A: All exercises are dangerous if done with incorrect technique, but some are much higher risk than others. The conventional bent-over barbell row is one of the higher-risk exercises.
The reason: The torso isn’t supported during bent-over barbell rows, and the lower back is excessively involved, so it’s difficult to keep the lower back hollowed and secure once the weight becomes substantial—just a slight slip in technique can produce a lower-back injury. And the wrist positioning it imposes isn’t ideal either. The same problems exist with unsupported T-bar rows.
Why take such a risk with the barbell bent-over row or the unsupported T-bar row when there are safer but effective alternatives? Use the one-arm dumbbell row (with the disengaged hand braced on a bench), cable row, machine row or prone low-incline dumbbell row. With correct technique those alternatives are safer than the barbell bent-over row—and simpler to perform.
There are other back exercises—not rows—that, when done correctly, are much safer than bent-over barbell rows but still very effective: pulldowns and some machine pullovers, for example, as well as chinups and pullups if you can do them properly for sufficient reps.
Editor’s note: Stuart McRobert’s first byline in IRON MAN appeared in 1981. He’s the author of the new BRAWN Series, Book 1: How to Build Up to 50 Pounds of Muscle the Natural Way, available from Home Gym Warehouse (800) 447-0008 or www.Home-Gym.com.