Bent Over Barbell Row vs. Deadlifts

Several times on internet forums I’ve seen people asking about whether they should do bent over barbell rows or deadlifts for their back exercise. Whenever I get the opportunity to answer, I always tell them to do both.

As you’ll see, rather than it be a question of bent over barbell rows vs. deadlifts, its about making the most of these two exercises which have much in common, yet are totally different in fundamental ways.

What’s good about bent over rows?

Bent over rows are often touted as a lat exercise – and it is. But it would be quite short sighted to simply write them off as being solely for the lats. Bent over rows are a compound exercise which involves a whole array of muscles, and not just in the back, but notably the posterior deltoids, and the biceps.

Muscles Targeted

As a compound exercise using free weights, the bent-over row works many muscle groups. The main muscle group targeted is your back, the latissimus dorsi and rhomboids. Pulling the weight higher to your chest works your upper-back muscles, while pulling the weight closer to your waist works your mid-back muscles.

Assisting muscles are your biceps as well as muscles in your shoulders and forearms. Additionally, your legs and core — the abdominal and lower back muscles — contract to stabilize, or keep your body in place, while performing the exercise. Increased strength in these muscles improves your posture and spine stability.

While the lats are certainly worked tremendously well with bent over rows, a large amount of other muscles are worked in the back, particularly the upper back – traps included.

Then there’s the lower back. Lower back muscles are involved because during bent over rows the back must be kept flat – which means the lower back muscles are working against the weight of the barbell to keep the back flat, which gives them a good workout, too.

Training Variations

You can target specific muscle group by varying the execution during your workout. Using a lighter weight for two to four sets of 10 to 25 repetitions results in smaller size gains and greater muscle endurance and definition. Using heavier weights for one to three sets of eight to 12 repetitions leads to larger size and strength gains.

Adding higher amounts of cardio training and a stricter diet significantly reduces body fat.

What to Watch Out For

Like every exercise form is more important than anything else.  When doing exercises especially which involved lifting a lot of you weight you should be careful if you have history of medical problems.  Although this is a recommended exercise for blasting the lats you should consult your physician if you had previous back problems. In case of previous back injury you may want to find a different way to train your muscles without getting injured.

Conclusion: All in all, bent over rows are a great back exercise all around, but are particularly adept at bringing about strength and thickness in the upper back muscles.

What’s good about deadlifts?

While they certainly work the upper back, too, dead lifts are much more for the lower back, not to mention quads, glutes, hamstrings – even the calf muscles.

Many have noted that the form of the dead lift is comparable to the squat, albeit with the squat having a greater range of motion, as deadlifts do not start and finish with the thigh below parallel, and the barbell is stationary in between reps with deadlifts.

When deadlifts are executed, after the initial drive up from the quads, the spinal erector muscles and hamstring muscles kick in and assume the load given to them from the momentum of the quads, in order to continue the pull to straighten out.

Muscles Targeted

As another compound exercise using free weights, deadlift provides nearly a total body workout. The main muscle group targeted is your back. You will notice that lower back (erectors) will become big and strong within a relatively short period. Latissimus dorsi and rhomboids are also worked significantly.

Deadlift is probably the best exercise for development of strong glute muscles.  In addition similarly to a squat the entire leg region also gets a significant workout.

During the lift phase, all arms muscle work in tandem to support and lift the weight, working with shoulder muscles.

What to Watch Out For

You can lift a lot of weight while doing deadlifts, thus making them very intense and effective on your entire body. Therefore, it is important to warm up thoroughly before lifting heavier weights.

Start with two warm-up sets using light weight with high repetitions. Also, to avoid injury, keep your back straight as you lift, and push with your thighs.  Similar to bent over rows you want to consult a physician before doing this exercise.  History of back and knee problems can cause serious damage.

Conclusion: While deadlifts certainly work various muscles of the upper back, including the traps – but not the lats – they are much more for the spinal erector muscles, and make much greater use of various leg muscles during the lift – most notably the quads and hamstrings.

Ultimately, the smart trainee will recognize the benefits of both of these excellent exercises, and make full use of them.

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