Richmond: 604.271.7181
Vancouver: 604.605.1550

BIM Lab: 6 Rowing Variations

Horizontal upper body pulling, or rowing variations, offer the ability to build strength with lower stress on the shoulder than vertical pulling. 

In this blog post, we are going to share 6 variations that each offer different benefits. And, we will explain who each option may be best suited for, so anyone can understand when to work them into their own respective training programs.

Exercise 1) The Row with Too Many Benches 

This row variation is similar to a traditional bent over row where one leg is straight. However, with that variation it is often hard to ensure your hips stay level because of varying bench heights that are easily ill proportioned with limb lengths. This variation instead also allows you to achieve a more horizontal line of pull with zero stress on your lumbar spine. And can be especially beneficial for those who want to build max strength or hypertrophy because of the ability to load it to max intensity or volume. 

Our only complaint is the extra set up that this exercise requires, but all other benefits outweigh that extra effort!


  • Make sure your benches are the same height (or, if that isn’t possible, have your hand on the higher bench)
  • Set and maintain a neutral neck (chin slightly tucked and neck elongated)
  • Use a full range of motion with your row, allowing for slight protraction at the bottom and full retraction at the top


Exercise 2) Landmine T-Bar Rows 

The landmine set up of this row variation allows you to start with a more manageable weight compared to the traditional barbell bent over rows. These also allow for a close grip set up, which is a more stable position for the shoulder. Bent over row variations require you to hold an isometric hinge position, which makes them a great compliment to your deadlift training. However, if you are not familiar or lack strength with the hinge pattern, we suggest you start there so you can learn how to properly stabilize your trunk in this position.


  • After lifting initially lifting the bar off the ground, ensure that you have a strong and stable isometric hip hinge position, with your spine in a neutral position
  • Maintain tension in your hamstrings throughout the exercise
  • Make sure to have no movement in your torso as you pull, keep the row controlled, and avoid jerking the weight up
  • Using smaller diameter plates will allow you to maximize range of motion, or conversely, using large plates can reduce range of motion if that is a concern for you


Exercise 3) Kettlebell Pendlay Alternating Row

Pendlay rows differ from traditional barbell bent over rows mainly because these require you to pull from the floor. This means each rep is initiated from a dead stop, which requires slightly more power output. Because you return the weight to the floor each rep, it also gives the option to not have your spine loaded for small periods during your sets. This can be ideal for those who are ready for unsupported bent over row variations but are still working on the muscular endurance of the supportive muscles to hold this position. It can also give the option to adjust your form if needed. Lastly, pulling from the floor also means the line of pull will be slightly more horizontal.

This rendition of the Pendlay row using kettlebells also has a few key benefits:

  • You can adjust the loading to whatever suits your strength capacity or intended volume or intensity
  • You can perform unilateral pulls which is helpful for technique and also requires an additional anti-rotational stability component
  • You can adjust the pathway of the pull to be neutral with the shoulder in more internal rotation or keep it pronated


  • Ensure that you have a strong and stable isometric hip hinge position with your spine in a neutral position. 
  • Keep tension in your hamstrings
  • Make sure to have no movement in torso as you pull, keep row controlled and avoid jerking the weight up


Exercise 4) Banded High to Low Row 

Using banded resistance can be a great way to take advantage of the strength curve with accommodating resistance. Accommodating resistance means that resistance changes through an exercise. In this case, the further you pull away from the anchor point the greater the resistance will be. For a rowing variation this also means that the highest resistance also occurs at the point of the movement where you are the strongest. If reading that makes you mind-blown, then just trust us that this is a good way to maximize strength in a rowing pattern without stressing your shoulder joint.

The angle of this row variation is slightly more vertical but does not require as much upward rotation of the scapular as going directly overhead. If you are working on building up your overhead range of motion or stability, then this is a great option for you!


  • Pull shoulder blades back and down as you row
  • Take the time to control the extension phase and allow for the band to pull you into slight protraction at the end without shrugging your shoulders
  • Higher volume works well with these (12-20 reps)

These are a great stand alone exercise or we often will program them as upper body pulling activation. We also like to use them to exhaust muscles as a secondary movement for hypertrophy.


Exercise 5) Side Plank with Single-Arm Row 

This combo offers anti-rotational core stabilization, lateral core stability, as well as scapular stability. We highly recommend that you give it a try!


  • Make sure hips and shoulders are stacked
  • Torso should remain as still as possible as you row
  • Set and maintain a neutral neck (chin slightly tucked and neck elongated)


Exercise 6) Bird Dog Bent Over Row 

And last but not least, this Dumbbell Birddog DB Row is a very humbling rowing variation. Below are some of the reasons why this exercise is good to incorporate as well into your training program: 

  • This rowing variation requires great anti-extension and anti-rotation core control. 
  • It strengthens your posterior sling, which is a critical spinal stabilization pattern that involves your lats on one side, and the glute max of the opposite side, along with the thoracolumbar/thoracodorsal fascia in between
  • Forced control rowing, which will help improving your overall rowing technique


  • Set up this exercise with your hand directly under your shoulder, and opposite knee directly under your hip
  • Set and maintain a neutral neck (chin slightly tucked and neck elongated)
  • When extending your leg out, think about making it “longer”. Using your glute to do this will help avoid arching your lower back (which you don’t want to do!)
  • Once you get the DB off the ground, pause to ensure you have proper core engagement
  • If you’re having trouble keeping technique, it’s best to lower the weight first and to clean up your form, before progressing to a heavier weight 
  • Complete your rows slow and controlled



You can try adding these to your training program and of course let us know how they go! And, if you have any questions or want to know more about anything featured in this post, please feel free to email Andrea at 

If you would like to learn more about what you may need in a respective training program, book a free assessment with us here

Get our latest Fitness + Nutrition Advice straight to your email!
Thank you! Please check your email and confirm your subscription.
About the author

Andrea Lawson has been a practicing Kinesiologist since 2008 and is the founder of Balance in Motion, a training facility created for people to rehabilitate from injuries, improve athletic performance, and crush their health and fitness goals. She is passionate about providing a space where anyone can step foot in and feel both comfortable and productive no matter the injury, age, or stage they may be at in their fitness journey. With this vision, Andrea has witnessed her clients achieve goals they never thought possible, and gain unmatched levels of confidence in themselves, helping them to Go Beyond Better.