One-arm Row Set Up for a Sculpted and Pain Free Back

By Chris Carlsen

One Arm Dumbbell Rows are one of my favorite exercises. For one, they’re a great back builder that doesn’t put stress on your lower back. This benefit comes in handy when you have a program with heavy squats, deadlifts, and swings. This enables you to work your upper and mid-back while keeping your lower back fresh. Another great benefit of the row is in the ability to feel each scapula working independently. Picking up and cleaning up dynamic stability issues on the row can be the key to cleaning up weaknesses in other exercises such as the bench press and deadlift. 


Although the row seems quite simple to execute, it is actually one of the hardest to get right. With this being the case, I hesitate to give it for homework and relegate it to supervised sessions.  Performing this exercise poorly can lead to a scoliosis pattern (low shoulder), shoulder impingement, and short lats. However, most of these negative effects can be mitigated by a great set-up.

A great set-up is crucial for a successful one-arm row. It aligns the body and sets the table for great technique. As you can see in the video below, I take my time and really focus on my postural alignment. You cannot fix yourself on the fly, taking this extra time to set-up will be worth it when you have a great set.

Set up Cues

·         Line up extended leg’s knee (slightly bent) with the knee on the bench. This ensures square hips and a properly positioned spine.

·         Hip hinge to the bench while you keep the non-rowing arm packed (push your armpit into the bench). Think deadlift to the bench.

·         Keep the non-rowing side tight. The non-rowing side is just as crucial as the rowing side. Keeping the armpit, oblique, and hip pocket engaged on this side will keep the shoulder and hips squared (core will fire harder) and increase the expression of strength on the rowing side.

·         Take your rowing arm and bring your hand to the lower chest and slide your blade to the opposite hip. Hold it here for 6 breaths, breathe three times into the opposite oblique and three times under the blade of rowing side. By doing this, you greatly increase the chance of finishing the lift in the right spot.

 For more information on training at Iron Lion, email us at