Forgotten Bodybuilding Exercises: The Gironda Motorcycle Row

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How do I train my back? A common concern for weightlifters, bodybuilders and the average Joe or Jane seeking to get the most from their training.

We all know the basics: chin ups, rowing movements, pulldowns and of course the deadlift. But what else can be done to throw some variation into our training systems. Well, as we so often do on this website, we decided to return to Vince Gironda’s bag of tricks for inspiration.

Aside from pulldown movements utilising a range of hand positions and his own unique style of chins ups, Gironda was greatly fond of the 45 degree row or the motorcycle row as it has been termed in later years. Seen by the Iron Man as one of the quintessential back builders, the Motorcycle row is undoubtedly a neat addition to your regular workout.

How to Row Gironda Style

Thankfully this exercise can be performed easily without the need for any sort of mechanical nuance. Begin by hooking up a straight bar to a seated row machine or failing that, a cable station. Grab the bar and take a few steps back so that the cable is tight and you can get a full stretch in the arms.

Bend over slightly and lean forward so that you’re at a 45 degree angle between the hips and upper body. It’ll look like you’re riding an imaginary motorcycle (hence the name!). Stretch out the arms, thereby allowing the arms to go forward. Now contract the bar muscles and pull the bar into your midsection. That’s one rep.

For the visual learners amongst us, you can’t go wrong with Lee Hayward’s tutorial given below

What’s so great about the Motorcycle Row?

Two things really, in the first instance the rhomboids are almost completely excluded during this exercise owing to the angle created by your upper body. This forces a much greater effort on to the lats than is usually the case when using for example, the Lat Pulldown Machine.

Secondly this exercise lends itself to quite a bit of variation. T-Nation writer Christian Thibaudeau has long preached about the benefits of this exercise alongside it’s one armed variant. Similarly others have added a ‘dipping’ motion to the exercise to further increase the stretch on the Lats. See the video below for an example of this

A final yet simple variation can be made utilising different attachments. Once you get comfortable using a straight bar, other options such as ropes, rowing handles and EZ bars can all add to the workload of the Lats.

A personal favourite of mine is to use the rope extension attachment so that I can extend the handles once they hit the midsection, thereby increasing the stretch. I do this at the end of the workout and the pump in the back is something else.

So why not try the Motorcycle Row and thus pay homage to the Iron Guru’s legacy.

As always, happy lifting!

9 Comments

    1. Hi there, thanks for stopping by. Do forgive my ignorance but where do you feel the danger lies? Would be interested in getting a second opinion as I was of the impression that it was relatively safe. Want to be sure before I go recommending it!!

      1. Without watching many people do it … I would imagine that this requires a good bit of core support. So those trying it without proper core support may suffer from a rounded back. Not to mention getting the correct angle at the hips to make it effective. To me it just seems like an unnecessary position. A better alternative: Straight arm pull-down. Similiar motion, just no angle. Targets the lats.

      2. Thanks so much for your thoughtful and considered reply. Owing to my own good fortune I’ve rarely had to consider back discomfort during exercises (knees on the other hand…). I suppose this comes down to listening to your body and adapting based on whats needed. As you say, there are similar methods such as the straight arm pull down. That being said, if you’re sound of body (!) I’d be interested in hearing what you think of the Gironda Row having tried it out as I do think it hits the lats differently than the pulldown. Just a thought! In any case, appreciate the message 🙂

    2. That’s such a silly comment. Any exercise can be done incorrectly and injure you. Half the idiots at the gyms are doing exercises wrong.

      1. Hi ilo, thanks for stopping by. I agree that any exercise can injure but I think we can both agree some carry more risk than others

  1. I agree with you man….It is an awesome exercise which people just don’t want to do because of the fear of getting injured….. According to me it’s really safe

    1. As Fitness and Fueling responded earlier, we may be lucky in that we don’t have to consider back discomfort for this exercise. That being said, if one’s of sound body I agree that it’s an awesome exercise which is safe. As all things weightlifting, proper form is key!

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