When in Doubt, Inverted Row

You know that mixed look of fear and excitement you see on a face when someone is trying a brand new activity?  I saw that on Monday, when one of the more experienced lifters at my gym brought his neighbor in for a workout.  He was a n00b by his account and mine, but boy was he excited to go.  Seriously, he was just standing there and smiling.  It was awesome!

Ben pulled the old, this-is-what-I’m-doing, this-is-what-you’re-doing trick, and asked me, “Hey he’s just beginning, where should we start with upper body pulling.  I immediately said, “Inverted row”, after all, it’s one of my favorite exercises.  However, they’re not that sexy, and I could tell Ben was in the mood to be sexy.  Alright, that sounds weird…

In this case, a landmine two-handed row variation is a little sexier, so Ben set that up.  He crushed his sets, and his friend focused on technique.  After that, John moved on to dumbbell single arm rows, and focused on technique.  After that, he moved to a TRX row, and did not focus on technique; he crushed his sets like a boss.


The inverted row is my favorite horizontal pulling exercise, because, well, everyone can do it.  Providing for several exceptions, most people can maintain a solid pillar position throughout the movement.  That’s just not the case with most pulling exercises.  When you work at a facility like I do, with a huge range in ability levels, you need to use exercises that provide great results and minimal cuing; the environment lends itself to the utilization of self-limiting exercises.

I first heard the term from Alwyn Cosgrove, discussing how his team at Results Fitness utilizes these movements in their metabolic training exercise pool.  He credits Gray Cook with the idea, and you can click their names to read their thoughts on the matter.  If you maintain a tall chest and utilize the upper back musculature, the row is pretty easy.  However, it’s next to impossible if you try to do it incorrectly.  Tall chest, shoulder blades in your pockets, pinkies in your armpits; it works every time.


As a guy that prefers movement quality over quantity, the inverted row helps me get people to move well.  It’s something that I’ve learned from many of the coaches that I follow; there’s just a great per-rep reward for people.  Interestingly, when compared to a bent over row, and a single arm cable row, the inverted row elicited the highest activation of the latissimus dorsi muscles, upper-back, and hip extensor muscles.  Interestingly, there was also the lowest spinal load from the inverted row, which can be beneficial for those with spinal injuries, and for those who want to minimize joint forces in general.  Something tells me that this would be a good idea.  That research was done by Stuart McGill from Waterloo University, and for folks in the know, Dr. McGill is one of the leading spine researchers in the world.  The entire abstract can be found HERE.

I’m confident that whatever your fitness or strength level may be, you can find an inverted row variation that provides a solid training effect and contributes to your overall training.  If you’re searching for some variations, THIS is a link to Ben Bruno’s YouTube page:  He’s an exercise ninja and has created some awesome variations.  Here’s one of my favorites, the 1.5 rep variation, weighted vest optional:


Access to a suspension trainer is becoming increasingly popular, and most gyms provide access to a TRX, rings, Blast Straps, Jungle Gym, or similar product.  (If your gym doesn’t have one, I’d suggest finding your own gym.  Or buying one of those products.)  Of course, you can always mount a barbell on the pins in a squat rack; just make sure that no one wants to squat.  However, it’s perfectly acceptable to do inverted rows on the Smith Machine, especially if someone wants to squat.  Tell them I sent you.

If you’re completely inexperienced with exercise, or you’re a seasoned pro, there is an inverted row that can kick your butt and remind you that sometimes the best exercises don’t have to be the ‘sexiest’ to the masses; they just have to get the job done.  Be sure to include some inverted rows in your next workout, and let me know how it goes.

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