Bodyweight exercises are among the most effective exercises for building strength and muscle mass.
However, for most trainers, the only bodyweight exercises for the back that they know are the pull-up or chin-up.
While the pull-up is definitely effective, it can be too challenging for some or not challenging enough for others. Also, pull-ups don't fully address the different positions the back is capable of working in.
Enter the Inverted Row. It gives all the significant benefits of a bodyweight exercise while actually improving on the regular barbell, dumbbell and cable row by taking the lower back completely out of the movement.
Today, you're going to learn four variations of the pull-up row that target the total beginner all the way to the very advanced.
Note about rows: it's important with all rowing movements to keep your lower back arched. This position prevents injuries and helps put the lats in their best position for activation.
1. Beginner Level - Standing Inverted Rows
To perform the Standing Inverted Row, all you need is something solid to grab onto, like a pole or a railing. You can grab directly onto it or loop a towel around it, grasping the ends of the towel.
Set your feet close to the bottom of what you're holding onto and lean back to arms-length. Keep your entire body straight and stiff - the only movement will come at the elbows and shoulders.
Pull yourself up towards the pole, squeezing the muscles in your back hard. Lower yourself back down, letting your arms straighten out, and repeat.
As you get stronger with these, you can also do them holding on with only one arm and pulling up one arm at a time.
This is the best version for the complete beginner. Simply grip onto a pole or other solid object, place your feet near the bottom of it and row yourself up.
For a little more range of motion and more resistance, loop a towel around the solid object and grip onto the ends.
As you pull up, squeeze your back muscles.
You can also pull the ends of the towel out to the sides as you pull yourself up for an extra bit of squeeze.
2. Beginner to Intermediate Level - Lying Inverted Rows
The Lying Inverted Row requires something solid that you can lay under and grab onto. It you're at home, this could be a very sturdy horizontal railing (be sure it's strong!). If you're at the gym, you can set a Smith Machine bar or power rack bar to a couple of feet off the ground.
Sit underneath the bar and grasp it with a shoulder-width, underhand grip.
Move your feet out and away, putting yourself into a laying position while holding onto the bar. Keeping your torso stiff, pull yourself up as though rowing.
The closer you keep your feet towards the bar, the easier the exercise will be. The easiest position for this version of the pull-up row is with your legs bent fully as though you are in the bottom of a squat. This greatly reduces the amount of bodyweight you must move.
To make the exercise harder, set your feet out further (or straighten your legs) or elevate your feet on a bench or chair. This will make you take up more of your bodyweight during the movement, increasing the resistance.
This exercise is set up using a regular Olympic bar set on the safety rails of a power rack. The bar of a Smith Machine also works quite well for this.
The further out (or higher up) you place your feet, the more challenging the exercise will be.
If you are an advanced trainer, this is an excellent high-rep rowing exercise.
This version of the pull-up row can also be done with a wide grip on the bar in order to hit the muscles of the upper back more (rhomboids, teres major, etc.).
3. Intermediate to Advanced - One Arm Lying Inverted Rows
The set-up for the One Arm Lying Inverted Row is exactly the same as for the regular Lying Inverted Row as explained in the previous variation, the major difference being you'll grasp the bar with only one hand instead of two.
Grasp the bar with an underhand grip even with the centerline of your body for best balance and leverage.
Pull up with the one arm for a full set.
Then repeat with the other arm.
You can hold your non-working arm across your abdomen or grip it onto the forearm of your working hand. Gripping your other arm with your non-working hand will make the exercise easier, however, as it will take up some of the resistance of the movement.
The setup for this version is exactly the same, the only difference being that you'll grip the bar with only one hand.
The balance on this one can be a bit tricky. Your body will tilt somewhat as you pull up because of the off-center pull with only one arm.
4. Intermediate to Advanced - Free Hanging Inverted Rows
This version of the Inverted Row will utilize all of your bodyweight for resistance, just like a chin-up. It can be done using a chin-up bar or, if necessary, using a Smith Machine bar or a bar set on the safety rails of a power rack.
If you have low ceilings, you'll need to use the power rack or Smith Machine version (set the bar to about 4 feet off the ground) otherwise your feet will hit the ceiling and stop the exercise.
Grasp the chin-up bar with a shoulder-width, underhand grip. Raise your legs up as though doing a complete hanging leg raise movement.
Lean your upper body back to a horizontal position and straighten your legs to vertical. Your shins should be right up against the bar and your feet should be directly above the bar. Your body should be in an "L" shape.
Holding your legs in that position, do an Inverted Row from there.
Keep your legs as close to the bar as possible when doing this to better keep your balance.
You can perform this exercise on a standard chin-up bar if you're got high enough ceilings. If you have lower ceilings, set the bar on the safety rails of the power rack or use the Smith Machine bar.
Do a leg raise until your shins are against the bar. Now pull yourself straight up, keeping your legs close to the bar.
This is a very challenging exercise for the back...it uses your entire bodyweight just like a chin-up.
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