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Inverted Rows Muscles Worked & How To Guide

By: Zack Mathews, NASM - CPT, CES, & PES, PN-L1

how to do inverted rows

Learning how to do inverted rows and the muscles worked is going to help build a strong and defined upper back.

Not only will it help you build muscle, inverted rows are a great starting point to mastering pull-ups.

In this guide, you learn:

Inverted Rows Muscles Worked

The primary muscles used during inverted rows are the:

Also note that it is common to feel inverted rows in your forearms if you have weak muscles in that area or poor grip strength.  This will improve the more you do them!

inverted rows muscles worked

The Best Grip For Inverted Rows

Depending on the grip, you can emphasize the biceps more by taking an underhand grip on the bar.  You should decide on what grip you want based on your goals.

If you want to get better at chin-ups, go with underhand.  If you prefer to improve your pull-ups and prioritize the upper back muscles, do overhand grip.

How To Do Inverted Rows

  • Set up for inverted rows using either a smith machine bar or a standard barbell on a squat rack.


  • For the initial setup, align the bar at a heigh that is somewhere between your chest and your stomach.  The lower the bar is, the harder it becomes.


  • Take an overhand grip and grab the bar with your arms a few inches wider than shoulder width on each side.  You arms should be straight with no bend in your elbows.


  • Begin walking under the bar until you hit a point where when you pull yourself up to the bar, the bar hits right at the nipple line.  (This may take a couple practice reps).


  • Once in position, perform a standard row where you begin pulling your chest to the bar by puling your shoulder blades back.


  • When your chest hits the bar, pause slightly, and then begin slowly lowering yourself back to the starting position.


  • That’s one rep!

How Many Sets And Reps Of Inverted Rows

Start by performing inverted rows for 3 sets of 10 - 12 reps.

Once you can do all 3 sets with perfect form for 12 reps, lower the bar to the next notch and begin working on building up to 3 sets of 12.

If you notice your butt is sagging or your back is overly arched to get yourself to the bar, it’s too low and needs to be raised.  Also, if your chest can’t reach the bar, you need to raise it.

The 3 Best Inverted Row Variations

Inverted Row Holds

One of my favorite inverted row variations is to do a standard inverted row but turn it into an isometric hold.

This means you will raise your chest to the bar and hold that position for as long as you can.

You only do this for 1 rep.  Record your time and try to improve on it week over week.

Suspension Trainer Rows

If you don’t have access to a barbell, you can perform the same type of movement with a suspension trainer, such as a TRX.

You set up in the same position as inverted row but the only difference is that there is a level of instability that the suspension trainer offers that a barbell doesn’t.

Chest Supported Rows

Chest supported rows are different from inverted rows in the fact that you are pulling dumbbells towards you instead of pulling yourself to a bar. Your body sets up in the same position and a similar row is performed to target the same back muscles.

This is one of my favorite exercises of all time because it’s easy on the lower back and still allows you to lift heavy.  


Are Inverted Rows Better Than Rows?

Inverted rows are a great movement because they help improve your relative strength.  Relative strength is how strong you are compared to your own bodyweight.

Someone can be really strong but they are heavy and have trouble doing inverted rows.

They both have their time and place, along with working similar muscles, so there is not one exercise that is better than the other in terms of inverted rows vs rows.

Should Your Chest Touch The Bar On Inverted Rows?

Yes, your chest should touch the bar on every inverted row rep.  If you have trouble reaching your chest to the bar, it’s too low for you.

You need to make the exercise slightly easier by raising the bar higher.

Once you can do 3 sets of 10 - 12 reps with perfect form where your chest touches the bar, then lower it back.

Are Inverted Rows As Good As Pull-Ups?

Pull-ups are the ultimate exercise for relative strength but often times hurt people’s shoulders so inverted rows are a great substitute.

There are no exercises you have to do.  Find which ones you like and feel good on your body.

Inverted Rows Recap

Inverted rows work the muscles in your upper back, rear shoulders, and your biceps.

The great thing about inverted rows is that you can make it as easy as you want (bar goes higher) or as hard as you can (lowering the bar).

Also, it’s easy to gauge progress on this lift because the stronger you get, the closer the bar gets to the ground.

Always train with great form and enjoy doing inverted rows!