This Will Make You Better: Deep Squat Crossover Row

Along the hallways and classrooms of MFF you’ll often hear the phrase, “Island of Misfit Toys.”  It’s less Rudolph nerdiness, and more a reminder that we’re all in this together.  We’re creating a space where everyone can be themselves.

As an exercise science nerd, I like to apply that openness and equality to exercises.  Whenever I meet a new exercise, especially the ones that look a little bit weird, wonky, or lame, I want to try it on and give it a chance.  Doing the same thing every day gets a bit monotonous; we need to make more friends.

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I’ve been working on a polyamorous relationship recently, with Kyle Langworthy, and we’d like to introduce you to our new friend, the Deep Squat Crossover Row.  We’ve been playing around with this for a few months now, and it’s been love almost the entire time.  Give it a look here:

Damn, how is that for videography skills!  Thanks, Kyle!

I’m sure you’re thinking, “I get that you’re doing a row, but why the squat?!”  That was Kyle’s first response when I did this, and to be fair, I thought the same thing when he first crossed his arms over.  There’s a reason for both of them.

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It’s all about the lower traps, baby!  We’ll use the crossover set up and the deep squat position to make our back work much harder than you’d expect for this row.

Crossing our hands on any cable row puts our rowing muscles at a disadvantage, making the same weight feel a bit heavier.  Instead of pulling straight back, you have to over come the angle created by driving your elbows away from you.  That’s biomechanics 101.

The reason for the squat is a little bit more complex, and looks at your back as a whole.  When we do most inverted and bent over row options, our lower back muscles can help put us in a position that makes the row easier. Many of us will feel more anterior pelvic tilt here as the lumbar erectors work a little harder than we’d like.  Here’s an example of the hyperextension that we’d like to avoid:

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By setting yourself in a deep squat, you’ll be able to set your spine close to neutral, likely with a posterior pelvic tilt, so it will round out just a little bit.  If you were to load this squat, most of us will agree that’s not the best idea, but for this set up, you should be just fine.

One of the biggest reasons that Kyle and I love the deep squat is that it lets you relax, so it’s important to stay relaxed.  Let me clarify:  We’re not doing a deep squat to make things harder.  We’re doing a deep squat to make things easier.

More accurately, we’re doing a deep squat because we want to make it easier to find and feel the muscles of your upper back working.  There’s two ways of doing this:  The most popular way is to try.  You can practice rows as many times as you want, or as a trainer, teach rows as many times as you want, but if you’re struggling to set a desirable position in the first place, practicing more is just foolish.

When you exercise, this makes doing rows frustrating, and when you’re a trainer trying to talk your clients through spinal alignment while doing an exercise, the level of information becomes overwhelming.  Training shouldn’t feel like this:

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Instead, setting up in a passive deep squat before you row puts your lower back muscles at a disadvantage so they can’t take over, and creates an advantageous scenario for you to feel your upper back muscles do their job.  We get the job done that’s necessary, while letting the exercise user feel comfortable as quickly as possible, while letting the trainer look like an exercise-selection genius.  Everybody is going to win here!

To execute the deep squat crossover row, you’ll need a cable station and 4-5 feet of space in front of it.  (If that’s unavailable, you can create a comparable set up by anchoring two resistance bands about 2 feet off of the ground.)  The cable station should be set up to shoulder height while you’re squatting, and you can move the arms on the machine as close as possible: We want a tight crossover set up, not a very wide one.

Take two or three giant steps back, settle down into your deep squat. Then leave elbow prints on the wall behind you.  That’s right, you’re going to drive those elbows back like you’re stopping somebody from cutting you in line.  If the external cues aren’t doing it for you,  then tuck those shoulder blades into your back pockets while pulling your elbows to your hips.

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The deep squat crossover row can break up the cable station monotony of flyes, tricep extensions, and even the chops and lifts of the functional training movement.  While it may look a wee bit peculiar, it’s a no-nonsense approach to row in a desirable position with damn good technique.

Break this exercise out in your next workout or training session, and see how it works.  Let me know how it goes in a comment, or share it with your friends on Tweeter. (Click to Tweet!)

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