• Stride Strong Physical Therapy | Portland OR
  • Stride Strong Physical Therapy | Portland OR
  • Stride Strong Physical Therapy | Portland OR
  • Stride Strong Physical Therapy | Portland OR
  • Stride Strong Physical Therapy | Portland OR
  • Stride Strong Physical Therapy | Portland OR

The Row Physical Therapy Exercise

“The Row” exercise for shoulder and neck pain and how many people do it wrong!

The Row is an exercise typically prescribed to people who have weak scapular stability. This is typically for people who have neck pain, shoulder pain, postural problems.

Strengthening the muscles of the scapula – the middle trapezius and lower trapezius helps with improving posture, pulling back the shoulders for a more upright stance, improves neck alignment, and can even help with stability of the shoulder girdle while using your arms and shoulders for sport and various activities.

However, what I’ve seen in the clinic is that a lot of people do them wrong and therefore never get good effective treatment out of it because nobody has taught them the right way to do it, or their physical therapists are not watching them perform these correctly. (Needless to say, this is my biggest pet peeve and never happens in our clinic!)

Here are the common faults I see:

  • Most people do the row with excessive arm movement, flailing out their elbows without engaging the most important muscles needed to be worked on.
  • Their head turtles forward and back as they squeeze their shoulder blades.
  • Their shoulders angle forward – what we call “anterior tipping”. This actually worsens shoulder problems!
  • Too much movement in the spine – usually over-arching it.

Here are the things I want to see in a proper Row exercise:

  • Shoulder blades are pulled backward. You can even engage them before the exercise band is pulled. This is known as “preloading” the right muscles.
  • The elbows glides backward while the shoulder blades are isometrically pulled back.
  • The neck stays long and erect. I like to cue my patients in what’s called “royal neck” – because royalty always stands up in attention and hardly slouch. The chin is tucked slightly under like you just made a nod and does not turtle forward during the exercise.
  • Keep your core tight, avoid arching your spine when you do this exercise. The shoulder blades should be gliding together, not arching your back.

Our physical therapists are Stride Strong Physical Therapy know what’s at stake with these exercises. They are therapeutic for a reason: because they serve to strengthen you where you are weak. What’s the point of giving you exercises if we didn’t watch you and make sure you do them correctly? That’s why we give you the Stride Strong promise: we see all of our appointments for 45 minutes to an hour so we make sure you get the care you deserve.


Alice Holland DPT, Doctor of Physical Therapy