You might not realize it, but the moment you step into the gym, you’re racing against the clock. Whether that’s a literal time limit, or a perceived point of exhaustion, the truth is you only have so much you can do in a single session.
Efficiency is the name of the game. To play it right, you need to incorporate compound lifts into your routine. If you’re looking for a major upper-body builder that targets your back and your biceps, try the reverse-grip bent-over row.
By adjusting your grip during a standard barbell row, you can kill two birds with one stone; a killer back exercise and some free biceps growth as well. Here’s how to do it.
- How to Do the Reverse-Grip Bent-Over Row
- Reverse-Grip Bent-Over Row Sets and Reps
- Common Reverse-Grip Bent-Over Row Mistakes
- Reverse-Grip Bent-Over Row Variations
- Reverse-Grip Bent-Over Row Alternatives
- Muscles Worked By the Reverse-Grip Bent-Over Row
- Benefits of the Reverse-Grip Bent-Over Row
- Who Should Do the Reverse-Grip Bent-Over Row
- Frequently Asked Questions
You don’t need much to get started with the reverse-grip bent-over row. If you have sufficient mobility to perform a hip hinge, and you have access to a barbell, you’re in business. Here are the steps to perform the reverse-grip bent-over row so you can start building your back and biceps.
Step 1 — Set Up
Stand upright with your feet under your hips and a barbell in your hands. This is where the reverse grip comes in — grab the bar with a double-underhand grip; your palms should face forwards.
Then, hinge at the hips and tip over so the bar glides down your thighs. Your torso should be roughly perpendicular to the ground.
Coach’s Tip: Think of the setup for the reverse-grip bent-over row like setting up for a deadlift.
Step 2 — Squeeze and Row
Initiate the row by pulling your elbows back and squeezing your scapula together. Depending on the angle of your torso relative to the floor, the bar should make contact somewhere between your belly button and your sternum.
Coach’s Tip: If you find yourself standing more upright in order to complete the row, you should consider performing the lift with less weight.
Step 3 — Lower the Barbell
Once you reach the top of the lift, pause for a moment. Then, keeping your core tight, slowly lower the weight and return back to the starting position with the bar hanging around knee level. Keeping the weight under control is important to ensure you perform your repetitions with consistent technique over the duration of your set.
Coach’s Tip: Focus on the eccentric to build greater grip and biceps strength with the reverse-grip bent-over row.
If you made a Venn diagram of lifts that you could perform for athletics and lifts you could perform for aesthetics, you could put the reverse-grip bent-over row right in the middle where the two sections overlap.
As a compound lift that targets your back and your biceps, while also engaging your core and hamstrings, the reverse-grip bent-over row deserves a place in the routines of bodybuilders and athletes alike. Here are a few ways you can incorporate it into your routine.
- For Power: 4 sets of 6 explosive repetitions.
- For Hypertrophy: 3-4 sets of 10 repetitions.
- For Endurance: 2 sets of as many repetition as possible.
The reverse-grip bent-over row seems simple enough: Bend over. Row. But a superficial approachability belies some depth in regard to technique. If you want to master the reverse-grip bent-over row, here are a few mistakes you should absolutely avoid.
Rounding Your Back
A lack of mobility in your hips or hamstrings might make it hard for you to perform a proper hip hinge. If you find it difficult to break at the hip and keep a flat back for the duration of the reverse-grip bent-over row, you could be putting unnecessary strain on your lower back. More importantly, you’ll find it difficult to target your lats if you can’t tip over far enough.
Leading With Your Arms
Even though you will engage your biceps during the reverse-grip bent-over row, it’s important for you to remember that they’re a secondary mover. This isn’t a biceps curl. You want to start each repetition by engaging your back muscles first, squeezing your shoulder blades, and pulling your elbows back before you consider the contraction of your biceps. Think “shoulders” and then “elbows” in sequence.
Keeping things fresh in the gym by trying out a new variation of a classic exercise can keep you engaged with your session even if you’re working with limited equipment. Here are a few variations on the reverse-grip bent-over row that utilize a barbell.
Supinated Pendlay Row
This row variation starts and finishes each repetition with the bar on the floor. While the supinated Pendlay row requires greater mobility in your hamstrings, it should be less taxing on your core and your grip due to the reduced total time under tension.
Starting on the floor also keeps you from creating momentum that carries from one repetition to another. The result is a lift that builds explosive strength in your back and biceps and is a great option if you want to work on power development for your sport.
Snatch-Grip Bent-Over Row
If you want to develop your grip strength, the snatch grip bent-over row comes second to none.
Named for its wider hand placement on the bar, the snatch-grip bent-over row provides increased stimulus to your trapezius, rhomboid, and your rear deltoids.
Single-Arm Dumbbell Row
Some lifts are mainstays for a reason. The single-arm dumbbell row is one of the easiest and most effective ways to build your back. To perform the single-arm dumbbell row, you simply kneel on a bench and row.
The single-arm dumbbell row offers some mechanical advantages over barbell row variations; by supporting yourself on a weight bench, you can limit the amount of stress applied to your spine. Since you perform the lift unilaterally, and with the support of a bench, you may be able to better isolate your lats with dumbbells.
Chest-Supported Dumbbell Row
If you have trouble staying stable during other row variations, consider the chest-supported dumbbell row. Unlike some other row variations, the chest-supported dumbbell row doesn’t offer any opportunities to cheat your form or engage other muscle groups to help you move the weight.
You can perform the chest-supported dumbbell row by lying chest-first on an incline bench. Let your arms hang perpendicular to the floor, then perform the lift by bending at the elbow to bring the weight up toward your chest. To closely mimic the reverse-grip bent-over row, hold the dumbbells with a supinated grip.
