45-Degree Rows: The Missing, Triple-Duty Shoulder Exercise

It’s no secret that a variety of exercises are needed to effectively train your shoulders. That said, research has shown the 45-Degree Row exercise created levels of muscle activation in the lateral delts that was comparable dumbbell bent arm lateral raises, while also creating levels of muscle activation in the posterior delts comparable to dumbbell seated rear-delt flies. (1)

Here I’m showing you my top five versions of the 45-degree row exercise. I’m also going to show you the strategy I use to incorporate extra work from the upper-traps when doing 45-degree rows, which make it such a great, triple-duty shoulder exercise.

45-Degree Row exercise: Proper Form

Regardless of which of the five versions shown below of the 45-degree row you’re doing, I apply these same form cues:

  • Your elbows should be at a 90-degree angle to your torso at the top of each repetition.
  • Do not allow your wrists to bend as you pull the weight up; keep your elbows directly behind your hands throughout.
  • As you begin to pull on the weight to initiate each rep, perform a shrug by driving your shoulders together behind your neck in a smooth, coordinated action with the row. (This aspect can be omitted if you’re not looking to use your upper-traps in the manner)
  • Pause for a second at the top of each rep without allowing the fronts of your shoulders to round forward.
  • Do not cheat the weight up by extending at your legs or lower-back.
  • Slowly lower the weight taking 2 to 3 seconds on each rep.
  • Do not allow your back to round out at any time.
  • Generally speaking, perform 2 to 4 sets of 8 to 20 reps using a weight where you reach form failure at the end of each set.

Top Five 45-Degree Row Variations

Be sure to keep the above form tips in mind when performing these following five variations on the 45-degree row exercise.

1- Dumbbell Incline Bench 45-Degree Row

As far as I’m aware, this is the standard version of the 45-Degree row exercise. At least, it’s the version of the 45-degree row that was used in the research mentioned above.

Set the bench to a 45-degree angle and lay on it facing the floor with a dumbbell in each hand. Instead of sitting on seat, which forces most people to have their face buried into the bench pad, place your knees on the seat. This is far more comfortable and less awkward because it keeps your face above the bench. You don’t want your face smashed against the bench pad where other people sweat and sit on.

2- Dumbbell Standing 45-Degree Row

With your feet roughly shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly-bent, stand with your torso at a 45-degree angle to the floor. With a dumbbell in each hand, drive your elbows towards the sky to perform the 45-degree row exercise.

3- Barbell Standing 45-Degree Row

Take a wide-grip on the barbell with your hands placed about 5 inches (13 cm) outside of your shoulders. Aside from that, this is the same body-positioning and form used above for the dumbbell standing 45-degree row also apply here.

4- Cable Lat-Bar 45-Degree Row

Stand tall, in a staggered-stance a few feet in front of an adjustable cable column with a lat pull-down bar attached below your knee height. With your arms straight and at a small angle away from your body, hold each side of the bar with your hands placed about 5 inches (13 cm) outside of your shoulder width.

Pull the bar toward you at a 45-degree angle until your elbows reach just above shoulder height, and don’t overarch at your lower-back or lean back at any time.

5- Cable Cross-over 45-Degree Row

Instead of using a lat-bar as in the above variation, you use two cable handles held in each hand to allow your arms to move independently. By starting with your arms crossed, because you’re holding onto the opposite side cable handle, it makes this variation unique to all of the above because you’re pulling the weight across your body to perform the exercise.

Using the 45-Degree Row Exercise

If you’re on the go, the 45-degree row is a great shoulder exercise option because it hits your lateral and posterior delts, as well as your upper-traps. And, that also makes it a great shoulder exercise when you’re doing total-body workouts and have lots of other areas of your body to train without spending too long at the gym.

That said, if you’re doing a body-part split, I don’t think the 45-degree row exercise should be viewed as a replacement for exercises like side and rear-delt flies. In my training system it’s used in conjunction with other traditional shoulder exercises to add training volume for complete shoulder development.

Lastly, you can certainly rotate any of the above 45-degree row exercises with side and rear-delt shoulder raises each time you train shoulders. Or you can use them together in the same session. Whatever you prefer and feel best fits your training style, goals and preferences.

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  1. Sweeney, Samantha P. Electromyographic analysis of the deltoid muscle during various shoulder exercises. University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Master’s Thesis: 2014-05. Published online: https://minds.wisconsin.edu/bitstream/handle/1793/70129/Sweeney_Samantha_Thesis.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

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