The Underhand Barbell Row vs Overhand Row: Which is better?

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Written By Samarjit Sinha

Working out for 10 years | Has a home gym | CPD (UK) Certificate holder in Fitness

The Underhand Barbell Row vs Overhand Row: Which is better?

When it comes to building a strong back, there are a variety of exercises to choose from.

However, two of the most popular and debated exercises are the underhand barbell row and the overhand row.

Both exercises target the upper back muscles, but which one is better?

Underhand Barbell Row vs Overhand Row

In this blog post, we’ll compare and analyze the benefits and drawbacks of the underhand barbell row vs overhand row, to help you determine which exercise is best suited for your fitness goals.

Keep reading to find out more!

Underhand barbell row vs overhand Row

Underhand Barbell RowOverhand Row
Muscles WorkedPrimarily targets the upper back, biceps, and shoulders.Targets the entire back, especially the mid and lower back muscles.
GripGrip is underhand, with palms facing upward.Grip is overhand, with palms facing downward.
DifficultyCan be easier to perform compared to overhand rows as the biceps are more involved.Can be more challenging compared to underhand rows as the biceps are less involved.
VariationCan be performed using different grips such as close, medium or wide grip.Can be performed using a variety of equipment such as dumbbells, barbells or cables.
FormPull the barbell towards the lower chest while keeping the back straight and the elbows close to the body.Pull the barbell towards the upper abdomen while keeping the back straight and the elbows close to the body.
BenefitsCan help improve grip strength and target the biceps. – Not really needed if you are doing overhand rows.Can help improve posture, strengthen the lower back, and increase overall back strength.
Winner: NONE.

What is the difference between an underhand and an overhand barbell row?

When it comes to barbell rows, the primary difference between an underhand and an overhand grip is the angle of shoulder and the focus of the muscles being worked.

An overhand grip on a barbell row targets the upper back, specifically the rhomboid and trapezius muscles, while an underhand grip targets the mid-back, primarily the latissimus dorsi, as well as activating the biceps and deltoids more.

The difference in emphasis is due to the change in shoulder angle, with the overhand grip having the elbows out and the underhand grip having the elbows in.

Additionally, the underhand grip can allow up to one-third more weight compared to overhand. Ultimately, it is important to consider how each grip feels to you and the goals you are trying to achieve.

I do not like underhand bb rows for these reasons:

  • I tend to focus more on the biceps if I am using underhand rows.
  • I want to target my lats more – which can be done better with an overhand barbell row.

Some other versions of rows that you can try:

  • Single-arm dumbbell row
  • T-bar row
  • Gorilla rows
  • Pendlay row

What are the benefits of doing overhand barbell rows?

  • Overhand barbell rows are an effective compound exercise that targets multiple muscle groups in the back, including the lats, traps, and rhomboid (1). By performing this exercise regularly, you can develop a stronger, more defined back that looks great from all angles.

If you use both hands, you can do them quickly as well. Thus you will spend less time working out.

  • Strong back muscles are crucial for maintaining good posture, which is essential for overall health and well-being. Overhand barbell rows can help strengthen the muscles that support the spine, making it easier to maintain proper posture throughout the day.

Apart from posture, you will look great no matter what t-shirt you wear. By the way, you should pay attention to your form while doing these barbell rows. Be careful not to put stress on your lower back. As per a study, while the standing bent-over row works most of the muscles on your back, it also puts a lot of strain on your lower back.

  • Overhand barbell rows require a strong grip to hold onto the barbell, making it an excellent exercise for improving grip strength. This can be especially beneficial for athletes who need a strong grip for sports such as rock climbing, gymnastics, or martial arts.

What are the benefits of doing underhand barbell rows?

The row helps to develop back thickness, as it engages the lats with a unique diagonal muscle fiber orientation.

The row reinforces the hip hinge, which is a vital movement pattern for maximizing lifting performance and building strength.

It can help to improve deadlift performance, as it reinforces the correct technique for the lift.

But more often you will have to adjust your body so that you do not train your biceps instead of training your back.

Is the Underhand Row Necessary?

Nope, but it can still be a useful addition to your routine.

