Most bodybuilders have wide upper lats, but inadequate lower-lat width, or sweep. The good news is that getting at your lower lats can be as simple as turning your grip upside down. Yes, changing your grip from the customary overhand to a reverse (underhand) style can make a difference in what part of the back you emphasize with a rowing exercise.

Pulling your arms back with your hands in an underhand position involves the lower lats to a greater extent. When your elbows are out to your sides, such as for wide-grip pulldowns or rows, you utilize your upper lats more. But when your elbows are close to your sides–as in underhand pulldowns and rows–more of your lower lats are involved.

For complete back development, I include exercises with all types of hand positions: overhand, reverse, neutral and even mixed grip (one palm forward, one backward) for deadlifts. I do realize that I rely on reverse grips for more movements than other bodybuilders do. For lat pulldowns and barbell rows, in particular, I’ve personally found that a reverse grip engages my lower lats and, overall, I get a greater range of motion during the exercises.

Dorian Yates

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To further accentuate these effects, I employ a narrower grip than is common. When I move my hands closer in a reverse grip, I can stretch my lower lats more during the extension and pull my elbows farther back for the contraction.

The workout presented here includes two reverse-grip exercises: machine pulldowns and barbell rows. Machine pulldowns are first. I warm up with three pyramided, 10-rep sets, each one progressively heavier so that I max out on the third set. I then load it up so that my working set is all-out, for six to eight reps. I aim to get all eight reps by myself. In any case, I do at least six alone, plus two forced reps.

Reverse-grip barbell rows are third in this back arsenal, and my back is already pumped, so only one warm-up set of 15 reps is needed. I abandoned the underhand version and replaced it with the overhand version after I tore my left biceps in 1994, but, either way, my warm-up has to be heavy enough so that I’m mentally and physically ready for my all-out set of five or six full-range reps. If I can’t get another full-range repetition, I’ll add a three-quarter rep, then a half rep.

I highly recommend experimenting with different grip styles during your back workout. Each change can help spur new growth and adaptation, which is what the bodybuilding game is all about.


Exercise Sets Reps
Machine pulldowns (reverse grip) 1* 6-8
Chinups (overhand grip) 1 8
Barbell row (reverse grip) 1^ 5-6
Hammer Strength machine rows (neutral grip) 1 6-8
Back extensions 1 12-15
Deadlifts (mixed grip 1 8
* Preceded by three pyramided, 10-rep sets
^ Preceded by one warm-up set of 15 reps

NOTE: It took Yates nearly 10 years to evolve to his one-main-set-per-exercise strategy. Beginners and intermediates should perform two or three sets per exercise.