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Fact checked by Kirsten Yovino, CPT Brookbush InstituteFACT CHECKED
October 31, 2021
Kettlebells aren’t only meant to be swung. When’s the last time you did some kettlebell rows? If you had to think about that, then you should read on to see what you’ve been missing. Kettlebell rows are a fantastic compound exercise to work muscles in your shoulders, back, core, hips, and legs. We put together 10 kettlebell row variations that will make your workouts more interesting, challenging, and rewarding.
A kettlebell row is a pulling movement where you’ll be in a bent-over row body position, hinging forward at the hips. Then, starting with the kettlebell close to the ground, you’ll lift it towards your waist in the similar motion of a single-arm dumbbell row. This exercise is usually done in a staggered stance for the added stability.
We will focus on how to do the single-arm kettlebell row in this detailed description.
Step 1: The Setup (Staggered Stance)
Grab a kettlebell, place it on the floor in front of your right foot with the handle in a parallel position to your body
Step back with your right leg, then hinge forward at the hips until your torso is parallel with the ground; grab the kettlebell handle with your right hand, using a neutral grip.
Step 2: The Row
Lift through your elbow while keeping it tucked to your side until your hand reaches your ribcage.
Keep your core engaged and back straight throughout the movement.
Squeeze your lats at the top, hold briefly, then slowly lower the kettlebell until your arm is fully extended.
Complete the number of desired reps, then switch sides and repeat.
Latissimus Dorsi: The most significant muscle in your upper body, often called the “lats,” creates the winged or V look of the back. This muscle stretches from the spine out to our sides and the majority of the back length. The lats are the primary mover when doing kettlebell rows. The mid to low lats do most heavy lifting here until the top of the movement when the upper lats come into play.
Related: 14 Best Latissimus Dorsi Exercises
Deltoids: The deltoids make up the muscles of the shoulder. In the case of kettlebell rows, the posterior deltoid (aka rear delt) in the back of the shoulder assists the lats in lifting the kettlebell.
Trapezius: More commonly called the traps, this muscle sits at the base of the skull then travels down to the lower thoracic vertebrae then across to the scapula. The traps plays a part in the KB row as you lift up.
Related: 11 Best Trapezius Exercises
Rhomboids: The rhomboid major and minor muscles are found under the traps traveling from the spine to the medial area of the scapula. The rhomboids help with scapular movement and play a part in many pulling exercises.
Related: 24 Best Rhomboid Exercises
Erector Spinae: These muscles run on the sides of the spine and help spinal stability. When doing kettlebell rows, these muscles take on the task of keeping your back aligned.
Related: 13 Best Erector Spinae Exercises
Biceps Brachii: There are two heads to the biceps; the long head and short head. The bicep sits on the front of the upper arm and is involved in many pulling exercises due to the primary function being flexion at the elbow joint. Other actions include pronation and supination of the forearm.
Brachialis: The primary function of the brachialis muscle is elbow flexion. It is located deeper than the biceps, closer to the elbow. Unlike the biceps, this muscle doesn’t assist with pronation or supination of the forearm.
Brachioradialis: The forearm muscle is located on the front side of the forearm. The main functions of this muscle are flexing the forearm at the elbow joint and are vital for gripping objects.
Pectoralis Major: The pec major makes up the majority of the chest muscles and is mainly used for pressing movements. Surprisingly the pec major also plays a small part in the kettlebell row towards the beginning of the movement.
Teres Major: The teres major is located above the lats then attached to the humerus. The main functions of this teres muscle are medial rotation and extension of the humerus. This muscle assists in lifting the kettlebell.
Teres Minor: The teres minor is one of the rotator cuff muscles that help stabilize the scapula.
Infraspinatus: This muscle is one of the rotator cuff muscles located by the teres muscles. Besides providing stability, it also helps with external rotation of the shoulder.
