Barbell Bench Rows

Rowing is a simple yet versatile exercise that can be performed in a wide range of varieties. It provides serious strength and muscle growth on your back and safeguards your shoulders to reduce the risks of injuries.

The barbell bench row is a row variation that utilizes a seal row bench or a flat, non-adjustable bench which allows you to achieve maximal muscle activation by eliminating the possibility of using momentum while you row. It takes the lower body out of the movement forcing your back muscles to do all the hard work. 

bench row exercise guide

You may know the barbell bench row by other names as well. These include the prone bench row, supported chest row, and seal bench row.

In this article, we’ll discuss how to perform bench rows correctly to help you get started.   So, be sure to read on for all the info you need and get that strong back you’ve been wanting.

How To Do Barbell Bench Rows

Setting Up

When doing barbell bench rows you will need to find a high flat bench. You will position yourself face down on the bench with a barbell setup under the bench for you to grab. The bench should be high enough to allow your arms to be straight when you grip the bar. Plates on the barbell should clear the floor at the start of the movement. Use an overhand grip for this exercise about shoulder width apart.


Slowly raise the barbell from straight arms length up to the underside of the bench, keeping your elbows back.

As you are lifting you are bringing the bar up to just beneath your lower rib cage at the highest point.

Slowly return the barbell to its starting position by reversing the movement. That is one complete repetition.


  • You can have a partner help left the bar so you can grip it in the starting position.
  • Make the exercise more challenging by raising the end of the bench nearest to your head.
  • Try adjusting your grip widths.
  • If you don’t have a high enough flat bench you can stack your bench on box’s and even weight plates.


  • Great trapezius muscle stressor
  • Also directly trains lats, biceps, rear delts, brachialis muscles, and forearm flexors

Barbell Bench Rows Illustrated Guide

How to do Bench Rows

Muscles Worked

Primary Muscles

  • Trapezius
  • Lats
  • Rear Deltoids
  • Biceps
  • Brachialis Muscles
  • Forearm Flexors

Secondary Muscles

  • Core

Bench Rows Variations

Incline Bench Barbell Row

Instead of a flat bench, this variation requires the use of an incline bench set at a 30-45 degree angle. The change in elevation allows you to target the muscles differently and provides a greater range of motion.

Underhand Seal Row

As the name implies, this variation uses an underhand grip (palms facing your body when your elbows are bent) when performing the barbell bench row, which allows you to lift more load than the pronated (overhand) version. It also allows a greater muscle activation as it gives your back a better contraction.

Bench Rows Alternatives

Dumbbell Rows

This chest-supported variation of rowing activates muscles along the upper torso region using a slightly inclined bench and a pair of dumbbells.

The support from the bench prevents you from using momentum to allow your back and arms to do more work, and the incline forces you to row at a slightly different angle, working your back in a slightly different way.

Although dumbbell row appears to be a simple movement, it comes with subtleties that you will need to understand to get maximal results out of this exercise.

Prepare an incline bench at a 40-45 degree angle. With a dumbbell in each hand and your palms facing each other, straddle the bench, rest your chest and torso on the pad, and allow your arms to hang straight downwards.

Start rowing by lifting the dumbbells toward your ribcage and squeezing the shoulder blades back as far as you can without breaking the neutral position of your neck.

How to Do Bench Rows

Slowly lower the dumbbells back to the starting position and repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Seated Cable Row

This alternative is not only great in targeting your back muscles but also your biceps. It requires the use of a cable machine, which provides the benefit of getting constant tension on your muscles throughout the movement.

To do seated cable rows, start by sitting upright on the machine and making sure that your shoulders are level with the handle.

Plant your feet flat on the floor or on the foot pads and grip the handle firmly with an overhand grip.

Once in the position, breathe in and pull the handle towards your body as you bring your elbows back. Maintain a steady and straight torso as you do so.

Next, slowly extend your arms while exhaling and returning to the starting position.

Pendlay Row

The Pendlay row is a barbell front row variation that takes the work away from your lower body as you lift the bar off the floor, allowing your lats, traps and rhomboids to work harder. It also, to some degree, works your biceps, glutes and hamstrings.

Start with knees bent slightly and torso parallel to the floor. Grab the barbell with an overhand, wide grip. Lift the bar from the floor and pull it towards your body. Make sure that you use your back muscles to pull the bar and that you engage your core muscles for stability.

Slowly lower the barbell back to the ground. Pause and repeat until you reach your desired number of repetitions.

Back Exercises Guide

Kevin Harris