Bodyweight Rows – What They Are, and Why You Should Do Them

When I go to the gym, I try to keep things as simple and efficient as possible.

I’m a huge supporter of pull ups and chin ups, as those are the exercises that are a great test somebody’s fitness level.

There’s just something inherently badass about being able to lift up your entire body, which is why competitions like Ninja Warrior require ridiculous back and bicep strength.

I know many people reading this article could be just getting started with fitness training, and doing a pull up seems like an absolute impossibility.

That’s okay, I’d guess that 80% of this country probably can’t do one either, so don’t beat yourself up too much.  Just because you can’t do a pull up now doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work out your back.

We HAVE written a resource on how to get your first pull-up here, but let’s start with the steps before that!

I have just the exercise for you instead: the bodyweight row! It’s a great exercise you can work towards as you start to delve deeper into the wonderful world of strength training!


The Bodyweight (Inverted) Row

So what the hell is an inverted bodyweight row you ask?

GREAT QUESTION.  In fact, it’s a question I get all the time in emails, so I figured I’d add it to the repertoire of explained exercises here on Nerd Fitness.

I’ll be using “bodyweight row” and “inverted row” interchangeably in this article.

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.

This can be a great exercise, but improper form could cause complications or not give you a great workout!

Luckily, the inverted row takes care of all of that.  You get to use your body weight, and there’s no extra stress on your back.  As an added bonus, you get decent core workout too.

This exercise has been referred to as the reverse bench press, as you grab a bar like you were getting ready to bench press it, but instead of lifting the weight down towards you, you’re pulling your body up towards the bar.  Think of it like this: “benchpress” is to “pushing” as “inverted row” is to “pulling.”

‘Balance FTW!

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 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: your back, biceps, traps, and all the stabilizer muscles in between.  If you’ve been doing just pushups and bench presses, you need to start doing equal work with your back to stay in balance and away from injury.

If you want to eventually be able to do pull-ups, THIS is the exercise you need to work into your routine until you can do a full pull up.

Speaking of which, if you are getting started with bodyweight rows, how to build a workout to eventually start doing pull-ups, download our free, comprehensive guide, Strength Training 101: Everything You Need to Know. 

In it, we have workout plans to follow whether you’re at home doing bodyweight training or at the gym with weights. Put your email in the box below and I’ll send you the guide free so you can get started today!

How To Do An Inverted Bodyweight Row

Let’s start with the people who have access to a gym (see a variation for No-Gym people at the end).  You know I hate machines for pretty much every exercise, due to the fact they restrict your body’s natural tendency to move.

I grabbed a video of Staci from Team NF demonstrating a bodyweight row with gymnastic rings from our premium course (The Nerd Fitness Academy), but don’t worry if you don’t have rings – you can see how to do them with a Smith Machine or barbell under this demonstration.

How to do a bodyweight row with explanation:


If you don’t have rings, here’s Staci demonstrating the same movement, just with an anchored barbell in a squat rack:

  • 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 (palms facing AWAY from you).
  • Contract your abs, and try to keep your body a completely straight line. Your ears, shoulders, hips legs, and feet should all be in a straight line.
  • Pull yourself up to the bar until your chest touches the bar.
  • Lower yourself back down.

If you’re still struggling and they’re too difficult, it’s okay.  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.

Here’s Staci again demonstrating it at a higher angle:


Setting the bar higher and your body higher, it takes more of your body 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.

Some tips and tricks:

  • 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
  • Think of pulling your shoulder blades together at the top of the exercise.
  • 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.

When should you do this exercise:

When I go into a gym, my time is extremely limited, and I’m working towards developing strength.  I’ll try to do one leg exercise (either squats or deadlifts), followed by a pushing exercise (either bench press or overhead press), and then a pulling exercise (pull ups or inverted rows).  Here’s a sample two day split for me:

  • Day 1: Squats, bench press, inverted rows, dips
  • Day 2: OFF
  • Day 3: Deadlifts, Overhead Press, Pull Ups (or chin ups), Planks (Floor Swipes).
  • Day 4: 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 pushups.  If you can’t do pull ups on day 2, you can substitute assisted pull ups or lat pull downs (although I don’t like lat pull downs very much).

On the rows, aim for 3 sets of 10. If you can’t do that, do 3 sets to exhaustion, 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.

