The Effect of Performing Bi- and Unilateral Row Exercises on Core Muscle Activation

Int J Sports Med. 2015 Nov;36(11):900-5. doi: 10.1055/s-0034-1398646. Epub 2015 Jul 2.


The purpose of the study was to compare core muscle activation in 3 different row exercises (free-weight bent-over row, seated cable row and machine row) performed unilaterally and bilaterally, at matched effort levels. 15 resistance-trained men (26.0±4.4 years, 81.0±9.5 kg, 1.81±0.07 m) performed the exercises in randomized order. For erector spinae and multifidus, EMG activities in unilateral machine- and cable row were 60-63% and 74-78% of the bilateral performance (P≤0.036). For external oblique, the EMG activities recorded during bilateral exercises were 37-41% of the unilateral performance (P≤0.010). In unilateral cable- and machine rows, the EMG activities in external oblique and multifidus were 50-57% and 70-73% of the free-weight row (P≤0.002). In bilateral free-weight row, EMG activity in erector spinae was greater than bilateral machine- (+34%, P=0.004) and unilateral free-weight rows (+12%, P=0.016). For rectus abdominis there were no significant differences between conditions. In conclusion, 1) free-weight row provided greater EMG activity in erector spinae (bilaterally and unilaterally) and multifidus (unilaterally) than machine row; 2) unilateral performance of exercises activated the external oblique more than bilateral performance, regardless of exercise; and 3) generally bilateral performance of exercises provided higher erector spinae and multifidus EMG activity compared to unilateral performance.

MeSH terms

  • Abdominal Muscles / physiology*
  • Adult
  • Back Muscles / physiology*
  • Electromyography
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Exercise Test
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Paraspinal Muscles / physiology
  • Rectus Abdominis / physiology
  • Resistance Training*
  • Young Adult