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How to Fix Your Rowing Technique

Quick note for all of those that landed here thinking this blog is referring to the sport of rowing;

It’s not. Sorry.

Norris rows


But if you landed here in the hopes of improving how you perform strength-oriented rows in the gym, you’re in the right place (it just wasn’t as smooth of a title).

First off, I commemorate you on actually giving a damn about how you row. It’s tough enough to get trainees to perform pulling exercises in the gym to begin with, so the fact that you are reading this means that you not only perform rows, but that you want to improve them.
There are several different types of rows, including, but not limited to, the following;

Seated Row

Batwing Row

Chest-Supported Row

1-Arm Dumbbell Row


Rows have 2 primary purposes;

#1: Give you the posture of a God/Goddess

#2: For guys, a coveted V-taper isn’t possible without a built upper back. For you ladies, the mid/upper back is the X-FACTOR, as I’ve written about in the past HERE.

They also have 2 secondary purposes;

#1: They improve the look and strength of the upper arms, as the biceps contribute a good deal during rows.

#2: Your grip will get stronger because every rowing exercise places a large demand on your hands. Grip strength has been linked with longevity, so let’s just say rows will help you live longer.

Like most exercises, rowing technique tends to be pretty weaksauce when you take a look around your average gym.

Here are the 3 most-common errors and how to fix them;

Error #1: Rowing with the front shoulders

As alluded to, rows are designed to target the mid and upper back. The technique above is not targeting those muscles. All it is doing is exacerbating what is probably already a poor posture.

Solution = Pre-set the scapula

Sounds fancy, but it’s pretty easy to do. Just watch my explanation below.


Error #2: Keeping the shoulder blades retracted

Say what? Shouldn’t the shoulders be down and back the whole time to promote good posture?

Solution = Allow for scapular protraction

That’s a common train of thought, but if you don’t have scapular protraction you can’t expect proper scapular retraction. The shoulder blades have to “release” each rep to get the most out of each row.
While isometrics have a place when training for strength and aesthetics, there is a reason you have to actually use a full range-of-motion the majority of the time to look and perform your best. And an isometric is essentially what you’re performing when the shoulder blades are forced to stay back.

Check out the video below of ELA coach Tilita Lutterloh spitting mad game on this band with her scapular protraction


Error #3:  Thinking “chest up” is the key to good posture

I’ve touched on this in the past, but when I tell someone to demonstrate what good posture looks like, they usually shoot their chest up like they just got capped in the back while straining to see a UFO in the sky.

While it’s hard to give good posture an exact definition, it isn’t that.

Solution = Keep the ribs down

Here is a photo comparison of what this looks like in a Batwing Row.

Batwing Row Comparison

In the top photo, my lower-back is arched excessively. Naturally, the lower-back is going to be getting the most work in this position, which is NOT what we want.
In the bottom photo, my ribs are set down, allowing me to target my mid/upper back to the fullest.

For most, it will feel like you are “hunched” when the ribs are down, but you’re actually in a better position than when you allow the ribs to flare. This is because you are “stacked” through your torso, allowing your abdomen and glutes to kick in and relieve stress on the lower-back.

Error #4: Using the head as a substitute for scapular retraction

When the scapulae begin to fatigue, the head tends to take over in an effort to continue the set and keep the bells moving.
Below is a photo of what this looks like during a set of TRX Rows…notice how far out ahead my chin is from my shoulders.

TRX Row Head

Some refer to it as a “chicken” head. I refer to it as constipated head because it always looks so strained and intense.

Solution = Keep the head still

Think less about where your head should be and focus more on just keeping it still and relaxed.
If you really want something to think about, you can make a double-chin. This will ensure that you’re not cocking the head forward.
I have no doubt that if you clean up the above 4 errors you will feel your back in a whole new way. I can tell you from personal experience that getting your posture up to snuff by strengthening your back (versus just stretching) will help you feel so much better. You will feel like an invincible force that cannot be touched by mere man. Kittens will jump out of trees for you and babies will learn to walk just by seeing you walk by with such grace.

But seriously…

Dominate All Life,
Kasey, CSCS

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