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!

-Steve

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!

###

Get The Rebel Starter Kit

Enter your email and we’ll send it right over.

  • The 15 mistakes you don’t want to make.
  • The most effective diet and why it works.
  • Complete your first workout today, no gym required.
  • These are the tools you need to start your quest.
Woman
Man
  • JFreedom

    Awesome exercise… I recently started doing these and they're a lot harder than I thought they'd be. Still, it really forces you to isolate your back muscles (unlike the people swinging momentum on the row machines…) and gives the core muscles a nice workout too.

    Oh and I'd pay cash money to see you go to the gym in Spandex!

  • Aled

    These posts are great, Steve. Keep 'em coming! (Especially the bits about not having lots of equipment/gym facilities and the alternatives we can use. Although, when I break my table tonight I'm blaming you!)

    Cheers.

  • JFreedom

    Did you say table break? Here's how you do it ATL style.. 🙂 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0uVe3HX3qM4

  • NerdFitness

    Joe, in our gym I don't think anybody would notice.

    -S

  • NerdFitness

    hahaha, thanks for the comment Aled. Yeah, make sure your table can support you! I climbed under my table today and did a quick set and I didn't break anything, but make sure you got a sturdy table or things could get ugly.

    -Steve

  • http://www.designtoimprovelife.com EuroPorter

    Agree on giving us the non-gym ways to do things. At least I don't have to wait until my table is free, which I can't say for the equipment at the gym. (JFreedom, the table-break video is amazing, what they had against that table?) And yes, as I mentioned earlier, your own vids would be much better, SK, Richard Simmons can't live forever. I hope.

  • http://twitter.com/Juncti Troy

    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. To me nothing is clearer than seeing someone do something and explaining what they're doing. Then I can try to mimic it as safely as possible.

  • http://twitter.com/Juncti Troy

    I should also note, maybe do in the video a few examples of the different configurations. You may be fit enough for the hardest version, but it would be nice to see examples of the easier versions as well so those of us doing those have a point of reference.

    Thanks

  • NerdFitness

    Good Call Troy,

    I'm gonna speak with my gym and see if they're cool with me filming and
    plugging them in the process, hopefully they're cool with it.

    -S

  • jozmo

    Started doing these a couple weeks. Had to raise the bar up … definitely harder than they appear. But the reps are going up and the bar will be coming down eventually.

    Keep it up with the exercise posts, but don't overload it. Perhaps after you've gone a round on the basics, a round on some variations would be in order.

  • NerdFitness

    Good call Josh,

    I'm a big fan of keeping things simple, so I won't do videos on crazy-ass
    isolation exercises and shin exercises etc. I do only like 8 exercises
    total on any given week, with some slight variations, so I'd keep the videos
    simple too, just to show that you can get in great shape without overly
    complicating things.

    -Steve

  • jozmo

    But my wife keeps saying I totally need to work on my shins! What about those of us who married shin-lovers?

    New series idea: Why This Exercise Machine Sucks and You Should Do Squats / Pull-Ups Instead.

  • Geeraard

    Hey, Steve!
    Very good exercise, I started with it today. The Smith machine is excellent for this one, haha.

    Keep the good stuff coming. I like your style.

    Greetings from Spain.

  • Geeraard

    Hey, Steve!
    Very good exercise, I started with it today. The Smith machine is excellent for this one, haha.

    Keep the good stuff coming. I like your style.

    Greetings from Spain.

  • Pingback: Eat Whatever the Hell You Want on Thanksgiving | Nerd Fitness()

  • Pingback: Workout Log – March 17, 2010 « VFF Runner()

  • Pingback: Make Optimus Prime Proud - Learn How to Transform Your Life | Nerd Fitness()

  • Pingback: The 11 Rules of The Nerd Fitness Rebel Army | Nerd Fitness()

  • Pingback: What We Can Learn from the Greatest Video Game of All Time. | Nerd Fitness()

  • Liz

    Love these posts — way better than video-only; and I like that you've found others' interpretations/takes on the same exercises. Thanks!

