Exercise Spotlight: Fisherman Rows

 Train your back while keeping your lumbar spine healthy

The classic single arm dumbbell row is a staple exercise for many lifters interested in developing a strong, muscular back – and the results speak for themselves. It’s a tried, tested and true movement that pays more than enough dividends. It’s also an exercise I use, coach and promote myself.

Unfortunately, there are individuals who might not be fortunate enough to be in the right conditioning to use this method without risk, and others who just plain struggle to get a handle on proper form and technique.  For lifters with a history of lumbar issues (or who are currently dealing with them), the last thing they need is a one-sided load combined with an uneven hip position. Often, placing one leg up on a bench while the other stays grounded can be a recipe for that, and the exercise presents more risk versus reward.

Moreover, it can be frustrating finding exactly the right places to put your hands and feet to promote a level hip position to avoid the pitfalls mentioned above. Even for healthy lifters, it can throw off the amount of emphasis belonging to the right areas.

The Fisherman Row: A Saving Grace to Low Backs Everywhere

The major difference you’ll see with the fisherman row right off the bat is the fact that both legs are mounted on the bench, not just one. This immediately stabilizes the pelvis so you don’t have to search for that position on your own. Setting up on an angle to the bench (see video) is the way to make the movement possible without the dumbbell’s path being impeded.

Since the arm is a bit further away from the bench when using this setup, it also creates a perfect stage for a lifter to incorporate a greater rotation at the wrist, which is welcome to hit the upper back and lats from a slightly different angle and positively affect the lifter’s comfort level.

Lastly, an added bonus of this is the fact that since the body’s not set up in a half-twisted configuration to start, this movement will safely torch the obliques – especially if you go heavier. The amount of work your trunk will have to do to resist rotation and keep the torso straight will be noteworthy. So chalk one up for your core.

The Fisherman Row: Coaching Cues

  • Use any flat bench. Adjustable ones are fine. Set it in an open area along with one dumbbell.
  • Place the dumbbell on the floor near the bench, and kneel across the bench diagonally. Both knees should be on the bench, and one hand supporting, also on the bench.
  • Arch the lower back by pushing the chest and butt up simultaneously. It helps to slightly sit back toward the heels while doing this.
  • With the free hand, reach down for the dumbbell. Maintain a flat back and row the weight in the same fashion you would with a classic single arm DB row. It’s okay to really “stretch” at the bottom of each rep too, as long as the spine stays neutral. Remember to keep the chin packed, to ensure your cervical spine stays in line with the thoracic and lumbar.
  • Focus on sets of 12-15 reps per side.

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