Build a Stronger Back with these 10 Kettlebell Row Variations

Build a Stronger Back

A strong back will take you far in life. While most people are out there focusing on their “mirror muscles” you’re doing your rows and building a healthy, resilient, muscular back. The row is a compound movement that hits your back, shoulders, arms and core.

When programming rows it’s important to maintain a 2:1 (or even 3:1) ratio of pulling to pressing. This will help alleviate imbalances and specifically shoulder issues. A stronger front side because of years of pushing horizontally and vertically can lead to rounded shoulders and less than optimal posture which will eventually lead to pain. A strong back from top to bottom will help alleviate postural issues and create a solid foundation for heavier lifting. 

When it comes to pulling there are many implements you can use. Kettlebells offer an ergonomic advantage with their higher position than a dumbbell. The center of mass with a single base (as opposed to two sides of a dumbbell) makes it slightly easier for ground variations.  (inside this version of the post we show a shorter version of the weekly content created by our trainers. You can view the full video segments in our memberships!)

A heavy kettlebell also typically takes up less space than a dumbbell of the same size. With the anatomy of the kettlebell a larger bell will be more compact than a dumbbell of the same weight. This makes it easier to handle a pair of heavy kettlebells. 

Here are 10 variations of rows that you can do with your kettlebells! 

One Arm Row (Supination) with support

This allows for some rotation within the limb which will feel a little more natural. It also helps increase bicep activation to give you a little more bang for your buck. Adding the support of your opposite elbow helps alleviate excess stress on the lumbar spine. 

One Arm Row with rotation without support 

In order to focus your attention on the muscles of your back it’s good to lock your shoulder into place and increase tension. With this movement you’ll be adding in thoracic rotation putting more of the work on your rear delts and trunk. I like this variation to add some variety and increase the range of motion on the pull. 

Alternating Row

Place two kettlebells in between your feet. Drive your hand onto one bell as you pull up with the other. The added support of the non-working hand will take pressure off your lower back while allowing you to perform alternating reps.  

See Saw Row

 This movement creates incredible upper body strength, but can cause an issue on your lower back if you don’t pressurize your core enough. Sit back, maintain a rigid torso and lift both bells just off the ground. As you lower one bell the other bell begins to rise. Alternate back and forth.

Quadruped row 

This prepares my client for renegade rows that can be incredibly difficult on the core. Make sure to use heavy enough kettlebells to support your weight. Competition bells are preferred, but anything over 12kg should be fine if it has a flat base. Set up over the bells with your shoulders stacked over your elbows and wrists. Walk your feet back so your knees on under your hips and your upper body is flat. Drive one hand into the ground as you pull with the other until your upper arm is in line with your torso. 

(inside this version of the post we show a shorter version of the weekly content created by our trainers. You can view the full video segments in our memberships!)

Quadruped Row with Rotation

This requires the same set-up as the Quadruped row, but now instead of locking your shoulder into place you’ll be pulling further adding rotation to the end range. Only go as far as you feel comfortable.  

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Renegade Row

The renegade row will hit your abdominal wall harder than your back. In a full pushup position over a pair of kettlebells, drive your hand onto one bell as you pull up and back (think elbow down to hip). Safely lower and repeat. Maintain a rigid torso with controlled breathing and bracing.  

Two Point Renegade row 

With the same set-up as the renegade row the only difference is you’ll be lifting the opposite leg of the arm you’re rowing. Maintain a flat back as you do this. This will increase the demands on your entire trunk. 

Cross Body Row 

This is a cross between a one arm rotational row and a rear-delt fly. This is a great variation to hit your upper back and shoulders. Vary the height to where you pull to for varying engagement of musculature. You can also tweak the grip and level of rotation.

Crush Grip Row 

The variation will challenge your grip, forearms, chest and biceps. Set up over a bell sitting on it’s side. Grip it with a crush grip position. Pull up while driving your hands together the entire time. Pull up and back towards your belly button. 

Give these variations a try! Sprinkle a few into your program, progress and then switch it up. Each one has its own attributes and benefits that will get you stronger, alleviate boredom, and keep your back strong and healthy! 

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By: Marcus Martinez 

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