Last updated on October 29th, 2022 at 01:35 pm
Are you feeling bent over rows in your triceps?
It doesn’t quite sound right, does it?
I mean, if you’re going to feel a pull-based exercise like rows anywhere in the arms you’d expect it to be the biceps.
However, I know for a fact, that I personally, and I’m sure many of you, often feel barbell rows in the triceps.
So, in this article I’d like to explain why this is happening and what you can do about it.
Why Do I Feel Bent Over Rows in My Triceps
There’s always a likelihood that you’ll feel your triceps during bent over rows as they are involved in some way. The main reason for this is that the long head of the triceps are attached to the shoulder blade. Therefore, any movement that involves shoulder extension, especially when bringing your arms from an extended position towards your body, will also stimulate the triceps. That being said, teres minor or rear delt activation can often be confused for the triceps, as these muscles are also connected to the shoulder joint.
Your Triceps Are Involved in Rows
I bet you weren’t expecting to read that.
Bent over rows will primarily work the lats, middle and lower traps, rhomboids, and rear delts.
Furthermore, there are various secondary muscle groups that are activated including the biceps, erector spinae, forearms, etc.
You could even say that bent over rows work the hamstrings to some extent, as you are holding a hip-hinge position throughout your set.
Additionally, there are various shoulder stabilizer muscles involved in barbell rows.
And it is actually the shoulder stabilizer muscles that will explain this barbell row-tricep phenomenon.
The long head of the tricep is attached to the shoulder blade.
And one of the functions of the long head of the tricep is shoulder extension.
This is especially noticeable if your arms are extended in front of you and then you draw your arms towards your body.
Realistically, pretty much all back exercises involve bringing your arms from an extended position towards your body.
This means that the shoulders are extended during every back exercise.
This will also explain why you may feel back exercises in your shoulder.
And you can now add this as a reason why you may feel back exercises in your triceps.
In effect, your triceps assist your shoulders when your arms are out in front of you and you pull your arms in towards your body.
So, any exercise that has some shoulder involvement, you can expect to feel it in your triceps.
That being said, this shouldn’t be painful or uncomfortable, and it shouldn’t feel as though you’ve had an intense tricep workout either.
So, there are certain other factors to consider too.
You’re Not Actually Feeling Rows in Your Triceps (Mistaken Identity)
You have to remember that the muscles in the human body are all attached to other muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints in some way.
So, it is perfectly reasonable to think that you feel a certain muscle being activated when in fact it is a completely different muscle.
And this is often the case with the triceps when performing rows.
Okay, we’ve established that there is some tricep activation during barbell rows, so you’re going to feel them to some extent.
I would say that what is often mistaken as tricep soreness is actually the teres minor, and this is especially true during pull-based exercises such as rows.
The teres minor is a rotator cuff muscle and is actually found deep inside the shoulder muscle.
I guess the best way to describe the teres minor is that it is the muscle that connects the shoulder ball to the shoulder socket.
Therefore, the teres minor is involved in shoulder movement, especially laterally and externally.
If you move your shoulder then you’re using the teres minor.
That being said, the teres minor is also attached to the humerus, the upper arm bone that extends from the shoulder joint to the elbow joint.
So, when you move your arms backwards or downwards you will activate the teres minor and the humerus, and this can often be mistaken for the triceps.
I will also say that as this is a muscle that isn’t specifically trained very often it can feel very sore after an exercise like rows.
In effect, it’s much like the first few times you ever trained and you were really feeling those DOMS.
I’ve already mentioned that the rear delts are one of the primary muscles working during bent over rows.
And the fact that one of the main functions of the rear delts is to pull the shoulders back should explain everything.
So, as the rear delts are being worked by pulling your shoulders back, so will the long head of the tricep once more.
Yet again, I would say that the rear delts may not be as well-developed in certain individuals.
Therefore, when specifically trained you may find that you feel quite sore in that area.
However, it is much easier to tell the difference between soreness in the rear delts and triceps than it is with the teres minor and triceps.
That being said, the simple fact that all these muscles are in close proximity and attached in some way will mean that any discomfort could be confused for being the triceps.
The Best Rotator Cuff Strengthening Routine
What Should You Do if You Feel Rows in Your Triceps?
