Sunday, October 29, 2023

Kroc Rows - Matt Kroczaleski


I don't think any book I'm writing can be complete without including a section about the exercise that I was fortunate to have named after me. 

Back in college, I began performing heavy dumbbell rows but never realized how important they were in my training until I stopped doing them. 

In 2002 I graduated from college, bought a new home, and moved several hours away to start a new job and raise my family. Because of the move, I had to start training in a commercial gym for the first time in years. 

Inadvertently, I stopped doing the heavy dumbbell rows in favor of using some of the new equipment I now had available to me. About a month before the 2002 USAPL Nationals, I went to pull some heavy deads to evaluate where my strength was at. For the first time in my competitive career I had the bar slip from my hands on every one of my heavy singles. 

I was pulling around 700 pounds at the time and had never had grip issues in my life, so it befuddled me when I couldn't hang on to the bar at lockout for a heavy single. I was ripping the bar from the floor, only to have it peel its way out of my hands near the top. 

After that training session, I went home and tried to figure out what had changed in my training that would account for such a dramatic loss of grip strength. I pored over my training logs for the previous several months and realize that the only thing I had really changed was to stop doing dumbbell rows. I quickly added them back in, and at the nationals a month later I went nine for nine and pulled all three deads with no grip issues. 

From that point on, I was committed to keeping heavy dumbbell rows as a part of my training. The gym I was training at only had dumbbells up to 150 pounds, so I began going for rep records since I couldn't increase the weight. This was what first led to my performing sets of 20 to 30 reps without straps in this style. 

Later, I began putting together my own garage gym, so I went looking for the biggest dumbbells I could find. I was able to find a pair of handles that I could squeeze 225 pounds onto by using vise grips as collars. Around this time, I was knocking the 225's out for sets of 25 reps, and my upper back strength and size were increasing significantly. 

Another thing I noticed was that the previous problem I had with locking out my deadlifts had disappeared, and now I was able to easily finish any pull that I could get to my knees. It was around this time that I became part of the team and traveled to London, Ohio, to train at the compound with Dave Tate and Jim Wendler for the first time. 

I performed a set of dumbbell rows for 225 x 25, and afterward Wendler asked me why I was doing them and how I believed they helped me. I explained to him that they had vastly improved my grip strength and had added significant size and strength to my upper back, which had improved my deadlift lockout. 

After giving them a try himself, Jim recommended the rows to some other powerlifters that he knew, and all of them noticed an immediate improvement in both their grip and upper back strength, which also carried over to their deadlift maxes. 

Jim began referring to this exercise as "Kroc rows," and that's how they came to be known. A little while later, after searching without success for larger dumbbell handles, I approached my brother, who is an ironworker, about making a custom pair of handles that could hold in excess of 300 pounds. My brother ended up finding a pair of 36-inch long, double-threaded bolts that were actually made for anchoring large buildings. They were made from hardened steel and were long enough and strong enough to hold the amount of weight I needed. My brother welded some inside collars onto them, and I began working toward the 300 pound rows that I am now known for. 

As a result of frequent questions from lifters looking for their own set of dumbbell handles with which to do Kroc rows, I partnered with a manufacturer to produce very high quality Kroc Row Dumbbell Handles that will hold over 300 pounds each and are virtually indestructible. 

Not coincidentally, when I began really increasing the weight and reps on this exercise, my deadlift climbed from the low to mid 700's to over 800 pounds, all while remaining in the 220 pound class. 


As mentioned previously, Kroc rows can add slabs of muscle to your upper back and forearms and dramatically increase your grip and upper back strength, helping anyone attempting to increase their deadlift. 

Performing them without using straps for high rep ranges will work your forearms and grip strength better than anything else I have tried. 

The high rep ranges combined with heavy weights are also great for adding lots of thickness and width to your upper back. My back is my strongest body part on the bodybuilding stage, and Kroc rows are the primary reason why. 

Doing them with really heavy weights will also strengthen your upper back like nothing else, allowing you to lockout any weight you can pull to your knees. 

Of course, this exercise doesn't just offer significant benefit to bodybuilders and powerlifters but to strongman competitors or anyone looking for strength that carries over well to lifting and moving heavy objects in everyday life. I've used my back strength to carry engine blocks, furniture, washers, and even a fully loaded refrigerator all by myself. 

There is no doubt that possessing a very strong upper back will make you much more powerful not only in the gym but also in the real world. 

Proper Technique

Anyone who has ever watched me perform a Kroc row of given one a try themselves knows right away that this is not the dumbbell row that your spandex-wearing, buck-o-five weighing, certified personal trainer has taught you to do. There is no pulling back in an arc or squeezing at the top while holding a shiny chrome 15-pound dumbbell. No, Kroc rows are all about heavy weight, high reps, plenty of sweat, and sometimes even a little blood. 

While the form may be somewhat looser than your standard row, don't believe for a minute that you won't be working the desired muscles. Simply put: anyone would be hard-pressed to move a weight from arm's length to their chest in a bent-over position without using the upper back musculature to a significant degree. Those are simply the muscles that must be used to move a weight in that fashion. 

