Overhand vs Underhand Barbell Row: Which Is Best?

Written by Daniel Mesa

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Overhand vs Underhand Barbell Row

To get a strong back, you have to do more than just lift weights; you have to choose the right grip variation to reach your full potential. You can achieve that with a barbell row, a powerful compound exercise known for its ability to work multiple back muscles simultaneously. The back muscles are one of the most important keys to helping the back grow. 

Within this range of gains, there are two ways to hold the barbell: overhand and underhand. These small changes can help you shape and define your back in different ways, which will help you get a stronger and more powerful upper body. 

In this detailed guide, we look at the overhand vs. underhand barbell row debate, which is always a hot topic. Your choice depends not only on your personal opinion but also on your fitness goals and the specific muscle pathways you want to work.

Overhand vs Underhand Barbell Row: What Are The Differences?

overhand underhand barbell row

Whether you lift a dumbbell with your overhand or underhand grip might seem like a small choice, but it actually gives you two different ways to build muscle and get stronger in your back. If you know these changes, you can plan your workouts better, giving your upper body transformation more variety and making it work better.

Overhand Row Muscles Worked

Muscles Engaged:

  • Latissimus Dorsi
  • Rhomboids
  • Trapezius

The overhand barbell row, also known as the pronated grip row, is an essential exercise for strengthening the upper back. By initiating the movement with your back muscles, you conduct a symphony of muscle activation that results in a sculpted, well-rounded upper back. 

The overhand hold aligns the shoulders naturally, promoting a balanced distribution of muscle engagement and developing correct posture. This grip variation lays the groundwork for functional strength while nurturing the aesthetics of a well-proportioned physique.

Underhand Row Muscles Worked

Muscles Engaged:

  • Latissimus Dorsi
  • Rhomboids
  • Lower Trapezius
  • Biceps

If you’re looking to spice up your back workout, try the underhand barbell row, often known as the supinated grip row. The supinated grip emphasizes the biceps and lower traps while also working the latissimus dorsi and upper back. This fresh twist on your workout adds an extra challenge to your biceps workout, making a noticeable difference in the development of these muscles. 

But there is an important thing to think about when using the underhand grip: you are more likely to tear your bicep. We’ll talk more about this injury risk below.

Injury Risk

When it comes to the underhand grip in barbell rows, there’s an important consideration to keep in mind: the risk of a bicep tear. While both overhand and underhand grips have their benefits, the underhand grip can place more stress on your biceps, increasing the chances of injury. Here’s a closer look at why the underhand grip might carry a higher risk of bicep tears:

Muscle Engagement

The underhand grip puts the focus on your arms and makes them work harder during the row. Even though this can help build arm strength, it also puts the biceps under more stress, making them more likely to tear or strain.

Mechanical Disadvantage

The underhand grip changes the angle and mechanics of the movement. This altered positioning can potentially create a mechanical disadvantage for your biceps, putting them in a vulnerable position during heavy lifts.

Biomechanics and Tendon Stress

The underhand grip can lead to a greater stretch on the bicep tendons, particularly during the eccentric (lowering) phase of the lift. This increased stretch, combined with heavy weight, can heighten the risk of tendon stress and potential tears.

Warm-up and Progression

Proper warm-up and gradual progression are crucial when using the underhand grip. Jumping into heavy lifts without proper preparation can increase the likelihood of sudden strain or injury to the biceps.

Even though the underhand grip has its place, you should approach it with caution. Using both overhand and underhand grips in your workout routine, along with the right warm-up and method, can help reduce the risk of bicep tears while still giving you the benefits of this change.

Remember that avoiding injuries is the most important part of getting fit. If you’re new to the underhand grip or have any questions, you should talk to a fitness trainer to make sure you’re using the right form and technique to avoid getting hurt.

Why Does Barbell Row Grip Matter?

The choice between an overhand and underhand grip in barbell rows may seem like a minor detail, but it holds substantial implications for your workout effectiveness and overall muscle development. Your grip can have a big effect on how your muscles work, where they work, and how likely you are to get hurt. Here’s why your grip on the barbell row is important:

Muscle Emphasis

The grip you use affects how your muscles work during the movement. Using an overhand grip can help you develop a wider and more defined upper back by strengthening the trapezius and rhomboids. On the other hand, when you use an underhand grip, you put more pressure on your lats and biceps, which helps you build a wider, more defined V-taper.

Functional Variety

Using both overhand and underhand grips in your workout gives you a well-rounded way to strengthen your back. This variation lets you work different muscle groups and angles, which prevents muscle imbalances and improves the general strength of your upper body.

Progression and Plateaus

Changing your grip from time to time can help you get past plateaus and encourage muscle growth. As your body gets used to one grip, switching to the other grip pushes your muscles in a new way, which helps you keep getting better.

Personal Goals

Your grip choice should align with your specific fitness goals. Whether you’re aiming for a balanced upper back, enhanced lat development, or overall functional strength, understanding the implications of each grip empowers you to tailor your workout to achieve the desired results.

Ultimately, the barbell row grip serves as a valuable tool for customizing your back workout routine. Experimenting with both overhand and underhand grips while ensuring proper form and technique allows you to maximize the benefits of this exercise and sculpt a well-defined and resilient upper body.

Final Verdict On Underhand vs Overhand Rows

There is no simple answer to the question of whether you should do overhand or underhand barbell pulls. Each variation has its own set of benefits and things to think about, so you can make your workout plan fit your goals and tastes. The overhand grip is great for building a strong upper back and improving your balance. The underhand grip is good if you want to get stronger in your biceps and have a bigger back. 

Remember that proper form, gradual progression, and awareness of potential injury risks are essential regardless of your chosen grip. 


Are underhand barbell rows safe for beginners? 

While underhand rows can be effective, their increased bicep injury risk demands beginners master proper form and adopt gradual weight increments to mitigate potential issues.

Can I switch between overhand and underhand grips in the same workout?

Yes, alternating grips introduce variety and engage different muscle groups, but ensure a proper warm-up and be cautious when transitioning to the underhand grip.

Can wrist wraps eliminate the risk of bicep injury during underhand rows?

Wrist wraps provide support but can’t fully eliminate the risk. Focus on technique and consider professional guidance if concerns persist.

Which grip offers better overall back development?

The overhand grip usually prevails for holistic back development and functional strength, engaging a broader range of muscles and promoting a balanced posture.


The Fitness Maverick. (2023). Overhand Vs Underhand Barbell Rows. Retrieved from: https://thefitnessmaverick.com/overhand-underhand-barbell-rows/

BoxLife Magazine. (2023). Underhand Vs Overhand Rows. Retrieved from: https://boxlifemagazine.com/underhand-vs-overhand-rows/

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