This was a repost by Fortified Iron originally from Madcow1 that talks about getting the most from barbell rows. I think after trying a few different ways that this is the best IMO.
Well, the best way to do them is to start with the bar on the floor every single rep. Your middle back will have slight bend to it. You pull the bar off the floor quickly with the arms, and by a powerful arch of your middle back. You finish by touching the bar to your upper stomach or middle stomach. At no time is there any movement of the hips or knees, no hip extension at all, all that bends is the middle back and the shoulders and elbows.
This is hard to do and you have to have good muscular control to do it, or you'll end up straightening up at the hips along with the arching of the back. But if you can master doing them this way you will get a big back. This works because the lats actually extend (arch) the middle back in addition to other functions, just like with glute-ham extensions compared to leg curls…you always get a stronger contraction when you move both the origin and insertion of a muscle, flexing it from both ends so to speak.
The bar returns to the floor after each rep.
The bent row is actually best done as an explosive movement and the bar is moved fast.
I have trained many people who could do this exercise with 350 or more lbs. I myself (Madcow) have done reps with 425, Ed Coan, who also knows how to do them properly, has done reps with over 500lbs without his back ever coming above parallel with the ground. That is stronger than Dorian Yates or Ronnie Coleman, by the way.
I did rows with Coleman once, actually, and I was far stronger than he was. He could not do more than 350lbs strictly although he could do over 500lbs by standing almost all the way up at the completion of each rep. Ed Coan is probably the strongest person on these, although one power-lifter I trained did manage 525 for a double done strictly.
Rows look at an anatomy chart. if the scapula and upper arms are held in a constant position, shortening of the lats WILL result in arching of the middle and upper back. i AM NOT saying that the lats are primarily responsible for upper back flexion... what i am saying is that they can assist in this.
i also HAVE done EMG
work on various different rowing techniques... and there is not doubt that rows performed as i describe them will activate the lats more completely than done any other way i have ever seen. i have done EMG work on a large quantity of people for rows... and ive always found that these kind of rows activate the lats most completely
. and besides, even if you dont buy the fact that they activate the lats better, hell, you can always be content with the fact that your getting an erector workout.