However, I don't want you to think that form doesn't matter, because there are a couple key technique points that must be followed to get the greatest benefit possible from Kroc rows. 

The first thing you need to concentrate on is getting a full range of motion by fully extending the shoulder at the bottom of the movement and really pulling it up and back at the top of the movement. This will ensure a full stretch in the lats in the bottom position and complete contraction in the top. 

At the bottom, really let your shoulder drop; you should feel the stretch in your lats and middle-upper back. 

At the top, concentrate on retracting your scapula as far back as possible as you pull your elbow up and back, essentially trying to squeeze your shoulder blades together. 

Your shoulders should be kept higher than your hips and your upper back should be at approximately a 15-degree angle in relation to the floor. Think of putting an adjustable incline bench at the lowest setting: that is the angle you are shooting for. This angle will focus the movement primarily on your upper back. 

The dumbbell should be pulled in a straight line from directly below your chest up to the lower portion of your rib cage. I make it a point to lightly touch the dumbbell to my rib cage at the top of every rep. A little bit of body English is acceptable, but don't use momentum to make the movement easier. 

Explode the weight using your upper back muscles, but do not do it in a clean-type motion that will use momentum to move the weight, since this will reduce the amount of work your muscles are required to do. 

You can perform Kroc rows with one hand and one knee on a flat bench or standing with your non-rowing hand braced on something solid that will allow you to maintain the proper angle of your upper back. You can post your hand on the end of a dumbbell rack, a different piece of equipment, or any solid structure that allows you to stabilize your body but still provides clearance for the large dumbbell. Once I started using dumbbells that weighed in excess of 225 pounds, the three foot long dumbbells were too long to use on a regular bench without making contact with it, so I had to perform the rows using the standing technique. 

Contrary to popular belief, Kroc rows can be performed with wrist straps. In fact, I often rotate back and forth between performing them with and without straps. Obviously, performing them without straps is an excellent way to increase your grip strength. But if your focus is on building upper back strength and size, it is perfectly acceptable to use straps from time to time to allow you to handle the most weight possible. 

While I have done 40 reps with 175 pounds and 30 with 205 without straps, there is no way I could have hit my PR of 13 reps with 300 pounds without throwing the straps on. Using the straps allows me to focus on my upper back and to hit it with the most weight and intensity possible without having to worry about my grip failing. I believe it is best to rotate between both styles to reap the greatest rewards possible from Kroc rows. I often simply perform them one week with straps and then the next week without and rotate back and forth on a weekly basis. 

Regarding set and rep structure, I have found the benefits of Kroc rows to be greatest when working up to one set to failure. I typically perform 2 to 3 warmup sets and then go all out for one max set, attempting to hit either a weight or rep PR every time I perform them. 

I recommend shooting for at least 20 reps and not increasing the weight until you can get at least 25 reps with each arm. I have gone as high as 40 reps per set, and my back was pumped beyond belief afterward. 

Performing Kroc rows with heavy weights and high reps will leave you gasping for air like a drop set of heavy squats. 

From 2007 . . . 
all done as one continuous drop set. 

They are definitely not for the weak minded or faint hearted. If you really want to get the most out of Kroc rows, you need to dig down deep and keep going until you truly reach complete muscular exhaustion, which most lifters think they reach at the end of a set, but few actually do.


1) Ensure a full range of motion by fully extending the shoulder at the bottom of the movement and really pulling up and back at the top. 

2) Your shoulders should be kept higher than your hips and your upper back should be at approximately a 15-degree angle in relation to the floor. 

3) Row the dumbbell in a straight line from directly below your chest up to the lower portion of your rib cage. 

4) You can perform Kroc rows with one hand and one knee on a flat bench or standing with your non-rowing hand braced on something solid. 

5) Rotate back and forth between performing Kroc rows with and without straps to reap the most benefit from the movement. 

6) After two or three warmup sets, go all out for one max set, attempting to hit either a weight or rep PR every time you perform them, shooting for at least 20 reps per set.

7) Perform Kroc rows with as much weight as possible and strive to go to complete muscular failure on the final set.

Follow these key technique points, use as much weight as physically possible, go until you reach complete muscular exhaustion, and watch both your back and strength and size increase like never before.  

Enjoy Your Lifting




  1. He doesn't look like that any more.

  2. Yep, he went through a few change over the years.

    1. But then, what the fuck business is that of mine or any other yahoo's.

  3. It makes you wonder what goes on in someone's mind to go through what he went through.

    1. Honestly, I don't think about it much at all and couldn't care less. I like lifting. The rest? Nah.

  4. cheers. i like the gym. the grand chamber of tempering clay to steel, flesh to wood.

    praise dale or go to hale.

  5. What's the point of having a strong body with a weak mind?

    1. What's the point of any of it? Nothing, nada, zip, a flash in time's illusion manifested through smoke and mirrors and seen as "life" and all that. I would not know. Now, how does this question apply to this post, you've lost me but my mind ain't all that schtrong-ish in the ways of finding "reasons" and "points" here on this rock of horror with the name Earth, my fellow lifter.


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