You can’t get a real full body workout without the BEST back exercise

It will work your biceps as well

Best exercise: bent over row
(Image credit: Getty Images)

What if we told you that you'll only ever need five exercises for a full body workout? It is true, although no one said it will be easy...

The BIG 5 – exercises that will make you stronger and leaner – are as follows:

Bench press
Overhead press (also mentioned on the best shoulder exercises list)
• Bent over row – that's this one.

The bent over row can be performed with a barbell or a pair of dumbbells or, for more advanced practitioners, kettlebells. 

As for muscles worked, the bent over row will mainly work your lats and your biceps, as well as your rear delt and upper back muscles (the muscles around your spine at the base of your neck). It also works the hamstrings and your core (you have to stabilise yourself after all).

Being a compound exercise, the bent over row works a range of muscles and therefore burns more calories than just doing barbell curls or machine-related isolation exercises.

  • Best dumbbells – Modular dumbbells are the way to go if you are considering setting up a home gym
  • Best barbell  – To spice things up, you can use an E-Z bar to perform bent over rows
  • Best kettlebell – in case dumbbells are not versatile enough for you

As well as being one the BIG 5, the bent over row is also on our best push-pull workout list. Following a push-pull workout makes planning easier and it is especially beneficial for beginners, since it's easier to remember the division between pushing and pulling movements than knowing the difference between obliques, delts, quads and so forth.

If ever in doubt in which category certain exercises belong to, just think through whether you are pulling or pushing the weight as you perform the exercise. Also, the name of the exercises often help too: pullup and lat pulldown are obviously pull exercises and bench press and press up are push.

You can't be careful enough

Although the bent over row is probably the only exercise among the BIG 5 that doesn't involve you potentially crushing yourself under immense weights, it is still advised to be extra cautious when you perform them.

It you are using a barbell, secure the plates on both ends with fasteners and check your surrounding before you start pulling up the bar.

As always, probably the best way to avoid injury is to get a training buddy. They can  can keep an eye on you while you perform your sets. Not only that, but having someone to train with you is also a great way to keep you motivated and stay on track with your gym routine.

And always, always warm up before exercising and make sure you don't push your muscles too much. Rest is equally as important as the exercise itself.

Bent over row: how to do it

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To perform a standing barbell bent over row, start off with your legs slightly more than shoulder width apart, barbell loaded (plates secured, surroundings checked) and resting on the floor in front of your legs. Bend over and pick the bar up using an underhand grip.

The starting position is you being bent over as far over as you can comfortably go without stretching your hamstrings too much. Bend your knees ever so slightly so your legs aren't locked. Your arms are extended and your shoulders are open, back straight and not arched. Core engaged.

When you pull the barbell, make sure you pull it towards your belly and not your chest. Keep your core engaged and try not to swing back and forth as perform the exercise. Your shoulders stay open, don't drop them even when the barbell is in the lowermost position.

If you are in the gym, it might help to do some reps with an unloaded barbell and watch your form in the mirror. There is no shame trying to perfect your form and as I said a million times before, you won't impress anyone performing exercises with a bad form and injuring yourself.

Standing barbell bent over row: variations and alternatives

We'll get around covering these soon.

Variation on the theme: chest-supported barbell row

(Image credit: Getty Images)
  • Bent-over dumbbell row
  • One-arm dumbbell row (great for beginners)
  • Chest supported barbell row (you'll need a bench for this)
  • T-bar rows (If you are a bit more experienced)
  • Inverted row (bodyweight alternative)

On recovery and nutrition

To avoid any injuries and to help recovery, stretch after every strength training session (and after every cardio sessions as well). Foam rollers can be found in most gyms and you can buy them on Amazon too, a quick and inexpensive way to massage the tired muscles.

Resistance bands are not only great for workouts (see lunges above) but they are also an effective way to stretch your hamstrings after you did your squats.

You might want to keep an eye out for your protein intake as well. If you are doing strength training, try taking in around 2 grams of protein for each kilogram of body weight per day. So, if you weigh 70 kg, you'll need to eat 140 grams of protein per day. Humans haven't got protein reserves, so you have to continuously take protein in throughout the day. 

And make sure you drink plenty of water as well. A decent gym water bottle doesn't cost all that much.