  • Pingback: Infiltrating the Empire: How to Work Out Properly In a Commercial Gym | Nerd Fitness()

  • Pingback: The Mommy Belly Diaries: Start Week One | Mommy Blogs @ JustMommies()

  • Pingback: Workout Swap: High-Intensity Weights Routine for Kris | Workout Nirvana()

  • Shadowspike

    Steve, This is awsome,and i would like to get some more details on a few things, plese contact me at shadowspike995@yahoo.com

  • Lauxa

    Thanks for the article, is this basically the same exercise as the body weight horizontal row? I bought a set of gymnastics rings that I am using for this exercise and a few others, so that is another inexpensive ($50) way it can be done in a home gym.

  • Pingback: What MacGuyver Can Teach Us About Plan B | Nerd Fitness()

  • http://twitter.com/skybe077 Edwin Tam

    Good one. Really good stuff.

  • Pingback: Can’t Do a Pull Up Yet? Here’s How to Get it Done | Nerd Fitness()

  • Pingback: 2011-06-06 workout « Stuff From Hsoi()

  • Kaze

    I am so glad that I found this site because I would have never thought of doing inverted rows on the kitchen table.

  • Kaze

    I am so glad that I found this site because I would have never thought of doing inverted rows on the kitchen table.

  • Mike

    So I love this exercise, it’s really been doing good for me for the past couple months. I went through the article again and fixed my form a bit this week and wow. My biggest advice to inverted row nubs after a couple months and a few read throughs of this article, keep the shoulders back and down. It helps you lead with your chest and keep your chin down. Keeping the shoulders back and down really made the difference for me, saw strength increases in 1 week with this adjustment to my form.

  • Pingback: Thur, Oct 6th | CrossFit Ireland()

  • Pingback: Simplify The **** Out of Everything | Nerd Fitness()

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000162279421 Chris Brown

    I’ve been reading your blog for only a month or two and I enjoy it all. I’m a video game addict with the body of a 9 year old boy and in desperate need of some upper body strength to counter my overly super muscular thumbs and that tiny, but super hard muscle on my forearm that is most likely pre carpel tunnel. I also eat like crap. Maybe you will inspire me. Maybe not. Honestly, you look a little to fit to be a geek and it concerns me.

  • Bohare32

    Great descriptions. I’m doing stronglifts and having the same lower back strength issues. I switched from barbell to inverted rows and added light weight good mornings. After three weeks with inverted rows I’ve gone from three pullups to seven.

    PS. Someone is going to wreck his kitchen table. Wish I could see it.

  • Pingback: Falling off the horse (and getting back on) «()

  • Pingback: Food and Tabatas and Progress, Oh My! « Stumbling Toward Health()

  • MB

    Im wanting to know a suitable alternative to Body-weight rows that i can do without anything. something i can do on a grass patch or beach?

  • Pingback: The BUFF BRIDE Assessment: How was it done? « 14th and 1st()

  • Pingback: Here Are 2 Training Methods That Are Helping People Get Crazy Lean | Albert's Fitness Life()

  • Tpenha

    love the video’s , which every way you put them out there, I will be watching them.

  • Pingback: Hack Your Gym: Save Time and Lift More With These Tips | Greatist.com()

  • Pingback: Life to the Full · Three Things Friday()

  • Pingback: The Beginner's Guide to Building Muscle and Strength | Nerd Fitness()

  • Pingback: How Can I Get Muscles? Part I | Physique Rescue()

  • http://twitter.com/k3v032 Howie Duzzit

    I sure as hell care…hahaha all of these posts are from YEARS ago. A little late to the party I suppose.

  • Cleg Burris

    Cleg Burris here. Sometimes I work out at home too. The kitchen table is genius.

  • Pingback: True Minimalist Fitness: Training with (Almost) Nothing | Zed & the Art of Life()

  • UK Rich

    Just found your inverted row article. Going to start using them this week. Being able to do chins and pulls is my objective. Thanks, Rich