Reasons for doing this include having a strong mind-muscle connection with your back muscles, wanting to add thickness to the lower portion of the lats, or having underdeveloped biceps.

That being said, it is important to be aware of the increased strain on the biceps with the underhand row, as heavier weight may lead to potential injury.

Therefore, it is recommended to stick to lighter weights and ensure proper form is used, as sloppy form can lead to bicep tears or injuries.

And dumbbells are recommended over barbells, as they are easier on the body.

What muscles are targeted when performing the underhand row and overhand row?

Underhand Barbell Row vs Overhand Row
  • Entire back.
  • Biceps.

But the overhand row tends to focus more on the biceps and lats more.

Both of them might put some strain on your lower back.

What are the benefits of an underhand row compared to an overhand row?

If you want to train your lats and biceps more, you can do underhand barbell rows. Otherwise, any barbell variation like pendlay row should work.

I would rather do weighted pulls ups for lats and biceps and do overhand row to train my upper back.

What are the benefits of performing both underhand and overhand barbell rows?

The underhand barbell row places greater emphasis on the lower lats and engages the biceps to a greater degree, while the overhand barbell row places greater emphasis on the upper lats.

Both are excellent exercises for developing overall back strength and size.

But neither will replace pull-ups/chin-ups so you should do that too.

How can you prevent elbow and bicep injuries while doing barbell rows?

Barbell Rows

To prevent elbow and bicep injuries while doing barbell rows, it is important to use proper form and technique. Here are some step-by-step instructions:

  • Start by holding the barbell with an underhand grip. Make sure to grip it firmly but not too tightly to avoid over-engaging your biceps.
  • Keep your chest up and engaged core to maintain a neutral back.
  • Pull the weight with your elbows, focusing on using the back muscles rather than your biceps.
  • Keep your elbows close to your torso and avoid flaring them out.
  • As you row the weight up, focus on pulling your shoulders back and squeezing your shoulder blades together.
  • Touch your chest with the bar by pulling your elbows behind your torso at the top.
  • Slowly lower the barbell in a controlled manner, taking around 2 seconds.
  • Avoid letting your shoulders roll forward as you row the weight up, as this internally rotates your shoulders.
  • Make sure to not use too much weight. Lightening your weights can help to reduce the risk of injury.

Lastly, make sure to also do exercises that target your pectoral muscles to avoid strength imbalances.

How to perform the underhand barbell row correctly?

How to perform the overhand barbell row correctly?

Reverse grip rows vs Regular Grip

FeatureReverse Grip RowsRegular Grip Barbell Rows
GripOverhand grip with palms facing downOverhand grip with palms facing up
Muscle ActivationEmphasizes biceps, upper back, and rear deltoidsEmphasizes lats, lower back, and traps
MovementPulling the barbell toward the stomachPulling the barbell toward the chest
DifficultyGenerally easier to perform due to increased bicep involvementGenerally harder to perform due to heavier weight and increased emphasis on larger muscle groups
VariationsCan be performed with dumbbells, cables, or machinesCan be performed with different hand placements, such as wide or close grip

So what should you do? – Underhand vs overhand barbell rows!

The choice between the two depends on personal preference, comfort, and individual goals.

No matter what you do, It’s also important to maintain proper form and technique to avoid injury.

I would use pull-ups for lats and overhand barbell row for the upper back. I would stay away from overhand rows.

The last Rep!

Ultimately it will be your personal preference.

If you can train with underhand bb row without using your biceps more than your lats, then you can do it.

But if you can not then you might overtrain your biceps easily.

I would stick to doing overhand grip rows, one-arm rows and pulls ups.

What do you do?

A rowing machine might help though!

About The Skinny Author


Working Out for 10 years | Owns a home gym |Certificate course done on Improving Aerobic Fitness, Diet | CPD (UK) Accredited Certification on Fitness

Yo Friends, this is Samarjit! A skinny guy who is building his tiny home gym.

I have successfully gained 10 kgs in 10 months going to commercial gyms. And I have been working out on and off for about 10+ years now.

I have gone swimming, done martial arts, Olympic lifts and body-building-type workouts!

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I had to research a lot to build my home gym and decided to share effective, budget-friendly home gym machines, and nutrition to buy as per your goals here in

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