Death Row: Your Back Is Awaiting Execution

Here is a blast from the past! I wrote this article about two years ago, but it’s still relevant, and still where I focus most of my back work.

I really have no idea where I was going with this title. It just seemed incredibly bad ass / FLEX magazine worthy.

You know what’s also bad ass?

Rowing. Specifically heavy rowing. I have a special place in my heart for big backs. They scream strength, intimidate children, mothers, hipsters, and guys who generally look like this:


Kidding aside, if you want to get stronger, you need to row a lot. If you want a big back, you need to row a lot. If it suits you, from a goal and health standpoint, you need to row heavy as shit from time to time (I choose all the time, but who’s keeping track?).

Here are my favorite rowing variations to move some appreciable weight with:


My staple rowing movement is the barbell bent over row. It follows my sets on the bench press most every week. Additionally, it’s the only row I strictly pay attention to my progress on; from a weight used standpoint. I tend to work in heavy 8’s, 5′ and 3’s. With an additional set done to technical failure about 3 weeks of each 4 week block.

If you do it right, and do it heavy, it will aid your strength in the major lifts significantly. Plus it helps to build a frame that demands respect.




If there is one rowing variation I include in some capacity all the time it’s a chest supported row. I love that it can easily be used for heavy work, repetition work, and offers various grip positions. Not to mention the support structure offers a nice change of pace, and allows for more heavy rowing without the sheer force on the low back (as found in more bent over, unsupported options). I will work this in twice a week. Both days pronated. One day is heavier with 4 – 8 sets of 6 – 8 reps. Another day I widen the grip and work 3 – 5 sets of 10 – 15 reps. If your gym lacks a CSR machine, you can use dumbbells and an incline bench. Or  you could pony up and go find a real gym.




Recently I started playing around with ways I could get heavier single arm rowing in. I came upon this idea. If you have the farmer’s carry bars in your gym I highly recommend this. It could also be done with a barbell. The pluses include the weight being more centered than the DB option, and the added challenge of keeping a longer handle stable. I go heavy on this one time per week, about 3 – 5 sets of 5 – 8 reps.




The one arm DB row is an accessible option for most anyone. I tend to use this offset stance to make more room for the DB. I also like it better for higher rep work with still appreciable weight. Make sure you set up athletically, so you can actually move something heavy. I will take this for 3 – 6 sets of 8 – 12 reps. I also throw in “Kroc” rows from time to time here. If you don’t know what those are, google it.




I use the dead stop row rarely, but I like it a lot. It’s great for teaching proper bent over rowing mechanics. Furthermore, I use the multipurpose or swiss bar for these. The wide shape can be awkward for rowing but this option makes it easier to maintain a good back position. Also, it takes the grip strength issue out of the mix. It’s a great lift, easily loadable, and especially advantageous for those getting accustomed to heavier bent over rows. I will do them in a similar fashion to the barbell bent over row from a sets and reps standpoint. In fact, they usually just take it’s place for a 4 week cycle here and there.



There you have it. My favorite 5 rowing variations for strength and size. I realize the set / rep schemes are arbitrary to most of you, but it gives you an idea of how to mix in different lifts, vary the loads depending on the exercise, and so on. Now go out and row something!

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