On a mission to build more upper body strength? Look no further than the inverted row—a dynamite, all-in-one move that packs a serious punch for your muscles. Essentially a horizontal pull-up, the inverted row (also known as a supine row) is arguably easier than the traditional vertical pull-up, but don’t be fooled! This compound exercise targets multiple muscle groups to bring about a burn that will leave you fired up long after the workout.
That’s not all. It’s also a superb move for your shoulder stability as it requires you to control the position of your scapula. The inverted row is a workout suitable for all levels, and with various regressions and progressions, the exercise allows you to play around with body positions and hand grips to keep things fresh. Eager to learn more? Below, our experts reveal everything you need to know to get started with the inverted row.
MEET THE EXPERT
- Dani Schenone, CPT, is a fitness expert at Mindbody.
- Debra Atkinson, MS, CSCS, and ACE Medical Exercise Specialist, is the founder of Flipping Fifty.
Benefits of the Inverted Row
The inverted row is a “pulling” movement, simply meaning, your muscles contract as you pull the weight toward you, and extend (lengthen) as you move it away.
As opposed to the pull-up, which is very lat-focussed, Dani Schenone, CPT and fitness expert at Mindbody explains that the inverted row works the traps, rhomboids, erector spinae, delts, biceps, hamstrings, glutes and more, This explains why the exercise is optimal for improving posture as the traps and rhomboid muscles help to pull your shoulders back into alignment.1
“It also helps to balance the muscles in the front and back of the body as the inverted row uses more than one muscle group simultaneously,” adds Schenone. And, as it enlists a blend of muscle groups, it’s a great workout for beginners to build up your overall strength.
Other benefits include:
- Increased grip strength: The stronger your grip strength, the easier it is to perform everyday activities such as grasping, tearing, lifting and twisting (think of that pesky pickle jar!). As you tightly grip the bar (or handles) during an inverted row, you will naturally improve your ability to grasp with a firmer hold. This importance in noted in studies as a marker for health, given grip strength has been shown as an indictor for good overall health..2
- Improved progress: Due to its compound nature, you will likely see improved strength and results at a quick pace. That’s because compound exercises builds strength faster than isometric exercises, which hone in one muscle group at a time. As a bonus, they’re a time-saver at the gym and burn additional calories to isolation movements. Win-win!
- Recruits the lower body: The inverted row is an overall body exercise as it also enlists the core and lower extremities. Throughout the movement, both the hamstrings and glutes must contract to stabilize the body as it remains steady in a straight line.
How to Perform the Inverted Row
As demonstrated by MS, CSCS, and ACE Medical Exercise Specialist Debra Atkinson, the inverted row is performed as follows. You can interchange the cable bar with a barbell, TRX or a low, sturdy, affixed bar.
- Position your chest under the bar at a suitable height so your body is at a 45-degree angle or slightly higher than hip height.
- Place your hands slightly further than shoulder width apart and hold the bar with an underhand (palms up) grip.
- Walk the feet forward until your body straight is in a straight line. Then, retract the scapula (shoulder blades) before you lift the body toward the bar, leading with the chest.
- Lower slowly back down, maintaining the retraction of the shoulder blades, and stop just before you reach a full arm extension.
Start by getting used to the movement and mastering your form before pushing the rep count up to 15 for three to four sets.
How to Modify
Whether the inverted row is new to you and you want to drop the workout intensity, or you’re a pro who wants to step it up a level, there are a number of ways to regress and progress this exercise.
Make It Easier
- Place the bar higher so your body is only at a slight angle and follow through with the same movement as instructed above.
- You can maintain a slight bend in your knees and you bring your feet closer to you to reduce the bodyweight you lift.
- Complete 15 repetitions for a few rounds with proper form before advancing.
Make it More Challenging
- Set your bar at a point where you can lay on the ground with full arm extension and without hitting the surface with each repetition.
- Position your chest under the bar and grip it slightly wider than shoulder width apart.
- Lift your chest to the bar, keeping your entire body in a straight line.
- Perform as many repetitions as you can and max out at 15. Take around five seconds to lower back down for added difficulty.
Another variation is to play around with handgrip orientation by pronating your palm for an overhand grip, targeting more of the lats.
Although the inverted row is a beginner-friendly exercise to strengthen the back, arms and legs, there are a few things to consider in order to ensure your safety. As will all strength training exercises, proper alignment is a priority to avoid injuries, especially in the lower back, and focus on maintaining a steady breathing pattern (breathe out as you push and in as your release) to avoid unintentionally holding your breath and adding strain on the body.4
With the inverted row in particular, Schenone cautions it may not be suitable for anyone with arm, back, shoulder, leg injuries or painful joints, given the load it places on the body.
If this exercise is completely new for you, start by mastering the movement and build up the repetitions one at a time to progress at a safe and steady pace.