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November 07, 2021 9 min read

The reverse grip barbell row can be used to build size and strength in both the lower and upper back. It targets nearly all of the muscles in the back, but particularly the lats, rhomboids, and lower back, as well as the biceps.

In addition, reverse grip barbell rows work the quadriceps (quads), hamstrings, and gluteal muscles (glutes).

Reverse grip barbell rows can offer you excellent strength and muscle-focused upper-body workouts.

Today we will highlight some of the unique benefits you might expect when you start doing reverse grip barbell rows regularly.

The Reverse Grip Barbell Row Technique

Like many exercises that require you to lift heavy weights, reverse grip barbell rows come with a risk of injury to your back or to your shoulders. Always warm up for a long time before you start doing these advanced exercises and make sure to read this entire article to learn the proper form for doing reverse grip barbell rows before you actually start attempting them.

Doing reverse grip barbell rows might seem tricky when you are just getting started. Keeping your upper body in an extended position (like this exercise requires) for a length of time can increase your overall body strength and your range of motion.

It can also improve the health and strength of your middle back and your lower lats.

If you do reverse grip barbell rows often enough, you might find that the movement can help you experience less pain on a daily basis.

Bodily pain becomes a serious issue the older you get, so it is a good idea to take as many steps as you can to minimise the pain and keep your body working optimally.

Never hyperextend your lower back when doing reverse grip barbell rows. This can put too much strain on your back and also on your lower body, and this can sometimes lead to  back pain and all kinds of serious injuries.

Later in this article, we’ll take a look at the specific steps you’ll need to follow to achieve the proper form for these exercises.

Overhand or Underhand Grip

A common question among a lot of beginners is about the difference between doing barbell rows when using an overhand grip versus an underhand grip, and which one is best.

Basically, no one variation is better than the other. It just depends on your goals and what you want to get out of the barbell row. This is the same principle that applies when you choose to use a wide grip or a close grip.

The main difference between the overhand grip and the underhand grip is that the overhand grip targets your upper back muscles while the underhand barbell row targets the lower back, lats, and traps. So you should feel this movement throughout your traps, rhomboids and your rear delts.

Use the overhand grip barbell row to work more of your mid and lower traps because areas do not often get targeted.

Learning the Proper Form

Since reverse grip barbell rows can strengthen the upper back, they can counterbalance what the bench press does for your chest and shoulders. The exercises encourage good posture because you have to stabilize the weight by engaging your core and activating your glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves to stand in place and perform the movement.

Without the bar, assume a bent over row position. Then, imagine pulling an imaginary bar towards you with an overhand grip. You can use a wooden dowel or broomstick to practice this. Notice when you row in the angle of your humerus (upper arm) and the flare of your elbows. 

Next, do the exact same thing but with an underhand grip. Notice how using the underhand grip allows your elbows to stay closer to your lats and to flare out less. The path of your humerus when rowing (the degree to which your elbows tuck or flare when rowing) will determine which areas of your back are being targeted the most. 

If your elbows are really flared (known as an elbows-out row variation), you will be in a better position to work your rhomboids and upper traps. Elbows more tucked by your sides and driving inward will train your lower lats when using an underhand grip barbell row. When your elbows flare more away from your sides, like when using an overhand grip, it will train the upper back, traps, and rhomboids.

The angle of your torso and how much you pull the barbell back toward your hips will also change the muscle emphasis. Sometimes underhand reverse grip barbell rows can put a lot of stress on your elbows. If you are feeling any elbow pain, rowing underhand with an  EZ bar or dumbbells could be a better option than using a straight barbell.

Because of the increased activation of your biceps when you use an underhand grip, you will also need to watch out for bicep tears when you are doing heavy weights. Also, you can perform the same exercise using a pronated (palms facing out) grip or by doing dumbbell rows.

Reverse Grip Barbell Row Instructions 

In the steps below, we demonstrate in detail how beginners can start doing reverse grip barbell rows while using the proper form. Follow all of the steps below very carefully if you want to build a lot of muscle and overall strength and improve the injury resilience of your knees, elbows, and hips.

Man Doing reverse grip Barbell Row

  • Stand in an erect position while you hold a barbell with a supinated grip (with your palms facing up). 
  • Bend your knees slightly and bring your torso forward by bending at the waist.
  • Keep your back straight until it is almost parallel to the floor. 
  • Keep your head up. The barbell should hang right in front of you as your arms hang perpendicular to the floor and your torso. This is your starting position. 
  • While keeping your torso stationary, lift the barbell as you breathe out.
  • Try to keep your elbows close to the body without any force with the forearm other than holding the weights. 
  • At the top (contracted) position, squeeze your back muscles tightly and hold that position for a second or more. 
  • Slowly lower the weight again to the starting position as you inhale. 
  • Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions. 

Common Mistakes

While mastering the proper form of any exercise should always be one of your most important goals, it is always good to remember the actions that you should be avoiding in any given movement. Here is a list of the most common errors that lifters make when they are starting their reverse grip barbell row training.

