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Barbell Row-Only Workout for Back Mass and Strength

June 15, 2020


It’s a fact that bodybuilding workouts simply work for gaining muscle. But what if you’re stuck on a particular lift and not making gains?

Sometimes it’s good to focus on just one exercise for a workout. In this case, we’re talking about barbell rows to build mass and strength for your back.

I’m going to take you through a barbell row-only workout.

In fact, I just finished this workout about an hour ago before I started writing this blog post. And you’re going to want to try this workout after you see it!

Here are a few things to keep in mind while reading this:

  • You’re only doing one exercise for this workout
  • You’ll be doing multiple sets, working up to some heavy weights
  • Make sure you have the ‘fuel’ you need for this workout (aka eat an adequate pre-workout meal an hour before, and this is optional, drink a pre-workout drink)
  • I’m not saying replace your entire bodybuilding workout routine with this type of workout – I’ll show you a couple of ways you can use this method in conjunction with your regular workouts

Barbell Rows-Only Video (Daily Muscle Tips #1)

You can watch the video version of this below where I walk you through the workout. This is actually my first episode called ‘Daily Muscle Tips‘ on YouTube, and I share the exact barbell row-only workout I did that day.

**Make sure you subscribe to The Muscle Program on YouTube!

Why Barbell Rows is the Best Exercise for Building Back Mass and Strength

Some may have different opinions of what the ‘best exercise’ is for building your back. And I’ll share my personal story with this specific exercise at the end of this blog post (you’ll learn where I screwed up!).

Here are some facts about barbell rows and why they’re so awesome for building mass and strength:

  • Barbell rows recruit all of your back muscles as well as several supporting muscles
  • Barbell rows will make you stronger on other major lifts, like squats, deadlifts, and bench press
  • Barbell rows are actually considered a full-body, compound exercise per Mehdi at stronglifts.com (this dude has some really good info!)
  • Getting stronger on barbell rows can help protect your shoulders and help you develop better posture
  • Allows you to use heavier weight which, will build more overall muscle and strength

How to Perform Barbell Rows Correctly

Barbell Rows back exercises for bodybuilding mass

**If you’re a seasoned weightlifter, you can probably skip this and scroll down to the actual workout. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to revisit the basics.

First, it’s important to make sure you’re doing this exercise correctly. You can kill your lower back or screw something up if you do any type of rows with bad form.

  1. Use a medium stance to start out and make sure the bar is directly in front of you, close to your body (you can use the lower section of the squat rack to set the bar on, where the bar is around the same height as your waist)
  2. Grab the bar with an overhand shoulder-width grip (this may not be the same for everyone, so make sure the width of your grip is comfortable and doesn’t feel awkward)
  3. Walk back away from the squat rack while firmly holding the bar
  4. As you lean forward, keep a slight bend in your knees and keep a slight arch in your lower back – DO NOT round your back!
  5. Pull the bar into the lower part of your torso
  6. Control the weight on the descent – don’t let the weight just fall back to the starting position (this will force your muscles to work harder, which will build more muscle!)

Controversial Methods

There are two controversial theories on doing barbell rows. One is that some feel it’s best to start the lift from the floor, as you would with deadlifts. Others, like myself, feel it’s best to start by grabbing the bar from waist-height, like the squat rack as suggested above.

Secondly, some lifters bend forward to where their body is parallel while others will not bend that far. It is crucial that you bend forward enough to work your back muscles, but in my opinion, going parallel isn’t necessary for building muscle.

*If you’re not able to bend forward enough, you’ll need to reduce the weight. Don’t let your ego trick you into thinking you’re stronger than you really are. You won’t build muscle with bad form, and you’re more prone to injury.

What’s Really Important for Building Muscle

The bottom line is you have to find what works best for you. We are all different with different body types.

If you truly want to build muscle, the most important thing is to make sure you feel your back muscles working when you do barbell rows.

Here’s my advice: don’t get caught up in these controversial methods. Just get the basics down and find the method that works best for you.

**If you’re brand new to lifting weights, I encourage you to read this post first: Fundamentals of Weight Training

That link will open a new browser so that you can easily come back and read this post afterward.