The best way to counteract feeling rows in your triceps is to alter either your hand position or your grip.
Try Narrow-Grip Barbell Rows
As an example, when performing overhand barbell rows you will hit the lats, rhomboids and rear delts when using a wider grip.
Furthermore, it’s obviously much harder to keep your elbows tucked into your sides when performing wide grip barbell rows.
In fact, it’s quite common for your upper arms and elbows to flare out to the sides.
This immediately puts more strain on the shoulder joint, which as you now know is attached to the long head of the triceps.
So, this could explain the feeling in your triceps.
Additionally, a wider grip works the rear delts better, and once again, as mentioned above, this can often feel as though the triceps are being worked.
So, the solution is to change to a narrow grip, which works the middle-back and lower traps more.
Plus, the narrower your grip the more bicep involvement there is during rows.
Therefore, it is much less likely that you’ll feel barbell rows in your triceps with a narrow, less than shoulder-width grip.
That being said, you still need to be slightly wary.
You must remember that the biceps and triceps are antagonistic muscles.
Therefore, when one muscle is stretched the other muscle is relaxed.
This means that when the biceps are activated, the triceps will be stimulated in some way.
Unfortunately there’s no getting around this.
However, you’ll definitely feel your triceps working far less the closer your hands are together on rows.
Try Underhand Grip Barbell Rows
This may solve the problem for you, although I personally often find that I feel underhand grips rows more in my triceps than usual.
I guess the reason for this is that underhand rows target the biceps to a greater degree.
And as I’ve said, if your biceps are working then your triceps are also being stimulated.
That being said, when using an underhand grip you won’t be activating the rear delts as much, so for most of you (hopefully) you’ll feel it less in the triceps.
I would also suggest keeping at least a shoulder-width grip for underhand rows and ensure that your upper arms and elbows don’t flare out to the sides.
How to Activate Your Lats More With Barbell Rows
Never mind your triceps, I’m guessing you definitely want to feel barbell rows more in your lats.
Well, here’s two very basic “tricks” that I use, not only for barbell rows, but for all pulling lat-based exercises.
In fact, this is exactly how I perform pull ups too.
For me, the following two methods allow you to focus much more on the mind-muscle connection, so you can really feel your lats working.
Firstly, try a thumbless grip, so rather than wrapping your thumbs around the bar, have them on the same side of the bar as your fingers.
As I say, I first tried a thumbless grip with pull ups and it worked a treat.
So, I just had to try the same with barbell rows, and what do you know, I could really feel my lats working.
As for the second method, always lead with your elbows and not your hands.
I guess most of us view our hands as being the INITIAL mover of the weight on all pull-based exercises.
As in, if I don’t pull this bar with my hands then there’s no way I’ll be able to move it.
However, much the same as with deadlifts, barbell rows should be treated in the same way.
Your hands are nothing more than hooks that wrap around the bar (or go thumbless if desired).
Realistically, all pull-based exercises should be led by your elbows.
I liken this to elbowing an imaginary person standing behind you in the gut.
As soon as you start performing rows and other pull-based exercises by leading with your elbows you’ll notice much more upper back and lat activation.
And of course, this is exactly what you want.
Now, I will say that this is actually quite difficult to initially achieve, especially if you’ve spent many years rowing by leading with your hands.
For me, as silly as this sounds, I started by closing my eyes and really focusing on moving my elbows until they were behind me.
And fortunately, it wasn’t long before this became ingrained as a new habit.
Try it and see what you think.
Finally, using these two techniques will also mean that you’re much less likely to feel rows in your triceps.
Lat “Non-Responder” Solution – (LATS WON’T GROW)
So, in summary, the main reason that you feel bent over rows in your triceps is:
- The long head of the triceps is attached to the shoulder joint.
- Any movement of the shoulder joint, especially if your arms are extended in front of you and then pulled back towards the body, will activate the triceps.
- You could be mistaking other stabilizer muscles for the triceps, i.e. teres minor or rear delts.
- To avoid feeling your triceps, firstly try a narrower grip and ensure that your upper arms and elbows stay tight to your body.
- You can also try underhand rows, which will bring the biceps more into play and stimulate the rear delts much less.
- Try a thumbless grip and always lead the movement with your elbows and not your hands.
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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.