The Inverted Row: Best Upper-Back Exercise known to man?

The Inverted Row is gaining popularity, but it still remains an underrated movement.

To get a visual, first pause and imagine the Bench Press exercise for a moment. The bench press is a pushing exercise that brings the bar to your chest and then pushes it away. Whereas the inverted row is a pulling exercise that brings your chest to the bar and then you lower yourself back down.


Back built by rows

Think about the complete opposite of the Bench Press — this is the Inverted Row.


Inverted Row

The Inverted Row is the ultimate upper back exercise.

In the next few paragraphs, I will make the case for why every gym goer in search of a strong, healthy, balanced physique should be doing the Inverted Row exercise.

Aside from the strength benefits, the Inverted Row wins points in a variety of categories related to the ideal physique.

I. Comparison of Barbell Row vs. Inverted Row

The Barbell Row is also a highly effective compound exercise for the back. If you’re looking to build a great physique, then the Barbell Row (or a variation) should probably be somewhere in your routine.

However, the Barbell Row has some contraindications and limitations that may make the exercise inappropriate for some people.


Barbell Row

Benefits of the Barbell Row:

  • One of the best exercises for back and arms
  • You can adjust the weight according to your own strength levels
  • It’s possible to use lots of weight (powerlifters can often row up to 300+ lbs)
  • Can build muscle and tone your physique
  • Crossover strength into other exercises

Disadvantagesof the Barbell Row:

  • Possibility of injury with improper form
  • Strain the lower back if not careful

Avoid lower back pain

  • You can “cheat” very easily on the form, which decreases its benefits
  • Doesn’t activate lower trapezius as much (a small, yet essential muscle for shoulder health)
  • Is not a direct counter-balancing movement to the Bench Press

As you can see, the Barbell Row is a fantastic exercise for a lot of people. If you train the Row, then more power to you!

But there are some areas in which the BB Row can’t keep up compared to the Inverted Row.

II. Benefits of the Inverted Row

The Inverted Row is an exceptional upper back exercise.

Similar to a pull up, push up, and other bodyweight exercises, the Inverted Row is a closed kinetic chain movement. In terms of fitness, is important to be able to move your body through space at a variety of angles.

In order to perform a feet-elevated inverted row, you must already be strong or you can do inverted row progressions to gain the required strength.

The Inverted Row with feet elevated is so demanding that 90% of an average gym population won’t be able to complete a single rep with perfect form. It is indeed a humbling exercise, especially for guys who can bench 300+ pounds.

So here are the top benefits of the Inverted Row…

1. Builds a great Phsyique

What guy doesn’t want at least a little more muscle? What gal doesn’t want that hourglass shape torso?

The Inverted Row is definitely a physique builder alone or in a well designed program. The actual exercise itself can be a great stimulus for muscle growth, but even better is that it is a great activation exercise so it can benefit your other movements.


Jamie likes to row

  • Rear delts
  • Middle trapezius
  • Lower trapezius
  • Lats
  • Rombhoids
  • Biceps
  • Forearms
  • Core

2. NO Lower-back strain

Our lower backs are simply not designed to move a lot of weight. The lower back is designed to remain rigid while the primary movers of the body do their work. Thats everyone knows they should “lift with your legs.”

During an alternative exercise like the Barbell Row, the lower back may succumb to the weight before the upper back. If the lower back is too weak, you won’t get the true benefits for the upper back during that exercise.

The Inverted Row takes the lower back out of the equation.

Low Back pain does not exist in this exercise.

3. Strengthens the Shoulder Girdle (Shoulder Health)

The Inverted Row movement requires a lot of effort from the muscles in the middle back. These muscles are particularly important for shoulder health.

In particular, the lower trapezius, middle trapezius, and rhomboids need to be balanced compared to other muscles. For example, the lower trapezius should have similar activation to the upper trapezius. When people have upper traps that are too dominant, it contributes to the “slunched over” posture and can wreak havoc on the shoulder joint. The inverted row strengthens the lower trapezius at just the right angle.

The inverted row is not only a great movement for the lower trapezius, but it is also a fantastic rear-deltoid exercise as well. Aside from making your physique look fantastic from all angles, the rear-deltoids should be balanced to the front-deltoids for…you guessed it…shoulder health.

