Inverted Row

How To Do An Inverted Row
By Alli McKeeMarch 1, 2016

Inverted Row Exercise

The inverted row is a great exercise to strengthen the musculature of the back and core. It also strengthens the shoulders, and to a lesser degree, the arms. Depending on what grip you choose to use, different muscles will be targeted. You can use a chin-up or pull-up grip, and if you are on a TRX or rings, you can use a neutral grip.

Equipment needed:

You will need a TRX, rings, a Smith Machine or a barbell that is set up in a squat rack, to perform this bodyweight exercise. If you have a TRX, you can do your inverted rows at home.

Ability level:


The more upright the body is, and the more bent the knees are, the easier the inverted row exercise will be. Beginners should start out by keeping their body in a more vertical position and should master the basic inverted row technique. Once they have done this, they can make the exercise more challenging by walking their feet farther forward so their body is in more of a diagonal position. Beginner lifters might perform 1-3 sets of 8-15 reps of inverted bodyweight rows.


The inverted row is a great option for lifters with an intermediate level of experience, who have mastered the basic inverted row form. If an upper body pulling workout is being performed, lifters should place the inverted row after they have performed the more advanced compound movements with the barbell or dumbbells, or more advanced bodyweight exercises like pull-ups or chin-ups. If a full-body workout is being performed, the inverted row can be paired with a lower body compound movement, or an upper body pressing movement. You can also make it part of a conditioning circuit. Intermediate lifters might perform 2-4 sets of 6-12 reps of the inverted row exercise. Intermediate lifters can also make this exercise more challenging by straightening their knees (but do not hyperextend them).


Women who are comfortable with the inverted row may choose to make this exercise more challenging by elevating their feet on a bench, and/or can use additional resistance in the form of bands, chains, or a weight plate (rest on lap). The inverted row may also be used as part of a conditioning circuit. Women can also make this exercise more challenging by performing negative rows and lowering the body in 3-5 seconds as this increases the eccentric component of the movement, or by pausing for a few seconds while in the top position and challenging the muscles concentrically.

Benefits of Inverted Rows:

How a woman chooses to use an inverted row is highly dependent on her overall technical ability and experience, how much bodyweight resistance or additional resistance is being used, the set/rep scheme used, where it falls in the workout, what it’s paired with, and what the rest periods are. In general, inverted rows can be used to do any or all of the following:

  • increasing upper body strength, primarily in the back
  • increasing upper body strength in the shoulders, and to a lesser degree, the musculature of the upper arms and forearms
  • increasing core strength in the erectors, scapula stabilizers, and the anterior core
  • building muscle
  • fat loss (if your diet and exercise routines are conducive to fat loss)
  • conditioning (if used as part of conditioning circuits)
  • can be performed at home or while travelling

How to perform an Inverted Row:

  • Set your feet so they are hip to shoulder width apart and are on a floor or bench. The farther forward your feet are, and the more horizontal your body is, the more challenging the exercise will be.
  • If you are using a bar, adopt a chin-up or pull-up grip. If you are using rings or a TRX, you have the option of using a neutral grip (palms facing each other)
  • Before each rowing movement (or at least every few if you are able to maintain your form), take a deep breath into your belly (360 degrees of air around your spine), brace your core (I like to pretend that I am about to block a soccer ball with my stomach), lightly tuck your rib cage towards your hips (close the space in your midsection, and squeeze your glutes.
  • Initiate the movement with your back, not by pulling with your arms. You should feel the muscles of your back squeeze your shoulder blades together and down. You can pretend that you are tucking each shoulder blade into the opposite back pocket of your pants.
  • Lead with your elbows, not your forearms and hands. Otherwise your forearms and arms will dominate.
  • Stop the movement when your shoulder blades can no longer move together and when your arms are in line with your sides. Do not allow your elbows to travel well past your sides.
  • On the lowering portion of the row, stop the movement before the front of your shoulders collapse and rotate forward. They should remain pinned back for the duration of the exercise. On the lowering portion, your shoulder blades should protract and upwardly rotate (opposite movement from when you are pulling your body up)
  • Maintain a neutral spine for the duration of the exercise. Your body should remain in a straight line from your head to heels, or hips if your knees are extremely bent.
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps

Video Transcription: 

The next exercise that I am going to demonstrate is a inverted row and some of its variations. An inverted row can be don on e a TRX, it can be done on these rings, it can be done on a smith machine or with a bar set up on a rack - there are tons of different variations. We like the rings because it gives you a little bit more freedom of movement for your grip and also because it works really well in a class setting. So with an inverted row, the cool thing about this is that you can modify how difficult it is almost instantly on the fly. The farther you walk down the more difficult it is because you're lifting more of your body weight. If you think about, if you are standing right here rowing you are not really rowing anything. If you lean back a little bit, ok now you are starting to have to pull some of your body weight. If you walk your feet all the way down you are having to pull most of your body weight.

Looking at proper form, we see a lot of people do the inverted row, especially woman using too much of their upper traps and putting their elbow and shoulder in a really poor position. They don't know how to have their shoulder blades glide properly over their rib cage so they can just rip their elbows back and shrug their shoulders. What we like to see is to start with the grips or palms facing the floor actually the externally rotate the hands so that when you end at the mid point that your palms are facing each other, we find that helps people get their shoulders back and down and squeeze their shoulder blades together.

You want to stay really tight, there is a tendency to thrust through the mid section to get a little bit of momentum to get yourself up to the top. We also find people leading with their head a little bit, I struggle with that one, again your head wants to go where your body is going you body wants to go where your head’s going. So a lot of people throw their head forward to do this. So there are a couple of common mistakes that you see.

The basic inverted row is just grab the handles, walk yourself down to where you feel comfortable and you are going to pull your elbows right by your side and squeeze your shoulder blades together, squeeze your upper back. If you want to make it more difficult, you just walk your feet down more, if you want to make it more easier you can bend your knees and that will take some of the weight off. The whole time you should be shooting for your ribs down and your glutes tight.

The way that we teach an inverted row to someone who hasn't done one before, and this is a great beginner level but can be used for people who are a little bit more advanced, is to get them into a mid point position before they start adding any of their body weight. Get in the mid point position, shoulder blades back and down, get your hands where they would be, and then walk yourself down and just hold it. They can feel what it feels like to use their mid back to pull their shoulder blades back and down without having to lift their body weight first.

This static inverted row (or the inverted row hold) is what I just demonstrated,  just pulling your shoulder blades back and down. In the regular inverted row you can do it with your legs straight or your knees bent. If you want to make it a little bit more difficult you can always elevate your feet onto a bench. The other nice thing about the inverted row is that if you get tired you can walk your feet back. In the middle of the set I might get a few reps down here and as I get tired I can just walk my feet back, instantly make it a little bit easier so I can do my whole set with good form. That's the inverted row and all of its variations.


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About the author:  Alli McKee

Alli is a certified strength and conditioning specialist. She's contributed to and modeled for a number of major publications including Oxygen magazine and the New Rules of Lifting: Supercharged. You can find out more about Alli on her personal blog at

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