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The Barbell Bent-over Row is a well known exercise. It is one of the exercises that StrongLifts 5x5 consists of.

I was browsing exrx.net looking for a dumbbell version of this exercise but only found this Dumbbell Bent-over Row that only targets one hand at a time, while kneeling on a bench.

I have neither bench nor bar.

Is it safe to do the Bent-over Row as in the barbell version but using dumbbells?
If it is safe: What are the differences between the barbell and 'my' dumbbell row and between the row on a bench and 'my' version?

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2 Answers

1) It's safe, but you need to be a bit more careful about form/technique. You can pretend that there is an imaginary bar that keeps the dumb-bells at a constant distance apart as you do the exercise.

2a) Bent-over Row with dumb-bell

  • Keeping good form is a little more difficult.
  • You activate the secondary stabilizing muscle groups more (which is good).
  • As your right and left side can't help each other as you are working out, you should be able to lift less weight and/or do fewer reps than with a barbell.
  • mass gain may be slower, at least initially.
  • I like it

2b) Bent-over Row with barbell

  • Keeping good form is a little easier
  • Because the right and the left side help each other you can lift heavier weights, at least initially, this can cause a faster mass gain.
  • I like it less

2c) With a bench it's easier, but you can also do Kroc Rows without a bench.

You can hold on to a chair or table to help you stay balanced

Kroc Rows with Matt Kroczaleski

You can also do them just resting one elbow on your leg. This is the only video I could find, the technique is poor (way too much upper body movement and hard pulling), but I hope you get the idea.

33x42 kg kroc rows

Keep also in mind that Kroc Rows are an asymmetric exercise. The risk of injury is a bit higher than with other exercises because your core is compensating for the weight on one side. This works also your core but could also strain your back muscles too much.

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In my opinion, the dumbbell bent over row is a superior exercise for the following reasons:

  • Your body is better supported--making this more desirable if you have chronic back problems
  • It builds your grip much better than the barbell variation
  • It keeps the shoulders, elbows, etc. in a more natural position.

Now, in order to perform the dumbbell row without a bench, you simply need to find something to brace yourself on. An article on T-Nation about Kroc Rows pictures Matt Kroczaleski (the namesake for Kroc rows) using a prowler handle. NOTE: Kroc rows are basically dumbbell rows done for high reps with as heavy weight as you can handle.

The important aspects of doing a dumbbell row are:

  • A stable base. Use something immovable to steady yourself with.
  • Don't jerk the weight up to your chest--lift it with control
  • Use high reps. If your program recommends 5x5 barbell rows, I recommend 3x10 DB rows.
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Actually I wanted advice on a row using two dumbbells. My fault, I didn't say that, I mostly do all my dumbbell work with both hands either simultaneously or alternating. The Kroc row however seems like a nice alternative, thanks! –  Baarn Jan 1 '13 at 15:51
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