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When doing bench presses, it is commonly advised not to touch the barbell high on the chest (near the clavicle) but lower, at the bottom of the sternum. This avoids having the arms out at a 90° angle to the side of the torso, which can lead to shoulder impingement. The problem there is that at the bottom of the movement, the acromion runs into the rotator cuff muscles, leading to irritation and possible damage. Touching lower on the chest makes the arms move more towards a 45° angle, avoiding shoulder impingement.

My question is, do similar concerns play a role in barbell rows? I'm thinking more specifically strict rows that keep the upper body entirely or at least quite a bit horizontal, such as pendlay rows. Intuitively I would think that it's also best not to flare the upper arms out to 90° (or close to it) and keep them more around a 45° angle with the upper body, since otherwise at the top of the movement, when the barbell touches the chest, the same shoulder impingement could occur. But maybe the nature of the movement is different enough that this is not the case. I know a vertical push such as an overhead press does not cause shoulder impingement because the scapulae are kept mobile, while on a bench they're locked in place. On a row, they also get some freedom of movement, so maybe that avoids impingement.

  • Are you looking for a specific kind of row such as the Pendlay Row or bent-over row? I'm curious about this too, but if you're looking for a specific one, it may be worth editing the question – Yousend Feb 17 '17 at 15:15
  • @akadian From the question: "I'm thinking more specifically strict rows that keep the upper body entirely or at least quite a bit horizontal, such as pendlay rows." So any type of row where you remain fairly horizontal, like Pendlay rows. If you come up to almost 45° torso incline, you're perhaps almost half-shrugging the weight. I think that'd make it a very different question. – G_H Feb 17 '17 at 15:22
  • Sorry, for some reason I completely ignored that section. – Yousend Feb 17 '17 at 15:23
  • @akadian No probs, I'm a bit too verbose sometimes :P – G_H Feb 17 '17 at 15:28
  • Is it not accepted current form to row the weight to your sternum/stomach? I cant think of any row where you should pull the weight up to your clavicle. – Gunge Feb 20 '17 at 8:34
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No, there is a fundamental difference between the Pendlay row and the bent-over barbell row. Neither of which, if you execute proper form, put your shoulders in a position to impinge.

The Pendlay Row has your torso, more or less, parallel with the ground and you pull the bar to your sternum (or just below) from the ground. You can pull a barbell to sternum without having your shoulders perpendicular to your torso. Your arms are typically between 45 and 75 degrees depending on your anthropometry and bio mechanics.

The Bent-over Row is where your torso is at 45 degrees, plus or minus a little, and you pull the barbell to your hips. Also, you continue holding the barbell during the exercise as opposed to starting each rep from the floor like the Pendlay Row.

The stabilizer muscles that are engaged are pretty much the same, the difference might be which ones have more stress on them. This is a result of the differences in how these similar exercises are executed.

  • So the shoulder impingement is entirely a function of transverse extension with the upper arms at too big an angle to the torso (like 90°)? In that case, Pendlay rows could still cause impingement if they're executed with a very wide grip or the arms are flared too wide, no? – G_H Mar 24 '17 at 6:39
  • Technically, yes, but that isn't the proper form and technique to perform the exercise. Another example, you can do deadlifts with a rounded lumbar, but you shouldn't. Exercise execution is all about proper form and technique. All of them can be dangerous to varying degrees, but are completely safe if executed properly. There are two common reasons for form breakdown, the person hasn't been coached properly or they're lifting too heavy. You're only cheating (or potentially hurting) yourself when you don't perform exercises as prescribed and with weight you can handle. – Sean Perkins Mar 24 '17 at 14:38

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