The Pull-Up is one of the most intimidating bodyweight exercises there are. And if you are not ready for this ultimate movement, you can always dial it back to inverted rows. This is a complete game-changer if you are working your way up to vertical pull-ups. They can be performed by anyone at any fitness level, be they powerlifters, weight lifters, or novice lifters.

The inverted row is great for muscle conditioning while providing back strength and improving one’s bodyweight pulling skills. Also termed as “down under” or Australian pull-ups, the inverted row is a great preparatory exercise for pull-ups or could be performed as a stand-alone exercise for a full-body workout.

By the end of this article, you will have learned the exact steps to successfully achieve inverted rows without straining your body, common mistakes to avoid and how to fix them, and all the essential information you will need to keep progressing with the inverted row movement.

We’ll Guide You On:

  • How To Do An Inverted Row
  • Inverted Row Benefits
  • Common Inverted Row Mistakes To Avoid
  • Inverted Row Muscles Worked
  • Inverted Row vs Pull Up
  • Our Trainer’s Suggested Reps, Sets, & Programs
  • Inverted Row Variations
  • Inverted Row Alternative Exercises
  • FAQs About Inverted Row

How To Do An Inverted Row

What You’ll Need: 

  • Squat Rack/Bench Rack: This will hold your Barbell so you can perform the inverted row safely. Opt for a rack with preferably multiple J-cup slots for your ease of height adjustment. A bench rack is ideal for shorter individuals to meet the appropriate height.
  • Barbell: This will be your main exercise equipment. You may use a standard bar or Olympic Bar of your choice. The length does not matter as long as you have a good grip on the barbell.

Alternative Equipment:

  • Smith Machine: A smith machine is a good alternative to a squat rack or a bench rack. It provides adjustable height levels from the get-go, making it more versatile and convenient for users.
  • TRX Suspension Straps: No bar? No problem. TRX straps can be attached from any sturdy anchor point and are conveniently adjustable to meet the ideal chest height level with your feet flat on the floor.
  • Gymnastics Rings: These are also great alternatives to a TRX strap, especially when you are focused on calisthenics or bodyweight movements and you prefer having your palms facing each other.

Step 1: Position Yourself Under the Barbell with a Straight Line

Go to your starting position by lying on the floor. Next, grab the bar from under with a grip slightly wider than shoulder-width and your arms fully extended. The bar should be parallel with your chest. Focus on an overhead grip until you can perform other variations like underhand grip. If you are struggling with the hand placement, do your standard bent-over-row grip. 

Step 2: Raise Your Upper Body From the Floor

Keep a straight line across your head to your toes by contracting your core. Imagine yourself to be in an upside-down plank position. With your hand in an overhand grip position, let your body suspend from the floor with only your heels remaining in contact with the floor.

Step 3: “Pull The Bar” Towards Your Body

As you raise your upper body, drive your elbows to the ground and lead the movement with your chest. Your chest should be aligned with the bar at the top of the movement but not necessarily touching. Make sure to retract your shoulder blades and engage your core and glutes to activate your full body and prevent lifting with your arms only.

Step 4: Pause At The Top

As your chest touches the bar ever so slightly, remember to hold the position at the top for a few seconds to give your back a great opportunity to engage further. Keep a straight line across your whole body and retract your shoulders all the way by imagining squeezing a tiny ball in between your shoulder blades.

Step 5: Descend with Full Control, Repeat

Lower your body in a controlled fashion and keep your body straight throughout the entire movement. Avoid dipping your hips to the floor and keep your glutes contracted. Repeat the process according to your program.

3 Inverted Row Benefits

1. Increases Body Weight Strength

Since the inverted row exercises heavily rely on individual body weight, your strength improves based on the reps you can perform. This is also a great opportunity to master your strength with time under tension at a program pace.

2. Scaled For Beginners and Experienced Lifters

The inverted row is an excellent exercise whether you are a beginner or an experienced lifter. It requires a great mind-muscle connection which makes it all the more beneficial for calisthenics and other bodyweight exercises. 

It also promotes core stability and grip strength, both of which are applicable and useful for everyday physical activities.

If you are not ready for vertical pull-ups or chin-ups, feel free to perform inverted rows for regression. This simple yet challenging move will assist in activating the right muscles, keeping your whole body strong and neutral, and your shoulders properly retracted for all exercises where it is necessary.

3. Improves Back Muscle Definition

As your upper body strength progresses, you definitely gain back muscle definition as well. Consider your transformation as the fruit of your labor and proof of proper form combined with strong pulling strength.

Common Inverted Row Mistakes to Avoid

Incorrect Bar Position

At the top of the inverted row, the bar should meet your body mid-chest. If the bar is too low, it will land on your waist. If it is too high, it will align with your neckline. To fix this, do a proper warm-up for a couple of reps to adjust your body under the bar. Then, follow the proper form in the sets as is to activate the right muscles. 

Too Wide or Too Narrow Grip

Wrong hand replacement can lead to injury, discomfort, or strained muscles. To correct this mistake, the hands should be placed slightly wider than shoulder-width. With your arms extended fully and the shoulders retracted, remember to lift with your back and not with your arms bending or shoulders shrugging.

Not Engaging the Glutes

It may come off as surprising to most people, especially beginners, but inverted rows incorporate the glutes in the process. Not engaging the glutes could put unnecessary strain on the arms and shoulders. Otherwise, when done properly, the glutes give power to the lift and keep the spine neutral all the way.

