The Inverted Bodyweight Row is one of the BEST, simple, most effective exercises you can do for your “pull” muscles.
If you’re trying to get to your first pull-up (or even if you are already doing pull-ups), it’s a must.
That’s why we program them in when designing workouts for our Online Coaching Clients.
Today, I’ll explain exactly why (almost like you were in our program).
As part of our Strength 101 series, this guide will cover everything you need to know about this awesome exercise:
- What is an inverted row or bodyweight row?
- How to do an inverted bodyweight row properly (with video).
- How to progress with inverted bodyweight rows (6 variations)
- When should I do inverted rows in my workout?
- How to do bodyweight rows at home with your kitchen table.
Let’s do this thing!
You’ve probably heard of the regular barbell row. You pick up a barbell, bend over at the waist (keeping your back straight), and pull the weight up towards your chest.
It looks something like this:
This can be a great exercise, but improper form could cause complications or you might not have access to a barbell and plates.
Luckily, the bodyweight row (or inverted row) takes care of all of that.
By the way, I’ll be using “bodyweight row” and “inverted row” interchangeably in this article.
When doing this movement, you only need a bar to lean back from and your body weight. There’s also no extra stress on your back, like with a traditional barbell row.
As an added bonus, you get a decent core workout too.
I know, that’s worth celebrating…
Think of it like this: “bench press” is to “pushing” as “inverted row” is to “pulling.”
Why the inverted bodyweight row is so great:
I’m a huge fan of compound exercises (like the squat and deadlift, pull-ups and push-ups), and I’m also a huge fan of exercises that don’t require expensive machines or lots of extra bells and whistles.
An inverted row works all of your pull muscles:
- All of your back muscles
- Your biceps
- Your forearms
- Your grip
- All the stabilizer muscles in between that make those muscles work together.
If you’ve been doing bench presses regularly, start doing an equal amount of work with your pull muscles to stay in balance and away from injury.
Oh, and if you want to eventually be able to do pull-ups THIS is the exercise you need to add into your routine until you can do a full pull-up.
When we created our pull-up adventure in Nerd Fitness Journey, we start off by teaching rows. If you want, you can try the app right now (for free):
Let’s start with the people who have access to a gym (see a no-gym variation here):
How to do an inverted row or bodyweight row:
- Set the bar (or your rings) around waist height. The lower the bar, the more difficult the movement becomes.
- Position yourself under the bar lying face up. Lie on the floor underneath the bar (which should be set just above where you can reach from the ground).
- Grab the bar with an overhand grip, slightly wider than shoulder-width (palms facing AWAY from you).
- Contract your abs and butt, and keep your body a completely straight line. Your ears, shoulders, hips legs, and feet should all be in a straight line (like you’re doing a plank).
- Pull yourself up to the bar until your chest touches the bar.
- Lower yourself back down with proper form.
If this movement is TOO difficult, no big deal, we just need to back up a few steps.
Set the bar higher so that when you lean back, your body isn’t down on the ground; maybe it’s only at a 45-degree angle.
We’ll walk you through a row progression right here.
Here’s Staci again demonstrating it at a higher angle:
By setting the bar higher, it takes more of your body’s weight out of the equation.
As you get stronger (and/or lose weight), you’ll be able to drop the bar until you’re parallel when pulling yourself up.
How to do a bodyweight row (with video explanation):
To keep proper form when doing an inverted bodyweight row:
- Don’t let your butt sag (squeeze your buttcheeks, flex your stomach, and keep your body rigid from head to toe).
- Don’t flail your elbows. Grab the bar with your hands a little closer than you would if you were doing a bench press, and keep your elbows at that angle from your body.
- Pull the bar towards the middle of your chest. Don’t pull the bar up towards your throat, or down towards your belly button. Right in the middle!
- Keep your abs tight. Keep your abs tight throughout the whole routine. Your body should be a straight line the whole time, and the only thing moving is your arms.
- Pull your shoulder blades down and back towards each other through the movement. Don’t shrug your shoulders. Imagine you’re trying to pinch a pencil between your shoulder blades to keep it from falling!
