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Deadlifts vs barbell row [Article]

Posted by Pascal Landshoeft

Jan 1, 2019 9:30:00 AM

Deadlift and barbell row

Deadlift vs barbell row


The barbell row is an excellent accessory exercise for people who are interested in raw strength. The deadlift will build the core of at least one training day in your daily routine if you want to become big and strong. I personally would not design an entire training day around the barbell row. 

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What are your goals


Why do you compare the deadlift with the barbell row? What do you want to achieve with the two?  Do you want to become big and strong? Is the goal to get a better defined back? Maybe your grip is not as good as you like it to be? Whatever your goals are it is important to know why you are doing something. When I talk to beginners they want everything at once. THat is a good recipe to demotivate yourself. Prioritise and execute to get the results you want. The three main goals sets I see in fitness are


  • Looks
  • Performance
  • Health


If you want to look better you probably have a certain vision in your head. You might want to look like your favorite movie star. You have seen someone on Instagram who looked cool, pretty or impressive. You might think that this makes you more attractive to the other sex. Or you might have lost control in your life and want to regain it by controlling your looks. Whatever it is that got you into looks be prepared that the bar has been set very high. To achieve the looks you see on social media and in the movies, you will need a bucketload of discipline. Your diet has to be spot on. You will probably need tons of time to get to the hairdresser, get tanned and get your arsehole bleached. At the end of this journey, you might get a job as a model. You might land a better job. There is statistical evidence that attractiveness coincides with financial success. On this road, you might the healthiest choices. You also might not always be able to perform to your best as you are starving.


If you are into performance your main concern is the numbers on the board. You want to improve your personal records and beat the competition. You do not particularly care whether you look nice while you do it. You will focus on intensity in your training. Push it to the limits wherever you can to grow. Your diet will be a tool to fuel your ambition. It will not be the main regulator of the outcome. When embarking on this journey you will get injured. You will make some unhealthy choices to win the race. But you will get the satisfaction of holding the trophy or engraving your name in stone.


If your main interest is health you will not care about trophies or mirrors. You want to be balanced and live free of stress. You might want to do yoga, pilates and drink a healthy cup of tea with it. When you get up you take some deep breaths and enjoy the sun rather than rushing to the den of the gym. While you will have a more balanced and less toxic mindset you will not win the trophies or make the front covers. But you don't care about that anyway.


As you compare the deadlift and barbell row you are most likely in the performance or looks camp. These two exercises are not necessarily the healthiest or most relaxed options to keep your body shape. They will build raw strength which can be applied in sports and muscle which will help a good look.


The barbell deadlift


The barbell deadlift is one of the most iconic movements you can do in the free weight section. When you talk about the deadlift most people will have the conventional barbell deadlift in mind. There are also other variations like the sumo or trap bar deadlift. 


The barbell deadlift starts with the barbell on the ground. Place you mid feet under the bar. Grab the bar with both hands. Get tight and build tension in your body when you lower yourself to the bar. Initiate the pull by making a footprint with both feet. Keep your arms straight and pull the bar up as far as you can. The lift is completed at the hips. This is a simplified description of the deadlift. For more detail follow my blog.


The biggest advantages of the deadlift are its comprehensiveness and manliness. You will be hard pressed to find another exercise that activates as many muscles under heavy load. There is also something very primal and satisfying about picking up heavy thing from the ground. 


The biggest disadvantages of the deadlift are its risk of injury and lack of explosiveness. A poorly performed deadlift can injure your spine and back muscles. The heavy load can wreak havoc when something goes wrong. The other disadvantage is that the deadlift is not an explosive movement. It develops maximum strength like a freight truck. It does not help a lot with maximum acceleration like an Olympic lift. 


The barbell row


The barbell row is not as popular as the deadlift. Many prefer to do rows with various machines. The barbell row becomes really fun once you are able to row what others deadlift. That is definitely a head turner in the gym when you walk up to 120 to 200kg on the bar and instead of deadlifting it you start to row. Never gets old. 


The barbell row starts with the bar on the ground. Bring your mid feet under the bar. Grab the bar with both of your hands. Get into the starting position for the deadlift. Instead of initiating the lift with your legs you pull the bar towards your chest or belly button. The legs and lower leg do not get involved in the lift.


The biggest advantages of the barbell row are its focus on your back and low risk of injury. During this move, you can really focus on getting your back muscles tight. If you keep the weight low and controlled you also run less risk to injure yourself compared to the conventional deadlift.


The biggest disadvantages of the barbell row are its limitations and awkwardness. The biggest advantage of the row is also its biggest drawback. You only train a few muscle groups where you could be training more. I personally the barbell row to be very awkward too. Little weight for a lot of hassle. I prefer the Yates row which is a bit higher risk due to the yanking of the bar involved.


Which is better the barbell deadlift or barbell row


As always it depends entirely on your goals. If you are a bodybuilder with a very poor definition in your upper back you might want to do barbell rows until you keel over followed by cable pulls with stops. If you are powerlifter with problems at lockout you might want to bang out some yates rows as an accessory. 


If you want to get big strong the deadlift has its place. Design one of your training days around this staple of strength training and you will see results. I would not design a training day around the barbell row. 


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Topics: Lift stronger, Deadlift, Fitness, Strength