I know you don’t like freestyle barbell rows. Which rows do you like?
Those that don’t expose the lower back to injury. Of course, with terrible form, even a row on a machine that provides chest support will injure you. But when performed properly, the rows that provide support are safe.
There are three main categories of safe rows—machine, prone, and one-handed.
If your gym has a row machine, try it provided that it offers chest support so that it takes your lower back out of the exercise. If you find the right set-up—right seat height and chest pad position for you—that could work well. Otherwise, try the prone row.
For the prone row, get the narrowest bench you can find, and elevate it so that when you lie face down on it the weight plates on a barbell or a pair of dumbbells just touch the floor when you have your elbows straight, so that you can pause momentarily between reps.
A slight incline may work better than a horizontal bench.
Either way, find the grip spacing and bar pathway for you that fully involve your lats and other upper-back musculature. A pronated grip a little wider than shoulder-width on a barbell, or a closer but supinated grip, can work well. But the best option may be to use a pair of dumbbells, and a parallel grip.
You could also perform the one-arm row with a dumbbell, while resting your disengaged hand on a low-incline bench.
But just because you’re doing a safe form of the row doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll build any muscle with it.
You must employ the row within the context of an overall sound training program.
You must train hard on the row, use correct exercise technique, and strive to get ever stronger.
And you must fully attend to recuperation between workouts.
Do all of that and you’ll give yourself a good chance of building a better back.
But excessive training volume and frequency, incorrect exercise technique, wishy washy effort, and corner cutting with your recuperation, will yield no progress whatsoever—not just with rows, but with any exercise.
I can’t perform a full range of motion on the barbell incline bench press. I simply can’t lower the bar far enough. What am I doing wrong?
One of the most common errors with this exercise is that the bar is lowered too close to the neck. Some bodybuilders, however, do manage to lower the barbell to their necks while using a very wide grip spacing, and extremely flared elbows. Although it’s possible to have a full range of motion while lowering the bar close to the neck, the required form puts great strain on the shoulders that will cause problems sooner rather than later.
Forget the extremes. That foolishness has ruined many shoulders.
Instead, use a grip spacing just a little more than your shoulder width, and lower the bar to your pecs a little above your nipples. With the help of an assistant watching you from the side, and using an unloaded barbell, find the bar pathway that most readily enables you to keep your forearms perpendicular to the ground at all times, and parallel to each other at the bottom position where the bar touches your chest. Unless you’re unusually lanky, with long arms and forearms, you should easily be able to perform a full (but safe) range of motion using this form.
Why is the biceps probably the muscle most ogled by bodybuilders?
Probably because, even without using a mirror, the biceps is one of the muscles that’s most readily visible to its owner, when a T-shirt is worn the biceps is readily visible to onlookers, it shows a big change in appearance when contracted relative to being relaxed, it’s especially visible in the reflection of a mirror, and its entire range of movement can be seen when it’s exercised.
Furthermore, even hard training on curls isn’t anywhere near as challenging as hard training on the big compound exercises, so biceps training is among the easiest to do. And that’s a further reason why biceps training is so popular.
That such a small muscle has achieved this degree of prominence has contributed to the excessive importance that most bodybuilders place on training it.
Even if, over time, you were able to increase your curl poundage by 50% for 6-8 perfect-form reps, such a change alone would have only a very small impact on your physique as a whole.
But imagine the impact on your physique as a whole if, over time, you were able to increase your squat poundage by 50% for 6-8 perfect-form reps, or your deadlift poundage by 50% for 6-8 perfect-form reps, or your parallel-grip deadlift poundage by 50% for 6-8 perfect-form reps.
Such achievements would accompany a substantial increase in muscle growth throughout most of your physique.
And if you were to increase your bench press or parallel bar dip poundage by 50% for 6-8 perfect-form reps, that would accompany a substantial increase in muscle growth in your upper body.
I wish there was the sort of interest in squats, deadlifts, parallel-grip deadlifts, benches and dips, and chin-ups, as there is in biceps training. If there was, it would lead to hugely improved results among most bodybuilders.
By all means include a curl in your routine, but regard it as a supplementary exercise, not a major one.
Although you can’t readily see your hamstrings exercising unless you have a couple of mirrors specially positioned, if you check out the extension and flexion of the hams of a well-developed, lean bodybuilder as he squats or deadlifts with his thighs exposed, that will impress you more than biceps flexion does.
If you check out the extension and contraction of the quads of a well-developed, lean bodybuilder as he squats with his thighs exposed, that will impress you more than biceps flexion does.
If you check out the extension and contraction of the lats of a well-developed, lean bodybuilder as he does chin-ups with his torso exposed, that will impress you more than biceps flexion does.
If you check out the extension and contraction of the erector spinae of a well-developed, lean bodybuilder as he deadlifts with his torso exposed, that will impress you more than biceps flexion does.
If you check out the extension and contraction of the pecs, triceps, delts and lats of a well-developed, lean bodybuilder as he parallel-bar dips with his torso exposed, that will impress you more than biceps flexion does.
And if you check out the extension and contraction of the external obliques of a well-developed, lean bodybuilder as he does the side bend with his torso exposed, that may impress you more than biceps flexion does.
Give much more attention to the muscles of your physique that are much bigger than your biceps, and give much more attention to the big compound exercises that train those bigger muscles, and then you’ll improve your bodybuilding progress in general, including that of your biceps.