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Added On October 26, 2011
Barbell Rows vs. Power Cleans For Upper Back Strength and Mass

by Rusi
Over the last years the barbell row and other rowing variations have been seriously neglected by many novice strength trainees. Partly because they are hard and partly because of the famous quote made by Mark Rippetoe  - the author of Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training.
Rippetoe wrote: My opinion about barbell rows is as follows: fuck barbell rows. Really. Fuck them. Stop wasting time worrying about barbell rows and get your deadlift up to 500. By then you'll have your own opinion and you won't have to worry about mine. on his message board.

Due to the popularity of his training program and Internet web-page many people have started to bash the barbell rows by saying that the power clean is the better exercise.

This is insane.

What's the better back exercise?

If your goal is to develop your upper back the power clean will help you. The movement really hits your traps and upper back but it's not the main goal of the exercise. The power clean is more of a skill than a muscle builder. It's primary function besides being a progression for the full barbell clean is to develop explosive hip power. Muscle development stimulated by the power clean is not really that much. Combine it will a low workload and you end up with a poor upper back workout. That makes the exercise ineffective for hypertrophy purposes which is the goal of most people anyway if they have the balls to admit it.

On the other hand the barbell row or any kind of row allows you hit the upper back muscles much more directly than a power clean. The movement hits more back tissue than almost any other exercise - spinal erectors (if you do regular barbell rows), lats, rhomboids, teres, rear deltoids, traps. Sound like a great deal especially when you add biceps forearms and to some point the long head of the triceps. You can also work in higher rep ranges without too much form issues unlike the power clean.

Performing high reps power cleans will make the situation even worse because the weight will be so light that the back will not receive as much work. This would be more of a cardio workout than anything else. On top of that the power clean does not hit the lats, the biceps, the rear deltoids and so on. Yes, your hamstrings and glutes which are a large muscle group are largely involved but remember that we are talking about upper back musculature here, not legs or hips.

Balanced Shoulder Girdle

Another great benefit from performing rowing exercises is the balanced shoulder girdle due to the fact that the row is the opposite of the bench press. When your bench press goes up your front deltoids are getting stronger and stronger but you real deltoids and the muscles retracting the scapula such as the rhomboids might end being overpowered and bullied by your front deltoids and chest. By adding a rowing variation to your workout you will fix all of this. Power cleans won't cut it.

The goal of this article is not to bash the power clean. I think it's useful exercise but considering it a good upper back builder compared to the row is incorrect and false. The row will forever be the one of the best back exercises you can do whether it's part of Starting Strength or not.
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