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The Batwing Row Exercise

How To Do A Batwing Row And 4 Unique Variations

By: Zack Mathews NASM - CPT, CES, & PES. PN - L1

batwing row exercise

The batwing row exercise is an awesome back movement that often gets forgotten about by many people in the gym.

Popularized by one of the greatest strength and conditioning coaches of all time, Dan John, the batwing row exercise is unique in the fact that it’s an isometric exercise.

An isometric exercise is a movement where your muscles don’t change lengths, meaning you are holding the weight at a desired location.

When properly performing a batwing row, the primary muscle worked are the rhomboids, with the secondary muscles being the biceps, forearms, and traps.  Depending on the variation, you may also get your core involved.

In this article you’ll learn how to the batwing row exercise and I’ll provide you with 4 different variations that I’ve done with my clients in the past.

How To Do A Batwing Row

The batwing row exercise is quite simple.  Here’s how to perform it properly:

  • Set up a bench at a 45 - 60 degree angle.
  • Put a pair of dumbbells on each side of the raised portion of the bench.
  • Lie with your chest on the bench and your head off of it (no one wants their face on a nasty gym bench).
  • Grab the dumbbells and pull the weight up as you retract your shoulder blades back.  Think of rowing the weight like you are trying to get your elbows towards your hips.  This will prevent you from shrugging to row the weight and using too much shoulder.
  • Once you’ve retracted your shoulder blades as much as you can, simply hold the weight there!
  • Shoot for 20 - 30 seconds and lower the weight back to the ground.
  • That’s a completed batwing row.

You can do this exercise as a stand alone movement or do the batwing hold on the last rep of your chest supported rows.

One Arm Chest Supported Batwing Row

If you want to get creative with the batwing row exercise, we can start getting into different variations.

The first is the classic batwing row, but instead of holding both dumbbells for time, you only hold one in batwing position and perform 8 - 12 traditional reps with the other arm. Once you hit your desired rep range, switch arms and perform the same amount of reps on the other side.

You’ll quickly learn that the second arm is fatigued from holding the dumbbell in place while you did the other side!

This is a nice way to make lighter weight feel heavier, which I discussed in my article The 15 Best Single Arm Dumbbell Row Variations.

One Arm Bent Over Batwing Row

This variation of the batwing row is the same as your one arm chest supported batwing row, but now we’re ditching the bench.

You’ll start from a standing position and hinge your body over.

As you can see in the video, my back stays flat as I get my upper body parallel with the ground.

You want to stay in this position throughout the whole movement.  If you start rocking upwards, the weight is too heavy!

The advantage of this movement is that your hips are in full extension so you get extra work on your hamstrings.

The disadvantage?

You’re more likely to feel this in your lower back than if you stayed with the chest supported row variation.

It’s your choice!

Single Leg One Arm Batwing Row

The last variation is an advanced version of the previous exercise.

We’ll be adding a balance and stability element here by performing this exercise on one leg.  I can’t remember exactly who I learned this movement from, but I’m fairly certain it was from Ben Bruno.

Instead of hinging over with both feet planted, take one foot off the ground and hinge over as if you were performing a single leg deadlift.

From there, perform the movement on each side just like the prior two examples.

If your balance is not quite there for this exercise, stick to the one arm bent over batwing row or chest supported.

FAQ About The Batwing Row Exercise

What do batwing rows work?

The primary muscle worked in the batwing row is your rhomboids.  Additionally, your traps (muscles right next to the rhomboids), biceps, and forearms will be working.



What’s the difference between a batwing row vs chest supported row?

These two exercises have the same initial setup but the batwing row will be an isometric hold (holding the dumbbells in place at the desired position), while chest supported rows will be a traditional row where you raise and lower a weight for reps.


How do you get rid of bat wings?

People often associate “bat wings” with the layer of fat on the backside of your arm.  You’ll want to perform tricep exercises to target that area and eat in a calorie deficit to lose body fat. The batwing row exercise does not work “bat wings”.



How many sets and reps should I do of the batwing row exercise?

For your traditional batwing rows, do 2 - 3 sets of 20 - 30 second holds.  Pick a weight that makes that time range difficult to get to.  For the batwing row variations, do 2 -3 rounds of 8 - 12 reps on each side.  Rest 90 seconds - 3 minutes between sets.

These can fit great into a back and bicep workout like this one.

If you're newer to the gym, try this back workout for beginners.


Where to program batwing rows?

For my Virginia Beach personal training clients and online clients, I like to program batwing rows as a superset with a noncompeting movement.

For example, check out the picture below of one my clients.  He is performing a low incline dumbbell chest press paired with batwing rows.

The chest press is a push dominant movement that will focus on his chest so his back muscles will not be fatigued when it's time for the batwing rows.

Another pairing combo would be to pair batwing rows with a leg or core exercise.

batwing row exercise - how to do

Thanks for reading! Please reach out if you have any questions!