114 Row Variations

Why so many Row Variations?

Why did I put together all these dumbbell row, barbell row, and ring row variations? Well, when I first started weight training, I wanted to develop the muscles I could see in the mirror: ABS, chest, and yeah, gimme some biceps too.

Fortunately, a mentor clued me in that you need to develop the BACK of your body as much as the front. So I started tracking my pulling strength (pull ups and dumbbell rows) as much as my pushing (bench press and push ups). 

This develops a muscular back to balance out the physique, as well as strength across different movement patterns. This is a pillar of the Functional Bodybuilding training method.

So here are many ideas and variations for pulling. I’ve filmed them all over the last few years as demonstrations for my programs. You’ll find lots of them in Persist as well as other Functional Bodybuilding ebooks.

3 Favorite Row Variations

1

Knee on Bench RNT Dumbbell Row

  • Stability is the key here. With the knee and the arm on the bench you have a very stable platform to pull from. This means a greater focus on pulling muscles and less on stabilizing muscles in the trunk and core.

  • RNT for Mind Muscle Connection. The addition of a thin band that pulls the bell away from you signals your brain to pull back towards the body. This little band cue enhances the mind muscle connection of pull-down with your lats towards your hips.

2

Single Arm Ring Row
  • Anti rotation is KEY. Rotational strength doesn’t always mean you need actually rotate in your movements. This exercise puts you in a position that forces you to actively work against your body rotating. This is called ANTI Rotation. The combination of single-arm rowing and the anti-rotation strength in the trunk and core is totally unique.

3

Tripod Elbowing Row
  • Rear Deltoids for Health. The tripod elbowing row is a great tool to target the rear deltoid. The elbow pulls out to the side (90 degrees from the body) and in doing so targets the rear shoulder muscle. Strengthening this muscle group has great protective benefits for overall shoulder health.

  • Rear Deltoids for Shape. It is easy to bias the front of the shoulder with our training. Push-ups, bench presses, and dips all build up the front of the shoulders. Getting the rear deltoid muscle to build is important to building great shoulder shape too.

More Row Technique Breakdowns

Check out my full length YouTube video on technique tips, common errors, and how to incorporate rows in your training. I also film breakdowns on individual movements regularly for the Persist training program. We include lots of Thinking Athlete resources like coaching notes and video technique breakdowns. When you know the “why” behind your training you can approach it with intent.

Classic Dumbbell Rows

Tip: When choosing a movement, think about the level of stability it provides. More advanced athletes, further into a progressive training cycle, can use instability. This allows you to train hard without necessarily adding more weight and risking that beat down feeling.

Use stability for developing good technique, coming back from injury, revisiting motor control, or at the beginning of a training cycle.

Kettlebell Row Ideas

Tip: Most of the time kettlebells and dumbbells are interchangeable with rows. But the KB Ballistic Row is one exception. Give it a try for a fun timing challenge. Gorilla Rows are also easier with kettlebells due to the handles being more accessible.

Upright Row & Elbowing Row

Tip: Changing your body position and pulling angle will help you access new ranges of muscles. Mix it up and include lots of variations in your training to use as many angles as possible.

Bands and Chains(aw) Rows

Tip: Adding a light band for RNT work (Reactive Neuromuscular Training) cues your brain for better movement. Remember the stability tip from above? The Chainsaw Row is a good choice for a band, just like the knee on bench variation. As you brace to pull against the band, the forearm on leg position provides a stable base. 

Rotation With the Torso Row

Tip: Most of the time you’ll recruit the muscles you want to work by pointing your torso to the floor. But in life we move in all sorts of ways, and it’s good to train those too. The Torso Row rotates intentionally to access this movement pattern. 

Split Stance Row

Tip: The Split Stance creates a bit more instability and can also work a bit of the glutes, hamstrings, and hips. Two muscle groups in one move makes for an efficient training session. Bonus: unilateral strength balance!

Plank Rows

Speaking of two muscle groups in one, combining a row with a plank is a great way to mix core work in. You can work stability with the Quadruped Row. Or use instability with the Plank Supported Row (one hand on a parallette).

Prone Rows

Tip: Again, we can play with pulling angle and stability here with the Prone Row. When using an incline bench, mix up the angles frequently instead of using the same setting every time.

Complexes With Rows

Tip: In Functional Bodybuilding, we often use strength movements that build muscle right in the middle of a conditioning piece or WOD as some like to say. Stay in control and you’ll get an extra pump, while making your breathing and conditioning work more fun. Or these external rotation variations make great finishers to round out your shoulder work for the day.

 

Ring Rows

Tip: Buy an inexpensive set of rings for home or your gym bag, and open up a new world of pulling (and pushing) power. I’ve also included some skill specific variations here for developing the Muscle Up.

Barbell Rows

There are a few different categories of barbell rows, each with their own advantages. For the Body Row, set a barbell up securely in a rack for a stable way to pull at a height that works for you. The Landmine Row uses instability with the free end – you can use an attachment or just wedge a barbell between plates or in a corner on the floor. And of course there’s a classic Barbell Row with plates. If you have a Prone Row Bench (Eleiko makes a terrific one) or a way to set it up, you can also do prone Barbell Rows.

Minimal Equipment Rows

At home? No gym? You can still row to your heart’s content with these variations. We filmed several of these during the pandemic, when California locked down and we started the Minimalist track in Persist. It’s still going strong!

That's a lot of rows.

And if you’re getting this many knowledge bombs right off the bat, imagine how swole, sexy, and functional you can get from my email newsletter. I’ll start you off with a Back Day workout with my favorite moves, and you’ll also get my Look Good Move Well training & nutrition guide PLUS my BIG BICEP BONUS. Put your email in the box!

Try a Quick Workout

Workout Lead Mag
Which one?

Great choice! Where should we send it?

Streamlined strength and conditioning - but make it fun!