Inverted Row vs Pull Ups – Which Is Best for Back Development and Strength?

Two bodyweight movements that target the back are the inverted row and the pull up. Both movements are widely seen in early every training environment and with lifters of all levels. In this article we will compare and contrast the inverted row vs pull ups (strict).

The Inverted Row

Below is a brief video demonstration on the inverted row and some of the common ways to modify the movement.

The Pull Up (Strict)

Below is a brief video demonstration on the strict pull up and some of the common ways to modify the movement

Inverted Row vs Pull Up

When looking at the benefits of each, we see that both movement patterns are necessary for complete development of an athlete. Here’s why.

Degree of Difficulty

The strict pull up is one of the most challenging fundamental bodyweight exercises out there. Pulling one’s bodyweight vertically is often a coveted achievement along most men and women in fitness. Similar to the pull up is the inverted row, which has a lifter pull the majority of the bodyweight horizontally from the floor (or at angles). Because of the ability to use various leverages and angles (as well as the fact the the inverted row often has some part of the body load not supported by the lifter), the pull up is often seen as the more challenging movement.

Back Strength and Muscular Development

The back is comprised of a large muscle (latisimus dorsi) which spans the majority of the middle and upper back. Unlike other muscles in the body, the angles at which the muscle is attached (pennation angle) is not constant, and varies based on the specific region of the back.

It is for this reason that both rowing (horizontal pulling my) and pull up movements (vertical pulling) must be done within a training program to develop size, shape, thickness, and overall symmetry in the back.

Application to Gymnastic and Fitness Movements

Both movements, specifically for the above reason, are highly beneficial to gymnastic and basic fitness movements. Inverted pulls and the ability to pull oneself upwards with strength and body control is necessary for optimal performance on bars, rings, and other objects. The necessity to train and educate the body on how to develop force at various angles makes both movements equally important.

Ease of Modification

At first glance, the inverted row is more modifiable than the pull up, as all the lifter needs to do is drop their feet to the floor and step back. With that said, the pull up can and should be modified if they cannot perform numerous strict pullups, etc. This can be done by adding a band to assist the movement, which has the capacity to be manipulated based on the amount of band tension used as an assistance.

Grip, Arm, and Midline Stability

Both movements will create a good amount of grip and arm strength, all while requiring the athlete to remain in control of their core throughout the range of motion. I find inverted rows to challenge core control and arm strength more as the lifter often has less margin to compensate or rearrange body positioning than in the pull up (however I do find that L pull ups do a greasy job at addressing such issues).

Get Your Inverted Row On!

Check out these two articles over inverted rows and how to master them!

Featured Image: @t0ris_st0ry

Mike Dewar

Mike Dewar

Mike holds a Master's in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor's in Exercise Science. Currently, Mike has been with BarBend since 2016, where he covers Olympic weightlifting, sports performance training, and functional fitness. He's a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and is the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at New York University, in which he works primarily with baseball, softball, track and field, cross country. Mike is also the Founder of J2FIT, a strength and conditioning brand in New York City that offers personal training, online programs for sports performance, and has an established USAW Olympic Weightlifting club.

In his first two years writing with BarBend, Mike has published over 500+ articles related to strength and conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, strength development, and fitness. Mike’s passion for fitness, strength training, and athletics was inspired by his athletic career in both football and baseball, in which he developed a deep respect for the barbell, speed training, and the acquisition on muscle.

Mike has extensive education and real-world experience in the realms of strength development, advanced sports conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, and human movement. He has a deep passion for Olympic weightlifting as well as functional fitness, old-school bodybuilding, and strength sports.

Outside of the gym, Mike is an avid outdoorsman and traveller, who takes annual hunting and fishing trips to Canada and other parts of the Midwest, and has made it a personal goal of his to travel to one new country, every year (he has made it to 10 in the past 3 years). Lastly, Mike runs Rugged Self, which is dedicated to enjoying the finer things in life; like a nice glass of whiskey (and a medium to full-bodied cigar) after a hard day of squatting with great conversations with his close friends and family.

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