Are you looking to increase back, shoulder, and arm strength but not ready for a vertical pullup? Consider the “down under” version, otherwise known as the Australian pullup, or inverted row.
Pullups are a challenging upper body exercise that requires an exceptional amount of muscle strength. This can make them intimidating for a lot of people.
The good news? The inverted row puts your body in a horizontal position, making it easier to perform. It also works the back muscles from a different angle and improves scapular retraction, which is a critical skill in the vertical pullup.
You can add inverted rows to your workout routine as a preparatory exercise for a traditional pullup or as a stand-alone.
If you’re curious how to incorporate the inverted row into your workouts, read on to learn about the benefits, how to do it, muscles worked, and common mistakes.
The inverted row is another name for bodyweight rows. It’s also known as an Australian pullup. We’re not exactly sure where that name comes from, but it could have something to do with your body placement when performing the move, which is “down under” the bar.
To get a better idea of this move, picture yourself in a pushup position and then turn over. Instead of your hands on the ground, your arms stay extended, and you grasp the bar above you.
To do an inverted row, you’ll put your body in a horizontal body position, which is different from a traditional pullup performed with your body in a vertical position.
If you’ve never been under the bar, then it’s time to get horizontal. Here are some reasons to try the inverted row:
Great exercise for beginners
Whether you’re new to pullups or still trying to get the hang of them, starting with an inverted row can help build upper body strength without compromising your form.
Targets arms more than a traditional pullup
Your biceps play a minor role when doing a traditional pullup or chinup. But when you initiate the pull part of the inverted row, you’ll feel a greater emphasis on these arm muscles.
Easy to incorporate into upper body workouts
You can incorporate inverted rows into a full-body or upper body workout. They also work well as part of a super-set combination: for example, one set of inverted rows followed by one set of pushups and repeat.
Recruits lower body muscles
A traditional or vertical pullup doesn’t require a lot of effort from your lower body. However, to perform an inverted row, you need to engage the glutes and hamstrings isometrically throughout the entire movement.
Improves grip strength
Grip strength is an important health indicator, but unfortunately, it reduces as we age (
Improves scapular retraction
To improve scapular retraction, you need to focus on the rhomboid muscles, something the inverted row does more than a traditional pullup.
Inverted rows are an excellent addition to a full-body workout. Overall, they can improve upper body strength and grip strength, recruit the glutes and hamstrings, and give your biceps a boost.
You can do an inverted row exercise at the gym or at home.
At the gym, look for the squat rack or a Smith machine. You can use the bar with either piece of equipment or attach a set of rings to a stable structure above you. The rings are more advanced, so hold off on using them until you have mastered the bar.
If you have access to TRX suspension straps, you can perform an inverted row (TRX row) using that equipment. To perform this move safely at home, you need to have a bar setup or a fixed object like a railing at the right height.
Steps to perform an inverted row
- Stand in front of a squat rack or Smith machine.
- Set the bar to the desired setting. Start with waist height. This will allow your arms to fully extend while keeping your body off the floor.
- Get under the bar and lie down. Look up at the ceiling.
- Reach up for the bar. Your arms should be fully extended so you can grab the bar with an overhand grip. Your body will be suspended or just off the floor, with your heels being the only thing in contact with the floor.
- Contract your core muscles and glutes to brace the lower back and keep your body in a straight line from your torso to your feet.
- Pull yourself up, leading with your chest. The bar or rings should be at chest height at the top of the movement. Your body should remain straight and glutes and core tight throughout the entire movement. The bar doesn’t need to touch your chest. Get it as close as possible.
- Pause for a second and make sure the shoulder blades are retracted (imagine squeezing a small ball between the shoulder blades) before slowly lowering to the starting position, with your arms fully extended.
- Repeat. Do 3 sets of 8 to 15 reps.
Tips to consider
- To make this move easier, raise the bar. At the new height, get under the bar, grip it with an overhand grip, and lower yourself until your arms are fully extended. More than likely, you won’t be lying on the floor. Make sure your body is in a straight line. Your heels will be the point of contact with the ground.
- You can use a wide or narrow overhand (palms facing down) or underhand grip (palms facing up). However, the best grip to start with is an overhand grip slightly wider than shoulder width.
- It may take some trial and error to determine the correct height of the bar. However, one tip to remember is the more upright you are, the easier it will be.
- Maintain a straight line from your head to toes. This requires engaging the core muscles.
- The movement should be slow and controlled.
You can use a squat rack or Smith machine setup to perform an inverted row. For a challenge, consider using rings instead of a bar.
The primary muscles involved in the inverted row include:
- latissimus dorsi
- teres minor
- erector spinae
- posterior deltoids
- rectus abdominis
- external and internal obliques
When performing this move, you’ll primarily target the back and shoulder muscles, such as the latissimus dorsi, trapezius, and rear deltoids. However, the biceps and core also play a significant role in pulling your body toward the bar.
Once you find the right bar height and dial in your form, the inverted row is a relatively simple move to perform. That said, there are some common mistakes to be aware of:
- The bar isn’t positioned correctly. In the top position of this movement, the bar should be mid-chest. If it’s near your neck or close to your waist, change your body placement under the bar.
- Your grip is too wide or too narrow. How wide or narrow you grip the bar will come down to comfort and strength. That said, it’s best to start with a grip that is slightly wider than shoulder-width.
- You’re not engaging the core or glutes. Even though this is primarily an upper body exercise, you need the assistance of the glutes and core to keep your form tight and body in a straight line.
- You’re hyperextending the knees. The inverted row is an upper body exercise, so why do your knees hurt? If you have achy knees, you may be hyperextending your knees. To alleviate discomfort or pain, try bending your knees just slightly.
Some common mistakes include not positioning the bar correctly, using a grip that is too wide or too narrow, not engaging the core and glutes, and continuing to do the exercise with pain in other parts of the body.
The inverted row is an excellent exercise to incorporate into a full-body or upper body workout. If you’re new to pullups or can’t do a vertical pullup, consider starting with this exercise.
Strict form is critical when performing an inverted row. If you have any questions about how to do this move, consider working with a certified personal trainer or physical therapist.
After seeing the strength you gain from this exercise, you may be making a point to get under the bar more often.