations

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3. Rotating Single-Arm Row

Perform a Single-Arm Row as normal (a), reaching the nonworking arm toward the ceiling as you pull up. But as you lower back down, rotate your upper back (not your lower back) and reach your nonworking arm down and away from your body (b). It’s critical that you keep the shoulder of your working arm packed into the socket. You also must be sure that your hips and shoulders move together so that you don’t twist your lower back.

• Brace your abs.

• Maintain control of your working shoulder.

• Don’t twist your lower back.

Variations

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4. Climber Row

Inspired by the crazy gripping work of rock climbers, this is the most advanced Self-Assisted Single-Arm Row option because one hand is supporting your entire body. Grab the bar or handle with your working arm. Then take your assisting arm and grab the wrist of your working arm. Pull your body up using only as much assistance as you need. Make it harder by moving the assisting hand down toward your elbow, then to your bicep, and eventually to your shoulder.

• Your assisting arm grabs your wrist.

Variations

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5. Spider Row

Another way to shift more work to one side of your body during Rows is to add leg movement. A Spider Row has you flex your hip and bring one knee to the same-side elbow as you pull your body up. Make it even harder by fully extending that same leg to the side at the top position. This shifts more weight to the opposite arm for counterbalance. Perform all of your reps on one side before switching or switch sides every rep.

• Straighten this leg to make it harder.