Why the Inverted Row Is One of the Best Back Training Exercises

The inverted row, an unsung hero for back training? 

When it comes to building a strong back, the inverted row is arguably one of the best exercises lifters can do. This dynamic back building exercise holds a ton of benefits for both beginners and experienced lifters. In fact, every level lifter can benefit with using more inverted rows and their variations in training. 

In this inverted row guide, we’ll cover a ton of different topics and questions that come along with this exercise.

  1. How-To: Inverted Row
  2. Benefits of the Inverted Row
  3. Inverted Row Progressions
  4. Inverted Row Alternatives
  5. Inverted Row Mistakes
  6. Programming the Inverted Row

If you’d rather watch than read, then check out our inverted row exercise video guide below!

How-To: Inverted Row

Sometimes watching a video isn’t enough and reading about a movement is better. If you want a written description for how-to perform the inverted row, along with cues to consider, then check out our guide below!

1.
Nail the Setup

Position yourself under a barbell in a Smith machine or squat rack. The bar placement should reflect the part of the back you’d like to train. Bar over or below the lower pecs = lats Bar over mid-upper pecs = upper back

Reach the arms up and make sure the bar is just barely out of reach to avoid making contact with the back in-between reps.

Grip the bar with a similar width that would be used for a barbell row.

2.
Begin the Row

Bring the hips off the ground into a neutral position, slightly contract the scapula, and initiate the row.

Drive the elbows to the ground and think “lead with the chest”.

3.
Contract and Descend

Opt for a bar with a squat pad if you can, or aim to bring the chest as close to the bar with what’s physically comfortable – it does not need to touch if there is no squat pad available.

Lower the body in a controlled fashion, maintain postures at the bottom, and repeat the process.

Benefits of the Inverted Row

The inverted row comes with handfuls of benefits for beginner and advanced fitness enthusiasts looking to improve muscle mass and hypertrophy, strength, and time spent in various rowing positions. 

In reality, beginner and advanced athletes will all benefit from the attributes listed above, however, it’s useful to breakdown some specific benefits and adaptations that the inverted row can have for these specific populations. 

Beginners

  • Foundational Strength Movement: This movement is great for developing a solid baseline level of back musculature. 
  • Easily Scalable: The inverted row can easily be modified for every strength and fitness level with easy form tweaks. 
  • Great for Teaching Back Muscular Contraction: This row variation is great for teaching beginners what it’s like to contract the lat and upper the back musculature, which can have carryover to other lifts. 

Intermediate/Advanced

  • Useful for Accumulating Volume: The inverted row is a useful movement for adding more volume to your back training. 
  • Easy On the Joints: Heavy rows and other loaded movements can take a toll on the body when working with heavy compounds as well, the inverted row is lighter on the joints and can still produce a solid stimulus. 
  • Great for Contractile Specificity: Need to improve your overall time under tension from a certain body/rowing angle? The inverted row is great for doing so. 

Inverted Row Progressions

One of the best parts of the inverted row is how easy this movement is to use progression with. There are multiple progressions beginners can use to work towards mastering the standard inverted row. 

1. Feet Bent Inverted Row

Beginner Inverted Row Progression
Beginner Inverted Row Progression

The true beginner will benefit with starting their inverted row mastery quest by bending the feet. This progression is great for beginners because it:

  1. Helps put the body in a more mechanically advantageous pulling position (decreases range of motion).
  2. Limits how much of one’s body weight they must lift. 
  3. Increases points of contact from the lower extremities, AKA increases stability.

2. Tempo Inverted Row

Inverted Row Guide
Inverted Row Guide

Once fitness enthusiasts have mastered the beginner progression and the standard inverted row, then they can progress into tempo focused inverted rows. These rows are great because they improve time under tension and can help enthusiasts focus on their back contractility. Try out the tempo 3112 below to get started, 

  • 3-second eccentric (lowering phase)
  • 1-second hold at the bottom
  • 1-second concentric (lifting phase)
  • 2-second hold at the top

3. Feet Elevated/Weighted

Weighted Inverted Row
Weighted Inverted Row

If you’re trying to really make the inverted row tougher, or you’re using it as a main pulling accessory, then elevating the feet or adding weight is an awesome option for increasing this movement’s difficulty. 

  • Elevating Feet: Use a box or bench. 
  • Adding Weight: Opt for rubber plates, or an even better option is using a weight vest. 

Inverted Row Alternatives

Like most movements, there are multiple exercises that can be substituted for the inverted row in the event you don’t have the equipment to perform them. Below, we’ve provided two alternatives that are similar to the inverted row and will warrant consistent adaptations. 

1. TRX Inverted Row

No rack? No problem. Grab a pair of TRX handles and string them atop any machine in the gym that can support your weight. This could be a cable machine or pull-up bar complex. 

2. Incline Chest Supported Row/Seal Row

The incline chest supported row and seal row are also great alternatives for the inverted row. They support the chest, which is great for focusing on back contractility and limited overall load on the spine, which will warrant a similar adaptation as the inverted row. 

Inverted Row Mistakes

The inverted row comes with a couple mistakes that are worth being mindful of to ensure you’re getting the most bang for your buck when performing this movement. 

1. Leading With the Hips

When performing inverted rows, make sure you actively lead with the chest and not the hips. Leading with the hips will limit your pulling potential and put your back in a position that’s not exactly advantageous when trying to increase strength and hypertrophy. 

Inverted Row Grip
Inverted Row Grip

2. Gripping Incorrectly

The inverted row’s grip will typically reflect what’s used in the barbell row. If you notice that your wrist angle is bent to the left or right when at the top of the row, then it might be time to reevaluate how you’re gripping the bar. 

Programming the Inverted Row

The inverted row can be programmed in multiple ways. In my opinion as a coach, the best way to think about this accessory specifically, is to base its use on the training adaptation you’d like to achieve. Since it’s a movement that can be easily scaled, then you have more opportunity to find use with very specific goals in mind. 

Below, I’ve included some basic ways you can use the inverted row in your weekly training. Feel free to modify and manipulate the below based on your skill levels and needs!

Beginners

  • Frequency: 2x/week 
  • Reps: 3 x 5-8 /1-day normal reps/1-day use a tempo of 4011
  • When to Use: Back days or upper body days

Advanced 

  • Frequency: 3x/week
  • Reps: 3 x 6-10 / 1- day normal reps/1-day as a warm-up/1-day with weight and tempo
  • When to Use: Pre-deadlift days, extra volume on pulling days, as light pulling movement after heavy pressing

Wrapping Up

Without a doubt, the inverted row should be a staple in your training. It’s a movement that be performed in virtually any gym and it’s an awesome foundational strength movement for building a strong back. 

Jake Boly

Jake Boly

Jake holds a Master’s in Sports Science and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. Currently, Jake serves as the Fitness and Training Editor at BarBend. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and has spoken at state conferences on the topics of writing in the fitness industry and building a brand.

As of right now, Jake has published over 1,300 articles related to strength athletes and sports. Articles about powerlifting concepts, advanced strength & conditioning methods, and topics that sit atop a strong science foundation are Jake’s bread-and-butter.

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