The Three Best Landmine Row Variations
Full stop, the landmine row is one of the best rowing variations out there. No, it’s not better than the dumbbell row or barbell bent-over row, but I’d put it in the same class. It has its place at some point in nearly anyone’s programming cycle.
It’s a great movement for those relatively new to lifting (and better than a bent-over row if all you have is a barbell), and a fantastic option for advanced lifters looking to mix it up and smash plateaus.
A landmine, in an exercise context, refers to any exercise, where one end of the bar is anchored to the ground, either in an attachment or in a corner, and the other end moves. The landmine setup creates a different training angle and strength curve from traditional free weight exercises. The landmine row, then, is rowing in a landmine setup, where one end of the barbell stays on the ground and you row from the other side, like so.
The nature of the landmine setup creates several differences between a landmine row and a traditional barbell or dumbbell row. And all of it has to do with physics. However, I hated physics in high school, so I’ll try to keep the jargon to a minimum.
The strength curve of an exercise refers to how “heavy” an exercise is at different points. A regular barbell exerts the same amount of force whether you’re holding it one foot or five feet off the ground. The landmine, however, varies at different points.
When you first lift a landmine off the ground it’s a more horizontal movement, so gravity does its thing. However, as you go up, the weight moves in an arc, increasing the slope. Even though there’s the same amount of weight on the bar, the higher the bar is, the “lighter” it will feel.
In a practical sense, this means a landmine row feels heavier at the bottom and lighter at the top. Fortunately, for training the back muscles, this is a huge benefit. At the top of back exercises, the lats are at their shortest and weakest point. In a traditional row, the hardest part is squeezing at the top. This makes a landmine row a great option for training the shortest positions of the back muscles, especially for shortening the lats.
The second big change is the bar doesn’t move straight up and down; it moves in an arc. This arc is more natural for your shoulder blade to move as you row, increasing shoulder stabilizer muscle recruitment.
Compared to a barbell bent-over row, any landmine row allows you to use a neutral grip, which in general will hit the lats more effectively and also save the shoulder. If you’re used to bent-over rows and sometimes you get some front shoulder pain, you should switch from a traditional row to a landmine row or other neutral grip option.
Finally, when comparing a landmine row to a bent-over row, a landmine row you don’t need as much load for a similar training effect. The first obvious reason for this is a bent-over row is bilateral: you use both arms at once, compared to the standard landmine row which is a single-arm variation. Secondly, the load is angled, not straight down, as we talked about, so the weight won’t all be placed where your back has to stabilize all of it.
If you go heavy with the landmine row, you even have the option of placing the non-working arm on a bench or box, as you would during a dumbbell row, providing an extra boost stabilization.
These are also simply called single-arm landmine rows, but that doesn’t take into account the angle of the bar. I prefer the term parallel because you set up the bar parallel to your body. This is the video pictured above.
In this movement, as in all the movements, bracing your core before rowing is crucial. This protects your spine, which is important at all times but especially pertinent if you’re hinging at your hips. To do that, I recommend taking a deep exhale and bracing your core like you’re about to get punched. Maintain this core stability the whole throughout the set.
From there, take a slight knee bend like you would for a bent-over row, and well, row.
This variation brings a good mix of all the upper back muscles. Of the three, you would get the most lat. Because of the strength curve differences, you’ll likely feel more rear-delt than during barbell or dumbbell variations.
This variation was made famous by the late, great John Meadows. You set it up so your torso is perpendicular to the barbell.
This creates a few differences. Firstly, instead of gripping with a neutral grip, you’ll use a pronated grip. This places more tension on the rear delts, rhomboids, and lower traps, and less tension on the lats. This effect is further enhanced by the direction of the arc. As you raise, you keep your elbow in line with the bar to further hit the rear delts and rhomboids.
Because the weight is out to the side, this exercise can cause some balance problems. John Meadows in his demonstration recommended placing your non-working elbow against your thigh. I personally place my non-working arm on a box or bench for the same effect.
This is the classic t-bar row, adapted to a landmine setup. If you don’t have a t-bar row attachment, or if you have a narrow grip attachment, the t-bar places emphasis on the mid traps and rhomboids muscles (basically the middle of your bar). These muscles are often weak, and play a key role in supporting your posture. However, if your goal is to hit more lats, then stick with the single-arm parallel landmine row. Another option for a makeshift attachment is to grab a triceps rope and wrap it around.
As a bilateral row, this is of course a great exercise, but unless you’re going for specific grips, and therefore picking up the attachments to make that possible, I would stick with the single-arm (parallel) landmine row. That’s what I personally program. Also, because you can go really heavy here, strong people will run out of space for plates and at that point, it’s just an ego-lifting competition rather than getting any more benefit than you would from a unilateral variation.
I’m such a believer in landmines that if all you have is a barbell stuck in a landmine set up, you could create an incredible workout program. In fact, that’s exactly what I did.
Our brand new program is fresh off the press in February 2022 (it’s a metaphorical press, because it’s digital) creatively titled, The Landmine Workout. And it’s on sale right for just 19 bucks.
The program features these three row variations, and every other exercise you need to tap into the under-discussed benefits of landmine training.