The Turkish Row : Strength & Conditioning Journal

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Columns: Exercise Technique

The Turkish Row

Piper, Timothy J. EdD, CSCS1; Brees, Taryn N. MS1; Helling, Keith MS, CSCS2

Editor(s): Dawes, Jay PhD, CSCS*D, NSCA-CPT*D, FNSCA

Author Information
Strength and Conditioning Journal 40(4):p 113-118, August 2018. | DOI: 10.1519/SSC.0000000000000349



The Turkish row is a complex exercise designed to increase muscular control throughout the upper body and core using a combination of several movements. The Turkish row combines features of the single-arm bent-over row, torso rotation, and single-arm overhead press. The name, Turkish row, was devised because of the similarity to the overhead support position of the Turkish get-up. The Turkish row can be used as a progression exercise toward the complete Turkish get-up by training positions of the Turkish get-up that many find challenging, such as the overhead 1-arm support position (5,7).

An exercise that partially resembles portions of the Turkish row is the bent press (7). This lift is seldom practiced but was a common exercise in Strongman shows at the turn of the 20th century. The bent press begins with the weight lifted from the floor to the shoulder where it is held in 1 hand momentarily stationary at the shoulder with the feet spread comfortably. The exercise is performed by simultaneously performing lateral trunk flexion leading to a side bending at the waist with a simultaneously pressing the weight vertically over the rotated torso and body. At this point, the body will be in a sideways bent-over position with the weight held in a vertical position with the shoulder abducted to 90 degrees and the elbow completely extended. In the finishing position of the bent press, the lifter holds the weight in the overhead 1-arm support position, while maintaining a fully flexed and rotated torso. Although the final position of the bench press and Turkish row are similar, the lack of 1 arm supported on the bent more closely resembles a combination of the dumbbell row and the phase of the Turkish get-up that occurs before standing.


The bent-over rowing movement puts a major emphasis on activating the latissimus dorsi, middle trapezius, posterior deltoid, biceps brachii, brachialis, brachioradialis, and rhomboids (2). The torso rotational movement puts a major emphasis on the external oblique, internal oblique, latissimus dorsi, iliocostalis lumborum, rectus abdominis, multifidus, and erector spinae (8). The single-arm overhead pressing movement puts a major emphasis on the prime mover muscles of the deltoids and triceps with stability accomplished via increased muscle activation in the serratus anterior, trapezius, anterior deltoid, pectoralis major, and biceps brachii with less stability accomplished from the triceps brachii (10).


Movements contained within the Turkish Row are effective for improving and maintaining strength between mobilized and immobilized limbs via neural cross-education (3,6,9). As a novel exercise, the Turkish row and the combination of movements it involves have not been analyzed for precise muscle activation, range of motion, stability, or strength enhancement. However, some research does allude to some potential mechanisms, in which the Turkish row may be a safe and effective exercise for those without spinal load or rotation restrictions. A study by Fenwick et al. (1) investigated 3 different rowing exercises and quantified the muscle activation of the torso and the hip musculature, together with the corresponding spinal loading and stiffness (1). The authors found that the standing bent-over row elicited the largest compressive forces of the spine in comparison with the 1-armed cable row and inverted row. When performing 1-handed lifting tasks, reduced lower spine loading is associated with contralateral hand support and leads to slight increases in lumbar spine rotation (4).

The 1 hand support of the Turkish row may have a similar effect on lowering spinal compressive forces that are elicited in an unsupported bent-over row. The increase in initial torso rotation associated with the contralateral hand support may facilitate the torso rotation performed in the Turkish row. The safety and efficacy of the Turkish row for those with any history of spinal injury is yet to be investigated so the exercise should be reserved for those with no history of spine injury. Because of the loaded spinal rotation and the ballistic nature of the exercise, all individuals with a history of spinal injury should consult with an athletic trainer or physical therapist to determine whether the exercise is appropriate.

