Especially if you're training from the home gym setting, performing your back exercises from a supported position can have a ton of benefits. In this article I'll explain the benefits of using supported rows and include several supported row variations you can implement into your training to build a bigger, stronger and healthier back.
Performing supported movements can:
- Force you to pull stricter reps
- Take stress off the low back
- Allow you to slow things down and use isometrics/eccentrics
- Build muscle and make you stronger
- Improve Mind-Muscle Connection (Yes, it's a real thing)
Hear me out...
When it comes to back training, we've all spent considerable time banging out many variations of barbell and dumbbell rows, deadlifts, pull ups, etc..
and there's nothing wrong with that at all.. those are the staple movements that build a big, strong back and put on slabs of muscle.
But try a simple experiment out for yourself:
Take what you normally use for dumbbell rows and try to perform them in a chest supported position. You'll likely find that you cannot move the same weight, and that you'll have to use much lighter weight to perform a set. Why is that?
This is because in the chest supported position, you cannot use any momentum to perform the movement. You can't cheat, and that means the back is going to have to be responsible for pulling that weight.
Improved Contractile Abilities
Performing stricter reps will force the back muscles to generate the force to pull the weight. Coupled with a brief isometric squeeze at the top, you've got a powerful recipe for both muscle growth and strength in those muscles.
If the back muscles are used to having assistance in pulling weight, performing strict reps will be shockingly hard. Getting stronger from this position can go a long way in taking your strength up a notch (and subsequently, can result in some serious gainz as well.)
The mind-muscle connection is simply your ability to focus specifically on the target muscle you're trying to use.
With a muscle like the Biceps, this can be done pretty easily. However, when targeting the large muscles of the upper back, it can be a little more challenging.
Supported row variations coupled with a brief isometric pause in the squeeze position will really force you to be aware of the muscles working hard when you pull. This can be extremely helpful across all of your back training.
The ability to establish that connection with the muscle is what will take your gains to the next level.
5 Supported Back Exercises for Strength and Size.
Here are 5 supported variations that I use all the time that have been really great additions to my training, and for those I've trained.
If you want to take your back workouts to the next level, I highly suggest implementing some or all of these, keeping what resonates most with you and your training goals.
1 - Chest Supported DB Rows
As stated previously, these take all the cheating out of the movement, and so you'll find you have to use lighter weight than you're used to with regular DB rows.
Perform these on a low incline bench, slightly elevating the chest to get a deeper squeeze.
Mind-Muscle Connection in Action.
Note how there's a brief pause at the top. This is a critical part of the movement and in training the mind-muscle connection.
This is more difficult to do with traditional rows, as you're using momentum and pulling faster reps, and pausing can place unnecessary stress on the low back.
With supported DB rows, you can really hold that squeeze and feel the upper back muscles working hard.
These are best performed in the middle or end of a session, for 3-4 sets of 10-15 reps, emphasizing the squeeze and hold at the top.
You can use different grips (prone, reverse, neutral) and pull with elbows in or slightly out to hit the back a bit differently. I personally feel these the most with a reverse (supinated) grip, but everyone's different.
2 - Seal Rows
Seal Rows are performed from a horizontal position on a bench. To accomplish this, you'll likely have to elevate a flat bench on 2 platforms. I usually just stack plates up, which gets the job done.
You'll lie flat holding a pair of dumbbells and pull the elbows back and up to a deep squeeze in the upper back.
You can change the angle of the dumbbells and your elbows to get a slightly different pull, and you should try out different angles to see which you feel the most.
I like these for sets of 8-12 reps, really focusing on the squeeze. If you can't pull to a good squeeze at the top, the weight is too heavy and you should go a little lighter.
Lose the ego in the gym and focus on doing things right.
3 - Head Supported Barbell Rows
These are one of my favorite variations, and I frequently use these instead of traditional barbell rows.
The biggest advantage these give you is taking some stress off the low back. For many people, the low back fatigues before anything else when performing heavy rows, and that defeats the purpose of the movement and doesn't allow you to attack the upper back like you need to.
Establish a solid base, with your head against a solid structure (a padded barbell works fine). Keep your neck in a neutral position and avoid flexing or jerking the neck.
You can pull from pins/safety spotters or the floor with these, which is really great because it forces you to pull from a dead stop (no momentum) and also allows you to briefly reset on each rep.
These can be performed just like seal rows, from a horizontal position, or from a slightly elevated angle.
Eccentric/Isometric Supported DB Rows
Using eccentric/isometric reps can be brutal. These will build a mind-muscle connection better than anything else I can think of when it comes to back training.
You'll pull to a deep squeeze, hold the squeeze for 2-3 seconds, then slowly lower the dumbbells back to the starting position (about 3-5 seconds on the eccentric).
Performing reps in this style will create a ton of metabolic stress, inducing an "occlusion" effect, in which blood is delayed from exiting the muscle.
This causes the fast twitch muscle fibers to take over and also results in a huge pump, both of which are highly conducive to muscle growth.
Perform these in sets of 6-10 reps, focusing on quality over heavy weight.
Supported Variations with a Rear Delt Focus
The Rear Delts should be worked more than any other part of the shoulder. Why?
Because the Rear Delts are highly active both during back training and during your pressing movements, in particular when you bench press.
Strong Rear Delts are crucial for the health of your shoulders. And if you want a big bench press, you'll pay plenty of attention to them.
Supported High Elbow Rows (Rear Delts)
If we want to shift the focus onto the Rear Delts (which you should be doing often), I've got 2 options from a supported position that are killer.
The first option is to pull high elbow rows from the bench supported position.
Elevating the chest slightly will allow for a deeper pull. These will quickly have your Rear Delts on fire.
I like these for 12-15 Reps, usually towards the end of a session, or as a warm up on a pressing day.
Heavy Partials - Rear Delt Raises
Heavy Partials can be a great addition to your training, and can be a brutal way to finish a session off.
For these, I'll take a pair of dumbbells heavier than I could normally pull full reps with, and perform partial reps in a "swinging" motion.
I like these as a finisher, for 1-2 max effort sets to failure, usually 30-50 reps. Prepare to be on fire.
You can also simply perform supported Rear Delt Raises as well..
Sample Back Workout using Supported Row Variations
Here's one sample of a Back training session from the SWOLE TOWN program, where I like to throw in Supported variations frequently.
I'm not including the Prep Work (Warm-up), however you should always warm up before training, and prep work is always included in the Swole Town programming for every session.
|Kroc Rows||2||1 warm up|
1 x max reps
|Rear Delt Heavy|
|2||Max Reps||2 min|
Check out Swole Town
If you like the methods described in this article, come take a free trial of the Swole Town Program.
Swole Town is a training team, with full daily programming, demo videos, a coach and a badass plan to get jacked as hell.
Supported Rows are a crucial addition to your back training days. As we discussed, performing supported movements can take stress off the low back and force you to pull stricter reps.
They can also dramatically improve the mind-muscle connection, which will enhance your training immensely.
I hope this article was helpful, and as always I really hope it helped get you a little bit closer to that best version of yourself.
Until next time, train hard and never stop learning!