Double Barrel Rows to Build Muscle

Tom MacCormick

Strength and Conditioning, Personal Training, Sports Science


As a hardgainer who coaches other hardgainers, I like efficiency in the gym. Doing too much training and failing to spend enough time recovering is one of our biggest stumbling blocks. As such, I try to program exercises that get the most muscle building stimulus on a rep by rep basis.


One of the core concepts I use to achieve this is to match the resistance profile of an exercise to the strength curve of the target muscle. This means you can stimulate a muscle across every inch of every rep to obtain the most powerful growth stimulus you can get.



Resistance and Strength Profiles

Matching resistance and strength profiles is quite simple on some exercises. For example, extension exercises (e.g. squats and presses). The use of accommodating resistance (e.g. band or chains) does this perfectly.


For isolation exercises with free weights, things can be a bit more complicated, but by manipulating your body position it is usually quite easily achieved. Pulling exercises, however, are much more problematic.


Pulling exercises have a descending strength curve. This means you are strongest at the beginning of the rep and get weaker as you approach the peak contraction. Most exercises used to train the pulling muscles have completely the opposite resistance profile. They tend to be easy at the beginning at hardest at the peak contraction.


A case in point is the single arm row. During the lift, the mechanics of the lift make it harder as you lift because the lever arm increases throughout (the distance between your shoulder and arm relative to gravity). At the start, the hand is under the shoulder and there is no lever arm.


As you begin to lift and the elbow bends the hand starts to travel away from its alignment with the shoulder. This distance creates a leer arm and means the muscle have to work harder. Throughout the rep this distance continues to increase until it reaches it maximum at the top of the rep.



So, you are limited by what you can lift at the weakest point. This means a large portion of the lift is very easy and only as you reach peak contraction is it genuinely difficult.


We cannot fix this issue by adding bands or chains as they would just exaggerate the issue and make it even harder at the top. Adjusting body positon also fails to fix things.


So, what should you do?


My favorite strategy is to use the double-barrel technique. This allows you to perform targeted partial reps to fully challenge the muscles. Specifically, quarter reps at the top and bottom of the lift. To get the most from these quarter reps you need to do them in a logical order.



The peak contraction is the weakest part of the lift so, when you are fresh you target that. Then, as fatigue sets in you switch to focus on the strongest part of the lift (the start) and hammer that.


To do this you row back for a normal rep, lower the weight a quarter of the way out, then row it back to peak contraction. This annihilates the fully shortened range when you are freshest. Then, when fatigue kicks in you switch your quarter reps around


 Instead, do them at the beginning of the movement where you are strongest. While you may be completely fatigued in the final quarter of the range you still have plenty left for the earlier portion of the lift. By doing a quarter rep along with every normal rep you can obliterate the muscle in this range, too.


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