Barbell row: overhand or underhand grip?

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The barbell row is a basic exercise for the back. But which grip is best to use: a standard overhand (pronated) grip or the alternative underhand (supinated) grip?

The quick answer: both grips are good, but they each have a slightly different effect.


When your elbows are further away from your sides, as is the case with an overhand grip, the row targets your upper back muscles, such as the middle and upper trapezius, the rhomboids and the rear delts. These muscle groups determine the thickness of your back (and therefore the side view).


Rowing with the elbows closer to your body and moving inward prioritizes your latissimus dorsi (lats for short), especially the lower portion. So your lats get the most action with an underhand grip. This muscle group determines the width of your back.


  • If you find that your back specifically lacks thickness, use the overhand grip;
  • If you find that your back specifically lacks width, use the underhand grip;
  • If your back can use both thickness and width, feel free to include both variants in your program.

Please note: the underhand grip puts more pressure on your elbows. If your elbows are bothering you, use the underhand grip with an EZ bar.

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