6 Ways to Progress Inverted Rows

I'm a big fan of inverted row variations, as they not only build a strong, functional upper back but also challenge core stability at the same time. Unfortunately, they can become too easy very quickly. Instead of ditching the movement altogether, here are 6 ways that you can progress these variations to increase the difficulty.

The first progression for most people is to simply perform the exercise with correct technique. The most common errors I see in most people technique are:

  • forward head posture

  • elbows reaching way behind the body (shoulder blades fail to retract, so the person substitutes extra movement in the elbows)

  • hip sagging (the body doesn't stay in a straight line)

Here are some verbal cues you can use to fix these problems:

  • make a double chin throughout the movement

  • as you pull, there are strings pulling your shoulders back

  • your body is flat as a board

Once suspension rows get easier with your now perfected form try changing the grip. Just as we see with pull-up variations, going to a pronated (overhand) grip will increase the difficulty of inverted rows, as compared to neutral (palms facing one another) and supinated (underhand) grips.

Now that you've mastered the movement with pristine form and feel strong using different grip positions, try these 6 progressions:

Add a pause to the top

The top position is without a doubt the most challenging, so you can increase the time under tension — and therefore the difficulty — by adding 1-3 second pauses at the top of each rep.

Overload the eccentric phase

By slowing down the time it takes to lower yourself down (the eccentric phase) you will instantly make the movement harder without changing body position. Increasing the time under tension of any movement will lead to a more challenging set.

Lower you're feet down

As you move your feet to a lower position you will be forced to use more of your body weight during the movement.

Elevate your feet

Most people overlook the fact that by simply elevating the feet you can make the exercise considerably more challenging. Make sure that the handles, arms, and shoulders create a straight line down to the ground. This progression is somewhat "assumed," but you can progress this even further by increasing the box height — I like to use the 24" box. Start with a 12" box and work your way up from there.

Add weight using a plate, backpack, or chains

Adding an extra load to inverted rows is a sure-fire way for progression. I've found a backpack to be really useful to use as a weighted vest (no need to spend money on that). The extra padding of the backpack made it easy to add extra weight, as you can slide weight plates into it — or books if you are at home. Just strap it on your chest and wear it in reverse for your inverted rows.

Try one arm variations

You can do inverted row variations one arm at a time, too.  In doing so, you add a little more of a challenge to your grip strength and the rotary stability of your core.

Inverted rows are a staple exercise, but that doesn't mean that they need to be boring!  Try these progressions — and even combine some of them — and you'll find that you're able to include an inverted row variation in just about every strength training program you complete.

Coach Cameron