Training

Should The Barbell Row Cause You Neck Pain?

September 18th 2022

Come find out whether or not the barbell row should cause you any neck pain. 

The barbell row is one of the 4 basic core barbell movements in all strength training programs. 

Combined with the squat, bench press, and deadlift, the barbell row works on many of the back muscles that the previous big 3 exercises do not target directly. 

With doing compound exercises, safety will always be the top priority. 

So, are you doing your barbell rows correctly? 

Should you experience any neck pain with barbell rowing?

Neck pain from barbell rows?

Neck pain from barbell rows is uncommon. 

There are four reasons why you are feeling neck pain from barbell rows. 

One is because you are hyperextending your neck, which is causing you to strain your neck. 

Two, you are lifting too much weight that you are not properly engaging your back.

Three, you are activating your over-activating upper traps.

Four, you have poor recovery.

  • Stop hyperextending your neck

When you squat and deadlift, you may be tempted to lift your head backward. 

It is okay to have your neck in slight extension but too much extension might make you feel dizzy too.

On the barbell row, you want to do the same. However, you feel some sort of neck pain whenever you hyperextend your neck. 

This involves having your head tilting backward and having your eyes looking up at the ceiling.

In a proper barbell row, your head should be in a neutral position or in slight extension.

Press your tongue on the roof of your mouth too for a more natural feeling. 

Though not recommended and if you fit the rare category where you have no pain alleviation from keeping a neutral neck position, you can tilt your head slightly downward so that your head is in line with your back.

Many lifters have argued whether or not you should keep your head in a neutral position or look up. 

At the end of many debates, a majority of lifters supported that you should do whatever is comfortable for you, which is usually a neutral position or looking slightly up

I would also like to add to this that in addition to being comfortable, there should be zero pain associated with that movement. 

Like all exercises, pain-free movement is key. 

You will want to engage in as many pain-free activities as your body can currently tolerate.

How far should I look if I want to keep my head in line with my back?

If you try to get this answer online, you will run into so many different schools of thought. 

Some lifters will say that you should look 5 feet away from your toes. 

For other lifters, you will look 20 feet away from your toes. 

There are some who say you should look between 8-10 feet away from your toes.

To be frank, just pick a spot in front of you and set your eyes on it. 

If you are obsessed with keeping your head in line with your back, get a broomstick and have your workout partner hold it against your back. 

Get the feedback from the broomstick and remember where to look to keep your head in line.

  • Ego-lifting

You are lifting too much weight. 

If you are unable to barbell row the weight off the ground, but you try to muscle it up anyway, this will engage other muscles to try to lift the weight. 

This is not going to result in you developing a great back. 

A good way to know that you are really cheating during the barbell row is if you need to push your neck forward while using some shoulder strength in order to further lift the weight up.

Take your barbell rows seriously since many lifters cannot even grow their lats

One reason for this is because they are using too much weight that their lats can handle. Start off light. 

There is no shame in doing the exercise the right way. 

However, you will look like a fool if you injure yourself by ego-lifting during the barbell row.

  • Overactivated upper traps

If your upper traps are overactivated, you will develop neck tension and tightness, which will result in pain.

You need to practice activating these muscles during the barbell row–

  1. Lats
  2. Rhomboids
  3. Mid traps
  4. Lower traps

There is a good chance that one, if not all 4, of these muscles, are weak and you need to get to work to strengthen them.

Once they are strong, barbell rows will feel great and a 225lbs bench will feel like nothing.

  • Poor recovery

Are you just sleeping 5 hours a day and training as hard as you can? That could explain why you have neck pain.

Your body cannot recover from your training stress, no matter how “light” you think you are going.

Recovery is paramount, and even more important than training.

You should get at least 8 hours of sleep if you want to take strength training seriously. 9+ hours if you want to be contending for medals.

Neck pain during upright rows

When we refer to the barbell row, we are referencing the bent-over row or the pendlay row. 

In the upright row, your body is vertical and you row the weight upward by using your back and shoulders. 

There are two reasons why this may occur: 

  • Poor posture

From sitting all day and having desk jobs, most people have terrible posture.

Their anterior muscles are shortened and overactive while their posterior muscles are lengthened and weak.

You need to undo this damage.

Warm up the muscles you need to work on before working on them.

This will help with a ton—

  1. Work on your weaknesses to become strengths
  2. Increase your work capacity
  3. Help you activate correct muscle firing patterns

Give this upper body circuit a try, 25 reps each exercise for 4 cycles. No rest in-between.

 

  • Bad form

 

If you have bad form, you will feel a pulling sensation in your neck. 

Many lifters instantly know that they are doing the upright rows incorrectly when they feel their necks straining during this exercise. 

Lifters should feel that the exercise is working out their back and shoulders.

 

  • Not for you

 

There is another set of lifters that believe you should never do upright rows. 

Because of the general movement of the upright row, you may cause your neck and shoulders to have impinged. 

You may always feel certain twinges and pulls. 

Though this is not the 100% the fault of the exercise, many people have desk jobs that will ill-equip lifters to properly do an upright row correctly. 

Then, you have a whole sub-set of lifters that are just tight in the upper back and neck area. 

If you have tight traps and levator scapula, you will feel neck tension when you perform movements like the barbell row or upright row.

Are barbell rows bad for your neck?

Absolutely not! Barbell rows are a great exercise to include in any strength training program. They will help you stabilize your neck joint as well as the surrounding back and shoulder muscles as well.

If anything, the barbell row will help ensure that your neck is sturdy. 

Barbell rows will help your back gain size and strength. 

Your back will help stabilize your neck joint as a result.

One reason why some gym-goers feel that rowing is bad for your neck is because they may get a stiff neck after doing rows. 

This can be due to a number of factors and blaming the barbell row is just a lame excuse not to do this great exercise. 

From the reasons outlined above, bad form and ego-lifting are two of the biggest reason why these gym enthusiasts will suggest that you do not do barbell rows. 

That is not how you tackle life.

Conclusion

The barbell row should not cause you any neck pain. And neither should overhead presses.

Neck pain can be a symptom of heavy training but it should be cleared after a few days. 

No barbell movement should cause you pain and lingering pain should be addressed by a medical professional. 

Conversely, acute and sharp pain is also never a good feedback indicator to experience and is likely a sign of a tear or an impingement.

 

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