Do Not Ever Row More Than You Squat, Here Is Why

April 4th 2019

The barbell row and the squat are two of the Big 4 lifts. The Big 4 lifts are 4 of the most well-known compound exercises that are included in all beginner strength training programs.

I row as much as I squat. Is this normal?

No, it’s not. Leverages, lifestyle situations, muscular imbalances, and being a beginner in strength training are some reasons why you may be rowing more than you squat. Ideally, you should be squatting more than you row and if your squats are lower than or matching your rows then something is definitely not right. Here’s a look at what could be the matter:

i) Leverage

We all come in varying sizes and shapes- different shoulder widths, arm lengths, torso lengths, leg lengths et cetera- so it’s a possibility that your build encourages a stronger row. The proportion of the aforementioned body parts goes someway in determining how well or bad you do specific lifts.

ii) Lifestyle

It’s also highly likely that you have unknowingly been working on your row especially if you have a hobby or pastime that involves picking heavy things up with movements that generally mimic pulling or rowing. Conversely, you may not have been practicing your squats if you work at an office 9-5 job.

iii) Overcompensation

There is a tendency for rowers to hitch the bar high up so as to gain more momentum with each rep. This is essentially “cheating” and it’s something you might be doing unconsciously so next time you get down to business be sure to take a video of your rows. Have your barbell row form evaluated so that you are hitting the correct muscle groups.

Are you a beginner at strength training?

If you are new to strength training then that could also be another reason why your squat numbers are lower than your rows. Progression occurs faster for squats compared to rows for the average lifter so with time your numbers will get to where they need to be. That said, if you are new to strength training in general, here are a couple of essential pointers to better your productivity:

• Bodyweight training (squats and pushups) is a good place to start:

Simply put, strength training involves working your muscles by overcoming some generated resistance. That resistance can be created with or without equipment with the latter approach particularly favorable for the introduction phase where it's best you keep things simple.

However, your time will be spent more efficiently if you decide to do a barbell strength training program. Getting to a 275lbs squat should be relatively straightforward for a majority of healthy lifters.

• Start with three a week:

Don’t dive right into the deep end with 5-days-a-week sessions or even skip leg day. You need to have a plan. This is how I got to my 315lbs squat for multiple sets of 5. You need to make sure that you have identified a training goal you desired and have organized your thoughts on the proper steps needed in order to achieve this goal.

Squatting 3 times a week is one of the best things you can do if you want to stop rowing more than you squat. Based on past experience, beginner lifters will surpass their barbell row limits in a matter of weeks if they squat, with concentrated effort, three times a week.

• The devil is in the preparation:

Newbies tend to skip the formalities but they are just as important as the strength workout itself. Akin to how your body takes time to get back to reality when you wake up after hours of sleep, so too do muscles need that warm-up which can come in the way of light stretches, foam rolling or whatever light exercise that’s your cup of tea.

What you do outside the gym is vastly more important than what you do inside the gym. Many non-gym goers will fantasize how easy it is to get big and shredded. They can dream about hitting all their PRs if they only start hitting the gym. Alas, their wishes are only half the battle.

What many sedentary people do not see is the hard work and preparation that goes into our lives. Working out is not just exercise; it is a lifestyle and a wonderful one. To continue to build strength and character are only additional benefits to living a great, healthy and strong life.

Now that we’ve established the nitty-gritty when it comes to strength training, let’s proceed with other important questions around row and squat exercises that you might have as well:

What is the barbell row max with respect to body weight (One rep max)?

The standards for the barbell row basically depend on the manner of the routine- upright row, pendlay row or bent-row being the most common- as each technique provides different limitations. Let’s start off with upright row standards for men:

Before we do though, please note that weight maximums also vary across the five general levels i.e. beginner, novice, intermediate, advanced, and elite with the latter two generally lifting more than their bodyweight in these compound lifts. In other words, they can lift just as much as or even more than they weigh.