If you’re training a gym and doing the above exercises, I know things can be intimidating! It’s why we dedicated a few chapters in our comprehensive guide on strength training to finding the right gym and how to train properly in one! Grab our Strength Training 101: Everything You Need to Know when you sign up in the box below:

What if I don’t have aCcess to a gym?

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.  Try these few things for example:

  • 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 its sturdy, and the bar isn’t going to break/move on ya, and pull yourself up.
  • Use your kitchen table. Or your desk (if it’s in the middle of the room and doesn’t have a back.  Be very careful on 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’re not gonna break the thing.  Obviously this is a pretty crude way to get the job done, but it works.

Don’t forget, you want to stay in balance. Don’t just do push ups at home if you can help it, try to work out your back too.  If you don’t have a pull up bar, find a way to do some body weight rows whether it’s between two chairs or under a table.  You’re smart, get creative.

Here’s a video of me explaining how to do Inverted Body Weight Rows using just my kitchen table:

This is a great movement that can help you get started to building up your off-ignored pull muscles. If you have poor posture, spend all day at a desk hunched over a keyboard, mixing in bodyweight rows to your routine can be incredibly beneficial!

Any more questions about the inverted bodyweight row? Leave em below!


PS: Want to know how to mix bodyweight rows into your workouts? Want to eventually get your first pull-up, and maybe even start weight training in a gym? Not sure how to get started? I got you covered! Download our free comprehensive guide, Strength Training 101: Everything You Need to Know, as we answer ALL of those questions and show you exactly how to get started.

Get the guide free when you sign up in the box below and join the Rebellion!

PPS: Looking for more specific instruction? Check out the Nerd Fitness Academy, a self-paced online course with 100+ video demonstrations on each exercise, a leveled workout routine system with boss battles – whether you train at home or in a gym – and a character development system where you actually level up as you complete missions!


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  • Alessandro Almusura Azara

    Hi mates, thanks Steve!

    Steve has already explain how to adjust the exercise to suit your level of fitness. I’d like to contribuite to this thread by adding a piece of information for those who wants to increase the difficulty of this wonderful exercise.

    I’m refering to the vertical leg inverted rows, which is the most challenging type among bodyweight rows.

    The execution of the vertical leg rows is almost identical to the “regular” rows as instructed by Steve with two exceptions:
    1. you’ll have to raise your legs (your toes pointing to the ceiling and your legs forming a 90° angle with your abdomen);
    2. you’ll need to pull the bar towards your belly (a prerequisite not to lose the balance, since the belly is sort of a center of mass).

    Please, keep in mind that “the only thing moving is your arms”.

    Hope this was helful!
    Cheers 😉

  • Paul

    awesome stuff, steve, the tip about trying with a bar is helping me progress much faster! my final goal: 10×3 pull ups, which i’ve never been able to do before 🙂

  • Tim Emerson

    simple, easy and effective. This is what I lie with exercise

  • Windhorse Rider

    Awesome. I’m working with an on-line trainer and this was a very helpful article. I’m on my way to the gym to give it a try… :O

  • Paula

    I never comment on these things but…
    “Don’t let your ass sag (on purpose anyway…maybe you have a saggy ass – not my place to judge).”

    Seriously, LOL.
    Thanks for this article, very informative and helpful. Can’t wait to try! 🙂

  • Aloke Sahu

    Thanks for this! It really helps, especially the video of you doing the inverted rows under a table.

  • Jamie

    I Loved the article. However the proper form with the elbows is not so clear for me. My question is if in the overhand row do the elbows go straight back like in a tricep push up?

  • blu3fintuna

    Videos … always videos

  • Michael Manila

    im a 16 year old kid in high school. i am overweight. not by much, but still overweight. i am going to join the Marine corp after i finish high school, which will be when im 17. one of the requirements is pullups, at least 3, and this is a great help to me, since i am not able to do even one. i thank you sir, for this helpful post. this is really going to help me.

  • Brittany

    I like the descriptions. I don’t watch a lot of videos, I am big on reading, and eatching video if I need clarification 🙂

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  • Laura Garnham

    Thanks for this, I shall try some later today. There’s nowhere in my house or neighbourhood to do pull ups (well I could go to the park but its full of kids who STARE at me, which is rather disconcerting to say the least especially as I am CRAP at pull-ups 😛 ). Hooray for an alternative 🙂

  • Mila

    I do this same exercise at the gym, but with TRX. Do you think it’s not as good, really the same, or maybe even more effective?

  • manny

    Great post…Could you please comment a bit more on the feet position for inverted rows. I have seen videos of people doing it with feet together and some with feet apart. Is it OK to do it with feet apart at about shoulder width?