- GO all the way. Don’t half-ass it. Lower yourself until your arms are completely extended, and raise yourself until your chest touches the bar.
Let’s provide a blueprint on how you can level up your inverted bodyweight rows.
#1) Doorway Rows
At first, just start doing some rows in your doorway:
This will help you start training your “pull” muscles.
#2) Towel Rows
Still utilizing your doorway, you can use a towel to lean back even further to increase the challenge here:
Coach Jim walks you through setting up your towel row in this video, “No chin-up bar?? No problem!“
Check out our Guide for Pull-up Alternatives for more.
#3) Inverted Row (High)
Next, try doing an inverted row, but set the bar high so it’s easier to perform:
#4) Inverted Row (Low)
Once your inverted rows become easy, lower the bar to increase the challenge:
#5) Elevated Inverted Row
If you place your feet in the air, you’ll make this exercise even tougher:
#6) Inverted Row (Weighted)
If you really want to up the difficulty of your inverted rows, try doing it with a little bit of weight attached to you:
If you are building your own workout plan, you can mix in bodyweight rows wherever you normally do your pull exercises (pull-ups, pull-downs, rows, etc.).
When I go into a gym, my time is extremely limited, and I’m working towards developing strength.
Here’s a sample two day split for me:
- Day A: Squats, bench press, inverted rows, dips
- REST DAY: OFF
- Day B: Deadlifts, Overhead Press, Pull-Ups (or chin-ups), Planks (Floor Swipes).
- REST DAY: OFF
Both days work my full body, I can do a full routine in less than 40 minutes, and I’m building strength.
- If you can’t do dips on Day 1, you can do push-ups.
- If you can’t do pull-ups on day 2, you can substitute assisted pull-ups.
On the rows, aim for 3 sets of 10. We cover this in our “sets and reps” article, but you can never go wrong with 3 sets of 10!
If you can’t do that, do 3 sets to however many reps you can do, and build your way up to 3 sets of 10.
Once you can do that, put your feet up on a chair, throw some weights in a backpack, put it on reverse (so the bag is hanging in front of you), and then do the rows.
You got this!
Overwhelmed? I personally know how that feels. It can be scary embarking on a strength training practice for the first time.
Are you doing your moves correctly? Should you be lifting more weight or less? What do you eat to reach your goals?
We created the Nerd Fitness Coaching program to tackle these questions directly. Your own coach will get to know you, build a program based on your experience and goals, and check your form on each movement (via video):
Just because you don’t have access to a gym doesn’t mean you can’t work out your back, you just need to get VERY creative.
Here’s how you can do Inverted Bodyweight Rows at Home:
PATH ONE: Use your kitchen table. Or your desk. Be very careful with this one.
Lie underneath your table so your head and shoulder are sticking out above it.
Grab the table edge with an overhand grip, and pull yourself up (just like it’s explained above).
Warning, don’t pull the table over with you, and make sure you don’t break the thing!
PATH TWO: Get a really thick wooden dowel or pipe, something strong enough to support your weight. Lie it across two of your kitchen chairs, and then lie down underneath it.
Make sure it’s sturdy, and the bar isn’t going to break/move on ya, and pull yourself up.
Don’t forget, you want to stay in balance.
You’re smart, get creative!
This should allow you to start mixing in bodyweight rows into your Strength Training Routine!
Any more questions about the inverted bodyweight row?
Leave em below!
PS: Our new app Nerd Fitness Journey will walk you through doing simple rows, all the way up to a full pull-up! Instead of worrying about what to do next, simply follow the workouts built into the app!
PPS: Be sure to check out the rest of the Strength Training 101 series:
- Strength Training Guide: How to Get Strong
- Strength Training Beginner Workouts
- 6 Levels of Gym Workouts For Beginners
- How much weight should I be lifting?
- How to do the Deadlift with proper form
- How to do a Squat with Proper Form
- How to do the Overhead Press
You can also get the guide free when you sign up in the box below and join the Rebellion!
- Everything you need to know about getting strong.
- Workout routines for bodyweight AND weight training.
- How to find the right gym and train properly in one.