“Batwing” Rows and Curls

Posted on by Ben Bruno

Today I want to share Batwing Rows and Batwing Curls.

I first learned about Batwings from Dan John. Coach John has had a tremendous influence on the way I coach and the way I train and I’m a huge fan of just about everything things he shares. Batwings were no different. The exercise is essentially an isometric chest supported dumbbell row hold where you focus on retracting your scapula and pulling your elbows back as hard as you can.

Coach John gives a detailed description of them in this article.

I’ve used Batwings quite a bit since I first learned of them, and I really like them. I find them to be more comfortable on a slight incline, but that’s just personal preference.

I recently got the idea to add in a unilateral element, hence the rows and curls. With both variations, you hold an isometric Batwing with one arm while doing rows or curls with the other arm. The key is to keep your core braced to stay steady and avoid rotating.

Rows

Curls

The unilateral aspect with both of these exercises adds an additional challenge for the core, which in turn enhances the effects of the row and/or the curl, depending on which variation you chose.

With the rows, I felt a huge contraction in my upper back, even with relatively light weights (don’t turn this into an ego exercise). It reinforces rowing the right way and using the right muscles to do the work. It also leads to significant time under tension for the rhomboids since you have to do it on both sides. It’s important to do the rows slowly and deliberately and focus on getting a good squeeze on each rep.

With the curls, it didn’t take much weight at all to smoke my arms. Of course, part of this is due to the fact that after skipping any direct arm work for over two years, my already not-that-big arms have become downright puny, so the extra work for the particularly welcomed. I sure need it. You can either do a hammer curl where you keep a neutral grip throughout, or supinate your hand as you curl. I prefer the latter, but it doesn’t really matter. This could also be a good way to sneak some good upper back in under the guise of doing the gunshow for people that would otherwise skip it.

Anyway, give these variations a try and let me know what you think.

As an aside, if you’re looking for some good reading materal, I highly recommend two of Dan John’s books, Never Let Go and Easy Strength. They are at the top of my personal list, and whenever I’m asked for book recommendations, they are two of the first I mention.

Lastly, if you missed this weekend’s Good Reads post, give that a look and catch up on some reading from the past week.

Have a good week!

 

  • Roy Reichle

    Sorry for the late reply, but I just found out about this when I was linked this way from a Bret Contrerras blog post. In watching your two videos on the batwing row and curl, I noted that you’re not “batwinging” very much, i.e. your elbows are staying in close to the body, which is different from what Dan John says about this movement. Is there a reason behind your action? I’m just looking for clarification before I start incorporating these movements into my clients’ programs. I hope I don’t sound unappreciative in the face of all the cool, free information you provide, but like I said, I’m just looking for clarification. I want to do the action in the best possible form. Thanks for all that you do!