Better shoulder health, better core strength, and better athletic performance with the inverted row, a basic "back" exercise.
In this edition we are going to go over the how’s and why’s of the inverted row. This horizontal pulling movement is not only a great exercise for all the posterior muscles of the upper body, but is also great for shoulder health and core stability. While this is a bodyweight exercise, I feel that this exercise is a necessity for improving your athletic performance, so much so that you will see every athlete I work with performing them at some point during a week of training.
Now, why is the inverted row so important? Well let’s start with what most people want to talk about - the bench press. You may have heard the saying, “big back, big bench.” This is because if you bench correctly the posterior muscles of the upper body are involved in the initial press. Horizontal pulling exercises, like the inverted row, help stabilize the shoulder and make sure that your shoulder can handle benching both in high intensity and high volume situations. A well known strength coach Brett Jones has said, “this looks good,” pointing to the front of his body, “this performs good,” pointing to the back. Grammar aside, what we’re going to do is attack the upper part of the back side of the body (the performance side), while working the core at the same time. Here is a step by step approach at how to perform the inverted row:
Set Up: For the basic set up you are going to need a power rack or a smith machine (this is the ONLY use for a smith machine). Set the pins/bar at hip height. This will allow enough room for you to perform the movement without hitting the ground.
Hands: Place your hands on the bar about a thumbs length in on the knurling (the rough stuff). While you’re holding the bar I want you to crush the bar with your hands. Grabbing the bar as hard as possible is going to cause irradiation and increase the tension throughout your body.
Body Position: Now set your feet so your heels are the only part on the ground. Once you do this straighten your knees and get yourself in a straight line by setting your core, and squeezing your glutes and abs as hard as possible, just like the push up. Hold this straight line position throughout the entire movement.
Shoulder Blades: To initiate the pull you are going to pull your shoulder blades down and back, pinching them together. This not only initiates the movement but also starts firing the muscles of your upper back.
Elbows: After your shoulder blades are together you are going to try to pull your elbows behind your back at about 45 degrees. Pull as hard as you can without jerking yourself up and losing your body position.
Finish the Rep Both Ways: Like the push-up, I see a ton of head bobs that athletes try to call an inverted row, both at the top half and the bottom half. Pull yourself all the way up touching the bar right at the bottom of your chest, and lower yourself all the way down. This is a full rep. I realize that getting all the way up is hard, but why only do half of the exercise. Get all the way up there, touch the bar with your chest and lower yourself all the way down until your elbows are straight. A cue that may help you on this is to think about pulling the bar to you, not pulling yourself to the bar. Your upper back, posture, shoulders and performance will thank you for using the full rep every time.
This exercise is a little different than others because there are only three main things to focus on if you want to get better at it.
1) Really concentrate on setting and keeping your core tight
2) Pull your shoulder blades down and back and
3) Pinch your elbows behind you.
Almost all pulling exercises are all about shoulder blades and elbows. If you can keep that in your head (stay tight, pull with your shoulder blades and elbows), you’re going to do well with this. Eventually, you'll progress to an inverted row program. In the interim, keep your focus and start pulling yourself to better shoulder health, better core strength and better athletic performance.
And 1R, while perfecting your inverted row movement, think about these supplements to help you properly recover and add the lean upper body mass you're working hard for: