Like the lifts we’ve covered in the exercise series so far, the barbell row is another weightlifting movement that often causes gym owners some anxiety. It’s a compound movement done with heavy barbells that carries a risk of serious injury when done improperly. It can be tempting to outlaw or restrict exercises like this in your gym out of the fear of injuries and liability issues.
However, barbell rows, just like squats, deadlifts, and other major compound movements, are so incredibly beneficial to most exercisers that you would be doing your gym members a disservice by banning them altogether.
In this post, we’ll be covering proper row form and necessary equipment so you can provide a safe and empowering environment by spotting potential hazards before they become issues.
While the barbell row isn’t the most glamorous or well-known exercise among the general public, it’s not just for advanced lifters! Beginners can reap many benefits by learning this movement.
Barbell rows build strength in the arms and back while using the lower back, core, glutes, and hamstrings as stabilizing muscles. The recruitment of so many muscle groups makes barbell rows a powerful exercise for burning calories and building a desirable body shape. There is no better exercise for anyone wanting to build a powerful, chiseled upper back.
The benefits of this movement go far beyond simple aesthetics, however. Done with good form, barbell rows strengthen the muscles your body uses to keep the spine straight and protected. Strengthening the muscles of the back keeps your body stable and resilient. This translates to better everyday, functional fitness and a much lower likelihood of age- and injury-related back pain.
As with any weightlifting movement done under a heavy load, proper form is essential. This is especially true for the barbell row, because the main muscle groups that will be under strain are the ones that support your back. If you are new to weightlifting or you have any question about whether your form is acceptable, it is worthwhile to double-check with a trainer before you start lifting heavy loads.
If you are lifting with weight plates on the bar, start this movement with the bar on the ground. If you are practicing by using an empty bar, place it on a rack or a platform at shin height, instead of directly on the floor.
Position your feet so the bar is directly over the mid-foot area. Bend over and grab the bar with your hands a comfortable distance apart, or roughly shoulder-width.
With your knees slightly bent and your hips high, raise your chest and straighten your back. You will want to keep a straight, firm back throughout the entire movement.
When you’re ready, use your arm and upper back muscles to lift the bar to your chest. Hold for a second, and then lower the bar to the floor again.
Take a moment to double-check that your back is still straight and firm before you do your next rep.
For barbell rows, the most obvious piece of equipment your patrons will need is a barbell with suitable weight plates and safety clips to hold the plates onto the bar. Couple this setup with enough space to perform the movement safely, and this is all the equipment most moderate to advanced lifters will need.
Beginners, however, can sometimes be intimidated by stepping into the barbell section in a gym and being faced with extremely heavy weights and complicated-looking racks. Beginners may appreciate having access to other options to do rows without using barbells.
Consider providing:• Dumbbells• Cable machines• Weight machines that replicate the rowing movement• Resistance bands
Safety and Liability
If you are not already asking your gym patrons to sign liability waivers when they join your facility, that is an option you may want to think about if you are going to allow heavy barbell lifts. Along with the risk of injury from lifting with poor form, there will always be a risk of property or bodily damage from dropped barbells and weight plates. Any time heavy equipment is being moved around, safety should be your first priority.
You may also post signs in weightlifting areas warning lifters of the dangers of bad form and of picking weights that are too heavy for their capabilities.
Ask your trainers to keep their eyes out for any safety hazards they may notice, and encourage your gym members to leave feedback as well! While it may take a few days for your team to notice damage on a piece of equipment they rarely use, a patron will be much more likely to notice the damage while they are working out and report it if there is a convenient way to do so.
The “red flags” for safety hazards you may notice are similar to those for other heavy, compound barbell lifts:• Exercisers lifting with a curved back or unstable knees and hips• An overly confident person attempting a lift that is much too heavy for his or her capability• Someone forgetting to use clips to hold weight plates onto the bar• Tripping hazards and clutter on the floor that may cause someone moving a heavy bar to become unsteady• Patrons who drop barbells instead of returning the bar slowly to the floor between each set• Any worn cables on machines, unstable flooring, or other possible points of failure that could cause sudden accidents
Thankfully, with proper liability protection and a careful eye for safety concerns, there is no reason why you can’t offer your gym members the opportunity to do barbell rows safely in your facility. In fact, as a gym owner, learning major lifting movements like rows puts you miles ahead of other gyms who don’t take care to enforce rules and provide a safe exercise environment.
Far from banning heavy compound lifts in your facility, you would be better off encouraging your patrons to do these exercises in an environment you know is safe, supportive, and empowering.