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6 Kettlebell Row Variations for a Strong Back, Core and Abs

By Greg Brookes
Kettlebell Bent Over Row

If you are looking to develop a strong back and core then these 6 kettlebell row variations are for you.

The kb row is a fundamental exercise that uses the horizontal pulling movement.

Below I have listed 6 kettlebell row variations for you to practice. Each rowing variation gets progressively more challenging so start at the top and work your way down.

All of the following kettlebell rowing exercises will strengthen your: rhomboids, trapezius, lats, biceps, grip, core muscles and posterior shoulder muscles.

Function of the major back muscles

Back muscles

The trapezius, rhomboids and lats are all muscle groups that work together to provide a strong foundation for your body. The trapezius is located in the upper back and neck area and helps stabilise the shoulder blades as well as help with movement of the head and neck.

The rhomboids lie beneath the trapezius and their primary function is to keep the shoulder blades pulled together and down. Lastly, the lats (lattissimus dorsi) are a large fan-shaped muscle group found on either side of the midback, which also work to pull the shoulder blades downward and inward.

All three of these muscles help support various activities including lifting weights, carrying heavy objects, or even everyday movements such as brushing your teeth or reaching overhead.

6 Kettlebell Row Variations

Technique is very important with all these exercises so watch the included kettlebell videos to help you get your technique right.

Breathing throughout all these kettlebell exercises will be very similar, brace and hold your breath temporary as you row towards your body.

If the kettlebell weight is not very challenging then you may be able to breathe in as you row up and out as you lower the kettlebell.

As your diaphragm is both used for breathing and stabilisation of the spine you will not be able to breathe through the hardest part of the exercise if the kettlebell is heavy.

Here are the 6 kettlebell rowing variations for you to try:

1 Kettlebell Bent Over Row

Kettlebell Regular Row Exercise
bent over kb row

The KB bent over row is a fundamental exercise that will add muscle and strength to the back.

Lean forwards about 45 degrees so the kettlebell hangs around shin height.

Keep your weight back on your heels and bend your knees so you can sit back into the position.

Your lower back position is important, it should be kept flat from shoulder to hips.

Using the single arm row the kettlebell up towards your hip as if being pulled by your elbow.

Be sure not to pull from your upper back and neck, your shoulders should be pulled towards your hips.

Pause for 2 seconds at the top of the exercise and squeeze your shoulder blades together then slowly lower the kettlebell back down.

Don’t allow the kettlebell to pull your shoulder towards the floor and rotate your upper body, keep your shoulders square with each other.

Practice: work up to 12 repetitions on each side.

Want more? 3 Kettlebell Push Pull Workouts for the Upper Body

Watch the Single Arm Kettlebell Row exercise below:

2 Kettlebell Suitcase Row

Kettlebell Suitcase Row Exercise
kettlebell suitcase row

The kettlebell suitcase row has similar benefits to the bent over row except the kettlebell is rowed to the side of the body.

Start with the feet close together and place the non kettlebell hand across your belly.

Again sit back on your heels and lean forwards keeping a nice flat back.

Row the kettlebell up and towards the hip using one arm, pulling from the elbow and not the upper back.

Pause at the top of the movement for 2 seconds before lowering the kettlebell slowly back down.

Practice: progress to 12 repetitions on each side

Watch the Kettlebell Suitcase Row exercise below:

3 Double Kettlebell Bent Over Row

Double Kettlebell Row
double kettlebell bent over row

The double kb bent over row will save you time by working both sides of the back at the same time.

With the addition of an extra kettlebell the load through the hips, hamstrings, core and back muscles is much greater than the single kettlebell rowing variation.

Please make sure you are comfortable with one kettlebell before attempting this double kettlebell rowing variation.

Technique for this double kettlebell variation is the same as for the single kettlebell exercise.

Symmetry throughout the exercise is important so make sure you pull and lower the kettlebells at the same time.

Practice: as the double kettlebell row is more of a strength based exercise repetitions can be reduced. Work up to 6 – 8 repetitions.