The Turkish row is useful as a progression toward the Turkish get-up in many ways. First, because of the similarity of the set-up for the dumbbell row, it offers those who are struggling with the overhead support positions required to successfully perform a get-up, an opportunity to train, in a more familiar body position than a full get-up. Second, for those with poor spine rotation mobility, an increased torso rotation is achieved as the individual learns to combine the rotation, assisted by the rowing action, into a stable and controlled action. Third, controlling the combination of the row and torso rotation may be unique to beginners who lack the body awareness to maintain proper positions. By performing the exercise with control and the potential benefit of a spotter, the safety of the rotation is improved. Fourth, the final phase of the Turkish row involves a position like the phase of the get-up that many struggle with most, the leg sweeping action as one goes from the seated to kneeling position. To perform the Turkish row correctly, the ability to achieve each body position is critical. By practicing the row, torso rotation, and overhead support positions of the Turkish row, a positive impact on shoulder and torso mobility and balance may be achieved. By training this unfamiliar row-rotation press combination in a position that challenges numerous muscle groups, the development of stability, mobility, and control helps not only build the physical abilities mentioned above but also the safety and confidence of the lifter for progressing to the Turkish get-up.


Similar to the starting position of a traditional right-hand dumbbell row, the legs are spread in a staggered stance so that the left foot is in front of the right leg. The torso starts in a neutral spine position. The hip is flexed to approximately 90° so that the upper body is approximately 45°–90° angle with the floor. The left arm is extended with the hand on the bench for support. The dumbbell is suspended at arm's length over the floor in the right hand (Figure 1).

Figure 1.:
Starting position of the Turkish row.


Pull the dumbbell up to the side of the chest using concentric action of the latissimus dorsi, middle trapezius, rhomboids, posterior deltoid, biceps brachii, brachialis, and brachioradialis. It is important to keep the right arm close to the body and the torso as stationary as possible. Be sure to keep the left arm extended and the lower back in a neutral spine position (Figure 2). A fast, but controlled, rowing speed is best for a smoother transition to the next major action of the exercise, the torso rotation.

Figure 2.:
Beginning of the row.


As the row is nearing completion, the torso is rotated anteriorly to the right by turning (opening) the chest to the right (Figure 3) by concentric action of the external oblique, internal oblique, latissimus dorsi, iliocostalis lumborum, rectus abdominis, multifidus, and erector spinae. The torso rotation is relatively fast and acts to gradually decelerate the dumbbell as the rowing action continues until the elbow is fully flexed and scapula is fully adducted. The shoulders are rotated as close to vertical as possible with the right elbow pointing behind the body (Figure 4). In the Turkish row, the dumbbell is held directly over the torso and shoulder momentarily before the pressing action. The humerus is held slightly behind the torso, in a similar degree of hyperadduction that occurs during dumbbell bench press. Keep the left arm straight and in contact with the bench (Figure 5).

Figure 3.:
Finishing position of the row.
Figure 4.:
Beginning of the torso rotation and scapula adduction.
Figure 5.:
Finish of torso rotation and full scapula adduction.

By combining the rowing action with the torso rotation in a quick and smooth motion, the deceleration helps decrease the likelihood of unnecessary overemphasis on shoulder external rotation. By avoiding over-emphasized loaded shoulder external rotation, the stress on the rotator cuff muscles will be minimized as the load is absorbed by the larger back and shoulder musculature.


After the completion of the row and torso rotation, the dumbbell is pressed vertically by extending the right elbow (Figure 6) using a slow, controlled concentric action of the anterior deltoid, pectoralis major, and triceps brachii. Once in this final position the left hand, left shoulder, right shoulder, and right hand should be in a relatively straight vertical line (Figure 7).

Figure 6.:
Start of press.
Figure 7.:
Finish of press.


Reverse these steps to the original position using slow and controlled eccentric muscle actions. First, lowering the dumbbell to the side of the chest, as in Figure 5, while keeping the left arm extended and legs stabilized. After a momentary pause with the dumbbell held in the bottom position of the press, the torso is rotated to the left, as in Figure 3. Lower the dumbbell from the side of the chest to the starting position. Key aspects of each phase of the Turkish row are given in the Table.

Key aspects to the phases of the Turkish row


The training intensity can be cycled like any strength exercise but due to the unstable positions encountered in the Turkish row, the general set and rep schemes are usually dependent on the control and technique of the lifter. Three sets of 10 reps is a typical prescription for strength exercises but if a lifter is performing a more intense variation, or a heavier load than previously attempted, it may be more advisable to perform sets of 3–5 reps. The maximum load of the exercise is usually limited to loads that can be performed with a good technique and control for at least 3 repetitions.

