Whether it is to increase your total in powerlifting, get bigger and/or stronger, develop as an athlete or sportsperson and also for health reasons, chances are a BIG and STRONG back/posterior chain will benefit you.
The posterior chain comprises of all the muscles on the rear of the body including the upper, mid and lower back, glutes, hamstrings and calves. These muscles are the prime movers for a huge amount of exercises and also have a massive influence on things like posture and back health.
Considering these points, it is wise to put emphasis on strengthening these areas. The main movements (squat, bench press and deadlift – for powerlifting anyway – overhead pressing and pull-ups can also be included) will only do so much to develop the posterior chain!
This is where ROWS come into play; one of the best back builders and an exercise with an enormous amount of variety.
Countless top powerlifters, bodybuilders and even Olympic weightlifters use a variety of rowing movements in their training to build more size, strength and help their weaknesses. The posterior chain is made up of so many muscles that can be made bigger and stronger, hence why it is so important on the bodybuilding stage (shows are won from the back) and is crucial to be able to lift as much weight as possible.
Why should I use rows/strengthen my posterior chain?
Squat – will create a more stable base from the bottom up, which also applies to the upper back where the bar rests. Whilst the posterior chain is not a prime mover in the squat, sometimes back strength can be the limiting factor and a strong, stable posterior chain will aid the squat overall. The glutes can be a major influence over knee tracking and stability, as well as provide the hip extension needed to finish a squat, so they are an important consideration.
Bench press – more muscle creates better leverage and also stability, particularly on the bench press where the back is pinned into the pad. Upper back strength will lead to better and more efficient scapula retraction and depression, which will allow for better benching (the shoulders “unravelling” can be a common weakness in beginners and may cause lockout issues for intermediates). Having a developed posterior chain may also have benefits for leg drive, where the glutes can stay on the bench whilst the legs push backwards.
Deadlift – the deadlift is THE posterior chain movement. From breaking the bar off the floor to locking it out the deadlift requires strength in the back muscles, hamstrings, glutes and even smaller muscles like rear delts and calves. More specifically, the bigger and stronger the back is, the easier it will be to break the bar from the floor and chances are starting position will be better due to back tightness. The hamstrings play a vital role throughout the whole movement with both conventional and sumo styles and the glutes are key for locking out effectively.
Variety And Carryover – the reason why rows are so applicable to training for strength, size, athleticism and general health, is that there is such a variety to choose from that everyone can implement some rows into their training. Furthermore, some rows provide more “carryover” than others (everything will carry over to some extent, however for example a heavy barbell row will be more specific and easier to overload than controlled rows targeting the rear delts). This means they can be applied to training with individual goals in mind and also can be scaled up or down depending on requirements – for example, if someone wants to get some extra upper back work, but their lower back feels unrecovered, they can trade barbell rows for chest-supported rows or strip the weight right back and focus on tempo barbell rows.
Deadlift carryover/strength purposes – heavier barbell movements such as Pendlay rows, T-bar rows and Yates rows. These rows are usually pulled into the waist and do not use the strictest form.
Upper back focus – rowing to higher up (chest area) with a hold at the top and emphasis on a slower, more controlled eccentric.
Varying grips – this lets someone hit different muscles or provide different stimulus from the same exercise.
Chest supported or seated – these are good to take the stress off the lower back and hips, which may be useful in periods of hard training or where hypertrophy is the sole focus.
One arm variations – great to work stability, correct imbalances, focus on one side at a time and/or to provide different stimulus.
With all of these types of rows you can manipulate VARIABLES: volume, frequency, intensity, sets and rep scheme, tempo, length of isometric hold.
Aesthetics – aside from the strength aspect of the posterior chain, having well-developed back muscles, glutes, hamstrings and calves serve an aesthetic purpose too, specifically for those striving to look better or bodybuilders/physique competitors. The back has the ability to give someone “width” due to the latissimus dorsi muscles which enhances a “V-taper” look which many aim for and also looks very aesthetically pleasing on stage. The back is also an area that many competitors are always looking to bring up, due to the complexity of its structure. There are also elements of bringing a well-rounded physique which includes emphasis on developing the glutes, hamstrings and calves.
Overall, if you do not include rows into your training and your aim to get bigger and/or stronger then you probably should be! Hopefully this article has outlined the basics and the benefits of rows and the connection they have to building the posterior chain. Now you can start rowing your way to an impressive back and a bigger total!
Feel free to contact me with any feedback, questions or enquiries at: firstname.lastname@example.org or interact with me on Facebook at “Ben Glasscock Powerlifter” and/or Instagram where I post pretty much every day: @blgstrength or a link here. Coaching is available at very reasonable rates too, get in contact via email, Facebook and/or Instagram, I’d love to hear from you!