The 1-arm row, or variations thereof, can be a great way to improve upper back strength as well as improve shoulder health. Any type of horizontal pulling is important to have in any program. It can help get us out of crappy posture, develop a muscular upper back, and improve the health and function of our shoulders.
Walk into any gym and the 1-arm row, if being performed, is being performed with terrible technique. It’s a great movement, but is commonly performed incorrectly.
Mistake #1: Not Allowing the Scapulae to Move
The Scapulae a.k.a. the “shoulder blade” is a bone in the body the forms part of the shoulder. It is a bone that is made to move to promote healthy function at the shoulder. Many times, it is held in a retracted and “non-moving” state when performing rowing variations.
As you can see in the above video, the scapulae is retracted/depressed and then doesn’t really move throughout the entirety of the row. Other times, it won’t even retract at all.
What we should be seeing here is retraction of the scapulae on the rib cage as well as allowing it to protract and move forward during the eccentric phase of the row as shown here:
In this video, the scapulae retracts and posteriorly tilts as the concentric phase of the movement is being performed. Then, during the eccentric phase, the scapulae protracts to get ready for the next rep.
By not allowing the scapulae to move during each rep, this can create muscular imbalances between the latissimus dorsi, scapular retractors, and biceps. Besides imbalances, it can also decrease the effectiveness of the exercise because the participant isn’t truly building strength in the upper back musculature.
Last, not allowing the scapulae to move is altering the scapulothoracic movement at the shoulder and in turn can create issues when the arm is going to need to move overhead for lifting or overhead daily
Mistake #2: Anterior Humeral Glide
Another common mistake with rowing is anterior humeral glide. Anterior humeral glide a.k.a. when the front of the shoulder/humerus translates anteriorly. It is more noticeable when the elbow moves too far posteriorly during a rowing movement as seen here:
As stated with the first mistake in rowing variations, this can create muscular imbalances and decrease the effectiveness of the exercise. This mistake is also more common to cause orthopedic issues at the shoulder. More often than not, by allowing anterior humeral glide, this can increase laxity at the anterior shoulder and cause irritation to the long head of the biceps tendon.
To decrease the amount of anterior humeral glide, we want to teach our athletes and clients to move their scapulae on their rib cage instead of promoting primary movement at their elbow.
DISCLAIMER: before putting your hands on a client, ask them if you can so you can show them how to properly move.
Have the client perform a 1-arm row and use your own hands to promote proper scapulae on rib cage movement versus only movement of the humerus.
Here are some other tips to help with increased anterior humeral glide:
-This variation uses 2 hands but you can use this tip and keep 1-arm stationary and the mini band can give the client the visual and/or tactile feedback not to pull too far posteriorly with their elbow.
This variation allows the client to have their hand on the anterior aspect of their shoulder. If anterior humeral glide occurs, the client will feel it push into their hand.
Mistake #3: Lat Dominant Row
Another issue with the 1-arm row is having the arm/elbow too close to the body. What can happen when this is being performed is that an imbalance can occur between the scapular retractors and the humeral extensors. In other words, the muscles that pull the shoulder blades together are being overworked by the latissimus dorsi.
This can defeat the purpose of the exercise as well as create muscular imbalances. By performing it as a lat dominant movement, the muscles that perform scapular retraction are going to take a back seat and not receive a full training effect.
By also performing the movement mostly with the lats, this can affect the health of the shoulder by limiting overhead shoulder flexion due to overactive lat musculature.
To decrease the amount of lat involvement, try performing a 1-arm row with the humerus at approximately 45 degrees in relation to the body.
By performing the movement with the humerus at 45 degrees, this allows the scapular retractors to work more effectively and can help to decrease the lats from dominating the movement.
A verbal cue that I got from Tony Gentilcore was to “imagine you have a tennis ball in your armpit, don’t let it fall out.” This cue works for some clients and athletes because it will place the humerus in a more abducted position as opposed to directly to the side of the body.
Mistake #4: Lumbar Spine Extension/Rotation
When performing a 1-arm row, athletes will have a tendency to rotate through their thoracic, but mostly lumbar spines. This can usually occur for 3 reasons:
If someone doesn’t have the core strength to maintain an anti-rotation position, then this can cause their back to twist. If that is the case, find a weight that is suitable for the athlete so that they don’t rotate and only perform the movement with their arm and scapuale.
Poor body awareness is common as well. Sometimes just cueing the athlete or client to maintain a neutral trunk position can do the trick.
Lastly, some people just put too much weight on and try to row it. In this case, lower the weight! If the weight is too heavy and the trunk is rotating during the rowing movement, then lower the weight and perform it correctly. Simple as that!
If all 3 of those tips don’t work, here is a great cue that involves the athlete.
Have the athlete place their opposite (non-rowing) hand on their ribs.
By placing their hand on their rib cage, this gives the athlete tactile and visual feedback to help them focus on proper position. If they go to extend and/or rotate, their ribs will move and push into their hands providing immediate feedback to the athlete.
With 1-arm rowing variations, there are quite a few mistakes we see such as:
-Not allowing the scapulae to move
-Anterior humeral glide
-Lumbar Spine Extension/Rotation
If you or one of your clients/athletes is having difficulty with performing 1-arm rows properly and effectively, give these cues and tips a try!
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