First, let's all agree that the barbell row is an awesome exercise. It's long been revered in powerlifting and bodybuilding circles as a great back developer. It's been used by the greatest powerlifter of all time (Ed Coan), and a variation of the barbell row was a favorite of one of the greatest bodybuilders ever (Dorian Yates and his famed Yates row).
Dorian Yates' back is the centerpiece of his insane, freaky physique, and the Yates row is one of the things he credits. Ed Coan's accomplishments in the powerlifting world have been well documented and if you've ever seen Ed in person, you know he's one of the thickest people to ever set foot in a weight room. And his 900-pound deadlift, to me, is the single-most impressive deadlift feat.
Now that I've satisfied all the barbell row zealots, the exercise does have its drawbacks. This is especially true for a lifter that's made significant progress in the squat and deadlift.
The barbell row is extremely taxing to the lower back, and when coupled with heavy workouts of squatting and pulling, can be detrimental to one's overall training goals.
The squat and deadlift already put a tremendous strain on the lower back and the last thing a person needs is to have a fatigued lower back when attempting big weights in these two movements.
Enter the dumbbell row – this movement has received a huge kick in the PR department due to Matt Krocazleski and the Kroc Row. The dumbbell row offers all the benefits of the barbell row plus a few additional perks like:
- You can use more weight in the dumbbell row.
- It's much easier on the lower back.
- It's great for developing grip strength, an important component in all sports.
- It's great for upper back/lat development that can be transferred to the deadlift and the bench press.
Even if you're not a believer or user of the Krow row, sets of 6-15 reps of the dumbbell row, done with or without straps (I recommend having personal records for straps/no straps), can do wonders for your back development and strength. Here's a video of yours truly doing a Kroc Row.
For more information on how to use dumbbell and barbell rows in your training and how to program them, get the 5/3/1 Forever book. The 5/3/1 Forever book tells you how to program each part of your training to maximize success. And every program is complete with main lift, supplemental lifts, accessory work, conditioning and mobility for those of you who just want to train and not think it to death.