Inverted Row Muscles Worked

Inverted rows may look simple and completely achievable by anyone, but they are actually more challenging than meets the eye. Performing inverted rows activate the following muscles:

  • Latissimus dorsi
  • Biceps
  • Forearms
  • Posterior deltoids
  • Trapezius
  • Rhomboids

The large triangle on the back including the lats, delts, rhomboids, and traps, are the main targets of this exercise. The biceps and forearms assist in the lifting but should not take the brunt of the work. Else this is an injury waiting to happen.

Moreover, unlike pull-ups or chin-ups that largely rely on the upper body, inverted rows require engagement from the glutes and hamstrings as well. Suffice to say, inverted rows pass as a bodyweight row that works on the full body.

Inverted Row vs Pull Up

The pull-up and inverted rows both generate power from the back, biceps, and core in general. They are each categorized as a compound upper body exercise that works on multiple muscles, including rear deltoids, forearms, and biceps, as mentioned earlier.

When it comes to their main differences, the inverted rows are horizontal pull while the pull up is a vertical pull. Inverted rows require a grip wider than shoulder-width, while a pull-up requires a shoulder-width hand placement. Moreover, inverted rows work on the rhomboids and trap more, whereas the pull-up is more lat-focused.

Our Trainer’s Suggested Reps, Sets, and Programs:

For Hypertrophy

The key for muscle hypertrophy in performing the inverted row is muscle contraction. A good program for muscle building follows 8 to 15 reps for 3 to 5 sets using moderate to heavy loads. Rest for 90 to 120 seconds in between each set.

For Strength Training

Tempo training, combined with a higher number of reps, is famously done on bodyweight exercises. This increases the contraction felt on the back muscles even without adding weights to the routine. Perform 3 to 5 sets of 5 to 10 reps and choose weights from moderate to heavy load. Rest for 90 to 120 seconds in between each set.

For Improved Muscle Endurance

The advantage of performing a bodyweight upper body exercise is having the leverage to perform more reps over time. For endurance, try performing 20 to 30 reps for 2 to 3 sets with a shorter recovery window of 45 to 60 seconds between each set.

Inverted Row Variations

Many people find the inverted row challenging in itself. We completely understand why. But before you give up on this great exercise, let us show you a few variations you could try. These variations will help you optimize your stabilizer muscles so you can hit a good form both on your upper back and lower body.

Leg-Bent Inverted Row

The classic inverted row puts plenty of pressure on the back using one’s current body weight. You could lessen the impact of your own weight on this exercise by bending your legs 90º at the knees. Doing so reduces the range of motions, which also reduces the volume of your body weight and generally gives you a more stable position.

Tempo Inverted Row

As discussed in the training programs earlier, tempo training could further challenge your strength by focusing on timing. This means gaining muscles and strength within a shorter window. This includes the eccentric phase, the pause during eccentric, concentric, and the pause during concentric. Some famous tempo templates include 2020, 2310, 3010, and 4020.

Feet Elevated Inverted Row

This variation is a modified version to create a shorter range of motion. By propping your feet on a bench, you can lift more weight and essentially do more reps. Similar to other variations, elevated rows improve grip strength and incorporate lower body muscles at the same time.

Inverted Row Alternative Exercises

Even modified inverted row variations could pose challenges for extreme fitness beginners. By acknowledging this pain point, we came up with three Alternatives to Inverted Rows that could work on your back muscles and give you muscle mass just the same.

TRX Inverted Row

With a TRX band, there is no need to fuss with J cups, J, hooks, and bars. You can simply how far to position your feet to get the perfect angle and correct height to suit your bodyweight strength. You could even aim for a higher angle especially if this is your first time doing inverted rows.

Chest Supported Row

Inverted rows are done upside down, which means you are working against gravity while lifting your own body weight. If this is too much work for you, you could opt for the Chest Supported Row and do it with your body facing the floor. Doing so enables you to focus the contraction on your back muscles while utilizing free weights.

Barbell Bent Over Row

This Barbell Bent Over Row is another classic exercise that any novice or experienced lifter ought to master. This exercise basically engages the same muscles but is done the other way around. You could utilize free weight further and progress rapidly on the volume until such time that you could focus on inverted rows carrying your own body weight.

Frequently Asked Questions

Depending on the program you follow, inverted rows are excellent for muscle hypertrophy, strength training, and muscle endurance. These are also one of the many building blocks of performing an unassisted full pull-up.

The inverted row works on multiple muscles, including the lats, biceps, forearms, traps, rhomboids, and delts. This also requires a good amount of core and glutes activation.

With more premium equipment like the smith machine not an option at home, you may use two chairs to hold a bar or use a door frame to attach a retractable bar. Make sure that your bench is high enough to meet your waist height so you can fully extend your arms at the starting point. If a bar is not your preference, you could try TRX straps or gymnastic rings instead.

Inverted rows are bodyweight rows that can perfectly utilize your strength and assist in other pulling exercises. The simple pulling motion done in this exercise is essential in our day-to-day living, making its performance benefits exceed physique goals and muscle definitions. 

When done right, these bodyweight rows enable you to perform high reps on the bar or TRX row strap of your choice with good form and a reduced likelihood of injury, discomfort, or sprain. You could even modify or upgrade it depending on your fitness level.

So what are you waiting for? Go ahead, grab the bar and start rowing.

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