Why Do I Feel Bent Over Rows In My Shoulders? 13 Pointers To Help Fix

Why Do I Feel Bent Over Rows In My Shoulders?

Why Do I Feel Bent Over Rows In My Shoulders? 13 Pointers To Help Fix

If you’re a gym-goer, chances are you’ve felt your shoulders after doing bent over rows. Whether it’s with a barbell or dumbbells due to poor form, or any other reason – we’ve all been there. While it can be tempting to ignore the discomfort and carry on with your workout, knowing why and how to best avoid feeling the exercise in your shoulders when doing bent over rows is important for staying safe in the gym and avoiding potential injury.

Normally the remedy to this issue can be fixed with a few tweaks here and there and is nothing serious, so don’t worry too much if you are experiencing this at the moment.

In this blog post, we’ll explore exactly what causes your shoulders to feel this exercise more than your latissimus dorsi so that you can understand how best to prevent it in future workouts.

Why Do I Feel Bent Over Rows In My Shoulders?

The most common cause of shoulder discomfort when doing bent over rows is often due to incorrect posture, the angle of pull or a person’s body mechanics. When doing this exercise, it is important to remember to keep your torso as straight and upright as possible. If you find yourself bending over at the waist or rounding your shoulders, this could cause additional strain on your shoulders. If you aren’t bracing your core when doing the exercise, your shoulders may end up picking up the slack of the weight and have to work harder to complete the lift. This also applies if you have any muscle imbalances or the weight is too heavy for you. Make sure you use a weight that allows you to do the exercise with the correct form and technique, doing this will also help improve your mind-muscle connection to focus in on those lat muscles. You may be feeling the exercise more in your shoulders because your deltoids are a weaker muscle group of yours, or maybe lifting and bent over rows are new to you, in which case you must allow your body to get used to the new stimulus that’s being placed on it. If you lack control and are effectively swinging the weight or rushing the movement, then your poor deltoids will be working overtime to stabilise the weight and finish the lift.

Now let us delve deeper into why you’re feeling your shoulders more than the muscles in your back while performing bent over rows.

1. Your form needs attention

Having the correct form is crucial to making sure you are doing the exercise properly and getting the most out of the exercise. When doing the barbell version, if you are bending forward too much or not enough, your shoulders will be doing a lot of the work. Make sure you keep your back straight and only bend forward slightly from the hips while keeping a neutral spine. You should also make sure your shoulders are drawn back and down away from your ears, as this will help to protect your rotator cuff.

Having a solid base is also important, as this allows you to maintain a good centre of gravity, which will also help keep your shoulders safe. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart and make sure to have a slight bend in your knees. Bending forward too far will make you top-heavy and shift the leverage of balance which will put extra strain on your lower back too.

If you are doing the single-arm dumbbell variation on a bench, make sure your back is parallel to the floor and kept straight at all times, and your wrist is kept neutral and straight with each repetition. For stability, place one of your hands and a leg from the same side on the bench while keeping your other leg slightly bent with your foot planted firmly on the ground. This then allows your free hand to pull/row the weight up to your torso with the correct form for maximum gains.

2. Not bracing core

When doing bent over rows, it is important to brace your core muscles and keep them engaged to help keep the spine in a neutral position. Not bracing your torso can cause you to round your back and lead to an increased strain on your shoulders as they are not being supported by the core. Not bracing your core will also reduce the amount of control you have over the weight, as your body isn’t working as one solid unit to lift the weight.

Bracing your core is important when doing compound exercises because it helps to create a foundation and increases stability. When your core is engaged, it acts as an anchor for the rest of the body, allowing you to move and lift heavier weights with more control and precision.

This also applies if you are doing the dumbbell variation, as you will need to brace your core and keep it engaged throughout the entire set. This helps to reduce any unnecessary stress on the shoulders and back, as you are relying more on the muscles of the core and back for support.

3. Angle of pull

The angle at which you pull the weight can have a massive bearing on the muscles you are working and how much strain is being placed on them. If you pull too high to your body, you may find that your shoulders become more engaged than the rest of your back. This is because the angle of pull is too close to the shoulder joint and your shoulders are having to do a lot more work than they should.

To get the most out of the exercise, you need to ensure that you are pulling at an angle that will engage your back muscles the most. This can be achieved by keeping the barbell or dumbbell close to the body during the entire movement and that you aren’t pulling the weight towards your chest, but that you are pulling it towards your midriff (this will differ slightly from person to person).

Doing this will engage your lats correctly, as it is allowing them to work on the same plane as your shoulders but at the same time will be reducing the amount of effort the deltoids will have to do.

4. Rolling torso

If you are doing the bent over dumbbell row, be aware of how much movement is going on with the arm that’s supporting you as you lift. When the weight is too heavy or you are starting to fatigue, people tend to turn their torso in the direction of the dumbbell to help lift the weight. What this does is put more pressure on the supporting arm and shoulder joint as you roll your torso.

