The Yates Row is a back exercise named after 6-time Mr. Olympia Dorian Yates who popularized its use.
The exercise works all of the back muscles, particularly the lats and upper/middle traps. Dorian credits much of his incredible back development to this exercise.
Although the Yates Row is similar to the bent over barbell row, there are some important differences.
Differences Between Yates Row and Bent Over Barbell Row:
First, the upper body is kept more upright, around halfway between being level with the floor and fully upright.
For most people this will make the Yates Row easier on the lower back than a traditional barbell row where the upper body is almost parallel with the floor.
The more upright position involves the upper and middle trap muscles more as well since the shoulder blades are pulled more together and slightly upwards.
When the upper body is more upright, it also makes it easier to keep the spine’s natural arch (not rounded) which is critical for getting a good lat contraction.
Unfortunately, the upright body position also limits the amount of stretch you can get at the bottom of the exercise so the lats are being worked more in the mid-range to full contraction position.
Another difference between the barbell row and the Yates Row is the direction the bar travels.
In a barbell row the less upright body position means that in the stretch position (arms hanging downwards) the bar will be below the knees.
With the knees in the way, the bar needs to be rowed toward the middle/upper stomach area which can point (flare) the elbows outward away from the body making a full lat contraction difficult.
In the Yates Row, the upper body is more upright so the bar starts around the knees or just slightly above.
Without the knees in the way, the ideal path for the bar to follow now is right up the thighs (quads) directly into the waist. Many people will find that this helps them get a stronger lower lat contraction than they can during a barbell row.
The Yates Row also uses a supinated (underhand) grip instead of a pronated grip (overhand) like in the barbell row. Dorian found that this grip would create a more intense lower lat contraction.
But using this grip also means the biceps are in a more vulnerable position as Dorian found out when he tore his biceps during the exercise. After this injury he had to switch his grip back to overhand.
If you use the underhand (supinated) grip, it’s very important to focus on trying to pull the ELBOWS back, not the HANDS.
The hands need to be treated just as hooks to reduce the tendency to try and curl the weight up by pulling the hands back. FOCUS on moving the elbows, not the hands or bar.
I find that keeping your grip loose also helps to not pull with the biceps as much. Of course, I have to use wrist straps to be able to hold the bar. You can also do as Dorian did and use an overhand (pronated) grip instead.