Unlike unilateral row exercises bilateral vertical and horizontal pulling exercises like chin-ups bent over barbell rows, and seated rows often get all the love and attention. Because this is where the gains are due to the fact you’ll lift more weight.
It’s a shame that unilateral row exercises either get neglected or forgotten because they have many benefits, including increased upper-body strength, reduced strength imbalances between sides, and increased grip strength in the wrist and forearms.
Here we’ll geek out on little anatomy and function, why upper back strength is essential, and three great unilateral row exercises to beef up your upper back—got to row to grow, baby.
Upper Back Anatomy and Functions
The lats get all the love back there but don’t sleep on the two muscles between your shoulder blades which we’ll dive into below.
Rhomboids: The rhomboids start from the cervical vertebra, run diagonally down the back, and attach to the inside of the scapula. Their primary movements are:
- Scapula Adduction (shoulder blades coming together)
- Scapula Inward Rotation (rotating down from an overhead press or lateral raise)
- Scapula Elevation ( happens when shrugging your shoulder up)
Trapezius: The trapezius (upper, middle, and lower) is a large flat triangular muscle that sits on both sides of your scapula, upper and mid-back. This originates from the cervical spine and is inserted into all 12 thoracic vertebrae. Their primary movements are:
- Scapula Adduction
- Scapula Elevation
- Scapula Upward Rotation (this happens during abduction to allow the shoulder joint to raise up during lateral raises and overhead presses)
WHY UPPER BACK STRENGTH IS IMPORTANT
There are enough reasons that this topic can be an article by itself, but here are a few brief reasons why having a strong upper back is vital and why you should train it with unilateral row exercises.
- It keeps the spine neutral when you deadlift or squat and reinforces good lifting posture with rows and presses.
- An engaged upper back keeps the barbell close to you when you deadlift because bad things happen when the barbell gets away from you.
- A solid upper back prevents a barbell back squat from turning into a Good morning.
- An engaged upper back supports and controls the bar path while bench pressing.
Top 3 Unilateral Row Exercises For Back Strength
These are not your garden variety unilateral rows because if you want those, you have come to the wrong place. The three exercises below will challenge your stability and improve your upper back strength.