Benefits of the Kettlebell Row
Kettlebell row is a great way to target your posterior chain, that is, the muscles supporting your posture (no more slouching) and stabilize your core.
As a compound exercise, it targets both your back and your arms.
Besides, with the kettlebells, your arms will be moving in a more natural position than with a barbell, which is an advantage if you have shoulder, elbow or wrist issues.
Muscles Worked in the Kettlebell Row
Kettlebell rows mainly target the upper (traps and rhomboids) and middle (lats) back and biceps.
In single-kettlebell rows, you will use your core to stabilize your body, so they will also work your abs more. The heavier the weight, the more your abs will fire.
Kettlebell Row Form
There are multiple kettlebell row variations. If you are new to kettlebells or strength training, you might want to start with a one-arm kettlebell row, and – when you get super comfy with it – proceed to other variations.
One-arm kettlebell row form:
1. Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart, toes pointing straight. The kettlebell is resting on the floor in front of you.
2.Hinge at your hips (like at the bottom of a kettlebell swing; see Kettlebell swing). This will be the static position of your back, in which you will be performing the rows. Your back may stay anywhere in this range: from a 45-degrees angle in relation to the ground to nearly parallel to the ground – whatever feels comfortable for you personally.
3.Grab the bell with one hand, activate your lats, brace your core, and pick it up. Your thumb should be facing forward, that is, the kettlebell handle should be perpendicular to the wall in front of you. This is your starting position for every rep.
4. From here, row the kettlebell up – all the way towards your hip: to a spot between your lower ribs and hip bone. Keep your back still, do not rotate your core to either side.
5. Lower the kettlebell, straighten your elbow all the way (keep your lats engaged), but do not put the bell back on the ground (unless you are performing dead rows).
7. After you have hit the desired number of reps, lower the bell on the ground and switch the arms.
Breathing tip: the general recommendation for breathing during kettlebell rows is to inhale at the easier portion, that is, when you lower the kettlebell, and to exhale at the hard portion, that is, when you row it up.
Frequent Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
1. Round back. As with all lifts, you want to keep your back safe. Do not round it: either its lower or its upper portion. Engage your abs and brace your core.
2. Squatting or locking your knees. As you row, do not squat too much down or keep your knees straight. Rather, stay in a position which you assume in the lower portion of a kettlebell swing: with knees slightly bent.
3. Knees caving in. Do not let your knees collapse inwards as you row. If you notice yourself doing it, forcefully draw them out from your hips. This may be a sign of weak hip abductors, also known as external hip rotators.
4. Bending the neck. Keep your neck neutral, i.e. aligned with the rest of your spine. Pick a spot on the floor in front of you and keep your eyes fixed on it. Do not look down on your feet or up at the ceiling, as it will force you to round or overextend your back.
5.Twisting the back. When you row the bell up, do not twist your back. Keep your back still, do not rotate your core to either side. If you cannot do this, the weight might be too heavy; try lowering it.
6.Rising up. Do not turn the row into a deadlift. Your back should remain at the same angle in relation to the ground throughout the set. If you need to pull the weight up with your back, there are two most common explanations: either the weight is too heavy or the fatigue is too great. In both cases, try lowering the weight.
Kettlebell Row Variations
Kettlebell Hang Row vs Kettlebell Dead Row
The definition of a dead (supported) row is when you return the bell to the ground (the dead stop) each time between reps. In a hang (unsupported) row, you keep the bell in the air all the time throughout the set.
Dead rows come handy for a low number of heavy reps.
Hang rows with a lighter weight for a higher number of reps are good for teaching your body to survive under longer periods of tension.
Kettlebell Single-Arm Bench-Supported Row
If you feel that your abs are not strong enough to support your spine in the neutral position throughout a set of kettlebell rows, you may use a bench to support yourself.
To perform a bench-supported kettlebell row, place the knee and the palm on the bench, hinge at the hips and pick the bell with the opposite hand. Perform the rows.
Two-Arm Kettlebell Row
The form of this movement is pretty much the same as for the one-arm kettlebell row, except for, obviously, using one bell per hand, which will allow you to (at least) double the weight.
Kettlebell Alternating Single-Arm Row
This variation of a kettlebell row will get your core firing even more than a classic single-arm row.
To perform it, get into the same starting position as for the classic single-arm row. However, at the bottom, lower the bell between your legs (not to the side of your body). From here, switch the arms, and row the bell with another hand. Switch the arms back. Repeat.
Safety tip: do not switch the arms when the kettlebell is hanging above your foot – to avoid smashing it if the bell slips. Switch the arms when the bell is hanging between your legs.
Kettlebell Alternating Double-Arm Row a.k.a. Gorilla Row
To perform it, place two kettlebells, side by side, between your feet: the kettlebells should be equal or slightly in front of the lines of your toes.
To perform dead (supported) rows, row one kettlebell up, lower it to the ground, then row the other kettlebell up.
To perform hang (unsupported) rows, elevate both kettlebells from the floor, then row one kettlebell up, lower it (but do not put it down on the ground), then row the other kettlebell up. Do not put the bells down on the ground between the reps.
Kettlebell Renegade Row
It may be a long shot to call this move a variation of the row. But let's look at it anyway – because it's beautiful.
A renegade row is a combination of a plank and a row. The plank targets your core and hips, the row – your upper back and arms. Besides, they all target your obliques, which will work hard to prevent your body from twisting upward.
To perform a kettlebell renegade row, put two kettlebells on the floor, about shoulder-width apart. Grab them by the handles and fix yourself into the plank position. From here, row the kettlebell back, towards your hip, lower it, then switch the arms.
Keep your body tight, in a straight line. Engage your entire chain: your upper, middle and lower back, abs, buttocks and legs. Do not allow your hips to drop down or elevate excessively.
Safety tip: use machined, flat-base kettlebells, which will not roll freely under your weight. This lift may be extremely taxing on your wrists, especially if the bells keep wobbling, let alone if they fall and trap your fingers. Wrists and fingers are nice and useful body parts – it is better to have than not to have them.