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.
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.
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.
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.
Ultimate conclusion: The smart trainee will recognize the benefits of both of these excellent exercises, and make full use of them.