The common breathing pattern most lifters naturally undertake when performing the exercise includes taking a large breath before the row. The breath is held through the torso rotation, until the dumbbell is held stable over the shoulder and torso. The lifter then exhales, takes another breath, and presses the dumbbell vertically with the added stability gained from the second breath and an increased intra-abdominal pressure.

The potential for the dumbbell to be pressed in an unstable direction overhead warrants proper spotting. Spotting is not required for the initial rowing action but may be necessary during the completion of the row, torso rotation, and pressing actions. A single spotter should stand behind the lifter so that they do not impede the rowing action. When spotting the completion of the row and torso rotation, it is important to make sure the lifter does not pull the elbow too far behind the body and rotate the torso so far that they lose balance. If the lifter rotates the torso so far that they do lose balance or control, the spotter should grasp the wrist and place a hand on the upper torso or scapula to limit further rotation and then help realign the lifter into a more desirable position. If the spotter determines that the completion of the press would be unsafe for any reason, they can then assist the lifter by helping them lower the dumbbell to the floor. During the press, the spotter should be ready to catch and control the dumbbell and wrist if the lifter loses control and fails to press directly vertically. If the lifter loses control or balance, the spotter should grasp the lifter's wrist and help lower the dumbbell safely to the torso.


For those who exhibit the torso rotation ability, shoulder mobility, and shoulder stability to perform the basic Turkish row with good technique, more advanced variations of the Turkish row may be performed. To qualify for higher loads or a more advanced variation of the exercise, there should be no signs of a lack of sufficient torso rotation, scapula adduction, or pressing ability or control that hinders the efficient performance of the exercise. Also, the final position should always result with the dumbbell being held, with control, directly over the shoulder of the pressing arm, shoulders held in a vertical line and the contralateral hand directly under the bottom shoulder. Although a slight angle may exist, the aim is a straight vertical line from the bottom hand to top hand.

One variation is to perform the exercise with no pause between the rowing and pressing actions. By rapidly accelerating the dumbbell during the rowing action, the arm will quickly reach the torso, and the momentum in the dumbbell is used to aid in a rapid transitioning from the torso rotation directly into the pressing action. This variation is reserved for those who have obtained proficiency with the basic Turkish row. The potential for over-rotation of the torso, leading to the dumbbell traveling in an arching motion behind the lifter during the press out must be considered. As in any overhead exercise, it is advised that a spotter be used for any variation of the Turkish row to lessen the risk of injury. The spotter is primarily responsible for correcting any over-rotation of the torso, limiting excessive rotation by placing a hand on the scapula, or overhead pressing errors, by grasping the wrist of the lifter's arm, during the pressing motion. A spotter is not typically required to spot the rowing portion of the exercise.

An even more advanced variation would use the same basic technique but with the removal of any form of opposite arm support. This Turkish row variation looks like the final position of the bent press. It differs from the bent press because the lifter starts in a partially bent-over position before using a rapid rowing action to bring the dumbbell to the shoulder, with the addition of the torso rotation, before the pressing action. By removing the support from the opposite arm and leg, the lifter would need to engage many more stabilizers throughout their entire body, increasing the intensity greatly. Although no research is available that addresses the degree of spinal rotation that occurs during this more advanced variation of the Turkish row, it would likely result in higher total net moments of the spine due to the lack of support from the contralateral hand at least during initial rowing actions like those investigated by Kingma et al. (4). As previously stated, individuals with a history of spinal injury should be very cautious and consult with an athletic trainer or physical therapist before attempting any version of the Turkish row.


The Turkish row has the potential to aid exercisers who are in need of upper-body mobility and torso mobility, stability, and strength. In addition, the Turkish row is an excellent progression exercise for anyone who is attempting the Turkish get-up. Once a lifter can perform the Turkish row with control, the hip extension and leg sweeping phases of the Turkish get-up should be much easier to accomplish without loss of proper arm position. Because of the numerous combinations of movements not typically performed together during training, it is important that the technique is explained well and a spotter is used.


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