The Barbell Row-Only Workout

Stiff Leg Deadlifts back and hamstrings workout

Now let’s go over the workout. Remember, you’re only focusing on one exercise for this workout: barbell rows.
*Some refer to barbell rows as bent-over rows.

So that you can see how to use this method, I’m listing the weight I used for this specific workout.

Strength is relative, so use what makes sense for you based on your current level of strength. So adjust the amount of weight accordingly.

*I’ll explain each section below the workout.

22251045 sec
3225101 min
424581 min
524581 min
627552 min
727552 min
827552 min
92258+drop set
1013512+drop set
  • Set: I think (or at least hope!) that this part is self-explanatory!
  • Weight: Use this as an example and adjust your numbers accordingly. You’ll do the same weight for sets 1 and 2, go up some for 3 and 4, and go up again for 5-8, and then you’ll do a double-drop set for 9 and 10.
  • Reps: This is how many reps you’ll do for each individual set. If you’re not hitting these numbers, reduce the weight some until you build up to that number.
  • Rest: This is the rest you’ll take prior to that set. You’ll notice the last two sets are drop sets, which means there’s minimal rest between sets 8 and 9, and 9 and 10 (only the amount of time it takes to reduce the weight for those sets).

How To Use This Back Workout with a Bodybuilding Routine

Remember earlier when I mentioned that this barbell row-only workout does not replace your regular workout routine?

I’m going to give you two ways you can use this method, and I believe this will help you gain more muscle mass and strength in the long run.

  1. Do this workout as a 2nd back workout for that week (ex: do your regular back workout Monday, and do the barbell row-only workout on Thursday or Friday)
  2. Do this workout in place of your back workout and then go back to your regular back workout the following week (and you could continue alternating these workouts like this for a while)

The reason why this specific method should not completely replace your regular back workout is that you need to work your back from a variety of angles. So you need those other exercises.

You also want to incorporate the different rep ranges and overall volume for your back workouts. This is key to building muscle size.

So instead of just doing one or the other, I’m teaching you how to combine this method for barbell row-only workouts with your normal bodybuilding back workouts.

Like most things in life, the best results often come from a balance of different techniques rather than doing just one extreme (quote Jason Stallworth on this if you use it!).

**If you’re looking for a complete back workout routine, read my post: Training Back Twice a Week Routine

Where I Failed as a Newbie: My Story of Barbell Rows

So, where did I screw up? Seriously, it’s like that Cher song ‘If I Could Turn Back Time.’

When I first started lifting, I focused so much on chest and arms. Back in those days, we didn’t have the internet and I didn’t have much guidance. I just knew I wanted to lift and get big.

I was that skinny kid that got picked on. You can actually read my entire story in my book called Heavy Metal & Weights on Amazon.

Here’s where I went wrong…

I did not do barbell rows for back. In fact, I kind of skipped over most of the greatest lifts like squats and deadlifts for the first several years of lifting.

This was a ‘huge’ (no pun intended) mistake that I made. I missed out on those crucial mass and strengths gains in my early day of lifting.

Granted, I eventually started doing them. And sitting here writing this blog post in my mid-40s, I do these exercises every week.

My advice is if you’re young, do barbell rows for mass and strength. Make that your first back exercise. And, heck, row twice a week!

Even though this is primarily a back exercise, this is going to help you build a strong and massive foundation.

If you’ve been lifting for a while and have neglected barbell rows, start doing them. Give yourself a solid six months and you’ll notice a tremendous difference in your physique and strength development.

If you’re already doing them, don’t stop! And if you’ve hit that wall, try this barbell-only workout I gave you above. This will help you blast through that plateau and take you to that next level.

I hope you enjoyed reading this, and more importantly I hope you got some value from it. If so, please consider sharing this – just copy the blog post link in your browser and share it on your social media pages.

Also, be sure to check out my premium programs on my shop.

Excuses Don’t Build Muscle,


About the author

Jason Stallworth

Hi, I'm Jason Stallworth and I created The Muscle Program in 2010 for the purpose of helping you build muscle. I know first-hand how weight training and being in the gym has shaped my life in more way than one. And here is where I share that experience with you so that you can continue pushing yourself and becoming the best version of yourself each day!