Last updated on October 29th, 2022 at 01:42 pm
As fantastic an exercise for your upper back as bent over rows are, there’s nothing worse than feeling the movement in your hamstrings.
You’ll generally find that you’re much more focused on your hamstrings, as opposed to the working muscles.
Furthermore, this can also cause you to rush through your set or to use poor form.
So, in this article I’d like to explain why you feel bent over rows in your hamstrings.
Plus, I’ll show you to deal with this, as well as providing alternative exercises that you will find much more comfortable.
Table of Contents
Why Do I Feel Bent Over Rows in My Hamstrings?
Tight hamstrings will typically cause you discomfort when performing bent over rows. This often occurs due to imbalanced training, typically performing much more quad-based lifting and cardio exercises. Furthermore, sitting down causes the hamstrings to shorten. Therefore, if you spend many hours a day sitting then you are increasing the likelihood of tight hamstrings.
You Have Tight Hamstrings
The number one reason for feeling your hamstrings, when you potentially shouldn’t be, is because they are tight.
And this is the cause of your discomfort whenever you perform bent over rows.
Basically, whenever we bend at the waist, or hip-hinge (as you should be doing in the gym environment), our hamstrings are automatically stretched.
This is absolutely fine as long as it isn’t causing you pain, soreness, or distress.
However, if you happen to have tight hamstrings, this will affect your mobility, and will typically make you rush an exercise or perform it with poor form.
I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that this can eventually lead to injury.
Plus, bent over rows are clearly an upper body exercise, specifically focusing on your pull-based muscles, i.e. upper back and lats.
So, the last thing you want to feel is any tightness or discomfort in your hamstrings.
I will also say that tight hamstrings is one of the causes of feeling bent over rows in your lower back.
Why Do You Have Tight Hamstrings?
There are various reasons why you may have tight hamstrings, although it is likely that this has built up over a period of time.
I guess the number one cause of tight hamstrings is sitting, something that many of us do for a huge number of hours a day.
In fact, if you work at a typical desk job then you’re probably making matters worse.
Basically, while you are seated your knees are bent, thus leaving your hamstrings in a shortened position for an extended period.
So, just imagine what this will do to your hamstrings if you sit down for 8+ hours every day, 7 days a week, and for months or years on end.
I can tell you now that it isn’t doing a great deal for your hamstring mobility.
That being said, hamstring tightness can also be caused by actually being active too.
Something that I’ve often seen in the gym, especially among men, is that their lower body training is extremely quad-dominant.
So, a leg training day may encompass some squats, leg press, leg extensions, and finally some leg curls as an afterthought.
Realistically, this will eventually lead to muscle imbalances, as well as leaving your hamstrings extremely tight, and probably quite sore.
However, it’s not just hitting the weights “incorrectly” that can cause hamstring issues.
In fact, many cyclists typically have shortened hamstrings, whereas runners can be extremely quad-dominant.
Therefore, a solution would be to have a more balanced approach to your training.
If you’re hitting your quads while lifting weights or through cardio, you must ensure that your hammies are getting just as much (if not more) attention.
How to Deal With Tight Hamstrings
There are a number of things that you can do in order to deal with tight hamstrings.
However, it’s also important to realise that it took some time for your hamstring mobility to dwindle.
Therefore, this won’t be an overnight fix, so it will take time to increase the flexibility of your hammies.
That being said, just by performing some of the following flexibility and mobility drills, you should notice that bent over rows become far more comfortable to perform.
I will also say that hamstring tightness can be caused by failing to activate your glutes.
This leads us back to the “sitting epidemic” that has taken over the world in the last few decades.
Once more, all this sitting around will actually affect your butt, and your glutes will be highly inactive throughout.
So, while it obviously makes sense to increase hamstring mobility, don’t forget about your glutes in the meantime.
The most obvious way to increase flexibility is through stretching.
However, this is one hamstring stretch I prefer over all, and this is especially fantastic if you do have tight hamstrings.
This Is the lying banded hamstring stretch.
Plus, if you follow the movement pattern in the video below you will also get a great stretch in the groin and IT band.
In addition to stretching you’ll also want to foam roll your hamstrings.
Furthermore, don’t forget about your glutes, which is where a ball massage comes in handy.
This can be performed with a lacrosse or tennis ball, and will help to untie knots in your glutes and have them firing once more.
In addition to these mobility drills I also like to activate both my glutes and hamstrings with more traditional exercises.
Once more, you can do these prior to performing bent over rows.
I’ll also add that these are a great couple of exercises to perform prior to squats and deadlifts.
In fact, the increased flexibility and general “looseness” you feel may help you to squat or deadlift more weight than usual.
Plus, while performing bent over rows you’ll be less likely to use poor form or rush through your set.
Stability Ball Hamstring Curl
Bodyweight Glute Bridges
Alternatives to Bent Over Rows
30 Row Variations
Other Reasons You Feel Bent Over Rows in Your Hamstrings
In truth, if you’re feeling rows in your hamstrings it will generally be down to the tightness of your hammies.
However, that’s not to say that there are potential form errors you’re making, which in turn will stimulate the hamstrings more than usual.
Firstly, there is a tendency to bend over too far when performing rows.
In effect, you are trying to get your torso parallel to the floor.
But, in reality, you only want to have your torso at a 45-degree angle.
Obviously, the nearer to parallel your torso is the floor, the more you stretch your hamstrings.
However, there really is no need to bend the entire way over.
Granted, a variation such as pendlay rows does require a far more bent over position.
But, if you’re someone who suffers with hamstrings tightness then pendlay’s are best avoided until you’ve increased your mobility.
I will also say that I tend to perform Yates or underhand rows with a far more upright torso, which of course takes even more pressure off your hammies.
That being said, you are still required to hinge at the hips, as you don’t want to turn the exercise into an upright row.
Secondly, you need to be wary of whether you’re using momentum to row.
This is often unnoticeable, even to you, but it will definitely stimulate the hamstrings more.
You may notice that you have a slight “bounce” as you pull the weight towards your midsection.
In fact, I’ve seen people do this fairly often with rows, bicep curls and lateral raises.
In effect, as the weight is being raised they perform a slight bounce in order to produce momentum.
For me, this simply means that you’re using too much weight.
Basically, rather than performing an exercise with a slow, controlled and smooth action you end up using momentum and body English to shift the weight.
If you find yourself doing this, pure and simple, perform the exercise with less weight.
So, as you can see, it is tight hamstrings that are the main cause of you feeling them during bent over rows.
This is usually caused by focusing much more on quad-based exercises.
So, if you’re regularly performing squats, leg presses, leg extensions, and just about any other lower-body exercise that mainly stimulates your quads, this could be the root of your problem.
Furthermore, even cardio exercises, such as running and cycling, can cause stiff and tight hamstrings.
You will also find that poor form, i.e. bending over too far, using momentum, etc. will simply cause more discomfort in your hamstrings.
The solution is to work on your hamstring mobility.
This can be achieved through stretching, foam rolling, and regularly performing more hamstring-focused exercises.
Additionally, you can also perform a wide variety of row variations that are easier on the hamstrings.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.