Hips, Core, Glutes & Hamstrings: We grouped these as they aren’t primary muscles needed to perform the kettlebell row, but they make it possible for you to keep the proper body positioning throughout the movement. The hips, glutes, and hamstrings will be working isometrically to maintain the hinged position.
Reduce Risk Of Injury: Kettlebell rows are an excellent full-body compound exercise. Your shoulders, core, arms, back, hips, and legs all work in unison to pull this one-off. Your upper body will be moving while your lower body stays in a static position. This requires a strong neurological connection allowing you to control your body better and lower the risk of injuring yourself while performing daily activities.
Easier On The Shoulders: The kettlebell row is a horizontal pulling movement that lessens the burden on the shoulders. Vertical pulling exercises such as pull-ups can cause some people discomfort in the shoulder region. Horizontal pull exercises are more joint-friendly that can help to improve your posture and build stronger joints.
Enhance Core Strength: By performing the kettlebell row, your core stabilizer muscles will be engaged so that your body stays balanced. To do the kettlebell row with proper technique, you’ll be focusing on one lat at a time which can help with forming a mind-muscle connection. An added benefit of the kettlebell row is that you’ll be pulling through a wider range of motion compared with a barbell row; this can help to stimulate new muscle growth.
Full Body Exercise: The kettlebell row activates muscles in the upper and lower body at the same time. You will build strength in your back, glute, hamstrings, shoulders, and core by executing this movement properly. By strengthening all these muscles at the same time, you’ll also indirectly improve other exercises such as pushups and pullups.
Strengthen Back: Your lats will be the main mover when doing kettlebell rows, allowing you to lift the kettlebell from the floor. Lats are the biggest muscle in the upper body, so they should be worked through multiple angles. Many people will focus on vertical pull exercises to hit the lats but it’s important to work the lats through a variety of angles and body positioning to work the entire muscle.
Burn Calories: As mentioned above, the kettlebell row is a compound exercise that recruits muscles throughout the body. A lot of energy is consumed to do this exercise properly, turning your body into a calorie incinerator.
10 KETTLEBELL ROW VARIATIONS:
1. Single Arm Seesaw Row (0:06)
2. Staggered Stance Row (0:36)
3. Alt. Bent Over Row (1:00)
4. Hand On Bell Row (1:18)
5. Lateral Row (1:41)
6. Clean Row (2:05)
7. Rotational Row (2:28)
8. Bent Over Row (2:56)
9. Static Hand Switch (3:21)
10. Half-Kneeling Row (3:32)
These kettlebell rows use different variables, such as body position, load position, and grip position, which allows you to stress the muscles differently and emphasize certain muscles more. So, none of these are redundant. All 10 will uniquely train your back and arms.
The single-arm seesaw row is a perfect exercise to test your stabilizing muscles. This exercise works similar muscles to the single-arm kettlebell row. The main difference here is the dynamic movement you’ll be doing with your arm that’s not holding the kettlebell.
The offset nature of this exercise will have your core and spinal stabilizers working overtime. This is a full-body exercise that is sure to burn some serious calories. The seesaw row can also be done with two kettlebells which will balance out the movement a tad bit more but don’t expect it to get any easier.
Note: Try to keep both sides of your body balanced while keeping your shoulder blades retracted.
This is a great unilateral kettlebell exercise that challenges your stability, balance, and strength. You’ll be able to lift heavier kettlebells by being in the more stable staggered stance. In addition, by honing in on one side of the body at a time, you’ll be able to spot any potential muscle imbalances or weaknesses that need some attention.
Note: Makes sure to squeeze those lats at the top of the movement before lowering the kettlebell.
This kettlebell row variation is dynamic and will test your strength and balance and your reaction time and coordination. Instead of doing one rep at a time, you will be passing off the kettlebell mid-air from one hand to the other. This is an excellent mind-muscle connection movement that is sure to test you in more ways than one.
Note: Do this exercise on flooring that can take some damage in case you drop the kettlebell. Start light until you have the movement down pat.
