Two Awesome Upper Body Exercises

By Alli McKeeFebruary 29, 2016

Two Awesome Upper Body Exercises

The inverted row and the bear crawl are two fantastic upper body exercises for women. The inverted row strengthens and develops the muscles in the mid to upper back, and to a lesser extent, the arms. The bear crawl is essentially a travelling plank that strengthens the entire body.

Equipment needed:

To perform the inverted row, 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. To perform the bear crawl, you just need your bodyweight.

Ability level:


With the inverted row, the more upright the body is, and the more bent the knees are, the easier the 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.

As for the bear crawl, beginners should master the forward crawl variation first before they progress to more advanced options.


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 of an intermediate fitness level can use the bear crawl as part of a general workout before compound strength exercises or conditioning circuits are performed. The bear crawl can also be used at the end of the workout as part of a core circuit. You can also make it part of a conditioning circuit. Intermediate lifters might perform 2-4 sets of a 10-25 meter bear crawl.


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.

Women who are comfortable with the bear crawl may choose to perform the bear crawl in different directions. You can perform the lateral bear crawl and backward bear crawl, and can include these variations the same ways as described for intermediate lifters. Women who have gained the requisite levels of strength and stability can perform weighted bear crawls where they place a weight plate or chain on their mid-back, or they can opt for Prowler sled bear crawls where they perform the bear crawl while pulling the Prowler sled.

Benefits of Inverted Rows and Bear Crawls:

Both of these exercises for the upper body offer a tremendous number of benefits. 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 a woman chooses to use a bear crawl is highly dependent on her overall technical ability and experience, the length of each set, where it falls in the workout, what it’s paired with, and what the rest periods are. In general bear crawls can be used to do any or all of the following:

  • increasing core strength, particularly in the anterior core
  • increasing scapular stability and the overall health of the shoulders
  • increasing full body muscular endurance
  • improving posture and the stability of the ribs, spine, and pelvis
  • fat loss (if your diet and exercise routines are conducive to fat loss)
  • conditioning (if used as part of conditioning circuits)

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.
  • For more details, please view the upper body exercise video.

How to perform a Bear Crawl:

  • Get into a pushup position but place your hands so they are wider than shoulder width, and are slightly turned out.
  • Set your feet so they are wider than shoulder width.
  • Position your body so it's in a straight line from head to hips, and maintain this position for the duration of the exercise.
  • Your spine must remain in neutral alignment.
  • While maintaining this alignment and not allowing any rotation or collapsing to occur in the pelvis, ribs, or spine, walk forwards on your hands and feet.
  • Your steps should be relatively small, and always controlled.
  • Keep your shoulders pinned, and ribs tucked towards your hips (close the space in your midsection).
  • Make sure that you are breathing properly (deep breaths through your nose and into your belly, and exhale through your mouth).
  • Crawl for the desired distance.

Video Transcription: 

Hi, Molly Galbraith here with Girls Gone Strong. And today I am going to give you two of my favorite exercises to make your arms look awesome.

One of them is the is the inverted row. The inverted row is a horizontal rowing exercise or pulling exercise. You can use something like this, you can use rings, you can also attach a bar on the squat rack to get underneath the bar. The most important thing here is that when you do the row that you're not rowing mostly with your upper back, and you’re not letting your elbow go past your shoulder. The shoulder is in a nice, happy position when it's in line with the elbow, so when you do the row, make sure you don't row back like this.The other great thing about the inverted row (especially on the rings) is that you can change the intensity at any time. The more upright you are, the less of your weight that you are rowing. And the more you walk your feet down, the more of your weight that you are rowing. The cool thing is that you can change it on the fly. Sometimes I will walk my feet down, do a couple [reps], and if I get tired I can walk my feet back up. You can also elevate your feet on a bench if this is too easy for you.

You can do a static hold - we do that with a lot of our beginners. We have them get into position, hold their shoulders blades back and down, squeeze their upper back and walk their feet down a little bit. I will show you that variation first. Pulling your shoulder blades back and down, also keep your ribs down, walk your feet down a little bit, keep your body in a nice straight line. That would be our beginner variation. An intermediate variation is to just walk your feet down a little bit, then rowing. Again you don't want to lead with your head or fling your body, you want to stay in a nice straight line. For it to be a little bit more advanced you walk your feet down more. If you want you can even elevate your feet or add a chain. So that’s one of my favorites, you need minimal equipment for that.

The other one that is one of my favorites is actually a bear crawl. We really use this for anterior core exercise, but if you do this a couple of times you will see it’s fantastic for triceps, shoulders, chest, and back. There are a couple of different variations of the bear crawl. I will show you the one we use at J&M Strength and Conditioning. We start out in a pushup position but hands and feet a little bit wider and turned out slightly. You want your body in a nice straight line. Think of it like a moving plank - take really small steps and try not to let anything from here to here move. It looks like this. And all it takes is about 20 to 30 yards of bear crawls to really wear you out. You can also add a chain around your waist. Sometimes we use bands and attach our clients to a prowler or some kind of apparatus to make it a little more difficult. So that is the inverted row and that's the bear crawl which you don't need any equipment for. Hope you guys enjoyed it.


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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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