Exercise Spotlight: Inverted Row

By Molly Galbraith

Inverted row. Inverted pull-up. Horizontal pull-up. Fat man row. Ring row.

Inverted Row

The exercise has many names, but honestly? We don't care what you're calling it, as long as you're doing it. So what is so great about the inverted row? We are so glad you asked!

Unfortunately many of us spend more time training the muscles we can see in the mirror than the ones we can't. It just human nature. That means we are doing a lot more work for our chest, biceps, shoulders, and quads than we are for our glutes, hamstrings, and backs.

Let's go ahead and fix that reeeeeeal quick!

It's no secret that we love pull-ups and believe they are the king of upper body exercises, but let's face it — they are stinkin' hard!

That doesn't mean we shouldn't do them, of course. (heck, all of the GGS ladies love pull-ups) but if you can't do them (yet!) inverted rows are a great way to work towards your first pull-up.

This back is the results of a lot of Pull-ups and Inverted Rows.

This back is the results of a lot of Pull-ups and Inverted Rows.

(Pssst...Even if you can do pull-ups, inverted rows are still valuable. The inverted row is a horizontal pull, instead of vertical pull like the pull-up, so you are challenging different muscles in your back to a different degree with this exercise. You can also load up the inverted row with a weight vest or chains, and you can play around with slower reps so you spend more time under tension).

OK, so why do we love the inverted row again? Oh yeah, it:

1. Increases upper body strength, specifically in the upper back, traps, and biceps.

2. Challenges core stability. It's extremely challenging to keep your ribs down, while simultaneously keeping your chest out, your glutes tight, and pulling your shoulder blades back and down.

3. Can be modified on the fly. As seen in the video below, you can quickly and easily make the movement more challenging by walking your feet down, or less challenging by walking your feet back. This allows you to modify the exercise as you get tired to ensure that you maintain perfect form through your whole set, while still being challenged.

4. Is fantastic for all experience levels. The inverted row has dozens of variations and you can find the appropriate variations for almost any ability level.

Beginners: Inverted Row Static Hold

Beginners will do best simply holding the inverted row statically at the midpoint. Simply pull your shoulder blades back and down as you pull your wrists toward your torso. Then slowly walk your feet down so that your body is at more of a horizontal angle and until you feel challenged from having to support your body weight. Hold this for 5–10 seconds, walk your feet back up and repeat 1–2 times.

As you get stronger you can: walk your feet down farther, hold the position for longer, or perform the actual full inverted row.

Intermediates: Inverted Row

Intermediates will be fine performing repetitions of a full inverted row, although it can be beneficial to occasionally throw some static holds into your program for a little variety. Make sure you only walk your feet down as far as you can perform the inverted row with good form. The more horizontal your body is, the more body weight you will be pulling. If you find you've walked your feet too far and are having trouble finishing your set, feel free to walk your feet back to make it a little bit easier. Generally 3–4 sets of 8–12 reps is good for this exercise.

Advanced: Optional Added Resistance, Elevating Your Feet, and/or Incorporating Other Exercises

Advanced lifters have a lot of options when performing the inverted row. If you've mastered the regular inverted row, you can start elevating your feet, adding a weight vest or chain, or performing them in conjunction with other exercises.

  • See the inverted row to leg curl here.
  • See the 1-legged inverted row here.
  • See the stability ball inverted row here.

Advanced lifters have a much wider set/rep range to work with depending on the variation they are performing. Three to five sets of as few as 5 or as many as 20 reps can be perfect for advanced lifters depending on goals.

Tips for Performing Inverted Rows Correctly:

1. Squeeze your shoulder blades back and down. You don't want to initiate the row by shrugging your traps up to your ears. That's a quick way to end up with a bad headache. Focus on pulling your shoulder blades down into your back pockets as you pull them together.

2. Stop when your elbow and shoulder are in-line with one another. You don't want to pull your elbows back really far and allow your shoulder to glide forward, as this is a poor position for the shoulder and it can aggravate existing shoulder issues. Think about pulling so that your wrists end up just in front of your torso.

3. Keep your ribs down. Many people will try to increase their range of motion by flaring their rib cage and hyper-extending through their spine as they row. Not only is this putting undue stress on your lower back, but it's lengthening your anterior core (i.e. your abs) so they can't stabilize your body as effectively. If you need to, take a big deep breath and drive your rib cage down towards your pelvic as you exhale to set your ribs in the right position.

4. Keep your glutes tight. Keeping your glutes tight and fully extending your hips will turn the inverted row into a full body strength and stability exercise. It will also prevent you from using momentum to perform the exercise.

5. Adjust your feet. Don't be afraid to adjust your feet in the middle of your set to make the exercise easier or harder. If you are supposed to perform 8 reps, and around rep 4 you are starting to break form, simply walk your feet back and lighten the load. This will allow you to perform the exercise with good form while still being challenged.

Now that you know everything you need to know about the inverted row, you have no excuse not to throw them in your program. Give them a try and let us know what you think!

What's Next?

Curious how to implement inverted rows into your training program? We can help! We’re experts at helping women figure out exactly what they need to be doing with their training program to achieve the results they want without letting the gym take over their life.

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About the author:  Molly Galbraith

Molly Galbraith, CSCS is co-founder and woman-in-charge at Girls Gone Strong, a global movement of 800,000+ folks passionate about women’s health, fitness, and empowerment. She’s also the creator of the The Girls Gone Strong Academy, home of the world’s top certifications for health and fitness pros who want to become a Certified Pre-& Postnatal Coach or a Certified Women’s Coaching Specialist.   The GGS Academy is revolutionizing women’s health and fitness by tackling critical (and often overlooked) topics like body image struggles, disordered eating, menopause, amenorrhea and menstrual cycle struggles, PCOS, endometriosis, osteoporosis, pre- and postnatal exercise, incontinence, diastasis recti, pelvic organ prolapse, postpartum recovery, and much more.   Learn more about Molly on her website and connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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