Bodyweight Basics Part 3: The Inverted Row

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Today’s article will focus on the inverted row. The inverted row is great for beginners since most people new to resistance training can’t perform a strict pull-up right out of the gate. This exercise is a way to build the requisite strength to graduate to a strict pull-up.

The Inverted Row

The main drawback of any type of pulling exercise is that you can’t perform one without some equipment, namely a pull-up bar, free weights, resistance bands, or suspension straps. Fortunately, your gym should have at least three of these pieces of equipment. The best to use for an inverted row is a barbell in a squat rack or Smith machine. These give you the ability to adjust the height of the bar and therefore control how hard the exercise will be. As you can see in the video, the lower the bar is, the harder the exercise will be, the higher up the bar, the less of your body weight you’re pulling, making the exercise easier.

Similar to the push-up, you want to create whole-body tension by bracing your midsection and squeezing your glutes to maintain a flat back and prevent the hips from sagging. Tightly grip the bar with either an over or underhand grip, lean back so the arms are fully extended. Initiate the pull by squeezing the shoulders together, and pulling the elbows back, pull up at a steady pace until your chest grazes the bar, then slowly lower yourself back to the starting position. As you pull, exhale, then inhale as you lower down. Maintain the total body tension to prevent the hips from sagging.

Progression is simple, the easiest version is to start with your chest under the bar and your feet flat, knees bent and your torso pressed up into a table position, as you see in the video. You’ll maintain a strong contraction in your glutes and drive the feet straight into the floor. When you get stronger, you can walk your feet further out and lower your hips into more or a reverse plank position. As always, increasing time under tension will increase the intensity as well. Do this by lowering yourself very slowly on each rep, taking 3 seconds to come back to the starting position.

Like the squat and push-up, you can apply the one and a half method here as well to make the movement more difficult. Pull all the way up, lower halfway down, pull back up, then lower all the way down.

To conclude, the inverted row is the best beginner exercise for building back and arm strength. It’s incredibly easy to modify to adjust to your current fitness level, and it’s easy to adapt as you get stronger. The strength you build here will carry over to the more advanced bodyweight exercise, the pull-up, which I’ll cover in the next installment.



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Daniel Tysinger

Daniel Tysinger

Fitness enthusiast & trainer who loves to squat, play with my kids and cats, and make beer.