Blog Case Studies

Plug Those Leaks with Rows

We all have leaks in our force transmission into the ground, the most crucial aspect of sport. Somewhere between your head and the ground, energy transfer is disrupted and “leaks” because you cannot form a completely straight line. Most of us lose this posture at one specific point: the shoulder blades, or scapula, and the upper thoracic spine. One of my old coaching mentors compared an athlete with an unstable scapula to a large cannon shooting from a small boat without an anchor. The good news is that one movement with good coaching cues can fix this energy leak.

The rhomboid muscles connect your thoracic spine to your shoulder blades, pulling your shoulder blade (and with it, your shoulder/arm) back and inwards toward the midline of your body, toward your spine. These muscles are situated right between your shoulder blades, and are responsible for everything from shoulder health in pitchers to more surprising benefits like acceleration

We train a USA skeleton athlete, an extreme example no room for energy leaks, as rocketing face first down an icy track leaves little margin for postural error. The most important factors in these skeleton athletes, as well as any endeavor involving acceleration (i.e. every sport), is the start. In fact, research has shown that time lost during the start can be tripled by the end of a race. Regarding these starts, a recent October 2011 study out of Brown University investigated a variety of upper body movements among elite luge athletes. The authors determined that prone row was the only variable that was the best predictor of start time in both younger and more experienced athletes. Any guesses on the biggest target of prone rows? The rhomboid muscles that connect the scapula and thoracic spine.

We do a different variation of prone rows to target the entire body, one that additionally challenges both the flexibility of the hamstrings and stabilization of the scapula and core. For this bent row, our athletes create an arch in their back and bring their torso to a position parallel with ground shown in the video below.

The barbell is held at the upper abs, just below the xiphoid process where the ribs meet in the midline of the body. We use an underhand grip to avoid further imbalances, as most of other weightlifting movements have an overhand grip, as do the majority of daily activities (i.e. typing). Athletes vary this held position anywhere from 1 to 6 seconds. The goal, as with all maximum strength movements, should be to add more weight, but never sacrificing quality positions to achieve more poundage.

If you have weak rhomboids or suffer from energy links in movement, rows are a necessity to your program. Of course, you can also continue to press heavier than you row, as big pecs are probably more important than stable force transmission.