I've been working through the set of plates on a pulldown machine (w/ v-grip) trying to get to the stage where I can do chin-ups. At 90kg now, not far off my bodyweight of 102kg.

But the pulldown machine at my gym is now out of order, and things never get fixed quickly.

So caught without a machine and no backup plan, I did bent over rows (barbell) that session, 2x5, then 1x5+, thinking it would pretty much target the same muscles I thought chin-ups would be using, i.e., lats and biceps.

Are bent rows appropriate and if so, in a 3x5 format? Lift to the upper or lower rib-cage?

One thing I didn't like about the bent rows is even though I wasn't hunching my shoulders, I could feel the traps getting hammered up at the neck, and me no like ski-slope shoulders.

  • possible duplicate of What exercises are good to build up to performing chin-ups?
    – Baarn
    Jan 5, 2013 at 11:07
  • Re-reading again I think there are some points in your question that might be interesting to discuss, but in it's current form all the answers of the linked questions are valid here, too. (Which means closing for duplicate would be reasonable)
    – Baarn
    Jan 5, 2013 at 11:11
  • Not sure how I missed that. My apologies. I'll read and edit is possible.
    – jontyc
    Jan 5, 2013 at 11:35
  • Questions I see in your question that have not been addressed in the other question might be using the straps for pull ups and how to do bent-over rows if training towards pull ups (and if they are usefull at all). I'd not ask them in the same question, though.
    – Baarn
    Jan 5, 2013 at 11:41
  • Was your grip wide or narrow? Were you drawing your elbows in near your body or leaving them out? Have you tried laying on an incline-press bench with your face into the bench (backwards of an inclined-chest-press)? If not try that at a 45-ish degree angle and try the bent over rows again. You might have to use dumbbells instead of the bar this way...
    – BryceH
    Jan 8, 2013 at 21:26

3 Answers 3


This is a great question!

As far as muscle recruitment goes, the bent-over barbell rows do yield the most muscle activity for the lats (back) and the biceps during EMG (electromyographic studies); however, this is only when you comparing with other bent-over row exercises (dumbbell, cable, etc.).

Regarding the most effective lat and bicep exercises, studies have shown that doing pull-ups and chin-ups are more effective than doing bent-over rows; however, the lat pull-down is a great alternative lat exercise if the pull-up bar is not available or for someone who simply cannot perform many pull-ups or chin-ups in a row (5-10 for examples). And with this being said, I do think that bent-over barbell rows or dumbbell rows are great alternative exercises for the back if the lat pull-down is not available. Hope this answers that particular question.

It doesn't matter if you perform the bent-over rows towards your lower or upper rib-cage. However, I think the main reason that you are feeling the upper trap muscle is being targeted more is possibly due to muscular imbalances. From a physical therapist standpoint, what I'm saying is that your scapular (shoulder blade) stabilizers, particularly the mid trap and lower trap are weaker than the upper trap (which is very common in many weight lifters and many people in general).

So, when doing bent-over rows, your scapular stabilizers give out first, so your upper trap will kick in for compensation, and that is one possible reason why you feel like your upper trap is hammered up to your neck.

Try performing the prone T's and Y's exercises a couple times per week (3 sets of 20 reps), focusing on squeezing your shoulder blades together for about 3-4 weeks, then try bent-over rows again and see that will help for this particular problem. Also, give your upper trap a few good stretches during breaks between sets next time. You can google upper trap stretches and prone T's and Y's for more information on how to perform them correctly.


I didn't really feel that I get a training effect if I could only do one good form pull up in a row. So as my exercise was really lacking a pulling motion, I found Inverted Rows to be a great way to work my way up to pull ups and chin ups.

Combining the often heard pull up rule "If you can only do one, do them as often as you can" and inverted rows in different variations improved my ability to do consecutive pull ups and chin ups drastically.

You can do inverted rows nearly everywhere, either over or underhand.
At the gym you could hang a barbell into a rack and get below (depends on the rack and its placement to the wall of course).
If you want to do them at home, you can lie below a table and pull yourself up.

Of course the angle of the pulling motion isn't exactly the same as with a pull up, but contrary to a barbell row, still facing upwards.


I would agree that pull ups are one of the most beneficial exercise for back muscle building . There are these articles by Al Kavadlo, CSCS on bodybuilding.com that I came across. There is some good advice to increase your pullup counts .These would take some practice , but are really great for no machine , only body weight workouts. Instructional videos are also available .

Links below :

Body weight mass building workout

Improving pull up counts

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