Why do I shake when doing bent over rows?

March 14th 2019

How come some people shake when they do bent over rows? Is this normal?

There are several explanations for why this happens. Using too much weight, being new to lifting, or not doing the exercise for a long time are some reasons why your shaking occurs. This could be arm shaking, leg shaking or a combination of the two. While this is a part of the working out process, it is important to work through these events to achieve a bigger and stronger bent over row.

And before we dive deep into this topic, I have written an article discussing shaking during the bench press. Here, I go into depth on why shaking occurs during the bench press and what you can do about it to minimize that. As you may have inferred, you should not be shaking during any exercise but it is important to understand and learn why you are shaking and how to avoid it in the future.

Arms shaking during bent over rows

There are two explanations for this: you are using too much weight or you are tired. Let’s go over both reasons.

Using too much weight

One of the most obvious reasons for why you are shaking is that you are using too much weight. If you are a newer lifter or even a moderately experienced one, you will find that using too much weight will cause to you shake like never before. Why does this happen and should you do anything about it?

This body reaction occurs because you are putting your body under new stress that it cannot adapt to. And since you are actively willing to accomplish the task, your body will attempt to overcome that, causing you to shake due to the neurological connections being formed. This is a good thing since your body is doing what it is programmed to do - fight or flight.

But of course, you can make wrong decisions based on correct body reactions. In this case, you need to drop your ego and focus on doing a weight you can properly row. This means taking off ten percent or as much as fifty percent in order to do a proper row and form correct neurological pathways.

You are tired

You have gone through a ninety-minute workout and you feel completely spent. Only one issue left. You have one more exercise and it is the bent over row. Damn it.

But you are determined to get it done. You load up the bar and do your warm-ups. Easy enough. As you ramp up the weight, you are feeling more and more exhausted. Not the best feeling in the world but you will make it through.

Now, you have made it to your working set weight. As you start rowing, you start shaking. Are you doing anything wrong?

Absolutely not. As you may have concluded, your shaking is a result of you being fatigued from your workout. This is a normal reaction. What should you do about it? Muscle through it is one option. Chances are, you will not feel that way for a long time, if ever.

If you are a beginner, you can try to lower the weight as the exercise may be too new for you. Lower the intensity is also something you can try.

Legs shaking during bent over rows

This is a more common problem, legs shaking during the bent over rows. Let us go over why and what we can do about it.

You are new to lifting

Beginners face a lot of challenges during the first couple of sessions at the gym. There is a lot they go through and shaking during compound exercises is just one reaction.

As we went over above, since you are new to lifting, your body has not properly adapted to the new training stress. Shaking is just one symptom.

Balance Issues

Are you having a hard time balancing during a bent over row? Do you also find yourself shaking as well? If you are a beginner, you may even feel uncomfortable with your bent over rows form.

Just keep at it. If it is literally your second time doing bent over rows as an exercise, you just need time to adapt to the movement. If you are still shaking over a couple of weeks or even months, there is definitely something you need to change.

  • Focus on being tight.
  • Get into a stronger position.
  • Sit back more.
  • Widen your stance.

There are a ton of cues to utilize and I just gave you a couple that many beginners would benefit from.

Barbell rows stabilizer muscles

The barbell row is a back compound exercise that primarily targets your entire back. While the back is the major focus, using your arms to “row” the resistance backward creates a pulling motion that also works on many muscles on your shoulders, arms, and chest. Some of the major muscles worked by doing a barbell row is as follows:

  • Trapezius (upper, lower and middle)
  • Posterior deltoids
  • Latissimus Dorsi (Lats)
  • Rhomboids
  • Majority of your shoulder (Teres Major, Teres Minor, Infraspinatus)
  • Forearm muscles (brachioradialis)
  • Lower biceps (brachialis)
  • Pectoralis Major

That is quite a big list and it is no wonder why it is one of the 12 best compound exercises I went over in a previous article.

But there are many other stabilizer muscles that are used throughout the barbell row. Here is a quick and dirty list of their scientific names:

  • Biceps brachii
  • Triceps
  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings
  • Erector Spinae
  • Gluteus Maximus
  • Adductor Magnus
  • Obliques
  • Rectus Abdominis

In regular terms, the biceps, triceps, quads, hamstrings, spinal erectors, glutes, and abs all help stabilize your barbell row whenever you perform that exercise.

In addition to that, depending on your form, you can be emphasizing specific muscle groups over others. I will go over more about this issue in the next bullet, barbell rows mistakes.

Barbell rows mistakes

Are you doing the barbell row correctly? What is the correct barbell row form?

How to do a barbell row

I found an awesome resource on how to do a barbell row. One way of figuring out what not to do is to look at all the right ways of doing a barbell row.

In reality, there are many ways to do a barbell row, as stated in the video. What should you do? Do you want to have a more strict barbell row? Do you want to use more motions during the lift? It is really up to you and there is no ‘right” way of doing a row.

So, you should be conscious that the barbell row should be helping you get closer to your goals. After all, you are not going to the gym for the sake of going to the gym. We are trying to make moves in life and getting stronger, bigger and faster is one way of accomplishing our goals.

Are bent over rows safe to do?

Unless you physically have an outstanding medical condition, bent over rows are 100% one of the safest exercises you can do. In fact, as I linked above, it is one of the 12 BEST exercises you could include in your workout regimen.

Of course, you need to make sure you maintain proper form while doing a bent over row, even if “proper form” is not clearly defined. Nevertheless, here is some general bent over row form principles that everyone can benefit from:

  • Have a comfortable stance
  • Have a preferred grip
  • Tight, straight back
  • Have a big chest
  • Don’t move the barbell until you are ready to row the weight
  • Push your feet into the ground while pulling the weight upward

It is common sense to make sure you are in a powerful and strong position to do a bent over row. No one should be “relaxed” or just coasting through these tough lifts.

Six barbell rows benefits

1. Work on your posterior chain

Since this is a pulling exercise, you will utilize all the major muscle groups on the back part of your body. This is great for everyone looking for an exercise to help them get bigger and stronger.

2. Great accessory for other compound lifts

This lift can be treated as the main compound movement. But for some lifters, like powerlifters and strongman, doing barbell rows is a great accessory that can help build up another compound lift. Like the deadlift. It is all win-win from here.

3. Improve daily functions

The bent over row is a functional movement. By working on your posterior chain while engaging all the stabilizer muscles, you will find that this exercise is simply one of the best to do if you are looking for overall improvement in health and life quality.

4. Build a huge back

Of course, we cannot forget to mention what the biggest purpose of the bent over row is. It is to build a huge back! It is one of the biggest back compound movements that you can choose and that choice will not be wrong in any way.

5. Train your hips

One part of the movement of a bent over row is to be able to bend over and row the weight. Being able to hinge your training weight will be training you to develop your hips and to conqueror life. Everyday movements will seem much easier with stronger hips.

6. Strength gains

Compound movements are gifted in this way - strength gains will always be a benefit when you are working multiple muscle groups at once. You are timing efficient and this will only serve you in the long run.

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