Want more? Top 5 Kettlebell Doubles Exercises

4 Kettlebell Plank Row on Bench

Kettlebell Plank Row with One Kettlebell
kettlebell plank row

The kettlebell plank row on a bench will activate more of the lower back and core muscles.

Beginners should be comfortable holding the top of a push up position for at least 30 seconds before attempting this kettlebell row variation.

The key to this rowing variation is holding your body in a straight line from heel to shoulders without letting your hips drop.

With one hand on a bench or box brace your core and row the kettlebell back towards the hips.

Again be sure to pull from the elbow and keep the shoulders away from the ears.

You will feel a strong rotational pull through the core muscles during this exercise, your job is to resist this rotation and maintain good alignment.

Practice: progress to 10 repetitions on each side. If your hips drop and you cannot maintain straight alignment then you must stop.

Want more? 10 Kettlebell Exercises for the Back

5 Kettlebell Renegade Row

Kettlebell Renegade Row Exercise
kettlebell renegade row

The kettlebell renegade row takes the above row on a bench to the next level using two kettlebells.

Those new to this exercise must feel comfortable holding their body in a plank position on top of two kettlebells.

Care should be taken when on top of the kettlebells that they do not topple over sideways and trap your fingers.

You can now row the kettlebells just as with the other kettlebell rowing variations.

Take your time and work on good body alignment through this rowing exercise.

Practice: progress to 8 reps on each side before practicing alternating sides for a total of 20 reps.

Learn more: How to Master the Renegade Row with 5 Progressions

Watch the Kettlebell Renegade Row exercise below:

6 Kettlebell High Pulls

Kettlebell High Pulls Exercise
kettlebell high pulling row

The kettlebell high pulls exercise is a dynamic standing kettlebell row variation.

Unlike the other 5 rowing variations this kettlebell exercise will challenge your cardio, hips, hamstrings, buttocks and back muscles.

Beginners should first master the kettlebell swing before moving onto this rowing variation.

The kettlebell high pull exercise is rowed back at an almost horizontal position taking the load away from the neck and into the back.

Keep your wrist tight at the top of the pulling movement and forearm inline with the kettlebell.

Be careful when you first start to practice this exercise that the kettlebell doesn’t hit you in the face.

Practice: 20 reps before changing sides is a good target. You can change sides just the same as with the alternating swing exercise.

Want more? How to Master the Kettlebell High Pull

Watch the Kettlebell High Pulls exercise below:

Conclusion to 6 Kettlebell Row Variations

The kettle bell row is an important kettlebell exercise to develop the back and core muscles.

Horizontal pulling exercises are important to balance out all the pushing movements often overused in workouts.

Above I’ve listed 6 different rowing variations starting at the easiest and progressing to the most challenging.

As with all kettlebell exercises start out with a light kettlebell and increase the weight when you get to grips with the movement.

Take care and enjoy the exercises.

To see more posts about pull workouts, go here.

Have you tried any of these kettlebell row variations? Let me know below….

10 best kettlebell workouts
What muscles are used during the kettlebell row?

The bent over kettlebell row activates the muscles in the back of the body namely the trapezius, rhomboids and lats. You will also activate the core muscles and biceps during the row.

Are kettlebell rows good for everyone?

If you suffer with lower back problems then you need to be very careful when performing the kettlebell row because excellent core stabilisation is required.

How many kettlebell rows should I perform?

For a general conditioning program anywhere from 6 to 12 reps is usually recommended. Always perform each repetition with perfect form and stop before failure.

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    1. FitbyCoen Avatar

      Hey Gregg, Thnx for all your great workouts and tips.

    2. kirlll Avatar

      Thank you for your work. It is very helpful exercises.

    3. Pegman Emami Avatar
      Pegman Emami

      Amazing !!!
      Your Blog is the most amazing site i have ever seen 💪

      Thank you!!!

    4. Alec Avatar

      why hold the belly when rowing?

      1. Greg Brookes Avatar

        I think you are referring to the suitcase row? You don’t have to hold the belly you can place your hand on your hip but putting it there just seems to help with balance and position for me.