4. Benefits the Bench Press

Dear Benchers, I’d like to win you over here, because the Bench Press is the one exercise that every single person on the planet knows about. We all know how awesome the bench press is. It gives you great chest, shoulder, and tricep development. In other words, it makes you manly and powerful. (Or lean and alluring, if you are female).

Bio-mechanically, the Inverted Row is the perfect compliment to the Bench Press. Instead of pushing a bar away from you, you are pulling yourself towards a bar.

Think of the upper back as the foundation, while the chest is the active machinery during bench press. If your foundation is a pile of feathers, how effective is your machinery?


Dumbbell Bench Pressing supported by upper back.

What most people don’t realize is that the muscles in the back are constantly stabilizing the muscles in the front during the Bench Press. Essentially what this means is that stronger upper back equals a stronger bench press.

Strong upper back –> strong foundation –> Big Bench Press.

5. Promotes optimal Recovery

After you get into weight lifting for a while, you realize one fundamental element…

Success in the game is a balance between training and recovery. The stimulus is the weight lifting, while the recovery includes everything from the food you eat, the timing of the food you eat, the amount of sleep you get, and essentially everything else you do.

Therefore, recovery is different for everybody. You want to optimize recovery because it allows you make more progress and stay healthy. (if you seriously overtrain, you will lose progress, get hurt, or get sick — guaranteed)

Bodyweight exercises are inherently easier to recover from compared to barbell exercises. This means that you can do bodyweight exercises more frequently and potentially make progress significantly faster than barbell exercises alone.

The Inverted Row, while a demanding exercise, is easier to recover from than the barbell row.

Training hard in the gym accounts for maybe 15% of your gains, while optimal recovery accounts for the rest.

Thats why you need to eat well, sleep well, and do bodyweight exercises!

6. Functional Strength development

Would you still be as impressed by a guy who could bench press 500 pounds, but couldn’t move his own body through a simple plane of motion?

Powerlifters struggle to lift as much weight as possible in the bench press, and even their coaches tell them they need to do bodyweight exercises — especially the Inverted Row.

The Inverted Row is a functional strength exercise with significant carryover to other exercises and quality of life.

Now you know…

This is why the Inverted Row is one of the best Upper Back exercises known to man, and why we need to spread the word to our fellow man.

III. How to perform the Inverted Row.

You may look at the picture and think you know how to do an inverted row, and you may very well be able to. Just keep in mind a few cues to help you out.


Inverted Row Feet Elevated

1.  Foot placement determines difficulty.

Place feet on ground for beginners, and feet elevated for advanced trainees.

2. Keep your butt up

If your butt sags down, you are not doing the exercise right. Keep that butt tight and elevated.

3. Maintain Core Stiffness

This may be a core exercise for those with less developed abs. It is important to maintain core tightness, and keep your butt up, because this will put the lower back in the right position. It also enables you to focus on the primary mover, which is your back.

4. Chest up

Open up your chest, keep it up and out.

5. Lean your head back

When the head goes back, it puts your body in a position to activate the muscles that you really want. This helps to activate the lower-traps and muscles surrounding the shoulder blades.

6. Do not use momentum

Momentum is cheating. If you can’t complete a full rep with feet elevated, then start with the progressions first. Feet to the ground.

In terms of execution…

  • Pull from the elbows and middle back.
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top of the movement.
  • Try to activate as much of your back as possible.
  • I like to squeeze at the top for a count of 2 seconds
  • Go up fast, then lower yourself slower

Here is a video to give you the visual of it.

IV. Go forth and Row!

I would say that 95% of people in weightlifting programs should be doing at least one variation of row. Rowing is essential for strengthening the muscles of the back.

TRX system check it out on Definitely one of the best bodyweight tools, used by all my clients.

TRX system check it out on Definitely one of the best bodyweight tools, used by all my clients.

As a follower of, you now have the knowledge of this incredible upper-back exercise.

You know how I feel about the all-powerful and beneficial Inverted Row.

I’ll let you decide whether or not you think the Inverted Row truly is the best upper-back exercise known to man.

Either way, give it a go next time you work your upper back! Prepare to be humbled.

Physical Fitness by Dre