Training

How Important Is Hamstring Flexibility For The Barbell Row

April 24th 2019

Find out if hamstring flexibility is holding you back when doing the barbell row. Hamstring flexibility is vital for the deadlift. In order to reach the bar, you need to have somewhat flexible hamstrings in order to set up properly. However, the instructions on how to do a barbell row get vague. Many strength coaches do not emphasize how strict your barbell row form should be. Unless you are clearly doing something wrong or you are hurting yourself, your barbell row form will not really be questioned. However, as strength athletes looking to always improve ourselves, we look for new strategies. So, how important should hamstring flexibility be when doing the barbell row?

Hamstring flexibility during the barbell row

Hamstring flexibility is very important for doing a proper barbell row. It is acceptable to feel a little bit of a stretch but not too aggressive. You can bend your knees in order to do the barbell row if you need a little boost.

You can bend your knees

Depending on your barbell row variation, you can bend at your knees This will allow you to get into a more stable position to do a barbell row.

However, you have probably read that the textbook barbell row form tells you to keep your legs straight and to keep your back parallel to the ground. For a lot of lifters, this position is not possible. So, it is okay to bend at your knees so that you can reach the barbell. The more important form cue to pay attention to is that your back is straight and neutral.

At the same time, work on your hamstring flexibility

However, you know that you have a weak chain in the link - you should improve your hamstring flexibility. Use whatever stretches you learned in the past to help you get more flexible hamstrings. If you are unfamiliar with some, here are a few suggestions to start off with:

  • Use a foam roller to relax your hamstring muscles
  • Touch your toes and try to lengthen your hamstrings
  • While laying on your back, use a band to lift one leg up to really stretch your hamstrings. Make sure to point your toes towards your face as well.

It is okay to feel a little bit of stretch during the barbell row

Some hamstring stretch is acceptable during the barbell row. As long as you do not feel any strain on your back, minor hamstring sensations are okay. However, if you are feeling conflicting signals during the barbell row, there could be more than one issue present.

For instance,

  • If your torso is moving a lot to touch the weight against your body, the weight is too heavy for you
  • If you feel a lot of strain on your back to hold the weight, the weight may be too heavy for you
  • If you need to squat a bit for some momentum to lift the barbell off the ground, the weight is too heavy for you
  • If you cannot control the movement, the weight is too heavy for you
  • If you cannot touch your chest or torso with the barbell from rowing, the weight is too heavy for you

So, make sure you know what a proper barbell row entails.

Can I add a little bit of body english to move heavier weights?

Legendary deadlifter Cailer Woolam attributes his 900+lbs deadlift to being able to barbell row heavy amounts of weight. He comments that he does use some “body english” in his barbell rows. In other words, he is a cheater. But if you cheat during the barbell row and can deadlift 900+lbs, you must be doing something right.

There are some other lifters that do a more strict barbell row and still do not deadlift as much as Cailer Woolam. It depends on your goals and what you want the barbell row to achieve. For body awareness and control, stick to sub-maximal weights until you understand how to work your lats. Once you have mastered barbell row technique, you can then focus on other issues such as whether or not you want a big deadlift or not.

But initially, even Cailer Woolam has sufficient hamstring flexibility in order to get into position for a solid barbell row.

It has been years and I still feel a deep hamstring stretch from doing barbell rows

There are lifters that continue to feel a deep hamstring stretch from doing pendlay rows. This is a more strict barbell row version where you are not moving your back or hamstrings. You are rowing the weight to your chest or torso and lowering it back down. There should be little or no movement.

To be honest, you should need to keep working on your hamstring flexibility. I promise you it will get better. You just have not put in the time or effort in order to achieve the results you want. If you need to, do barbell rows from an elevated surface to ease the pressure on your hamstrings. Strength training is not supposed to be easy. So, you do need to work on your weaknesses if they are staring you in the face.

Some alternatives I have seen are that you substitute the barbell rows with dumbbell rows. This can work if you are in a commercial gym. But that would be an easy-short cut to this issue. You are faced with a challenge. Actively work towards improving your environment and the results will follow. It is much better than putting on a band-aid (using one handed dumbbell rows). You can get stronger by doing barbell movements since you can increment the weights.

Can I use straight leg deadlifts or good mornings as a substitute for the barbell row to improve my hamstring flexibility?

Actually, the straight leg deadlift and good morning can be used warm-up exercises to help increase your hamstring flexibility. They do not need to substitute the barbell row. Remember, you chose the barbell row to be implemented into your program for a reason. Stick by that reason unless your goals have changed.

Conversely, the straight leg deadlift and good morning are two exercises that many strength athletes also use in order to improve their strength and physique. One instance of this is legendary powerlifter Dan Green who incorporates both heavy good mornings and straight leg deadlifts in his programming. So, focus on what your goals are and make the necessary steps in order to achieve your results.

Conclusion

It is fine if you do not have enough hamstring flexibility to perform a barbell row. You can bend your knees or even do an elevated barbell row. Making sure to work on your hamstring mobility everyday will be key in order to unlock the perfect barbell row form.

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