Have you heard the term out of sight, out of mind? This can be applied in many gym settings where some beginner and intermediate lifters train the mirror muscles – you know, abs, pecs, and biceps – and forget about those very important posterior muscles. This is where the reverse row comes in.
One muscle group that is regularly overlooked is the upper back, and a great exercise for training this vital area is the inverted row. The inverted row is an ideal exercise for all levels of lifters as it can easily be regressed and progressed.
Moreover, it also targets the biceps. Do we now have your attention?
More experienced lifters skip the reverse row and opt for pull-ups and pull-ups, but sleeping on the reverse row is a misjudgment. For what? Because inverted rows will improve your performance with these exercises, and you can add bulk for juicy muscle-building gains.
Here we’ll dive deep into reverse rowing, including what it is, how to do it, benefits, standard errors, and variations to get you going.
Ready to row to grow? So let’s go.
Reverse Line Explained
Rows are divided into two broad categories vertical (pullups, chinups, lat pulldowns, and vertical rows) and horizontal, such as the reverse row. With the inverted row, you lie face up under a barbell in a squat rack or smith machine and pull your weight towards the bar, working your forearms, biceps, upper back, and lats. while maintaining a neutral spine.
Think of it as a face-up plank, but one that works the biceps. The beauty of the inverted row is that you can change the angle of the barbell to progress or regress in the exercise. Moving it up means less body weight is involved, and moving it closer to the floor means more body weight is worked.
How to do the reverse row
- Set up a barbell in a squat or power rack high enough that your body isn’t touching the floor when you extend your arms. The waist level is a good starting point and adjust from there.
- Lie face up under the bar, making sure it’s in line with your lower chest.
- Grasp the barbell with a grip slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and straighten your legs while keeping your glutes on the floor.
- Engage your glutes to lift them off the floor with your body in a straight line from head to heels.
- Pull yourself up to the bar, squeezing your shoulder blades together.
- Once your shoulder blades are fully contracted, slowly lower until your elbows are straight. Reset then repeat.
Reverse row muscles trained
The inverted row is primarily an upper body exercise, but the lower body is involved, mostly isometrically, to allow the upper body pulling muscles to do their job. Here are the main muscles worked by the inverted row.
- Upper body
- Forearm: Grip and elbow flexion
- Biceps: Elbow flexion
- Posterior deltoid: shoulder extension
- Upper back: scapular adduction
- Lats: shoulder extension
- Lower body
- Lower back and glutes: Used isometrically to keep a neutral spine.
- Anterior Core: This helps prevent the lower back from arching.
Advantages of the reverse row
The vertical pull is more difficult because either more of your body weight (chin-ups) is involved or gravity acts more on the weight (; in pulldowns and vertical rows). What does this mean for you? Horizontal bodyweight rows are slightly easier, allowing you to do more reps for more size and strength.
Here are some vital benefits of performing reverse rows.
- Improved back size and strength: Reverse bodyweight rows are easier and allow you to add more volume for potential muscle-building gains. Since this is a bodyweight move, you can repeat and add breaks and tempo for more time under tension. Adding size and back strength improves your squat, bench, and deadlift, as the upper back and lats are essential in the bar path and maintain a neutral spine under load.
- Easily scalable: Since an incline push-up makes it easier to perform push-ups, changing the angle of the barbell (higher is easier, lower is harder) allows beginners to reap the muscle-building benefits of the inverted row. A sign of good exercise is the ability to make it easier or harder, and the certainty of the reverse row does that.
- Improved relative strength: Absolute strength is the total weight you can lift and relative strength is the amount you can lift relative to your body weight. By being able to do more reps, sets, and volume with the inverted row, you’ll improve your default relative strength. Plus, you’ll improve your grip and core strength, which directly carries over to all grip and core-related exercises like chin-ps, deadlifts, and more.
Common Reverse Line Mistakes
The inverted row is less technical than a barbell deadlift, but there are a few things to watch out for to get the most out of this excellent horizontal pull exercise.
- Voltage loss: The same will happen with the inverted row when you lose position with the front plank with the arch of your lower back. The loss of tension in your glutes will cause your body to sag and all the benefits will go like magic. Make sure to keep your glutes engaged the entire time.
- Position of hands: The inverted row calls for a wider than shoulder-width gap, but because we’re all put together differently. So take some time during your setup to find the best grip width for you. Also, there is a tendency, especially when tired, for the wrist to bend and not stay neutral while pulling. If so, stop the series and rest.
- Pulling too high on the chest: It would be best to pull your chest down to get the best results from this exercise. Pulling up from the chest and shoulder decreases lat engagement and increases upper back activation. It’s not terrible, but when the elbows flare out to the sides, it can lock your shoulders, especially if shoulder mobility is an issue.
Reverse Line Programming Suggestions
The inverted row is a great exercise to schedule over a full day, lower or upper body, which makes it versatile. It can be your main strength exercise on full body and upper body days and an accessory exercise on lower body days to improve posterior strength in squats and deadlifts.
Here are some general programming suggestions based on your goals.
- To build muscle: Volume and tension are always key when building muscle. Perform each rep intentionally, creating a good mind-muscle connection with your pulling muscles. Three to five sets of eight to 16 reps, with two minutes of rest between sets, is a good start.
- To build strength: There are better rowing exercises for building strength, but beginner to intermediate athletes can build strength with the inverted row. Do three to five sets of five to eight reps, using a slow eccentric (or exercise 2 and 1 below), resting two minutes between sets.
Variations and alternatives of inverted rows
Below are variations of inverted rows and alternatives to prevent boredom and reduce overuse injuries.