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If you could only do one row variation in your back workouts and your goal was getting bigger lats, which would you choose? In this video, I’m going to break down the one armed dumbbell row, the barbell row and the standing single arm high cable row. I will cover the pros and cons of each back exercise and come up with the single best version of them all things considered.
Now, each of the rowing exercises covered here are great movements. They each belong in a complete back workout and training program. That said, due to the drawbacks and potential complications of one vs the other, the place in your program that you perform each of these becomes critically important to you seeing your best gains. For the purposes of this series, one of the exercises shown has to be selected above the others and that is where the science comes in to support that decision.
In this Iron Face/Off exercise showdown, I am putting the three row variations head to head. First up is the one armed dumbbell row. Right away, the unilateral aspect of this movement allows you to isolate one side from the other and avoid any strength imbalances that could be hidden by an exercise like the barbell row that has both hands on the bar at the same time. Next, the freedom gained by the arm lets you get a full lat contraction by approximating the origin and insertion of the lat and bringing the elbow not just back but across the back towards the spine.
The downside to this movement is that you are never able to get a good stretch on the lats and that the leg setup usually puts the groin in a vulnerable position for a hernia unless you square up the feet and do it in a more upright position. Finally, because the strength curve of the exercise places the highest demand when you are at your mechanical weakest, you will find that you have to limit the weight you are using on this row variation in order to get the most from the move.
On the barbell row, the locking in of the hands on a fixed barbell eliminates the ability of fully contracting the lats because of the inability to fully adduct and extend the elbows. Beyond that, the amount of lower back strength required to perform this exercise is high, and a lack of it can lead to injury and compensation. That said, the athletic position from which you perform the barbell row is a great benefit to the move as well as the fact that you are able to load up the exercise with more weight than you can on the one armed row.
Finally, the one armed cable high row is compared to both of these row exercise variations. Here, you will find that the stretch on the lat that is nonexistent on the other two versions is capable of being performed here. Because of this, the eccentric overload is much better (a key to creating muscle hypertrophy) and the ability to perform forced eccentrics after reaching failure on the concentric part of the lift is crucial as well. Once again, it’s an athletic position that the exercise is performed from and the lat can undergo a full contraction without the muscle imbalance issues.
The only detriment to this version of the row is that it doesn’t help strengthen the lower back as the barbell row does but that is easily overcome with an alternative low back exercise included in your routine.
As you can see, there are many pros and cons to these three row variations, but at the end of the day if I could choose only one for building a bigger back it would be the high cable row for the reasons explained. Not to mention among the benefits is that you can really load up the weight used on this exercise and perform the move for greater hypertrophy with very minimal compromise or downside.
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