The chest supported row is an exercise that’s done with a pair of dumbbells and a bench. Although its name calls out the chest, it’s really a movement used to target the shoulders and the back.
By supporting your chest against the bench, this type of row removes the need for back stability and allows you row with better form.
If you’re eager to develop your back and shoulder strength, this is one worth including in your routine.
What is a chest supported row?
The row is a widely used compound exercise. It requires a large range of motion in lots of areas and recruits many muscles from around the body to support and stabilise the movement. Great for developing full body strength and endurance.
A chest supported dumbbell row is a variation of this. It’s a row, where your chest is supported. What that means is that by leaning into a bench with your chest, you’re removing the need of your back to stabilise the movement. Unlike other rows like the bent over row, your lower back and hamstrings aren’t recruited to stabilise the movement.
By removing the range of motion and requirement for other muscles, this row is much more of an isolated exercise. It’s focused on targeting the muscles in the back of the shoulders and the upper back.
Why would you do a chest supported row?
The well known bent over row, is a compound exercise that requires the lifter to engage their whole body to perform an unsupported row. Bent over rows can be really difficult, especially with heavy weights. You hinge at the hips, form a table top position with your back, and pull the dumbbells up towards your hips. Form can often fail you. The upper back becomes rounded as the chest and core struggle to stabilise the movement.
Using the incline bench to lean your chest into creates a supported dumbbell row. You’re no longer asking your lower back to stabilise you, and you can better target the muscles in the upper back. No more rocking motion which often causes stress for the lower back. It will let you lift heavier without the load on your spine becoming a problem.
In particular, this exercise works the lats, traps, rhomboids, and the biceps. In summary, it’s a good one for developing strength in the upper back and the back of the shoulders.
The chest supported dumbbell row can not only help to isolate these muscles and increase their strength, but it is also an exercise that’s helpful for improving your overall posture, as it improves muscular endurance helping you to keep your shoulders back.
How do you perform the chest supported row?
Also sometimes called the dumbbell incline row, the chest supported row uses an incline bench for the movement.
1. Set up an incline bench. You’re looking for a 30-45 degree angle.
2. Face the bench and rest your chest, and torso onto it, keeping your feet flat on the floor so that your body is straight.
3. Hold the dumbbells in each hand, your arms straight down towards the floor.
4. Pull the dumbbells up so that your arms form a 90 degree angle.
5. Pause at the top and squeeze your shoulder blades.
6. Lower back down in a controlled motion to the starting point.
To help build strength, aim for 4 sets of 5-8 reps using heavy dumbbells. You can also train unilaterally if you want to sort out any muscle imbalances or test your strength on each side.
There are a couple of form tips to make sure you’re getting it right. At the top of the row, the dumbbells should be aligned with your hips. Keep your chest on the bench and your neck and spine alined. Your face should be above the end of the bench, not smushed into it.
What other types of row are there?
Rows are an essential part of any upper body or back day routine. Including variations is important for switching up the focal muscles in this big body part and developing well rounded strength. Whilst the chest supported dumbbell row is a great one for isolating specific muscles, the unsupported versions still have a place in your routine to help you engage your core and other key muscle groups.
There’s plenty more to try:
A tough barbell based row that focuses more on the lats.
A good one for beginners to get going with.
Seated cable rows:
Uses a piece of gym machinery and helps remove the load from your lower back.
Standing cable rows:
Uses the cables, but is performed standing and requires more stabilisation.
A more obscure row that uses the landmine to perform a unilateral version of the exercise.
Whichever variation works for you, supported or unsupported, dumbbell or barbell, standing or seated, rows are an effective way to work the back. If you’re ready to get in a gym and give them a go, use your Hussle pass to get access to a gym near you. Search the map and find one nearby. Use a different one every day if you like. One simple pass that lets you fit fitness in wherever you are. Without a contract. And without additional cost. No hassle, just Hussle.