Okay so if anyone has ever stopped by this website's home page and read the vision statement then you know the idea of this website is to try and use scientifically supported principles to enhance people's well-being. I realize I haven't done a very good of incorporating any kind of citations or references in a lot of my posts. In order to do a better job of being in line with my vision statement I am going to start this series of blogs that will present one specific study and how it relates to a topic of training.

This week's study is titled Comparison of Different Rowing Exercises: Trunk Muscle Activation and Lumbar Spine Motion, Load, and Stiffnees. It was a study performed by Chad Fenwick, Stephen Brown, and Stuart McGill and published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in 2009.

The researchers were investigating 3 different rowing exercises. They quantified muscle activation of the torso and hip musculature in tandem with the load being placed on the spine and its degree of stiffness.

The three rowing exercises were the inverted row, standing bent-over row, and standing 1 arm cable row. Seven men were used to perform each exercise. The researchers used surface electromyography, electromagnetic spine position senors, and video analysis to calculate joint moments, measure activation of select muscles, and determine stiffness of the spine.

Of the three exercises chosen the inverted row elicited the highest activation of the latissimus dorsi muscles, upper-back, and hip extensor muscles (gluteus maximus primarily). In addition it also elicited the lowest activation of the lumbar erector spinae muscles which corresponded with the lower spine load measured. The standing bent over row placed the greatest amount of load upon the lumbar spine, but produced large amounts of symmetrical activation across the back. Standing one-arm row was phenomenal at challenging the anti-rotational capabilities of the trunk musculature.

These results indicated that each exercise has it's own place in a program. Specifically depending upon the needs of the individual being programmed for, whether that be rehabilitation, athletic training, etc.

But considering that more than 80% of the american population claims to be or have been suffering from lower back pain it has large implications for those who want to spare any unnecessary load being placed on their lower back.

If you are someone who has been dealing with a grumpy lower back then the inverted row is the perfect exercise for your horizontal pull exercise. It has the highest activation of posterior chain muscles along with the minimal amount of load being placed on the lumbar spine.


Comparison of different rowing exercises: trunk muscle activation and lumbar spine motion, load, and stiffness. J Strength Cond Res. 2009 Mar;23(2):350-8.