This version of the kettlebell row is similar to the staggered stance KB row but with a few key differences. First, the hand on the bell KB row requires you to hold the bell of the kettlebell rather than the handle. By changing your grip, you will be required to use wrist flexion so that the kettlebell is stable throughout the lift. This small tweak enables you to work on your wrist mobility while doing a pulling exercise. Most barbell lifts that use an overhand grip involve some degree of forearm pronation, leading to the wrist extensors and forearm pronators overpowering our wrist flexors and forearm supinators. Try to mix this kettlebell row variation into your workouts so that you can balance out this dynamic.
Note: Start with a light weight until you’re sure that your wrists can adequately support the kettlebell with your wrist flexed.
This kettlebell lateral row requires you to lift the weight across your body, changing how your muscles are targeted. This is a great exercise to add an extra range of motion to work the lats more. You’ll also reap the added benefits of doing this kettlebell row while in a lateral lunge stance. Holding this isometric body positioning will work your hip flexors.
Note: Brace your upper body by leaning on your thigh with your inactive arm.
Burn some calories with this full-body kettlebell dynamic kettlebell row. Unlike traditional kettlebell rows where you’re only moving your shoulder and elbow joints, this exercise enforces full-body movement. You’ll be going from a hinging position to standing straight up. The movements in this exercise will look a little like a row combined with a deadlift. This is a fantastic exercise to work your spinal erectors, glutes, hamstrings, and lats simultaneously.
Note: Move through this exercise in a controlled manner
A perfect kettlebell row to move your body through the transverse plane of motion. Many people don’t train through this plane of motion enough, even though many daily activities require your body to move in this way. The rotational row is a great exercise to improve your mobility and strengthen multiple muscles at once.
Note: Keep your core engaged and focus on the rotation of your trunk.
The hand positioning of the underhand bent over kettlebell row places the majority of the tension on the lats. By keeping your elbows close in towards your body and using the underhand grip, both your lats and biceps will be engaged more when compared to an overhand grip.
Note: Keep your back straight and core engaged throughout the movement.
The static hand kettlebell switch is a great exercise to improve reaction time and the mind-body connection. The actual row portion of this exercise will be done with just your bodyweight, so focus on contracting and squeezing your lats as you pull your arm up to your side. This is a challenging movement that you might need some practice with before executing with proper form. In addition, you need to pay attention to your body positioning concerning dynamic and isometric exercises. Remaining in a hinged position while also coordinating your hands to pass the kettlebell back and forth is sure to test your abilities in multiple layers.
Note: Start with a light kettlebell until you get the timing down. Avoid doing this exercise on floors that you wouldn’t want to be damaged if you drop the kettlebell.
By placing your body in this half-kneeling position, you’re removing the need to concentrate on being in a bent-over hinged position. Instead, this is a perfect isolation kettlebell row that allows you to focus on contracting your lats to lift the weight.
Note: To Lift the kettlebell on an angle so that you move through a complete range of motion.
To make kettlebell rows harder, you can change a few variables such as the load/weight, body positioning, or variation. The easiest way to make a kettlebell row more difficult is to lift more weight. If you go with this option, then make sure you’re still executing the movement with proper form. Another way of making the kettlebell harder is to change the variation of the exercise. For example, you can move your feet into a parallel position to decrease the stability as the staggered stance gives you a wider base, making it easier to balance.
Finally, you can also play around with variables such as increasing reps and volume or decreasing rest time, both of which are also forms of progressive overload.
Yes, you can do bent over rows with kettlebells. Kettlebells are a great tool to use for bent over rows as you can move through a wider range of motion compared with a barbell. Kettlebell bent over rows are a great exercise that can produce excellent results as long as you focus on form and muscle contraction while following the principle of progressive overload.
If you have access to kettlebells and you’re looking for a complete compound exercise, don’t miss the kettlebell row. Try to mix in a few of the top 10 KB row variations into your workout routine. Let us know which one you thought was the most challenging!
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