A Versatile And Functional Back Exercise That Develops Strength and Size
Rowing exercises are one of the best exercises that can be done to maximize back strength and size development.
There are a number of different rowing exercises to choose from such as the barbell bent row, seated row, dumbbell rows, upright row, and the inverted row.
While all of these have their unique benefits, the inverted row is the variation that can be performed at home without having to rely on having plenty of equipment.
This article will begin by providing information on the inverted row, rowing technique, benefits, and muscles worked. It will also provide a number of inverted row methods and variations.
The Inverted Row Technique
In order to effectively perform the inverted row, run through the following five steps:
- Begin by gripping the object (i.e. TRX, sheet, bar) ensuring that the hands are slightly wider than shoulder-width and the arms are fully extended
- Walk your feet forward and continue to do so until you are leaning backward at an approximate 45-degree angle
- Keep the body entirely straight by engaging the core and pull the shoulder back and down
- Pull hard to bring the body up towards the object ensuring that the shoulders stay down and the elbows stay tight to the sides
- Squeeze tightly between the shoulder blades and then return to the starting position by reversing the movement in a controlled manner
Inverted Row Muscles Worked
As mentioned, any rowing exercise will highly activate a number of muscles in the back. However, there are a number of other pulling muscles that are worked.
The muscles worked during an inverted row include:
- Latissimus Dorsi
- Posterior Deltoids
- Scapular Stabilizers
- Forearm Extensors
- Core Musculature
While the lats and trap play the largest role in the row, the rhomboids, posterior deltoids, and scapular stabilizers assist in terms of providing pulling power and joint stability (1).
The biceps contract powerfully to cause flexion at the elbow joints while the forearm extensors ensure that a tight grip is maintained throughout.
Finally, the core muscles maintain a strong contraction throughout to provide the body with stability.
How To Perform The Inverted Row At Home
One of the best things about the inverted row is its versatility. There are a number of pieces of kit that can be used to perform the inverted row.
The following sections will provide three popular and convenient methods for performing the inverted row at home.
1) TRX Inverted Row
The TRX is a suspension trainer that is not only extremely functional but also very simple to use at home or when traveling.
To build strength, the TRX uses your own bodyweight and gravity. The TRX is basically a set of adjustable straps and handles which allow you to perform a range of upper, lower, and core exercises.
It can be attached to door frames, hooked around tree branches, or an appropriate sturdy structure that can be found allowing you to workout pretty much anywhere.
To perform the inverted row, begin by attaching the TRX to an anchor point and adjust the straps. From there, grab the handles and lean back to a 45-degree angle and complete the rowing action.
2) Sheet Inverted Row
An even more basic set-up for the inverted row involves using a bedsheet and a door frame.
Simply tie a knot at the end of the bedsheet, pass it over the top of the door, and then close the door tight. The knot will serve as an anchor and prevent the sheet from sliding.
Once the sheet is anchored, grip the bedsheet with both hands ensuring that the hands are slightly wider than shoulder-width and then row.
A big benefit associated with this variation is the impact it has on your grip. The sheet is inherently difficult to grasp tightly and, therefore, with regular practice, grip strength will improve.
3) Bar Inverted Row
This technique proves the versatility of the inverted row as all you really need for this final variation is a bar. This can literally be any bar – providing that is solidly fixed and runs horizontally.
Many outdoor gyms and parks have an array of bars that allow you to perform callisthenic exercises such as inverted rows.
Depending on the bar you are using, you may need to lift the feet off the floor to increase the lean angle. To do this, elevate the feet by placing them on another object such as a bench or a box.
Inverted Row Variations
For those who are at an intermediate or advanced stage of training, it may be necessary to increase the challenge of the inverted row.
Therefore, this section will highlight a range of inverted row variations to try.
1) Feet-Elevated Inverted Row
As highlighted, lifting the feet from the floor increases the lean angle which makes the exercise a lot more demanding.
For this variation, simply place the feet on any stable object and complete the row as normal.
2) Single-Arm Inverted Row
While the unilateral variation of the inverted row is evidently more challenging on the back muscles, it is also extremely challenging in terms of core strength and stability.
With the bilateral row, the movement is symmetrical and balanced, however, by removing one hand from the equation, it becomes much more challenging to keep the body straight throughout.
