How to do an inverted row: Muscle building technique, common mistakes, and variations

Pull-ups (Image via Getty Images)
Pull-ups (Image via Getty Images)

The inverted row is one of the most popular and effective bodyweight movements to target your “pull” muscles, i.e., the back and biceps. Also known as the Australian pull-up, this move is one of the first steps to follow if you’re looking to do a full pull-up.


How to perform the traditional inverted row

For this move, you’ll need a bar. Public parks are usually equipped with bars of varying heights; choose one that comes up to a level between your diaphagm and waist. If you are in a fitness facility, you can use a Smith machine or a squat rack to adjust the bar to the appropriate level. Else, you can use other accessories to perform the movement, as discussed later. The lower the bar, the more challenging this move becomes.

The steps:

  1. Facing the bar, place your hands on it, slightly wider than the width of your shoulders. Lower your body below the bar and straighten yourself. Your arms should be out straight and perpendicular to your body. This should resemble a straight-arm plank, upside down.
  2. Brace your core and retract your shoulder blades. This should ensure that your body is in a straight line without your hips hanging lower or your chest protruding outward.
  3. Keeping your core tight, take a breath in. Upon exhaling, pull yourself up to the bar. Squeeze your shoulder blades and try to get your chest to the bar. You may pause here for one to three seconds to intensify the tension in your arms and upper back.
  4. Slowly, lower yourself back down to the starting position. Inhale as you do this so you have more energy for your next rep. Ideally, one could perform this movement until failure, but beginners may perform four to eight repetitions.

And that’s how it’s done. It may seem simple, but it works wonders for strength and esthetics. For optimal results, aim to perform at least five sets of these, with each set consisting of 10 to 15 repetitions.

Take a look at this video to better understand the technique:

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The benefits of incorporating inverted rows into your routine

They are beginner-friendly

If you’re new to working out, this move is a great way to build a solid foundation for upper body strength, without being too strenuous or taxing on the body.

They help strengthen the upper body and core

It is quite evident that this is a powerful move to improve upper body strength. However, maintenance of core stability is of utmost importance while performing this exercise. This factor aids in improving core strength as well.

They help improve grip strength:

Many athletes struggle with grip strength, which only reduces with age. A simple movement can be performed a lot more effectively with improved grip strength. Regular practice of inverted rows can ensure this strength is at its peak.

Pull-ups (Image via Getty Images)
Pull-ups (Image via Getty Images)

Before attempting the inverted row for the first time, ensure that your body is properly warmed up. It is advisable to perform the following movements as a warm-up. Be sure to hold each pose for for one to three seconds, and repeat them for five to eight repetitions.

  • Downward dog
  • Cobra stretch
  • Cat & cow stretches
  • Stick circles
  • Band pull-apart
Downward dog stretch. Image via Getty Images
Downward dog stretch. Image via Getty Images

Once you’re warmed up, all you need is an appropriate accessory, and you’re ready to go!


Common mistakes to look out for

As with any new exercise, practice makes perfect. You may not nail the movement in your very first attempt. Here are some common mistakes people make while performing this movement. Be sure to actively avoid them as you go along.

Hips are elevated or sagging:

The most common mistake among beginners is that their hips are not in line with their bodies, i.e., they tend to sag or protrude upwards. The key to this is keeping your abs and glutes tight. Brace your core as if someone were to punch you, and squeeze your glutes as you would during a plank.

Chest sticks outwards:

Although the aim is to get your chest to touch the bar, it doesn’t make the movement more effective if you stick your chest out so it touches the bar faster. Keeping your core tight also ensures your chest doesn’t stick out.

Elbows flail outward:

As one would do with a push-up, it is important to keep your elbows locked and by your sides. Even as you pull yourself up, ensure your elbows are by your sides and not pointing outward.


Popular variations of the inverted row

The best part about bodyweight/calisthenic movements is that they are so incredibly versatile, and this movement alone can be modified to make it more challenging. Here are a few ways you can challenge yourself once you master inverted rows:

TRX band or Olympic Rings:

These accessories allow for more stability and control during inverted rows as they are suspended from a fixed bar or point on a wall. Considering you would have to hold on to a pair of handles hanging off the ends of ropes, the movement calls for a lot more core control than the conventional inverted rows.

Here's a video for reference:

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Single-arm inverted row:

Performing a double-limb movement with only one limb demands a lot more strength than using both. Some individuals may find this easy to perform with their dominant arm, and harder on the other one. This could be a great technique to build strength in the weaker arm. You could bend your legs at the knees to make this a little easier to perform.

Watch this video to better understand the movement:

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Elevated inverted rows:

Following the same technique of the regular inverted row, this variation is performed with a chair or a box below the feet, so the body is either parallel to the ground, or declined (upper body closer to the ground while the lower portion is elevated).

It’s not as complicated as it sounds! Take a look at this:

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Weighted inverted rows:

Again mimicking the base movement, this variation is performed with an added weight. This could be in the form of a plate positioned on the chest, or a weighted vest that one can wear. This variation not only helps improve strength, but may also contribute to a higher number of reps being performed.

Challenge yourself and even you could be making videos like this:

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Pull-ups (Image via Getty Images)
Pull-ups (Image via Getty Images)

And that’s the scoop on inverted rows. They can be performed almost anywhere, and at any level. This exercise will reap results for you whether you are a beginner, intermediate, or advanced athlete. If you are looking to get your first pull-up, this is where you start. If you can do pull-ups but wish to increase your reps, incorporating four to five sets of inverted rows at the end of your back & biceps workout could help you get there faster.

Poll : Will you be incorporating inverted rows in your next Pull day?

Absolutely. I want to be able to do a pull-up!

Bodyweight movements aren't my thing.

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Edited by Sandeep Banerjee