  • Baru

    This is totally life changing. Every time I google something about working out I end up on your web site. Great info!

  • I don’t know whether or not it’s more effective, but it’s certainly harder. I don’t have anything static to use for this so I ended up using my brother’s TRX instead.

  • Allan

    Great post

  • katmessing

    Hey Steve, I know this is an older article but I’m still sticking to it for my first 6 week rebellion challenge (complete a pull-up!). Though my gym has a smith machine, the guy at the gym recommended I try the same exercise using the TRX suspension system. Can you tell me if that would work for the same purpose? From what I can tell, the only difference is that you’re pulling yourself up using suspended straps instead of a stable bar.


  • Dannnisaur

    The description and video demonstrations are good enough for me, Steve.

    I’d like to thank you for introducing the inverted pull-ups as well since I haven’t been able to do pull-ups at all, and negative pull-ups have been too strenuous. It may have been just what I needed.

  • Shades

    I really like these posts, and I definitely don’t want them to become all-videos. The bit I get out of them is the text. I don’t have internet at home, so I’ll screenshot the instructions and refer to them when I actually do the exercise.

  • Ash

    Inverted Row? I’ve never heard it called that. From primary school all the way to military, I’ve always known it to be the Inclined Pull-Up/Chin-Up as everyone calls it.

  • Guest

    Great article. And, to answer your question, I prefer to read articles rather than watch videos. (Embedded videos showing technique & form are always great.) Thanks for the well written and well thought out info!

  • Michelle Knowles

    Thanks for this! 🙂

    To answer your question, I love to read, & I like your writing style. You inject humour while sharing information in a way that’s easy to understand, even for those like me who’re relatively new to some stuff. I like videos showing how things are done, but if I had to choose, I’d rather read. Combining the two is a great thing, methinks. Thanks again! 😀

  • Sean

    I definitely vote for videos. I’m just getting started on my diet and fitness, but a lot of what I read talks about how important form is and doing these things right to avoid injury. Nothing is clearer than seeing someone do something and explaining what they’re doing. Then I can try to copy! I also take a supplement I found to increase my weight loss, I found it at

  • wd108

    this is a great post, thanks. i’ve been reading about these “inverted rows”, but in most of what i’ve been reading it seems that they’re referred to as “australian pull-ups”. the video is helpful, but the text is more so.

  • Dexter Hoayun

    Joe, great job on the descriptions. You are very informative and detailed, exactly what I needed. All the extra tips, now I don’t need to go anywhere else for additional information. You have it all. I wanted tips on safety, best form and how to improvise at home. I’m now one of your fans.

  • Great article !! Really like the video with the kitchen table, gotta try this at home !!

  • Beth Austin

    how should you hold your neck? I get terrible neck pain especially on my right side when doing these. just been keeping neck in line with back, but i have to stop with the pain in my neck.

  • Beth Austin

    also, been using a sheet, dunno if that makes a diff.

  • Linda N Michael Garcia

    Do you also feel these in your shoulders?

  • Levi Swanberg

    I’ve been doing some research on inverted rows and the whole concept of “every push needs a pull”. So I’ve been wanting to do enough inverted rows to balance my back muscles with my specs, but it seems to me that 1 inverted row is equal to more than one push up.

    Can anyone weigh in on a good ratio of inverted rows to push ups? From my experience, it seems like a ratio for proper muscle balance would be 1.5 standard push ups to 1 inverted row.

  • Jade

    I can’t lock out my biceps with inverted rows. When I can’t do anymore reps, it’s because of my biceps. What am I doing wrong?

  • Jade

    I can’t lock out my biceps with inverted rows. When I can’t do anymore reps, it’s because of my biceps and not because of my back. What am I doing wrong?

  • Joe Hagen

    When I do the inverted pull using cables, should my feet be flat on ground or should I just have heels down and toes pointed up? Thanks

  • So these are 2 different exercises? Am I right that the only difference is hand placement? I’ve been doing what I thought were pull-ups on a pull up bar, but with my hands facing towards me… I’m thinking that’s a chin up then, not a pull up?

  • DrE

    It’s a hanging row. “inverted bodyweight row” isn’t an accurate name.

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  • CP

    A public playground is a great place to find bars of various heights for doing inverted rows and inclined pushups! There’s usually a few heights to choose from too, and you don’t have to worry about things tipping or sliding.