Row exercises, like the bodyweight rows, should be incorporated into ALL workout routines. Rows are effective compound movements that are non-negotiable for developing the muscle in the back. If you’re not already performing these, you are doing yourself an absolute disservice!
Bodyweight rows can be performed in a variety of different ways to challenge the workout intensity and degree of muscle activation. By changing up your positioning, angle, and equipment, you can seriously get creative with these exercises.
Some other names associated with the bodyweight rows include the:
- Supine row
- Australian pull-up
- Inverted row
In the following article, we will go over the benefits, techniques, and alternative ways you can perform bodyweight rows.
What are bodyweight rows?
If you’ve ever worked out or been to a gym before, I bet you’ve done something like this before. Usually, you’ll see people doing a seated cable row or bent-over rows. But not the inverted row varieties.
Bodyweight rows or inverted rows utilise your body’s weight as resistance rather than weights or plates. As they are classified as a ‘pulling exercise,’ regularly performing these rows will help improve your back strength and size. In some ways, they are the pulling equivalent to the much more well-known push-up.
In most circumstances, you’ll be performing these exercises in a somewhat supine position (when your back is facing the floor to some degree). Once in this position, you can prepare to pull yourself up towards the bar.
One of the most common ways is to perform the inverted row in a smith machine or squat rack. If you don’t have access to a gym, there are some alternative options listed later in this article.
Which muscles are trained?
As the inverted row is a compound pulling exercise, you will have to activate a significant amount of muscles around the torso and upper limb. However, the primary movers in the body include:
- Latissimus dorsi
- Middle trapezius
Other secondary muscles used during this exercise includes the:
- Abdominal muscles
- Erector spinae
Benefits of bodyweight rows
The bodyweight row is an underperformed exercise despite its numerous benefits. Especially for those who have just begun their fitness journey, this is an excellent starting point for those seeking to find a more muscular back and arms.
To encourage more people to perform this top-notch exercise, here are three paramount benefits.
1. Compound movement
A compound movement requires multiple muscles and joints to move through range. As noted in the section below, the bodyweight row works on several areas, including core stability, arm, back, and grip strength. By challenging multiple muscles with a single movement, you can become more time-effective with your workout.
Bodyweight rows are easily scalable. By changing the angle or adding extra weight, you can alter the difficulty of the task. Especially for beginners, strength gains will be quick, and you will find yourself progressing quickly.
You don’t need much equipment to perform this exercise. Especially for those homebound, all you need is a sturdy table or even a towel to perform the activity, more below.
The bodyweight row is a multifunctional exercise that can easily be adapted depending on the individual performing the movement. Even beginners should be able to find at least one variation of the bodyweight row to be serviceful.
There is truly no excuse not to perform the bodyweight row. Whether you’re homebound or a gym junkie, the inverted row can be performed from something as simple as a kitchen table to a Smith Machine. “I couldn’t find any equipment” is simply not a valid reason for poor exercise adherence.
How to perform the bodyweight row
Step by step instructions:
- Begin by setting the bar above hip height.
- Position yourself under the surface of choice (e.g., bar, table, etc.). Grasp firmly onto the surface above you at shoulders width apart.
- Keep your body straight and core engaged. Initiate the movement by drawing the shoulder blades together.
- Pull your chest up towards the bar and pull elbows behind your back. Sustain this position for 3 seconds.
- Gently lower yourself to the starting position.
- Relax the shoulder muscles to finish the first repetition of the exercise.
How to set up for inverted rows at home?
In the context of most people’s houses, you probably won’t have a dipping bar or a barbell. Time to get creative! However, as with many DIY projects, safety should always be considered. If you feel unsafe, please modify or prevent the inverted row.
1. Underneath the table
You’ll begin by positioning yourself underneath the edge of a stable table. Instead of using a standard bar, you can hold onto the kitchen table instead.
By lining up linen or bed sheets on the top of the doorway, you can use these as grip for performing inverted rows.
3. Broom set-up
Albeit a more unstable method, placing a broom between opposite ends of the kitchen bench or chair is another substitute for a bar. Be careful that the broom doesn’t snap (especially if you’re slightly bigger and heavier).
Bodyweight row workouts
Given the versatile nature of the bodyweight row, they can be performed anytime and anywhere. However, there are specific instances where the bodyweight row might be more appropriate.
How to fit bodyweight rows into your workout?
Bodyweight rows are generally considered a ‘lighter’ form of pulling exercises compared to pull-ups or barbell rows. Instead of heavy weights, you’d be pulling just a proportion of your body weight (which can be adjusted by your body’s positioning).
One of the best times to perform a bodyweight is right at the beginning of your workout to warm-up your back and arm muscles. This row is an excellent way of activating all the pulling muscles and injury prevention. Especially if you’re performing a massive lift, such as a deadlift or pull-up, the bodyweight row is an absolute must!
Beyond bodyweight rows
There comes a time when a bodyweight row just doesn’t cut it. Especially if you’re an experienced gym junkie, you may need an additional challenge. A progression of other types of ‘rowing’ and ‘pulling’ exercises can lead to more bulk and strength. Examples of these progressions can include:
- Seated rows
- Kettlebell renegade rows
- Inverted row progressions (e.g., weighted backpack, weighted vest, etc.)
Other Types of rows
As discussed above, there is a wide variety of rowing-type movements. The difficulty of the exercises can be scaled depending on the proficiency of the individual. Factors that can be adjusted to challenge yourself include:
- The stability of the grip
- The degree of incline and decline
- The amount of (body)weight that the upper limbs need to support
Examples of the wide variations of rowing type exercises can be outlined below.
1. TrX Rows
The TrX system stands for Total Resistance Exercises and utilizes the body’s weight to improve strength, core stability, and balance. Also known as suspension training, the TrX rows can be performed with their signature stitched straps. When tied to a stable platform, the user can use their upper limbs to pull themselves up against gravity.
When performing a TrX row, it’s essential to maintain a straight posture while on an incline. The further out your feet are in front of your body, the more difficult the rows become. As the TrX rows require you to be more upright, less weight needs to be supported by the upper limbs.
2. Ring Rows
Similar to the TrX system, the rings are another variation of suspension training. However, circular rings replace the handle straps of the TrX. The relative instability of these circular handles develops shoulder proprioception (ability to sense and adjust to subtle movements). Like trying to squat on an uneven surface (i.e., sand), this added property increases the difficulty of the task.
Besides these differences, the same inverted row technique applies to both the TrX and ring rows. If you follow these three cues, you’re pretty much set for success!
- Keep your body straight.
- Lift yourself towards your grip.
- Move your feet out further if the task is too easy.
3. Kettlebell Row
Unlike the TrX and ring rows, the kettlebell row utilizes additional weight to provide resistance to the movement.
The kettlebell row is a full-body compound movement that requires you to engage your lower limb muscles more so than the bodyweight variations. For those who are finding the inverted row too easy, using a kettlebell can make it more demanding.
After reading this guide, you should have a rough idea of how to perform this exercise and its associated benefits. The bodyweight exercise should be a staple pulling exercise for everyone of all fitness levels. Maybe you’ve just started your fitness journey. Perhaps you’re an experienced lifter. The bodyweight row has a place in everyone’s exercise regimes.
Have you tried the bodyweight row? Let me know more below: