Overhand or Underhand Barbell Row: What’s Best? – T Nation Content – COMMUNITY


How to Build Your Back

Both are great variations for back size, but they hit different parts of the musculature. Here’s what you need to know.


Do you use an underhand or overhand grip when you do barbell rows? Don’t worry, there’s no wrong answer. But each variation has a different effect. You need to choose the right row for your goals.

Let’s Review

Here’s IFBB Pro James Walters doing a standard overhand-grip barbell row:

But what happens when you use an underhand grip? We’re not talking about changing anything besides turning your grip around so your palms are now facing up instead of down.

To gain a better understanding, try this:

Get the bent-over row position without the barbell, focusing on the hinge, buttocks pushed back, and chin down. Visualize pulling an imaginary barbell towards you using an overhand grip. You can even practice this with a wooden dowel or broomstick. Notice how your humerus (upper arm) angles and your elbows flare as you row.

Next, repeat the exercise using an underhand grip. Notice how using the underhand grip naturally keeps your elbows closer to your lats and reduces elbow flare.

The direction in which your humerus moves during the rowing movement, as indicated by the angle of your elbows, determines the targeted areas of your back. Generally, the line your elbow follows indicates the targeted muscles.

For instance, if your elbow points towards your lower lats, it prioritizes that area. Conversely, you’ll target your rhomboids and upper traps if your elbows are significantly flared out (as in an elbows-out row variation).

What Does This Mean?

  • Rowing with elbows tucked closer to your sides, driving inward, prioritizes your lats, particularly the lower portion. This is more easily achieved with an underhand grip.

  • When your elbows flare further away from your sides, as is the case with an overhand grip, the row targets your upper back muscles, like the mid and upper traps and the rhomboids.

Based on this, you could argue that an overhand grip is optimal for targeting the upper back, while the underhand grip is more effective for the lats. However, the angle of your torso and how much you arc the barbell back into your hips also impact muscle emphasis. Nonetheless, it’s easy to see how a simple grip change affects the exercise.

Now, the underhand grip row may put more stress on your elbows. If you experience elbow discomfort, use the underhand grip with an EZ-bar or dumbbells. Here’s what that should look like:

Also, due to increased biceps activation using an underhand grip, be cautious of potential biceps tears when going heavy.

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