The Flexion Row (What It Is and How It’s Done)

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A man demonstrating the concentric and eccentric phases of a flexion row.
Eric in the start and end positions of the flexion row.

Don’t feel bad if you don’t know about flexion-style rows. I asked fellow gym rats what their thoughts were on this exercise and out of 102 replies, 71% had never heard of them either.

The flexion row is a variation of the dead stop bent-over row that incorporates flexion and extension of the spine. The spine is rounded at the start of each rep and arches as the weight is pulled toward the body. This emphasizes the spinal erector muscles.

Performing this row with light weight is extremely important to prevent lower back injury while ensuring maximum muscle engagement. I’ll cover how to do them below, along with a sample workout.

Purpose of the Flexion Style Row in Strength Training

In most rowing exercises the spinal erectors (lower back muscles) are isometrically contracted to maintain a flat or slightly arched back.

Flexion rows are unique in that they actively work the erectors through eccentric and concentric muscle actions. These dynamic actions elicit larger amounts of muscle damage, making this exercise effective for lower back strength.

Out of those 102 gym rats I mentioned earlier, 23% agreed that flexion rows are great for the spinal erectors. That’s fairly high, considering 71% have never heard of this exercise.

You’ll also get some engagement from your lats and upper back, just not to the same degree as you would during a regular row. That’s because flexion rows primarily focus on flexion and extension of the lower back.

If you want to build an overall massive back with a single exercise, check out my article explaining why bent-over rows are worth doing.

This means increases in weight and reps are directly correlated to the lower back. So, you’ll be able to gauge pure spinal erector progression more accurately because of the reduction in reliance on other back muscles.

Although they also receive stimulus with normal bent-row, progressive overload is less measurable since the stimulus isn’t direct. On the other hand, flexion rows place direct dynamic tension on them.

What’s more, flexion rows, specifically with a barbell or dumbbells incorporate a dead stop at the bottom of each rep. This prevents the lower back from over-stretching and allows for smooth transitions into the extended, or arched spinal position.

Injuring the spinal erectors and the spine is something you don’t want, so these are performed with light weights for high reps.

This prevents overtaxing the lower back so your performance on exercises like deadlifts, squats, and other rowing movements isn’t impeded.

Here is a table comparing the spinal movements of a regular bent-over row and the flexion-style row:

Barbell Bent-Over RowBarbell Flexion-Style Row
The lower back is flat/neutral in the lowering phaseThe lower back is flexed/rounding in the lowering phase
The mid-upper back is arched/extending while pulling The back is fully arched/extended at the top

How To Do Flexion Style Rows for Spinal Erector Growth

I learned about flexion rows from watching Mike Israetel with Renaissance Periodization. He stresses the importance of getting a full extension or arch at the top of each pull to maximize tension on the erectors.

Here’s how to perform them:

  1. Stand in front of a barbell with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Slightly bend your knees and bend through your hips to lean your torso horizontally with the floor.
  3. Round your spine toward the floor and grab the barbell with an overhand grip at shoulder width.
  4. Lift the bar to your belly button while raising your chest high to arch your lower back as much as possible.
  5. Round your back and allow your shoulder blades to protract as you lower the weight to the floor.
    • The weight should come to a complete stop.

These can be performed using dumbbells, a barbell, or a seated cable or chest-supported row machine. The biggest thing to ensure is that your back moves through a fully flexed and arched position.

Let’s take a closer look at each of the main steps.

1. Hinge Through Your Hips to Lean Your torso Forward

Hinge through your hips until your upper body is parallel to the floor to get into the bent-over position. After this, the actual exercise should take place strictly through the elbows, spine, and shoulder blades while the hips remain held in place.

2. Round Your Lower Back Toward the Floor

Once your upper body is bent forward, you’re going to round your lower back toward the floor. To make this feel more natural, allow your shoulder blades to hang toward the floor.

I also find exhaling from my stomach gives me more room to fully round.

3. Grab the Bar With an Overhand Grip

With your back and shoulder blades rounded, position your hands shoulder-width apart on the bar. Your arms should be fully extended and relaxed.

4. Raise Your Chest While Pulling to Your Stomach

Bend your elbows to touch the bar to your belly button region. As you do this, raise your chest as high as possible while keeping your hips locked in place.

5. Arch Your Lower Back In the Contracted Position

Your lower back should arch as your chest raises. Squeezing your shoulder blades together will also help increase the arch. Try to feel your lower back muscles contracting.

Common Mistakes During Flexion Style Rows

As I mentioned, not getting enough arch at the top is the most common mistake during flexion rows. However, there are a few more to avoid.

  • Not full arching/extending the spine:
    • The spinal erectors are one of the main extensors of the spine, so more arch means more direct stimulus.
      • Maximum recruitment of these muscles is the goal since they are the prime targets of the exercise.
  • Extra movement at the hips besides the initial bending of your torso horizontally:
    • Raising your hips while arching and lifting the barbell is a form of cheating and reduces the amount of work carried out by the back muscles.
  • Hurting your lower back or over-activating the upper back and lats by using too much weight:
    • Keep the weights light and use a slow and controlled tempo to focus the tension on your spinal erectors.

Sample Back Workout With Flexion Style Rows

The spinal erectors respond well to long-duration, high-rep sets as they are primarily slow-twitch muscles.

Because flexion rows work them dynamically, not isometrically, it’s safer and more effective to keep the weights light. Plus, they already get heavy, low-rep isometric work with deadlifts and regular bent-over rows.

Flexion rows are first in the workout since your back won’t be tired, allowing you to focus on proper form.

  1. Flexion-style rows: 4 sets x 15 reps
  2. Kroc rows: 4 x 10
  3. Underhand grip lat pulldowns: 4 x 12

Flexion rows allow you to build massive spinal erectors without needing to use overly heavy weights and risk injury. If you need a break from deadlifts, give these a try!

Eric De Cremer
Eric De Cremer

Eric is an NCCA-accredited Certified Personal Trainer and competitively trained powerlifter. Feel free to contact him anytime at!