The renegade row is equal parts back and core exercise. You can set up for the lift by getting into a high plank position and resting your hands on a pair of dumbbells that are lying on the floor. Keeping your body in a straight line, alternate performing rows with each arm.
If you find yourself rotating to one side than the other with each rep, you may want to perform the lift with less weight. Stamina plays a big role in the renegade row, and working with lighter weights can help you test your endurance while strengthening your core.
Rowing exercises work the musculature of your back from top to bottom. However, the exact role each major muscle plays during a given row can vary. Here are the major players that take center stage during the reverse-grip bent-over row.
The lats are the primary muscle group worked by the reverse-grip bent-over row. They’re also the biggest muscle group in your upper body, attaching from your scapula and humerus (that’s your upper arm bone) all the way down to what’s called the thoracolumbar fascia at the bottom of your back.
A well-developed pair of lats go a long way toward building a rock-solid physique; they can give the appearance of broad shoulders while also making your waist look thinner.
The biceps brachii and the brachialis are secondary movers during the reverse-grip bent-over row. While they get a good deal of direct stimulation during the lift, they play an important part in stabilizing the elbow during flexion.
The biceps are a wrist supinator — when you rotate your palm around, you’ll notice your biceps flex slightly. Rowing with an underhand grip locks them in that flexed position, giving them a better mechanical advantage to help you bend your elbow.
The more weight you lift, the more difficult it is to keep your torso locked at a specific angle over the course of your set. Needless to say, the reverse-grip bent-over row both requires and builds tremendous core strength. Your abs must contract isometrically to stabilize your spine as the weight on the barbell attempts to collapse your trunk.
As with any lift that requires a hip hinge, your hamstrings need to be engaged to some degree during the reverse-grip bent-over row. Since your hips don’t move throughout the lift, their primary role is to keep you balanced and maintain the angle of your hip hinge.
Movements like the reverse-grip bent-over row can actually help increase your hamstring flexibility by loading the tissue when it is suspended in a stretched position.
The reverse-grip bent-over row has something for everyone. Take a look at some of the benefits below.
The reverse-grip bent-over row is a great lift for overall strength development. As a compound exercise performed mainly with a barbell, you’d be hard-pressed to find another row variation that lets you lift nearly the same loads.
By taking an underhand grip, your grip strength should be less of a factor than with a traditional bent-over row and your biceps can contribute to each repetition a bit better than if you rowed overhand.
Holding a hinge position for the duration of a set of rows can do wonders for your balance and core strength. Since your hamstrings stay under constant tension in the lengthened position while performing the lift, the reverse-grip bent-over row also builds posterior chain stability.
Reinforces Good Rowing Technique
People mess up their barbell rows in all sorts of ways. More often than not, you’ll see folks start flaring their elbows and pulling the bar higher and higher up their torsos as they get tired.
Both of these errors can reduce the engagement of your lats and limit the value of the exercise. However, by grabbing the bar with an underhand grip, you’ll find it much more difficult to compromise your form. The reverse grip locks your shoulder into external rotation, which helps you keep it tucked tightly to your sides while you row.
It Gets Points for Efficiency, Too
Hit a rear double biceps bodybuilding pose — almost every muscle on display is targeted by the reverse-grip bent-over row. Even among compound exercises, few lifts have the ability to effectively target as many individual muscles at once. The reverse-grip bent-over row offers a time-efficient way to build your back and biceps.
Regardless of your goals in the gym, you can find a reason to perform the reverse-grip bent-over row. But if you fit into the categories below, incorporating the lift into your routine could take your performance to the next level.
Experimenting with various grips is one of the easiest ways that you can develop thicker and more volumized muscles as a bodybuilder. In the case of the reverse-grip bent-over row, both back and arm gains are paramount. Big lats have a way of making your shoulders look broader and your waist look thinner. They’re also key components in the ever-sought-after V-taper.
Many overhand row variations limit the activity of your biceps, too. Rowing with a reverse grip can fix that issue and give you a two-for-one hypertrophic stimulus.
As a compound lift that develops overall back strength, builds your posterior chain, and requires a significant hip hinge, the reverse-grip bent-over row works as a fantastic accessory for the deadlift. But that’s not the only reason for you to include it in your accessory training, nor is it the only way to incorporate the lift into your routine.
The reverse-grip bent-over row also promotes healthy scapular retraction and engages your biceps, both of which are necessary for healthy flexion of the elbow. The underhand barbell row nicely complements the motion of and musculature involved in the bench press.
Flip the Grip
The more time you spend in the gym, the more you come to think about how you spend that time. Finding exercises like the reverse-grip bent-over row, that develop strength and size across a range of muscle groups, can help make you a smarter and more efficient lifter.
Few movements offer so much with such a small technical adjustment. You can lift heavier weights, maintain better form, and build shirt-busting biceps in the process. What’s not to love?
If you can’t decide whether the reverse-grip bent-over row is right for you, these common questions may help shed some light on your dilemma.
What is the difference between a bent-over row and a reverse-grip bent-over row?
The main difference between the traditional bent-over row and a reverse-grip bent-over row is how you place your hands on a barbell. During a traditional bent-over row, your hands take a pronated position, where the reverse-grip bent-over row is performed with a supinated grip.
Where can I incorporate the reverse-grip bent-over row into my split?
The reverse-grip bent-over row is a compound movement that works plenty of muscle groups, but it primarily targets your back muscles and your biceps. As such, it would best fit on either an upper body day or a pull day.