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I'm doing SL5x5 and, for my without tonight, I swapped the normal Pendlay rows with the incline row machine. I was quite shocked at the weight difference. Normally, I'd be rowing around 115 but with the machine I could only manage about 70 (for the same sets/reps). But I wasn't just arbitrarily playing with the program, I decided to try the machine because I felt I had been cheating on the bb rows by using my lower back and glutes. To try to determine if I had been cheating, I wanted to see how my bb row compared to a roughly equivalent isolation exercise. My logic being that the machine should use every muscle that should be used in bb rows and limit me to only those. Therefore, if I wasn't cheating and all the same muscles are used, then the weight should be about the same. Such a large difference between my bb row and machine row would seem to indicate that one of the following is true:

  1. The machine row isn't as similar to the bb row as I thought. Specifically, the incline row leaves out muscles used in the bb row.
  2. I've been cheating on my bb rows.

So is it 1 or 2? And if it's 1, what is left out?

An incline row machine similar to what I'm using and referring to:

enter image description here

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    Personally I do the incline row at 65 - 70% or the BB Rows. – pufferfish Jan 22 '15 at 20:52
  • Thanks. That helps give me an idea of the range I should be in. Crunching the numbers, 70 is ~60% of 115. So I suppose I wasn't cheating as bad as I thought. – Tyler Jan 22 '15 at 21:28
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I wouldn't sweat the difference in weights you can do on one versus the other, there can be a lot of good reasons for that. The angles, range of motion, and muscle involvement all shift.

On heavy barbell rows, despite your best efforts, your chest will drop a bit to meet the bar. On the lever machine, you can't get away with that. On a pure row, the weight is going to come up near-perfect vertically, versus on the lever machine it will track on whatever angle the lever is bolted into place. That last aspect alone, the angle your pulling, makes a big difference.

StrongLifts 5x5 (I think) was adapted from the Bill Starr's famous 5x5 dating back to 1976. I know that's where Madcow 5x5 came from, and I assume the lifts for StrongLifts were chosen in a similar fashion.

Either way, the original 5x5 (Bill Starr's) actually called for the power clean. Barbell rows were only substituted later because you can self-learn a barbell row but for cleans most people need training.

I think it's safe to look at barbell rows, cleans, and lever rows as the "upper back pulling" part of a strength training program.

I moved away from barbell rows personally because of the load on my lower back, which is already pretty high from the constant other-lower-back-demanding barbell loads. Once I got to around 225lb 5RM, I flipped to squat cleans and weighted pullups and never looked back.

Barbell rows have put a lot of beef on people's backs, and deserve to be the primary upper back compound lift early on. But a lot of people move away from them for good reason, especially if you do a lot of squat/deads/cleans.

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  1. yes it does leave out the lower back, hips and hamstrings you use to help generate power resulting in far less weight used BUT... you get more stimulation on the target areas like the middle traps and lats

  2. no you have not

Simply put if you want to gain lots of mass in your genral back then go with the pendaly or normal bent over rows but if you want to target or isolate the hard to get middle trap area then the machine row is better for that

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