1. Keeping Your Legs Straight During The Lift 

When performing reverse grip barbell rows, be sure to bend your knees. This will let you push your hips back so you have a solid base to hold you in place to lift the maximum amount of weight. If you perform this movement with your legs straight, you will place too much weight on your lower back which can cause spinal flexion and some serious lower back injuries.  

2. Not Bending Over Enough

The more bent you are, the more range of motion you will have during the reverse grip bent-over row. This means more “time-under tension” for your back muscles. To build muscle you need to first break it down. There is a big difference between having your upper body parallel to the ground versus standing up and barely bending over.

When parallel, the barbell has further to travel to reach your torso as one repetition. This means you have to do more work to move the weight. The more upright you are, the easier the exercise becomes.

3. Standing Up 

To get the most out of reverse grip barbell rows your upper body needs to be completely parallel to the floor.  For a lot of lifters, as soon as their muscles start to fatigue, they try to stand up taller and taller, because standing tall makes it easier to lift more weight. So if you decide to try reverse grip barbell rows, never stand up as your muscles begin to fatigue. Rather lower the weight that you are lifting.

4. Inaccurate Chest Position 

Always keep your chest up during reverse grip barbell rows to prevent injury or spinal flexion. This can happen quite easily when there is roundness in your lower back and your center of gravity is pushed forward. To maximize your lift you will need a solid base and that means your hips need to be pushed back. If you feel your lower back starting to round over at all, stop and reset your form.

5. Too Much Neck or Spine Tension

One of the worst things you can do during this movement is to place too much tension on your neck or your spine. When doing any exercise in the gym, always keep your neck and spine as neutral as possible to avoid any kind of excess tension which can cause a strain in the muscles in the area. This means that if your upper body is parallel to the floor, then your face needs to be as well.

6. Not Engaging Your Core 

Proper core control can be the difference between making large gains or damaging your lower back. Before each repetition, take a breath in and hold it while you contract your core to keep your upper body as solid as possible during the lift. If you breathe out during the repetition you will instantly go into spinal flexion and the load will transfer to your lower back.

If you are new to proper core control, this exercise will not only teach you how to control your core for heavy lifts, but will also teach you how to use a weightlifting belt properly.

7. Pulling The Weight With Your Hands

Some lifters place too much attention on pulling the weight off the ground with their hands. To really master this movement you need to visualize pulling the weight off the ground with your elbows. Try pretending that everything from your elbow to your hand is just a stiff hook holding the barbell. If you can save energy by disengaging your biceps as much as possible, you will be able to pull more weight off the ground.

8. No Scapula Retraction

The final mistake lifters make when performing reverse grip barbell rows is that they do not retract their scapula at the top of the movement and that they do not focus on pulling the weight with their back muscles. To fully engage your back during every repetition your scapula should be fully retracted at the top of the movement.

A one second hold at the top helps ensure that you squeeze the muscles in your shoulder blades as hard as you can. Most people do not retract their scapula because they are using too much weight and cannot lift the barbell to their torso to begin with.

Reverse Grip Barbell Row Benefits

Being better balanced on the ground is a very important life skill to know as you get older. Although you will probably never need to do reverse grip barbell rows in your daily life, they can help you become more aware of your body so that you can recognize when you are feeling off balance and correct that type of imbalance as quickly and smoothly as possible. Below are some of the main benefits to expect when you include reverse grip barbell rows in your training programs.

  • The reverse grip barbell row movement requires more work from the biceps, so it strengthens them very effectively.
  • It also really strengthens other muscles like the lats, rhomboids, spinal erectors, hamstrings, and glutes.
  • It teaches proper ab bracing (core control) and maintains the correct positioning of the spine.

Reverse grip barbell rows will certainly help you create high levels of hypertrophy throughout all of your muscle groups. If you plan to do these exercises correctly on a consistent basis, you will usually experience a very deep muscular burn and this means that many of your muscles should start becoming noticeably bigger, especially if you use the  Pro Series Mass Stack  in conjunction with your workouts.

Hypertrophy training is incredibly important for strength, power, and fitness. The ability to increase muscular activation can lead to increased muscular hypertrophy and possibly even transferable strength and muscle tissue to other movements like deadlifts or front squats.

By increasing the amount of hypertrophy at a more muscle group specific level, you increase your training volumes without necessarily working any of the other muscle groups too much and potentially negatively impacting your body’s overall performance. This is especially helpful when other muscle groups are still healing from other injuries.

Start Doing the Reps

If you are suffering from lower back pain, reverse grip barbell rows should be part of your routine. You could also consider some of the best  alternative hyperextension exercises that you can do in your own home, for those times when you cannot get to the heavy weights in the gym.

Always start with basic positioning and practice the proper form. Reverse grip barbell rows can make you a lot stronger, but they can also cause major injuries if you start without fully understanding the fundamentals.