Men Over 40 Can Build Up Their Backs With the Bent-Over Dumbbell Row

Trainer, author, and fitness model Kirk Charles, NASM-CPT CES, knows that as you get older, life can get more complicated. But that shouldn’t prevent you from being on top of your game. He’ll help to answer the tough training questions that come with age so you too can be Fit Beyond 40.

If you’re an active older man like me who loves to play sports like tennis, golf, and basketball, you might be struggling right now. Back in your younger days these activities may have been enough to keep you in great shape—but, I’ve also spent the last 35 years of my professional life sitting down, which has wreaked havoc on my core, back, hamstrings, and hips. Now in my late fifties, I must do more than merely play sports to keep my body working. I need to add in resistance training so I can walk off the playing field without injury.

One exercise I can’t get enough of is the bent-over dumbbell row. It’s one of those classic, must-do exercises that targets your back muscles (your lats in particular), while also promoting better posture by working your posterior chain muscles (glutes, hammies, and core). Those are the ones we must always focus on strengthening to continue to play the sports we love as we age.

To set up, grab a pair of dumbbells. Stand up straight and tall with your feet about shoulder-width apart. While holding the dumbbells at your side, squeeze your shoulder blades together. Next hinge at the waist while also slightly bending your knees until your back is approximately at a 45-degree angle relative to the floor. As you hinge, it is critical to keep your spine firm so there is no rounding of your back. Also, you should be looking at the ground with your neck in a neutral position, not lifting your head up to look forward.

From the starting position, simply row both your arms up by pulling your elbows up toward the ceiling, using your back muscles. Your upper arms should flare out to about a 45-degree angle relative to your spine as you row. At the top of the row, squeeze your shoulder blades together and hold for a moment. Then slowly release your arms back down to the starting position. As you’re lowering the dumbbells, continue to squeeze your shoulder blades to keep your shoulders from slumping at the bottom of the row. That’s one rep.

As you’re rowing, it’s important to maintain your position. There should be no slouching or tilting. You’ll feel the dumbbells and gravity pulling you down toward the floor, but your glutes, quads, and hamstrings, along with your core, must fight to keep your back up. If you’re unable to keep your body stable during the rows, try lighter dumbbells. The biggest mistake you see with the dumbbell row is excessive movement to try and yank the weight up. That increases your susceptibility to shoulder and back and back injuries.

Start with light dumbbells with the dumbbell row to perfect your form. Try 3 sets of 8 reps.

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