A few years ago when I was getting ready for my last Powerlifting meet in 2009, my then-Coach and now-business partner Jim Laird was doing my programming.
We were doing a slightly bastardized version of 5/3/1 (we switched out OH press for incline DB Press) on a 3 day a week rotation. One the 4th day, we were coming in and doing some mobility work, dragging the sled, and doing 1 all-out set of one of my favorite exercises of all times… the Kroc Row.
In case you’re not familiar, a Kroc Row is a row variation invented and popularized by one of the strongest and most all-around bad-ass guys on the planet, Matt Krocazelski. It’s basically what most people would consider a 1-Arm “Cheating” DB Row. It’s “cheating” because you use quite a bit of ‘body English’ when rowing the weight, as opposed to using really strict form.
The other thing that’s relatively unique about this type of row, is that the goal is to go extremely heavy AND get very high reps. From my understanding, you are supposed to shoot for 20-30 reps each arm. I should also note that I only did 1 set each arm. I am not sure how many sets Matt would do per workout, but I would do a couple of warm-up sets, and 1 all-out set to failure at the end of my workout.
Below is a video of Matt using a 225 lb DB for 25 reps. YIKES!
Why Should I Listen to Matt Kroc?
Like I mentioned above, Matt is one of the most impressive athletes on the planet! I had the pleasure of meeting and going to dinner with Matt and his beautiful wife Lauren at the EliteFTS Learn to Train seminar last September. They are a wonderful couple and a ton of fun!
Matt is also one of the most humble guys you will ever meet (that’s saying a lot considering he is a World Record Holder in Powerlifting and also competes very successfully in Bodybuilding). I also got to hear Matt speak which was a treat. He is very smart, and so inspirational! His intensity, drive, and work ethic is second to none. For more information about Matt, you can check out his website here.
Do They Work?
While I haven’t seen any studies don’t specifically designed to test the effectiveness of the Kroc Row, based on Matt’s upper body development alone, I think it’s safe to say that Kroc Rows are extremely effective at adding both size and strength.
Personally, I had a very unique experience when doing them. You see…I am a slave to massage therapy work. For a while I was rotating among 3 massage therapists and getting 3-4 massages a month. At one point after doing Kroc Rows for 3-4 weeks, I went in to see my massage therapist and she started working on me. This particular therapist had been my massage therapist for 3 years at the time, and since she is a meathead herself… she is very in tune with my body and my musculature. When she started working on my back, (my lats in particular), she stopped and started straight at me and said,
“What the hell have you been doing for your lats?!?!”
I thought about it for a second and said,
“I dunno…. Why?”
And she continued on to say that she had never in her life seen such a huge gain in back width and thickness in such a short time period. At that point I remembered that the only thing I had been doing differently was the Kroc Rows. I was ecstatic! I also went on to set a 26 lb DL PR at my meet that May. While that PR was probably due to a combination of factors, I have no doubt that the Kroc Row was a big part of that equation!
Who Should Do Kroc Rows?
While I love Kroc Rows and think they are a fantastic exercise, they are definitely NOT for beginners. In fact, unless you are a high-level intermediate or advanced lifter, I would stay away from them. Once you get into really heavy weights, they can be hard on the elbows and very hard on the core. I remember at one point feeling like my obliques were going to rip when I was doing them! Also, I wouldn’t do them all the time. Like any other accessory movement, they should be subbed in and out according to your specific goals at the time. One other thing to note: you will make very big gains in the beginning when doing this exercise. I went from using a 50 lb DB to a 110 lb DB in about 8 weeks. Obviously I gained some strength, but a big part of that jump was technique and learning how to use my body and how to strain. And remember, if you take some time off of the rows, you will have to start much lighter than you ended the previous time you did them and work your way back up. Finally, you may have to end up using straps on this exercise. I didn’t need them until I hit 70 lb DB’s… but I tried 70 lbs without straps and got 14, I put straps on and got somewhere between 20 and 24.
Here is a video of me doing the 100 lb DB for 18 reps (my friend has the video of the 110’s… =( )
So there you have it. One of my favorite upper back mass and strength builders. Remember, ONLY do these once you have a strong base built, and start light. Once you get over 20 reps at a particular weight, you can increase by 5-10 lbs. Enjoy!
Where Do I Start Weight-Wise?
If you have never performed Kroc Rows before, I would start with a weight that you can strict row for 10-12 reps. Once you get the hang of the movement, you should be able to bang out 20+ reps easily at that weight.
What do you think of Kroc Rows? Have you done them before? What was your experience with them? Good? Bad? Otherwise?