The lower end of these ranges are usually targeted for heavier lifters (250+lbs) while the upper limits of these ranges are targeted for lighter lifters ( <130lbs)

For the bent over row,

  • Beginners: 0.42-0.6x BW
  • Novice: 0.68-0.8x BW
  • Intermediate: 1-1.05x BW
  • Advanced: 1.2-1.44x BW
  • Elite - 1.46-1.89x BW

For the pendlay row,

  • Beginners: 0.5-0.67x BW
  • Novice: 0.76-0.83x BW
  • Intermediate: 1.03-1.13x BW
  • Advanced: 1.25-1.47x BW
  • Elite - 1.47-1.89x BW

For the upright row,

  • Beginners: 0.22-0.35x BW
  • Novice: 0.48-0.53x BW
  • Intermediate: 0.75-0.86x BW
  • Advanced: 1.01-1.34x BW
  • Elite - 1.29-1.91x BW

Now onto the row standards for women: (One rep max)

Similar to the men’s row standards, the lower ends represent heavier lifters (230lbs+) while the higher ends represent lighter lifters (<110lbs).

For the bent over row,

  • Beginners: 0.20-0.24x BW
  • Novice: 0.31-0.46x BW
  • Intermediate: 0.46-0.77x BW
  • Advanced: 0.62-1.15x BW
  • Elite - 0.81-1.58x BW

For the pendlay row,

  • Beginners: 0.34-0.35x BW
  • Novice: 0.46-0.58x BW
  • Intermediate: 0.61-0.87x BW
  • Advanced: 0.78-1.23x BW
  • Elite - 0.97-1.62x BW

For the upright row,

  • Beginners: 0.18-0.19x BW
  • Novice: 0.29-0.36x BW
  • Intermediate: 0.42-0.63x BW
  • Advanced: 0.58-0.97x BW
  • Elite - 0.76-1.36x BW

What is the squat maximum with respect to body weight (One rep max)?

For men, here are the general trends for their squat standards:

For back squat,

  • Beginners: 0.67-0.96x BW
  • Novice: 1.04-1.21x BW
  • Intermediate: 1.51-1.52x BW
  • Advanced: 1.84-2.08x BW
  • Elite - 2.18-2.71x BW

For women, here are the general trends for their squat standards:

For back squat,

  • Beginners: 0.43-0.45x BW
  • Novice: 0.65-0.78x BW
  • Intermediate: 0.9-1.25x BW
  • Advanced: 1.18-1.84x BW
  • Elite - 1.49-2.51x BW

Barbell row: Squat Ratio

As a beginner, both genders show similar characteristics in that the barbell squat should be double or close to double of what you can barbell row. As you become an elite lifter, the barbell rows become around 60% of your back squat for female lifters and 68% of your back squat for male lifters. These are just two of several trends between the two drastically different lifting experience ranges.

Throughout each lifting stage, you will notice that the range will change drastically. For an untrained lifter, the ratio for barbell bent-over row: squat is 0.51:0.835, if we take the average of the lower end of the range for men. For an elite male lifter, the ratio changes to 1.675:2.44. For an untrained beginner female lifter, the ratio is 0.22:0.44. For an elite female lifter, the ratio changes to 1.195:2.

What is leverage and why is it so important?

As highlighted earlier, leverage simply refers to the physiological mechanics at play which varies from one person to another depending on height, size, etc. which dictate varying distances between joints and consequently varying efforts needed to lift- or pull- similar weights.

Whilst overcoming weights, limbs are powered by muscle contractions with the exact level of resistance dependent on the width of the arm in question. These two attributes share a directly proportional relationship which means that the shorter the leverage arm, the lower the resistance- and the lesser the difficulty in movement- and vice versa.

Let’s take the case of an athlete performing a squat. Here, the lever arm becomes the thigh, the fulcrum is the knee while the force-distance is the stretch between the point at which knee pivoting occurs and the hip joints which provide the connection between the femur (leg bone) and the knee. The ease of squat decreases with longer femurs while it increases with shorter ones. This is one example of how body leverages can impact your lifting ability.

Consequently, assuming similar performance prowess in line with their individual classes, shorter lifters tend to almost always do more squats than taller lifters simply because they have better natural mechanics.

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