How to Perform the Yates Row, or Reverse Grip Bent Over Row

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The Yates row was popularized by and named after 6-time Olympia winner Dorian Yates. It’s an excellent compound barbell lifts for building sweeping lower lats and thick, beefy traps. This movement is a horizontal pulling exercise commonly placed on back days (if following a traditional bodybuilding split) or pull days (if following a push/pull/legs split).

This free-weight barbell exercise works the entire back, and more. Simply put, the Yates row is similar to the barbell row except you’ll grasp the bar with a supinated (underhand grip), will have a slightly more upright torso (~30o angle with the floor), and you will pull the bar to your lower abs.

Related: Power-Up Your Gains With the Pre-Workout Combination of Vasky and Clash.

Although you’ll be a different grip compared to the traditional barbell, the Yates row hits the exact same muscle groups. However, Yates was known to use this row variation to emphasize lower lat, trapezius, and upper back involvement.

It primarily works latissiumus dorsi, middle and lower trapezius, middle back (rhomboids), posterior/rear deltoids, biceps (brachialis), forearms (brachioradialis), rotator cuff (infraspinatus, teres major and minor), and pectoralis major – sternal head. [1] The following muscles are involved to stabilize the movement – biceps (brachii), triceps (long head), erector spinae, hamstrings, gluteus maximus, adductors (magnus), and abdominals (rectus abdominis, obliques). [1]

MTS Nutrition CEO Marc Lobliner explains how to perform the Yates row, or reverse grip barbell row.

How to Perform the Yates Row

Begin by placing a barbell on the floor, selecting the appropriate working weight, and adding an even amount of weigh to both sides of the bar. Don’t place 55lbs on one side and 35lbs on the other side of the barbell; doing so won’t improve your gains and will likely lead to an injury.

If this is your first time performing the exercise then pick a conservative weight that you can safely lift for 8 to 12 repetitions. It’s completely acceptable to start with only the barbell itself. In short, the barbell row motion is like a reverse flat bench press.

Once you’ve selected the appropriate working weight, approach the bar with a hip-width stance. This stance is slightly narrower than the one used for traditional barbell rows; for some it’s their conventional deadlift stance. Your toes should be pointing forward or slightly outwards.

Once you’ve set your stance, grasp the bar with a supinated grip (palms facing towards you) slightly wider than hip-width. This will be narrower than the one used for traditional barbell rows. If your grip is too wide you’ll significantly decrease your range-of-motion. If your grip is too narrow then your elbows may hit your legs during the pulling portion.

To begin the set pick up the barbell in a deadlift-like motion; you should be standing upright and bar should be about mid-thigh. While keeping your feet planted rigid, lean your torso forward to roughly a 30o angle; some knee bend is acceptable. Your torso will be more upright for Yates rows compared to traditional barbell rows.

Too much forward lean can place excessive torque on your lower back. Similar to barbell rows the bar will not touch the ground after every rep; this keeps tension on the lats and forces as isometric contraction of the back to stabilize the torso.

Before beginning the Yates row, or any row for that matter, ensure your neck remains in-line with the rest of your body for the duration of each set. The best cue to maintain a neutral neck position and spine is to look at and pretend there’s an imaginary object 10 feet in front of you on the floor. Looking down may lead to a rounded lower back and looking up may lead to a strained neck. Your lower back and spine tend to follow your neck and eyes.

Now that your torso is leaning at a 30 degree angle and your arms are fully extended (but not hyperextended), initiate the pull by flexing the lats and pulling your elbows back. Use your arms as levers for transferring power from your lats to the bar. As you begin pulling your shoulder blades should start retracting the bar will move closer to your body.

Pull the weight towards your lower abdominal, which for most is at or slightly below the belly button. The bar doesn’t have to touch your body for a rep to count; instead focus on ensuring the proper muscles are working and pull the bar to the point that your shoulders and back muscles allow you. This is not an excuse to limit your range of motion or use excessive body English (swaying, jerks, swinging, etc…) to complete the rep.

Once you get a nice contraction in the back at the top of the rep, slower lower the bar back to its starting position with your arms fully extended. After you’ve completed the number of desired repetitions place the bar on the floor and rest until the next step. As you increase the weight on barbell rows you may be tempted to use more body English but strive to keep the form as strict as possible.

This exercise can be performed using straight sets, drop sets, rest-pause sets, supersets, trisets, giant sets, paused reps, partial reps, forced reps, or slow negatives. As with any exercise, the two most important components are high-quality form and progression. Progression can take a variety of forms (e.g. more weight, sets, or reps, decreased rest period, improved rep quality, etc…) but strive to improve every time you walk in to the gym.

Yates Row Form Tips

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Strap Up – If your grip gives out before your back and biceps then don’t be afraid to use straps. Yates rows are a back and trap-building rather than a grip-building exercise.

The focus of this exercise should be to work the lats, upper back, and appropriate supporting muscles. Popular strap options Versa Gripps, Valeo, and Spud Inc.

Go Thumbless – Some people find they’re able to improve lat and overall back engagement, decrease arm involvement, and pull more weight using a thumbless grip. Wrap your thumb over the top of the bar, alongside the rest of your fingers, instead of underneath the bar.

Avoid Momentum – Control the pulling and lowering of the bar during each repetition. Don’t allow momentum to make the movement easier unless you’re performing an advanced technique like forced reps. Avoid rocking back during the pulling portion of the exercise otherwise the emphasis will move off the lats and on to the lower back.

As you become more advanced and proficient in your technique, feel free to initiate with an explosive pull to the torso followed by a slow lowering of the bar. Regardless of which repetition tempo you choose, you should remain in-control of the weight at all times.

Keep the Lower Back Neutral – Brace your abdominals for impact, as if you’re about to get punched. This tensing of the midsection will ensure your lower back stays neutral and doesn’t end up excessively arched or rounded.

References

1. “Barbell Underhand Bent-over Row.” ExRx (Exercise Prescription) on the Internet. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Oct. 2015.

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Name: Nick Ludlow

Bio: When it comes to fitness I enjoy reading about historic weight lifters, non-conventional weightlifting approaches, nutritional protocols, and the science behind supplements.