If this is happening when you are lifting, it’s best to either reduce the weight or take a break until your form returns back to normal. Rolling your torso while doing the exercise will not only create an uneven and inefficient movement pattern but can also lead to more strain being placed on the shoulder joint, which can cause discomfort.

To avoid this when doing bent over rows, make sure to keep your torso in an upright position at all times and don’t allow yourself to roll your torso towards the dumbbell. This will help ensure that you are engaging the correct muscles and reducing any unnecessary strain on your shoulders.

5. Not leading with elbows

One of the common problems people face when doing any kind of back exercise is being able to engage their scapula. The scapula is an important part of the back muscle and is responsible for stabilizing the shoulder joint, so it’s vital that you are engaging them when doing any kind of bent over row.

When doing bent over rows, it’s easy to forget about the back muscles and just focus on getting the weight up. This can lead to people using their arms too much. What I mean is that when you try and pull with your hands, you neglect any kind of scapula engagement, which means you aren’t working your lats and you’re probably using your shoulders more.

One technique that many use, including myself, is to lead with your elbows when doing any back exercise and think about merely using your hands as hooks and your arms the chains that connect the elbows to the weights. This ensures that you are able to engage your lats and your scapula correctly while reducing any strain on the shoulders.

6. Thumbless grip

Following on from the previous point, it’s important to mention that your grip can have a massive bearing on how much strain is placed on the shoulder joint when doing bent over rows. Many people tend to use either an over or underhand grip, which works fine but can cause extra tension in the shoulders and increase the chance of injury.

The thumbless grip is one way of reducing any extra tension and making sure your shoulder joint has the most stability possible. To do this, simply grip the bar or dumbbell in such a way that you have your thumbs pointing outward instead of wrapped around the bar. This will open up the shoulder joint and allow for greater range of motion while reducing any unnecessary strain on the shoulders.

The thumbless grip can make a huge difference to your bent over rows and is definitely worth trying if you are feeling any discomfort in your shoulders while doing the exercise.

Related: Why Are Lat Pulldowns So Hard?

7. Weight too heavy

It can be easy for us to get carried away and try and lift more than we are capable of, but this often leads to bad form that puts extra strain on the joints and can lead to injury.

When doing bent over rows, make sure that the weight you are lifting is comfortable and something that you can control throughout each rep. If you find yourself having to strain or heave the weight up, then it’s definitely too heavy and needs to be reduced before continuing. Try going for a lighter weight with higher reps to ensure that you are working the correct muscles without putting excessive strain on your shoulders.

A heavy weight will also make your shoulders work harder, as your body will recruit more muscles to help with the lift if the weight is too heavy. This can lead to more strain being placed on the shoulder joint and can cause discomfort, so make sure you are lifting something that’s manageable for you.

8. Range of motion

Having a poor range of motion can really cause you issues during bent over rows, if you are unable to keep the bar close enough to the body then your deltoids will end up doing the bulk of the work.

Make sure you are getting full range of motion by keeping your chest up and pulling the bar close to your body as you lift it. Having good posture is essential here, as if you find yourself bending at the waist or rounding your shoulders then this can cause extra strain on the shoulder joint.

It’s also important to make sure you are squeezing your shoulder blades together and pushing your chest out as you pull the bar up. This will ensure that the lats are doing most of the work, reducing any extra strain on the shoulders.

9. Body mechanics

If you have poor posture or are using incorrect movement patterns then this can cause extra tension in the shoulder joint and lead to discomfort. Make sure you keep your torso as straight and upright as possible, and focus on using your lats to initiate the movement rather than relying solely on your arms.

Your core should also be engaged to help keep your torso steady throughout the exercise, as this will take some of the strain off the shoulder joint. This is especially important when you are lifting heavier weights, as it will reduce any extra tension in the shoulder joint.

When performing this movement, the protruding bone at the top of your humerus (upper arm bone) can clash with a bony prominence from your scapula (shoulder blade). This contact is referred to as impingement and it has been known to cause shoulder pain.

Why Do I Feel Bent Over Rows In My Shoulders?

10. Mind muscle connection

Having a poor mind-muscle connection will cause you to feel the exercise more in your shoulders than your back muscles like the lats, traps and rhomboids. Really focus in on squeezing those lat muscles as you pull the bar up, and pushing your chest out as you bring it back down.

This will ensure that your lats are doing the majority of the work, reducing any extra strain on the shoulder joint. Visualising yourself squeezing those lat muscles can really help with this mind-muscle connection and will allow you to get a better workout from the exercise.

Getting a workout partner to lightly poke your lats as you perform each rep can also help with this mind-muscle connection, as it will remind you to focus on contracting those muscles as you lift the bar. Reducing the weight can also help, as it will make it easier for you to focus on the muscles you are working during each rep.

11. Imbalances

Having a strong core and back are key for doing bent over rows effectively, yet if there is an imbalance between the strength of your back muscles and those in your deltoids due to being weaker or tight then it’s inevitable that you will feel the exercise more in your shoulders than your back.

This can cause shoulder discomfort and should be addressed by doing exercises that target your lats, rear deltoids, and rhomboids in order to strengthen these areas. You should also make sure to do adequate stretching and mobility work for the shoulder joint which can help reduce any impingement and alleviate the pain.

