It’s a question I see over-and-over again – Why Do Bent Over Rows Hurt My Lower Back?
There are few better exercises to strengthen and pack on size to the upper back.
However, many people find that bent over rows cause a lot of stress to the lower back.
In fact, I’ve known of people having to stop mid-set, or completely give up on the exercise.
And all of this is due to the pain that the bent over row causes to their lower back.
So, what exactly is going on here?
Why Do Bent Over Rows Hurt My Lower Back?
Bent over rows will hurt your lower back when executed with poor form. Some of the most common form errors include bending at the waist rather than the hips, and rounding or hyper-extending the lower back. Your body position should resemble that of the Romanian Deadlift when performing bent over rows.
1. Don’t Round or Hyper-Extend the Lower Back
The most common reason for pain in your lower back when performing bent over rows is poor technique.
Far too often I’ll see people either rounding or hyper-extending the lower back.
In fact, there are literally no exercises that involve you picking up a heavy weight off the floor that require you to either round or arch the lower back.
Both of these incorporate incorrect use of technique and will apply pressure to your spinal discs.
This undue pressure on the discs can lead to lower back injuries, such as herniated discs.
So, if you do feel a great deal of pressure on the lower back when doing bent over rows then stop immediately and sort out your form.
You should always maintain a neutral back position throughout the movement.
I would liken the position of your body to that of the Romanian Deadlift.
So, bend at the hips and have your upper body at approximately an 80 degree angle to the floor.
If you don’t bend over enough you are basically performing a very poor upright row, which can put extreme stress on the lower back.
And if you bend over to 90 degrees, so that your upper body is parallel to the floor, then you are basically performing a Pendlay row, but without allowing the bar to touch the floor.
Both of these body positions may cause you to arch the lower back, which of course is why you feel pain.
2. Stretch Your Hamstrings & Hip Flexors Before Bent Over Rows
Even though the bent over row is a pull-based exercise it does involve a hip-hinge.
As I’ve mentioned, your body’s position should mirror that of the Romanian Deadlift.
However, another major cause of lower back pain with bent over rows is tight hamstrings.
I even know of people who will completely avoid any deadlift variations because of tight hamstrings, and yet they try to replace them with bent over rows.
But, the row still involves you hinging at the hips, so you’ll want your hamstrings to be loose prior to pulling.
I would actually recommend some hamstring and hip flexor stretches beforehand if this is the case.
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You should find that once these areas are loose you’ll feel far more flexible getting into the hip-hinge position.
And this of course should allow you to row pain free.
10-Minute Stretch Routine (For Tight Hamstrings & Hip Flexors)
3. Strengthen Your Core Muscles
One of the major causes of lower back pain (and injuries) is weak core muscles.
I actually believe this weakness is typically exasperated by many regular gym-goers.
Far too many people will view doing a few crunches and sit ups as a great “core workout” and leave it at that.
Well firstly, both these exercises put an extreme amount of stress on the lower back, and do very little to actually activate and stimulate the core.
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Secondly, the core incorporates many more muscles of the body.
In fact, pretty much every muscle from your lower chest to upper thighs, all the way around the body, front and back, and to the sides, can be considered your core.
So, you can see how a few back-breaking sit ups and crunches really isn’t going to cut it.
I would actually go as far to say that a vast array of exercise-related pains and injuries are due to weak core muscles.
And this even includes those at either extremity of the body, which appear in no way connected to the core.
Basically, every single movement we make originates from the core.
So, even though bent over rows are primarily an upper back exercise.
And even though you’re feeling it in your lower back.
All this could be due to the fact that you need to strengthen your core muscles.
Plus, the stronger your core, the heavier you can expect to lift on pretty much EVERY exercise.
So, in effect, a strong core is your secret weapon to becoming bigger, stronger, leaner, and more athletic.
7-Minute Core Strengthening Workout
4. Sort Out Your Foot Positioning
You wouldn’t think that you’d have to worry too much about the position of your feet for an upper back exercise.
However, where your feet are placed, and what they do, during the bent over row is extremely important.
Firstly, your feet should generally be wider than a deadlift and narrower than a squat stance.
This is the perfect position of the feet when performing a bent over row.
In effect your heels should be ever so slightly wider than hip-width, but narrower than shoulder-width.
Your Stance Can Change With the Bent Over Row
With that being said, your stance should also mirror the type of bent over row you’re going to perform in terms of hand position.
If you want to hit the biceps a bit more then you’d have a narrower grip on the bar, so the same goes for your feet.
And if you’re looking to hit the lats more, then your grip on the bar should be wider, and your feet should follow suit.
Prior to picking up the bar it should be aligned with the middle of your feet, exactly the same as when you deadlift.
Too far away from the body and you’re likely to round the lower back when you row.
And too close to the body and you’re likely to hyper-extend the lower back.
We already know that both of these issues will place stress on the lower back and spinal discs.
Your toes should be pointing out to the side at an angle of approximately 15-30 degrees.
This will mean that your toes are pointing in the same direction as your knees, which releases pressure on the lower back.
Plus, you’re less likely to hit your shins or knees with the bar.
Finally, ensure that your both feet stay entirely flat on the floor throughout the entire set.
Occasionally, the toes or the heels may stray off the floor, but this once again puts a great deal of pressure on the lower back.
How to Properly Barbell Row
So, hopefully you understand why bent over rows hurt your lower back.
In truth, it all comes down to your bent over row technique and form.
You need to be wary of not rounding or hyper-extending the back, and also where and how you place your feet.
With that being said, you will also want to look into potential core weakness, or tight hamstrings and hip flexors.
However, once you get these sorted, you can row pain-free and pack on some serious muscle.
Talking of “serious muscle” I’ve recently had the pleasure of reviewing Ben Pakulski’s workout program.
Ben has hit the highest heights in the professional bodybuilding world.
Plus, he has adorned the cover of just about every exercise and fitness magazine.
And now Ben has revealed the exact training system he used to get himself into such fantastic shape.
You can check out what I thought of Ben’s workout program in my MI40 Review.
Hi, I’m Partha, the founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I’m someone who’s been passionate about exercise and nutrition for more years than I care to remember. I’ve studied, researched, and honed my skills for a number of decades now. So, I’ve created this website to hopefully share my knowledge with you. Whether your goal is to lose weight, burn fat, get fitter, or build muscle and strength, I’ve got you covered.