An all-time great ranks rows as number-one for back growth

August 22, 2008


Six–time Mr. Olympia Dorian Yates was known for having one of the best backs ever. In a summary of his Ask Dorian column from December 2004, he gives some of the reasons why he rates underhand barbell rows as one of the best back wideners. Also recognized for his training routines that featured a single heavy set, often to failure after a warm–up, he included a back routine sure to add mass.

The underhand barbell row is an effective exercise when performed while using the strictest form. After tearing my biceps, I was forced to adjust my back routine and switch from an underhand to an overhand grip for rows. I preferred the underhand grip because it puts the biceps at a mechanical advantage and allows heavier lifting. This can be illustrated if you try doing reverse curls with the same weight that you use for a standard barbell curl. Heavier weight coupled with strict form equals greater intensity, and that was the key to my workouts.

It's important to use proper form when performing rows and to warm up properly. I suggest positioning your torso at about a 70–degree angle to the floor. This will keep the lower back more stable and will place the lats in a mechanically stronger position than the standard bent–over row where the upper body is parallel to the floor. Again, you will be able to lift heavier and with more intensity.

As you lift the barbell, concentrate on using only your lats to move the weight. Don't jerk the weight or use momentum to get it moving. Pull it forcefully but smoothly. Hold the weight at the top for a second before lowering it at a slightly slower pace than used during the positive (raising) portion of the rep. You will be stronger in both a static hold and during the negative than you are during the positive segment. If you can't hold the weight or control its descent, you used more than your lat muscles to raise the weight.

The barbell row has always been my bread–and–butter movement for building back mass. It's a great foundation movement. Although you may be able to lift heavier with an underhand grip, you should choose your grip based on how it suits your own structure and needs. If you want a big back, you're going to have to row.


Hammer Strength pulldowns 1* 15
1* 12
1 8-10
Underhand barbell rows 1* 12
1 8-10
Hammer Strength one-arm rows 1 8-10
Wide-grip cable rows 1 8-10
Hyperextensions 1* 8
Deadlifts 1 8
* Warm-up set