3) Single-Arm Rotational Inverted Row
While the previous exercise requires you to prevent rotation, this variation allows rotation through the trunk.
Perform a standard single-arm inverted row, but this time, as you descend, twist the body and reach the hand down to touch the floor.
4) Weighted Inverted Row
One of the most effective methods of progressing the inverted row is to add weight. While some balance weights on the body, this is not recommended as they could fall and cause injury.
Instead, consider wearing a weight vest or a backpack with weights inside to add intensity to the row.
5) Eccentric Inverted Row
There are three different types of muscle contraction. When the muscle lengthens this is known as an eccentric contraction.
Therefore, this variation accentuates the eccentric phase of the inverted row. Complete the pull as normal, however, on the descent, slow down substantially and take three to five seconds to reach the bottom position.
6) Isometric Inverted Row
Another type of muscle contraction is an isometric contraction. This is where the muscle is in a contracted state, however, is neither shortening nor lengthening.
To perform an isometric inverted row, perform the pull and then hold the top position for three to five seconds before descending. During the hold, focus on squeezing the shoulder blades together tightly.
Inverted Row Progressions
When it comes to maximizing progress with the inverted row, there are a number of considerations that you need to make.
The first is in terms of progressive overload. Applying this training principle is vital if you desire to make serious progress with your training.
Progressive overload is simply increasing the intensity of the exercise over time. This forces the body to continually adapt and improve.
Applying progressive overload is easy in a gym setting where there is plenty of additional weight. However, with bodyweight exercises, it can be more challenging.
The first place to start is to consider the body angle. While decreasing the lean angle reduces the intensity, increasing the angle increases the difficulty.
Therefore, over time, gradually begin to increase the lean angle. You can even elevate the feet to increase the angle further.
Alternatively, you can consider performing some of the variations listed above. After all, research suggests making exercise alterations can effectively accelerate strength gains (2).
Inverted Row Training Volume
The inverted row can be performed using a wide range of sets, reps, and intensities. The loading scheme that you use depends on the goal that you currently have.
However, there is an exception to the rule here. Beginners or those who have never performed the inverted row previously should begin with a lower intensity, even if their goal is strength-based.
Focus more on developing good technique before you start to add intensity to the exercise. This will ensure that you are performing the movement most effectively while also reducing injury risk.
Generally, rowing exercises are excellent for developing the major muscles of the back such as the lats, traps, and rhomboids.
The inverted row is a particularly useful exercise as it is highly versatile and can conveniently be performed at home or outdoors.
1 – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26422610/ Youdas, James W.; Keith, Julianne M.; Nonn, Danielle E.; Squires, Adam C.; Hollman, John H. (2016-07). “Activation of Spinal Stabilizers and Shoulder Complex Muscles During an Inverted Row Using a Portable Pull-up Device and Body Weight Resistance”. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 30 (7): 1933–1941. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000001210. ISSN 1533-4287. PMID 26422610.
2 – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24832974/ Fonseca, Rodrigo M.; Roschel, Hamilton; Tricoli, Valmor; de Souza, Eduardo O.; Wilson, Jacob M.; Laurentino, Gilberto C.; Aihara, André Y.; de Souza Leão, Alberto R.; Ugrinowitsch, Carlos (2014-11). “Changes in exercises are more effective than in loading schemes to improve muscle strength”. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 28 (11): 3085–3092. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000000539. ISSN 1533-4287. PMID 24832974.
3 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4562558/ Mangine, Gerald T; Hoffman, Jay R; Gonzalez, Adam M; Townsend, Jeremy R; Wells, Adam J; Jajtner, Adam R; Beyer, Kyle S; Boone, Carleigh H; Miramonti, Amelia A; Wang, Ran; LaMonica, Michael B (2015-08-13). “The effect of training volume and intensity on improvements in muscular strength and size in resistance-trained men”. Physiological Reports. 3 (8). doi:10.14814/phy2.12472. ISSN 2051-817X. PMC 4562558. PMID 26272733.
4 – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28834797/ Schoenfeld, Brad J.; Grgic, Jozo; Ogborn, Dan; Krieger, James W. (2017-12). “Strength and Hypertrophy Adaptations Between Low- vs. High-Load Resistance Training: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis”. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 31 (12): 3508–3523. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000002200. ISSN 1533-4287. PMID 28834797.