Exercises You Should Be Doing: Deadstart DB Row

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Today’s guest post is brought to you by University of Washington strength coach, Dave Rak.  Many of  you may recall a handful of past posts that Dave has written for this site, and it’s always a pleasure on my end to welcome him back because, well, he’s freaking good!

On top of being a former Cressey Performance intern Dave was also my training partner for the past year whenever I snaked a lift at Boston University where he served as a Grad Assistant.

A typical text exchange would go like this:

Tony:  Dude, deadlifts tomorrow, you in?

Dave:  You had me at deadlifts.

Tony: I’ll bring the Spike, you set the Pandora station at Wu-Tang radio.

Dave: Done

Tony:  OMG, I am soooo excited!

Dave: Same-sies!

In any case, in this brief post Dave breaks down one of my favorite back exercises – the Deadstart DB Row.


Whether you’re building a superior athlete, training for the zombie apocalypse, or trying to get more yoked than The Rock, building a big back should be one of your priorities.  A monster back will help athletic performance, improve your big three lifts (Squat, Bench, & Deadlift), and it will make you look like a straight boss.  The dummbell row is a great exercises to get this job done.

There are a variety of other pulling exercise that are great for building both size and strength, but some of these lifts are not for everyone.

Deadlifts, vertical pulling, and farmer carries are great for adding both size and strength to your back.  But, before you start blasting out a million pull-ups keep this in mind: Tony touched upon the issue of scapular depression and extended postures, and how chin-up/pull-up’s, farmer carries, and deadlifts may not be the best fit for some people.

Also, heavy vertical pulling may piss off your elbows.

If you are an overhead athlete this can cause some serious problems.  A lot of my athletes fall into this contraindicated group, which is why I feel horizontal rowing is a much better option for these individuals.

My athletes seem to love dumbbell rows almost as much as I do and eventually they start to venture down to the heavier side of the dumbbell rack to see how far they can push themselves.

All of a sudden they go from having great technique to looking like someone trying to start a broken lawnmower.

Once you start to go heavy on an exercise of course you may start to sacrifice technique, but I hold my athletes to a higher standard, especially when I am trying to get them out of forwarded head postures, anterior glenohumeral glide, and substituting trunk rotation for actually pulling the dumbbell up.

This is where the deadstart dumbbell row comes into play.

Who Did I steal It From: I can’t remember but I owe that dude a can of Spike (it actually may have been Tony now that I think of it)

Note from TG:  Maybe. I actually had a minor brainfart and just remembered that I discussed this exercise awhile back HERE, albeit I called it a deadSTOP row.

Consider Dave’s post a nice refresher….;o)

What Does It Do:   Once I started programing it in for my athletes their form instantly cleaned up.  Since the dumbbell is rested on the floor after each rep it actually simplifies the exercise.

Deadstart dumbbell rows inadvertently turn a set of 5 or 8 reps into 5 or 8 singles. This allows the athlete to slow them-self down and reset after each rep, locking their body into a good position each time they pull the weight up.

It is also a great way to teach the athlete how to get their core set and get their back tight which will carry over to other major lifts.  This exercise becomes pretty clutch when training a large group of athletes since it cleans up technique almost on its own, much similar to the way a goblet squat cleans up a squat pattern.

This will teach your athletes how to handle heavier weight without sacrificing technique, making the transition back to standard dumbbell rows easier. This rowing variation is also a great way to add variety to a program especially if your athletes are not ready for any kind of vertical pulling.

Key Coaching Cues:  Keep in mind that I use this as a progression from a traditional 3 point dumbbell row.

I will start by telling my athletes to pretend like they a playing pick up basketball and are on defense (this gets them into an athletic stance) and then tell them to fall into the bench setting their support hand in place. Then keep a flat back, and make an ugly double chin.

From there I will slap them in their belly and their lats (not too hard of course) to get them tight, and begin the exercise.  As you pull make sure you’re not letting your chin or back move, stay locked in.

Avoid pulling your elbow too far behind your body to prevent anterior glide at the shoulder.  When you lower the weight be sure not to drop it, but make sure the dumbbell come to a complete stop on the floor before your next rep.  Get your body tight before you pull again.

You will be able to go heavier with these rows since you get to set the weight down between every rep.  I shoot for 5-8 reps per side and anywhere from 3-5 sets.

About the Author

David Rak is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the NSCA (CSCS) and a Strength and Conditioning Certified Coach through the CSCCa (SCCC). He is currently an Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach at the University of Washington where he works with Baseball, Men’s & Women’s Golf, Throwers, Middle Distance Runners, & Cross Country.   Dave received his Bachelor’s in Exercise Science at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, and his Master’s in Coaching from Boston University. He has and completed a graduate assistant position at BU and has interned at Mike Boyle Strength & Conditioning, Cressey Performance, and with the University of South Carolina (Football).

Dave can be reached at davidrak25@gmail.com Twitter: @dave_rak


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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

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Comments for This Entry

  • Sam Spinelli

    Good article, Great exercise. Perfect way to stop people from rotating too much. I'll be sure to use it soon.

    November 25, 2013 at 1:32 pm | Reply to this comment

  • ronellsmith

    DR, It's great to see you back here, man. Always on point. I love this variation, having used it several times in the past, The lat stretch and the lack of "momentum" forces people to hone in on what a row should feel like, instead of the movement being bicep-heavy, All the best, Dave. (BTW: Great stuff, too, in Cressey's HPH.) RS

    November 25, 2013 at 3:47 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Brent

    Being a UW alum and Seattle resident, automatically qualifies this as the greatest blog post in the history of blog posts. Would you still do these with a client/athlete that is in scapular protraction though? Seems like the deadstop would feed into that more.

    November 25, 2013 at 11:41 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Mike Anderson

    who is this guy? "dave rak", doesn't even sound like a real name!

    November 26, 2013 at 7:32 am | Reply to this comment

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