Unlike unilateral rows, bilateral vertical and horizontal pulls like bent-over pull-ups over barbell rows and seated rows often get all the love and attention. Because this is where the gains are due to the fact that you will be lifting more weight.
It's a shame that unilateral rowing exercises are either neglected or forgotten as they have many benefits including increased upper body strength, reduced lateral strength imbalances, and increased grip strength in the wrists and forearms.
Here we'll learn about anatomy and function, why upper back strength is so important, and three great unilateral row exercises to strengthen your upper back - you need to row to grow, baby.
Anatomy and functions of the upper back
The lats get all the love back there, but don't sleep on the two muscles between your shoulder blades, which we'll cover below.
diamonds: The diamonds start at the cervical vertebra, run diagonally down the back and start on the inside of the shoulder blade. Your main moves are:
- Scapula adduction (shoulder blades come together)
- Scapula inward rotation (downward rotation from an overhead press or lateral raise)
- Scapula Elevation (happens with shoulder shrug)
trapezoid: The trapezius (upper, middle, and lower) is a large, flat, triangular muscle that sits on either side of your shoulder blade, in the upper and middle back. This arises from the cervical spine and is inserted into all 12 thoracic vertebrae. Your main moves are:
- scapula adduction
- shoulder blade elevation
- Scapula upward rotation (this occurs during abduction to allow the shoulder joint to rise during lateral raises and overhead presses)
WHY UPPER BACK STRENGTH MATTERS
There are enough reasons why this topic could deserve its own article, but here are a few quick reasons why a strong upper back is vital and why you should train it with unilateral rows.
- It keeps the spine neutral when deadlifting or squatting and reinforces a good lift posture when rowing and pressing.
- A tight upper back keeps the barbell close to you on the deadlift because bad things happen when the barbell comes away from you.
- A firm upper back keeps a barbell squat from turning into a good morning.
- An activated upper back supports and controls bar travel when bench pressing.
Top 3 unilateral row exercises for back strength
These are not one sided rows of your garden variety because if you want these you are in the wrong place. The following three exercises will challenge your stability and improve upper back strength.