I’m a big fan of row variations because they not only build a strong, functional upper back, but they also challenge core stability at the same time. Unfortunately, for more advanced lifters, they can become too easy very quickly. With that in mind, I’d like to introduce seven ways that you can progress these row variations to increase the difficulty.
Do them correctly
The first progression for most people is to simply perform the exercise with correct technique. The most common errors I see in folks’ technique are the following:
- Forward head posture
- Elbows drifting behind the body (scapula doesn’t retract, so the lifter substitutes extra movement of the humerus)
- Hip sagging (the body doesn’t stay in a straight line)
Change the grip
Just as we see with pull-up variations, going to a pronated (overhand) grip will increase the difficulty of the TRX Mid-Row as compared to neutral (palms facing one another) and supinated (underhand) grips.
Try some mechanical advantage drop sets
While we’re on the topic of which grip setups are harder than others, we can use this to our advantage to do some drop-off sets. If you’re someone who can bang out inverted reps pretty easily and want a crazy challenge, try doing the first half of your set pronated and then switching to supinated for the second half when you fatigue. I like TRX Suspension Trainer variations for this approach because it’s easiest to go pronated to neutral to supinated without having to let go of the handle.
Add isometric holds at the top
The top position is without a doubt the most challenging, so you can increase the time under tension—and therefore the difficulty—by adding one- to three-second pauses at the top of each rep.
Elevate your feet
This progression is somewhat “assumed,” but most people overlook the fact that you can elevate your feet a lot farther than you might think. I like to use a 24-inch box.
You also can use various elevations for mechanical advantage drop sets. Go from a more extreme elevation to a subtle elevation to no elevation, and then you can even go to a more upright position to finish things off. A set of 20 to 25 TRX Mid-Rows can be a fantastic workout finisher.
Load with chains, a weighted vest or a backpack
Chains are a complete game changer if you can get your hands on them. They’re also a great way to add extra load to a TRX Mid-Row. If you don’t have chains, a weighted vest or backpack will do.
A few years ago, I bought a computer that came with a padded backpack, which proved to be really useful in the gym. You see, the extra padding made it conducive to adding extra load, as you can slide in plates up to 25 pounds. (The diameter on anything heavier is too much to fit.) Just strap it on your chest and get moving!
Go to one-arm variations
You can do one arm at a time, too. In doing so, you add a little more of a challenge to rotary stability of the core. This is a basic version, although you can expand on it by adding a reach at the bottom (toward the floor) and top (toward the rack) with the nonworking arm.
Rows are a staple exercise, but that doesn’t mean that they need to be boring! Try these progressions—and even combine some of them—and you’ll find that you’re able to include a row variation in just about every strength-training program you complete.
Photo credit: nd3000, Thinkstock