It’s important to have a well-rounded fitness program that focuses on developing strength and flexibility in the shoulders, core, and back muscles so that you can better perform bent over rows without any discomfort. This will also allow you to lift heavier weights with good form, improving your overall performance.

12. Weak deltoids

If your deltoids are weak then this could be another cause of shoulder discomfort when performing bent over rows. Having strong deltoids will help to stabilise the joint, as they are responsible for keeping the humerus in place when lifting up and down.

In order to strengthen the deltoids, it’s important to perform exercises that target the front, middle, and rear deltoids. Some good exercises for this are shoulder presses, lateral raises, upright rows, and bent over lateral raises.

Doing these exercises with light weights can help to build strength in the shoulder joint without causing any additional strain or discomfort. Again, it’s important to focus on having a well-rounded fitness program that targets the entire shoulder joint, as this will help to improve your performance and reduce any pain or discomfort.

Related: Wrist Hurt When Doing Seated Cable Rows?

13. Lack of control and rushing

It’s easy to rush through bent over rows, as they can often be quite challenging. However, it is important to take your time and control the weight as you move. This will help to ensure that you are not placing any extra strain or pressure on the shoulder joint which could cause discomfort.

Take a slow and controlled tempo when doing the exercise, making sure to keep your posture neutral and chest up. This will ensure that you can lift the weight with good form and reduce any extra strain on your shoulder joints.

If you find yourself rushing through the reps or struggling to maintain control of the bar, then it may be a sign that the weight is too heavy for you. In this case, you should reduce the weight so that you can focus on the muscles you are working and get a good workout without feeling any additional strain on your shoulders.


Do seated rows hit shoulders?

The seated row is the perfect way to target and tone your upper body muscles, including those in the back and chest wall. Not only can this exercise help shape your shoulders for a more defined look, but it will also burn abdominal fat as you strengthen these key areas of your body – essential for everyday tasks!

Should I feel cable rows in my shoulders?

When doing cable rows, you should feel your back muscles – the lats, traps and rhomboids – working hard as you pull the weight towards your chest. However, depending on the position of your shoulder blades and arms while performing the exercise, it is possible to feel the cable rows in your shoulders too.

If you find that your shoulders are doing a lot of the work during cable rows, adjust your form so that your back is doing more of the work and reduce any unnecessary strain on your shoulder muscles. Make sure to keep your arms slightly bent throughout the exercise and focus on pulling from the elbows rather than your shoulders. You should also keep your shoulder blades in a retracted position during the rowing motion to ensure that you are effectively engaging your back muscles.

Should you go heavy on bent over rows?

It is generally recommended to lift with caution when doing bent over rows, as it places a lot of strain on your lower back. It’s important to use proper technique, maintain good posture and focus on keeping your core engaged in order to protect the spine. You should also start out light and gradually increase the weight you are using as you become more comfortable with the exercise. Going too heavy too soon can lead to injury or poor form which will not help you reach your goals. As with any type of strength training, it is important to listen to your body and move within a range that feels comfortable and safe.

Should you keep shoulders retracted during rows?

The answer to this question largely depends on your specific goals and what form you are using for the row. Generally speaking, it is a good idea to keep your shoulders slightly retracted during rows. This helps to ensure that you target the correct muscles while performing the exercise. When keeping your shoulders retracted during a row, you should focus on pulling from the elbow rather than the shoulder, as this helps to better engage the lats and other back muscles. Additionally, it is important to keep your chest up and maintain good posture throughout the exercise. Keeping your shoulders pulled in also helps to protect them from injury.

Should you lean back when doing rows?

It depends on the type of row you are doing and your fitness level. If you are new to weight training, it is better to start with less weight and focus on good form rather than leaning back. Leaning back can increase the risk of lower back injury since it creates a larger range of motion. For those who have an advanced level of fitness, a slight lean back may be beneficial to help recruit more muscles and increase the intensity of the exercise. However, it is important to maintain good form and make sure that your shoulders are down and back throughout the movement. It is also important to remember to keep your core engaged when doing any type of row. This will help protect the lower back and improve overall stability.

Final thoughts…

Bent over rows can be a great exercise for building a strong back and shoulders, but they should not be done without proper form. Poor posture, imbalances in strength between the shoulder muscles, weak deltoids, or lack of control can all cause additional strain on the shoulder joint which could lead to discomfort or injury.

It’s important to ensure that your form is correct and that you are taking the time to focus on controlling the weight. Taking a slow and controlled tempo can help to reduce any extra strain, as well as reducing the weight if necessary in order to maintain good form. Additionally, having a well-rounded fitness program that includes exercises for strengthening the shoulder muscles and increasing mobility can help to reduce the risk of any additional strain or discomfort.

Do you feel bent over rows more in your shoulders and have these tips helped? Let me know in the comments below.

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Until next time, all the best…

Beginners Upper Body Kettlebell Workout


Founder – Sport CBDs

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