The Ultimate Guide To Bodyweight Rows 

Bodyweight rows, otherwise known as inverted rows and Australian pull ups is an underrated exercise that every beginner should do if they want to develop upper body pulling strength

If you’re trying to get your first pull up (or want to improve your pull ups), then the bodyweight row is a must-do exercise. They are one of the most useful movements in your calisthenics arsenal. 

I do bodyweight rows every week because they’re that great! In this article, we will explore why you should do bodyweight rows, how to do them with the correct technique, and the variations you can consider. 

Inverted Rows Muscles Worked

A strong back exercise is essential for developing upper body strength. Exercises such as the bodyweight rows is a compound exercise that targets the lats, traps, posterior deltoids,  rhomboids, and erector spinae. The secondary muscles worked are the abdominals, biceps, forearms, glutes, and hamstrings.

Bodyweight Rows Exercises

#1 – Bodyweight Rows

  1. Position yourself under a horizontal bar that is approximately hip height. 
  2. Grab the bar using an overhand (pronated) grip shoulder-width apart. 
  3. Extend your arms so your body is at an inclined slope. Keep your body in a straight line by engaging your glutes and core.
  4. Exhale as you use your arms and back muscles to pull your chest towards the bar. 
  5. Inhale as you lower and return to the starting position. Lock your arms out at the bottom to ensure a full range of motion.
  6. Repeat this for 5-12 reps for 4 sets. 

#2- Underhand Rows

This variation emphasizes the biceps and lats because of the supination of the hand, creating more isolated or contracted muscle isolation.

  1. Position yourself under a horizontal bar that is approximately hip height. 
  2. Grab the bar using an underhand (supinated) grip shoulder-width apart. 
  3. Extend your arms so your body is at an inclined slope. Keep your body in a straight line by engaging your glutes and core.
  4. Exhale as you use your arms and back muscles to pull your chest towards the bar. 
  5. Inhale as you lower and return to the starting position. Lock your arms out at the bottom to ensure a full range of motion.
  6. Repeat this for 5-12 reps for 4 sets. 

#3 – Hammer Rows

The hammer grip is good for targeting the outer head of the biceps brachii, the brachioradialis, and the brachialis. It can increase bicep size and strength and help develop grip strength.

  1. Position yourself in between parallel bars that are approximately hip height. 
  2. Grab the bars using a hammer (palms facing each other) and grip shoulder-width apart. 
  3. Extend your arms so your body is at an inclined slope. Keep your body in a straight line by engaging your glutes and core.
  4. Exhale as you engage your arms and back muscles to pull your chest towards the bar. 
  5. Inhale as you lower and return to the starting position. Lock your arms out at the bottom to ensure a full range of motion.
  6. Repeat this for 5-12 reps for 4 sets. 

#4 – Ring Rows

Ring rows are great for beginners who are new to ring training. It’s a progression exercise for anyone who wants to develop strength for unassisted ring pull ups.

  1. Set the ring at approximately hip height (the lower the rings, the harder the exercise will be).
  2. Grip the rings and lean back until your arms are straight.
  3. Brace your core, glutes, and pull your chest upward so that your body is in a straight line. 
  4. Exhale as you retract your scapular (squeeze shoulder blade together) and pull your chest up towards the rings. Pause for a few seconds at the top position while keeping body tension.
  5. Inhale as you slowly lower yourself back down to the starting position. 
  6. Repeat this for 5-12 reps for 4 sets.

#5 – TRX Rows

TRX rows target all the major muscle groups of your back (lats, rhomboids, traps, biceps,  shoulders, and core). This is great if you want to develop upper body strength without using weights at the gym.

  1. Adjust the suspension trainer at approximately hip height (the lower the rings, the harder the exercise will be).
  2. Grip the handles using a hammer, overhand or underhand grip, and lean back until your arms are straight.
  3. Engage your glutes and core. Your body should be straight at an inclined slope with the weight placed on your heels.
  4. Exhale as you engage your arms and back muscles to pull your chest towards the handles. Pull up as high as you can. 
  5. Inhale as you lower and return to the starting position. Lock your arms out at the bottom to ensure a full range of motion.
  6. Repeat this for 5-12 reps for 4 sets. 

#6 – Single Arm Rows

This exercise is great for developing upper body unilateral strength. More often than not, your dominant side does most of the work which causes muscular imbalances. Single-arm rows will fix this issue.

  1. Begin at an inclined slope with your hands grasp on the bar using an overhand grip. Your arms are fully extended. Engage your glutes and core to ensure that your body is in a straight line.
  2. Spread your feet shoulder-width apart. Pull your shoulder blades together and slowly release one hand from the bar and place it on your hip.
  3. Exhale as you curl your arms and pull your chest towards the bar by activating your back and bicep muscles.
  4. Inhale as you lower and return to the starting position. Lock your arms out at the bottom to ensure a full range of motion.
  5. Repeat this for 5-10 reps for 4 sets. Work on both sides in a single set. 

Bodyweight Rows Benefits

  1. Great Progression for The Pull Up

One of the most difficult body exercises for beginners is the pull up. This exercise requires high upper body strength and endurance to be able to pull up until your chin clears the bar. Bodyweight rows mimic the movement path of the pull up but at a lower intensity as your body is positioned at an inclined slope.

This will strengthen the arms and back muscles that are primarily used for the pull up. 

  1. Improve Grip Strength

Bodyweight rows can be executed using different grips (overhand, underhand, and hammer), each of which has its own benefits. They all activate the forearm muscles, which can overall improve your grip strength. 

A 2019 study suggests that grip strength is a measure of body function, and uses it as a biomarker for aging. In fact, good grip strength is a good indicator of overall positive physical and cognitive function in older adults.

  1. Develop Upper Body Muscles

This is a compound exercise that targets multiple muscle groups at a single time, which includes your back, biceps, forearms, and core. The movement path will help you to build muscle using nothing more than your body weight.

According to Men’s Health, the inverted row is a core training principle that can build strength and size in your back without picking up weights. So you better get rowing to get those gains!

The Takeaways: Build a Bigger Back with Bodyweight Rows

There you have it, six bodyweight rows exercises you can do during your next back workout. These variations will target different muscle groups within your back and arms muscles. (By the way, if you want to complement your back training with some bicep progression, here’s my personal guide to bodyweight bicep training). 

I suggest you choose 3-4 of these bodyweight rows variations to train and work towards being able to complete 12 reps for 3 sets, unbroken. Once you can do this, you will be able to do pull ups effortlessly.

But no matter how far along you are in your fitness journey, you should ask yourself: Are you doing these movements correctly? Should you be doing more or fewer reps? What do you eat to enhance your gains? 

We have created Online Coaching Programs to address these questions directly. Your own personal online coach will create a customized program based on your experience and goals, and check your form on each movement. Check out what Training Program is best for you!

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