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Helms Row Workout Exercise 2023

The Helms row is a rowing exercise you do while standing and supporting your chest against an incline bench. It works the upper back muscles, especially the rhomboids and middle trapezius.

Dr. Eric Helms has done much for the sport, and the man deserves exercise, so let’s give him the helms row workout (it’s named after him)

What muscles are worked in the helms row?

The Helms Row primarily works the rhomboids, middle trapezius, and rear deltoids. It also engages the biceps, forearms, and lower back to a lesser extent.

How to do a helms row workout

I haven’t done the helms row over a long period, so they aren’t how I built my lats. Instead, they’re a new addition to my training. 

  1. Protect your chest on the end of an incline bench with a towel or other soft material.

  2. Similarly to the prone row, put the top of your chest around the clavicle onto the top of the bench.

  3. Ensure your torso is roughly parallel to the floor, and bend your knees slightly.

  4. Using the dumbbells, pull back as much as possible.

  5. Use the lats and the rear delts, and keep pulling back towards the hips as much as possible.

  6. The helms row is not a trap or biceps dominant row. You can make it that way, but use this as a more lat dominant row.

Benefits of the Helms row

One thing I like about the helms row workout is that the chest is supported, making you push the sets hard. So you can go to failure, you can do static holds, you can do drop sets, you can push it extremely hard, and you can also get the most out of the exercise.

For most people on a barbell bent over a row, the lower back, overall stability, posture, and core strength will be the limiting factors, not the actual lats. So the main benefit of the helms row workout is that your torso is supported, and you don’t have to rely on those muscles. 

One thing you can do, which is pretty cool, is to let the weights swing forward every single rep when you bend over. So the weights are swinging down and also a little bit forward to get a bit of a stretch on the lats. With your chest supported, like in the helms row, try to get a stretch on the traps, on the lats, on the rhomboids, and use a full range of motion.

You can still use a little hip drive to get the weights moving, but you’re defeating the purpose of the exercise if you overdo that. So don’t be afraid to lighten the weight. For reference, I’ve done 110 and 120 kilos in yates rows, but I’m using 20 kilos per hand for the helms row, so it’s not a movement where you can overload massively. 

It’s more focused on the stretch, the contraction, getting a good range of motion, and then using higher reps to burn out the muscle. You should still progressively overload, but don’t expect to be maxing out on an exercise like this. 

In summary

  • First, it allows you to be strict, so you are not heaving stuff with a typical barbell row. 
  • Second, It enables you to use more range of motion.
  • Third, because it’s supported, it puts less stress on the lower back. 

What are the common mistakes in the helms row workout?

When setting up, try to ensure you’re the correct distance away. If you’re too far away, it’s going to feel like you’re trying to reach your chest to try to get to the bench, and it’s going to feel very uncomfortable. It might put more stress on your lower back because you expect the bench to support you, but then it’s too far away, and it’s not giving you any assistance, and that’s a good way to potentially get injured.

Also, make sure you’re not too close. If you’re too close, it will be like a normal row, and you won’t benefit from the bench. So see where you’re setting up, and always be consistent. And if you’re wrong, stand back up, adjust your position, and go back down. 

Don’t try to adjust your position when you’re in that bent-over position because that’s when the lower back, sacrum, or hips can potentially cause injury.

What workouts can be paired with the helms row?

I recommend pairing the helms row with dumbbell pullovers. A Dumbel Pullover will work the top half of the range of motion, going from a full stretch toward the midline. Then the helms row will work the rest of the range of motion from the midline toward the back when pulling toward your hip.

So these two exercises complement each other very well. And if you put these together, you can work the full range of motion, the stress from the pullovers, and the contractions from the helms row.

George N.