This article was originally written for STACK.
The Chest-Supported Dumbbell Row is my most-programmed pulling exercise. It's a favorite of mine because it's safe, accessible and extremely effective.
When performing standard Bent-Over Rows, people often use a little body English from the legs and lower back to force the weight up. With Chest-Supported Dumbbell Rows, your lower body is completely taken out of the movement and your upper back is forced to do all the work. Total isolation.
Many people also have trouble getting into the proper hip hinge position required to correctly perform a standard Bent-Over Row. This results in more of an upright row, targeting the traps and shoulders, rather than the desired horizontal row for the lats and middle back.
Lying facedown on the bench also reduces stress on the spine. Combining too many "free weight" rows in a workout (Deadlifts, Bent-Over Rows, T-Bar Rows, etc.) will really tax your lower back, lengthening your recovery time and leaving you vulnerable to injury. Here, all of those forces are eliminated.
From beginner to advanced trainee, the Chest-Supported Dumbbell Row is a great exercise for building a big, strong upper back and improving posture.
1. Pull to the Hips
When performing the Chest-Supported Dumbbell Row, pull toward the hips in a "sweeping" motion rather than toward the shoulders in an "up and down" motion. When you pull straight up and down, your biceps, shoulders and traps do most of the work. When you pull to the hips at an arc, you further engage the lats. Keep the shoulder blades packed and squeeze at the top of every rep to get the most out of this exercise.
2. Chest on the Bench
Keeping your chest flat against the bench throughout the movement will not only ensure that you're working the right muscles, it will keep you safe. Excessive hyperextension of the spine here, or on any rowing exercise, puts you at risk of significant injury. If you can't pull the dumbbells into proper position without arching your back, drop to a lighter weight.
Here are a few fun and effective variations of the Chest-Supported Dumbbell Row to keep you rowing and growing for weeks to come!
Wrap your free arm around the bench to keep your chest planted against the pad and prevent your torso from rotating.
Single-Arm with Iso Hold
Hold one dumbbell at your hip, in a full contraction, while performing all reps with the other arm.
Let one arm hang fully extended while rowing with the other, and alternate arms every rep.
Alternating with Iso Hold
Hold one dumbbell at your hip, in a full contraction, while rowing with the other arm- then switch every rep.
Pre-Exhaust Iso Hold
Performing a 15- to 30-second isometric hold BEFORE rowing not only pre-exhausts the lats (enabling you to get more bang for your buck with a lighter weight), I find that it really builds a strong mind-muscle connection.
Every fifth rep, perform a 5-second isometric hold and squeeze the hell out of your lats. Do 15 total reps (with 3 total iso holds).
Rep Progression Method with Shrug
Using Cory Gregory's Rep Progression Method, perform 1 row followed by 1 shrug. Then, 2 rows followed by 2 shrugs. Continue in this fashion until you reach 5 reps of each.