Why You Need The Inverted Row and 5 Variations

The inverted row goes by many names. You may have heard it called the ring row, the horizontal pull-up, or the fat man’s row just to name a few. Well fat guys aren’t the only ones who can use the inverted row to get strong. Whatever you call the exercise, it is one that should be in your training program.

Why the Inverted Row?

The inverted row is great for building upper body strength, attack your upper back, traps, biceps, and grip. We could all especially use more upper back strength. They say you can tell how strong a man is by the size of his back.

A strong upper back can also have implications in musculoskeletal health. It is pivotal for having proper posture and having a happy spine.

The inverted row also trains your core to remain stable as you must keep the mid-portion of your body in a neutral and stable position.

The inverted row is also easily progressed and regressed. We will go over this later in the article. The fact that they can be progressed and regressed easily makes this a perfect exercise for just about anybody, of any skill level. It is a great starting point for those who are not able to do a full pull-up as well while still building the requisite strength needed for the pull-up.

An added advantage off the inverted row is that it is safer on the lower back compared to other horizontal row variations like the bent over barbell row. Because the line of pull is not hanging out in from of the body and trying to bend you in half, the spine is spared from the stress.

Progressing the Inverted Row

Progression the inverted row is easy to do and does not take a rocket science to figure it out. You can also perform the exercise with gymnastic rings, a suspension trainer (a TRX for example), or a barbell in a squat rack.

The intensity, or the difficulty of the exercise, can be increased based on the angle of your body. The more upright your body is the less intense the exercise becomes. The same is true in the opposite direction. The smaller the angle between your body and the ground, the harder the exercise becomes.

Check out this nifty diagram to visually explain how to increase or decrease the intensity of the inverted row.

Check out this video to see the difference in body angles

How to Perform Inverted Rows Correctly

  1. Sqeeze your shoulder blades down and back. Focus on pulling your shoulder blades down to the opposite pocket
  2. Do not allow elbows to move past the shoulder. This will prevent your shoulder form gliding anteriorly, a mechanism that can often cause shoulder pain and aggravate previous shoulder injuries.
  3. Squeeze your glutes. This will help you keep a neutral spine and prevent your hips from sagging. This turns the exercise into more than an upper body exercise. Now the entire body becomes involved.
  4. Slowly “lower” yourself down as to eliminate momentum and to create more time under tension.

Inverted Row Variations

Once you have become proficient in the inverted row and are now dominating a fulling inverted row, the story isn’t over. There are multiple ways to increase the intensity of the exercise as well as create more variation.

1. Feet-elevated Inverted Rows

By elevating your feet up on a bench or a plyobox, you create even more intensity and increase the range of motion of the exercise. Start with a slight elevation, such as with a 12 inch box and slowly increase the height as you become stronger.

The fully inverted row can also be regressed by bending the knees instead of keeping the entire body straight. This can make for a fun mechanical advantage drop set. Once you have fatigued with the straight-leg variation, bend the knees to knock out a few more reps to really finish the working muscles off. Makes for a great finisher with a massive muscle pump.

2. Add Weight

Like most any resistance exercise, increased load will make the exercise more difficult and the inverted row is no different. By adding load to the body you can make this a serious strength builder.

If you are lucky enough to train in a gym that has chains these can be a great way to add resistance. A weighted vest or a backpack with load(warn on your front side) can be an alternative way to load the exercise.

3. Change Grip

Slight changes in your grip can increase or decrease the difficulty of the inverted row. The pronated (overhand) grip is considered the most difficult, with a neutral and underhand grip decreasing the difficulty.

Changing the grip can make for another intense drop set. Start with an overhand grip and complete 6-8 reps, or to failure (your grip and arms will probably be the first to fatigue). Then switch to a neutral grip followed by an underhand grip for 6 to 8 reps each. Once again, you’ll walk away feeling like your sleeves may split from the muscle pump.

Using rings or a suspension trainer allows you to change the grip without ever having to stop and adjust. Simply turning your hands in or out will do the job.

4. Isometric Holds

Isometric holds at the top position, or the most challenging position, not only increases the time under tension but the difficulty. Try adding a 1 to 3 second hold at the top of each rep.

5. One-arm Rows

By doing the inverted row with one arm at a time, you add a rotary stability challenge. Here is the basic version but there are variations that you can experiment with here as well.

What’s Next?

So not sure how to implement the inverted row and it’s variations into your program? I’d be happy to help. Contact me for more information on how I can help you become a stronger version of yourself and become a badass on the inverted rows with online training