The rowing is one of the star exercises in the training routines to strengthen the musculature of the back. This musculature is vital because it provides adequate stiffness and stability to our spine, allowing us to correctly perform trunk movements.

There are many variants in the exercise of rowing, using different materials (dumbbells, bars and discs, pulleys, TRX ….) And performing it bilaterally or unilaterally.

In this case, we are going to analyze three rowing exercises : the inverted row in TRX, the rowing with 90 degrees (standing) and the unilateral paddle on the pulley, seeing their differences in muscle activation of different muscles and recommending each one depending on the objective we have.

Rowing inverted in TRX

A neutral grip on the TRX handles would be used, with the upper body lying horizontal to the floor, the knees bent at 90 degrees and the feet resting on the floor, keeping the body muscled tight.

Just stay with how the inverted paddle is performed, the bicep curl has simply been added by the subject of the video.

Variants: for a greater intensity we can stretch the legs, placing the heels on the floor or a raised surface like a drawer (even more intense).

Rowing with 90 degree bar (standing)

A prone grip with the bar would be used. While standing, the trunk is flexed on the hips , maintaining a neutral column while pulling the bar at chest height (although we could also do it at waist height, bending the elbows.

Variants: we can let the bar touch the ground after each repetition, which will allow us to lift higher loads (more goal oriented to increase strength) or not let the bar touch the ground between repetitions (more tension, more goal oriented hypertrophy).

One-sided rowing standing on pulley

A prone grip would be used. Standing in an upright position, with the pulley cable located perpendicular to the level of the hand. Pull the pulley with the load, bending the elbow , maintaining a neutral column.

Variants: a common variant is to perform the one-sided dumbbell, with the knee and the hand opposite the arm that pulls on a bench while the foot of the leg that is pulling is on the ground.

What active rowing exercise plus each muscle?

Dorsal width

The inverted row in TRX is the exercise of the three that most activates the latissimus dorsi, followed by the rowing with 90 degrees (standing) and the one-sided paddle (the latter has much less activation).

Oblique external and internal

They have a much greater muscle activation in the exercise of unilateral paddling of foot in pulley than in the exercises of rowing with a bar at 90 degrees (standing) and rowing reversed in TRX (the latter two have a similar activation, which is low for said muscle).

If we talk about the external obliques in the one-sided oar standing on a pulley, the activation is contralateral. For the pull with the right hand the left external oblique is the one that has more activation and for the pull with the left hand the external oblique right is the one that activates more.

In the case of internal obliques in this same exercise, the highest level of activation if it corresponds to the same side, that is, for the pull with the right hand is the right internal oblique which has greater activation, and for the pull with the left hand is the left internal oblique the one that has greater activation.

Lumbar spinal erectors

The levels of activation of the lumbar spinal erectors are higher in the rod rowing at 90 degrees (standing) , followed by the inverted row in TRX and with less activation in the unilateral pulley rowing.

This is normal due to the position of the rowing with 90 degree bar, which produces greater muscle rigidity in this area to stabilize the lumbar spine.

For information, note that when muscle rigidity increases, a greater disturbance is needed to interrupt the spine and make it unstable.

Therefore, the stiffness of the spine is a direct predictor of spinal stability, subjects with greater muscle activation having a greater “safety margin” in terms of stability than subjects who have less muscle activation.

Gluteus maximus and gluteus medius

The inverted row in the TRX and the rowing with the bar at 90 degrees (standing) are the ones that most activate this musculature, producing similar activations, with the one-sided oar standing on the pulley well below in terms of activation level.

Femoral biceps

This muscle is activated more during the inverted row in TRX , followed by the rod rowing at 90 degrees and with hardly any activation in the unilateral pulley rowing.

Femoral rectus

In this case, it is more active during the unilateral rowing of the foot in a pulley and the rowing with a bar at 90 degrees (standing), both with similar activation levels. In the inverted row in TRX the activation level is very low.

What practical applications can we draw from all this?

All this knowledge in terms of the level of activation of different muscles as we perform one or another rowing exercise is fine, but we have to know when it is more convenient to use one or the other , knowing that everyone can be in our training routine .

Inverted oars

The inverted oars in TRX save work in the back with more neutral angles of the spine, and may be more appropriate for those subjects who have less tolerance to movement and load of the spine.

Therefore, if a subject is more likely to have lower back problems (lower back), the oars inverted in TRX (or with machine bar) could be considered, given the low load they produce in the lumbar spine .

On the other hand, the thoracic musculature and the muscles of the upper part of the back (latissimus dorsi) are more challenged with this type of oars, being a good option for subjects who want to strengthen this musculature.

Rowing with 90 degree bar (standing)

As it causes a good muscular activation of the upper and lower part of the back , it can be a great option for a subject for whom the posterior load is not a concern, taking into account the maintenance of a neutral column, which guarantees that the column will maintain the highest tolerance level.

One-sided rowing standing on pulley

This exercise challenges the trunk muscles and their ability to resist torsion (rotation) of the upper body, being a good option to train the strength of the trunk muscles and isometric resistance to torsion.