- Initialize the setup by first having a stable support structure that is roughly mid thigh in height. This will be used for your off arm to provide stability during the set.
- Stand over a DB and take a staggered stance. The foot that is ipsilateral to the working arm should be kicked back slightly. This will allow room for the DB to get a full ROM at the top of the rep.
- Hinge over and brace yourself against the support structure (typically a bench or rack) with your opposite hand. Reach down and grab the DB preparing to lift it off the ground. Make sure you pay attention when picking it up and don't be lazy. This is how low back injuries happen.
- Lift the DB off the floor and find your center of mass. Your spine should be flat, torso at a ~30º angle to the floor, hips square with shoulders and abs braced. The contralateral leg should be bearing most of the load with the ipsilateral leg and off arm acting more as stabilizers. (Note: this is not the only way to perform these! You can take an even stance or even opposite staggered stance as well. We will focus on the regular staggered stance here)
- Begin the row by powerfully driving your elbow up and back to extend the shoulder. Think about gripping the DB hard but allowing the load to follow the path of the elbow. The forearm should remain perpendicular to the floor at all times.
- Through the concentric, think about depressing and retracting the scapula to get the lats and mid back maximally involved.
- Once you can no longer extend your shoulder (i.e. get your elbow "higher") and retract your shoulder blade, allow the natural momentum of the DB to begin pulling you into the eccentric. Control the rep all the way back to baseline; full protraction with the arm fully straight and perpendicular to the floor.
- Poor Proprioception
- Weak Abs and Trunk
- Low Back Pain
- Single Arm Chest Supported Machine Row
- Single Arm Low Cable Row
- Single Arm Braced High Cable Row
- Half Kneeling Single Arm High Row
- Single Arm Band Row
- Meadows Row
- Single Arm Step Back Machine Rows
- Single Arm DB Row (Unbraced)
- Single Arm Belt Squat Row
- Single Arm Landmine Row (Facing Out)
- Up to 4 sets per session
- Up to 6 sets per week
- 8-20 rep range
Applicable Intensity Techniques:
- Supersets (Especially starting with a controlled, isolation movement like a neutral machine pulldown and then going into the Single Arm DB Rows. I prefer performing both exercises of the superset on one side before switching)
- Cluster sets
- Rest Pause sets
- Marathon sets
- Top set/Down set
- Load Drop Sets
Let's cut straight to the chase here...
There seems to be an epidemic of indecisiveness over how to properly cue the Single Arm DB Row.
This is OUR fault so we must collectively find the solution (by "our" and "we" I mean industry professionals, coaches, content creators, etc). It's not going to fix the damage that has already been done, but there may be a chance for future generations of trainees to escape this swelling vortex of misinformation.
So what exactly am I referring to that has caused such a mess? And why is it so detrimental?
In our quest to correct the common novice mistake of "curling" the DB during the row, we accidentally created a monster of an overcorrection. One that has grown in velocity and magnitude since the first well-meaning trainer whispered those poisonous words...
"Lead with your elbow"
On the surface, this phrase seems innocuous enough, but it has been twisted and corrupted and bastardized to the point of insanity. We no longer have a problem of too much elbow flexion during rows (great!); people have just forgotten to row altogether (bad!)
"Lead with your elbow" quickly turned into "swing the DB without bending your arm". What was supposed to be a movement based on pulling against gravity somehow morphed into a silly-looking, parallelized pendulum motion deriving its only tension from friction created in the shoulder joint. An exercise meant to intensely stress the lats and rhomboids and brachioradialis now is only limited by the centrifugal force on grip strength.
So where did we go wrong? Was it the cue itself or something else...Something deeper?
My suspicion is that, like most things in the fitness realm, egos superseded logical thought.
Whereas it should have been increasingly obvious that swinging the weight devoid of any muscular control isn't very conducive towards real stimulation, the devil on our shoulder was blinded by the prospect of eternal gym glory. Let us not ask too many questions or think rationally when weights are going up. We had to double down and continue along that path, justifying our newly-adopted "technique" lest the whole house of cards come crashing down.
The more people who succumbed to the pressures of this imposter, the more momentum it built, spreading from gym to gym like a cancer. And eventually, the malignancy overtook the host.
Trainees no longer even remembered what a row looked or felt like; all they knew was the SWING.
Rectifying the plague that we unleashed unto the world will be no easy task. Pandora's Box has been opened, and people will not be so quick to willingly accept the antidote. We must approach this in carefully-planned stages:
Stage One- Distraction
Our subjects (clients) are going to resist. They won't want to go back to the way things were. So we will just have to use a little slight of hand. By veiling our schemes in a cloudy haze of singular corrective cues and meticulous verbal reinforcement, we can soften them up and implant our solution without their knowing.
Stage Two- Restoration
Once the process has begun to take roots, now we must flush out the virus. Again, this must be done delicately. There is still a high chance of rejection. We must expel the contagion and simultaneously replace it with our cure without causing a disturbance, Raiders of the Lost Ark style. If our plan works as intended, we will need to nurture the remedy to maturity.
Stage Three- Reintegration
To get to this stage, our clients will have nearly made a full recovery. Now it is on us to prevent relapse. Like any other drug or massive dopamine hit, admiration from our peers is addicting. The pull coming from the dark side will be unrelenting; the desire to return to old habits will be a constant pressure on our clients. Access to that dopamine hit will always be just a slight form deviation away. And this is why we MUST always be on our toes and provide support in any way possible. Maybe it comes in the form of positive feedback. Maybe we remove Single Arm DB Rows from the program for a while to reduce temptation. Maybe we implement deliberate execution tweaks like slower tempo and fully-parallel torso angles to dissuade against impulses. Whatever the ultimate solution is, we must always have our guard up against recurrence.
Unfortunately, we have allowed poor execution of the Single Arm DB Row to permeate so deeply into traditional cues that most people can't even tell what is right versus wrong advice anymore. The best way to break bad habits is to let your clients (or yourself) visualize and feel rowing versus swinging. Not everyone will have the same degree of proprioception so patience is key here. Even if it requires back-peddling all the way to pink dumbbells, do what must be done to make corrections now and save your clients (or yourself) from the apocalyptic future of shitty back gains.
Primary Use Case:
- Hypertrophy of the Rhomboids, Lats, Mid/Low Traps and Rear Delts