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How to Do Bent-over Dumbbell Row Drop Sets

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Former ACE-certified personal trainer Lorra Garrick has trained men & women for fat loss, muscle building, more strength and more fitness.


What is a drop set?

This is when one does two or more sets in immediate succession of the same exercise, but reducing the weight load with each ensuing set.

One way of doing a drop set is to pump out the second set and all subsequent sets to exhaustion, and another way is to work the sets only up to a predetermined number of repetitions.

This technique is commonly seen in some exercises such as biceps curls, dumbbell presses and use of weight-stack and cable equipment. But drop sets applied to a bent-over dumbbell row is rarely seen.

One will need to at first experiment with various dumbbell weights before figuring out which weights work for achieving muscle failure for all of the sets.

How to Do Bent-over Dumbbell Row Drop Sets

The first set should be an 8-12 repetition max – with good form.

  • Do not round the back.
  • Keep an arch in the lower back.
  • Bring the weight all the way up to your chest, then lower it with control. Don’t just let the weight drop down.

The ideal number of sets is three for the drop set. Place the 8-12 RM weight on the floor by the bench that will be used for the first set.

The dumbbells for the second and third set should be placed nearby so that you can quickly grab them to avoid stalled time in between sets.

You should get full range of motion by pulling the dumbbell all the way to your side/chest area, keeping your upper arm close to your body rather than flared out.

Then, lower the weight all the way with a full arm extension.

Upon achieving the 8-12 RM, you then immediately reach for the next lowest weight to use, and begin rowing—and to muscle failure.

  • Work one arm at a time.
  • Switch arms only after the entire drop set routine is completed.
  • Muscle failure means the point at which your muscles are too fatigued to complete another repetition.
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Do not hurry through the movements. Focus on good form, proper back positioning and full range of motion. Grind it out to failure.

The third set comes immediately after, and this too goes to failure. Drop sets with the dumbbell bent-over row will not feel pretty. But that’s the whole idea. It’s a unique kind of discomfort, but it’s a safe, good kind of pain.


Alternative Option

After one side has completed the entire drop set – you can either repeat with the other side, or…rest 90 seconds, give or take, and repeat the drops on that same side again. However, you’ll save time by alternating sides.

Whether one decides to complete the workout on one side first, or switch back and forth, is a matter of personal preference.

Either way, do three drop sets per side.

Hand Grip on the Dumbbell

There are three ways to hold the dumbbell, and each way provides a different pattern of neuromuscular recruitment.

Hold dumbbell with hand in neutral position: facing bench. This is the most common way that bent-over rows with a dumbbell are performed.

Hold dumbbell with hand in a supinated position: facing forward, or an underhand grip. This will target the biceps more than the other two positions will.

Hold dumbbell with hand in a prone position: palm facing behind, or an overhand grip. This will maximize forearm recruitment, and you will really feel it in the rhomboid and lat muscles.


Kettlebell Alternative

You can also perform this routine with kettlebells. Remember to execute good form, full range of motion and control.

If you must jerk to pull the weight (dumbbell or kettlebell) up – and it’s only early on in the set – then the weight is too heavy.

As muscle failure approaches towards the end of a set, however, it’s expected that smoothly pulling the weight all the way up will become increasingly difficult.

Nevertheless, the entire body should not get involved in pulling the weight up. Do what you CAN, with smooth control. If this is really difficult, then use lighter weights.

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