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5 Challenging Inverted Row Alternatives At Home

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The inverted row is a very good bodyweight exercise to develop the back muscles. Because you can’t really add resistance to the exercise, though, most people will reach the stage where the exercise is not challenging enough.

Adding more reps will increase muscular endurance but not size and strength.

That’s why it’s good to have a range of inverted row alternatives that can be used either instead of or as a stepping stone to progress to after you’re able to complete around 15 bodyweight reps on the inverted row. 

As a personal trainer, I love to use the inverted row to help my clients develop a base of strength and development in the upper back muscles. Before too long, however, the vast majority of them have outgrown the exercise.

When they can get to 15 or more reps, I know that the resistance is too light and they need to move on to more challenging alternatives.

The inverted row alternative exercises that I’ve chosen to include in this article are the very same movements that I’ve been using with my bodybuilding, sports and general fitness clients over the years.

They can all be done in a home gym with nothing but a barbell, dumbbells, a weight bench, and a set of resistance bands.

Is the Inverted Row a Modified Version of the Pull Up?

No, the inverted row is not a modified version of the pull up. The inverted row targets the middle traps and rhomboids more whereas a pull up targets the lats. This is because an inverted row is more horizontal than a vertical pull up.

A lot of people, including some trainers, think that the inverted row is an easier form of the pull-up exercise. As a result, they perform the inverted row with the goal of progressing towards the pull-up. 

There are, however, quite a few differences between these two exercises.

1. An inverted row is more horizontal than a pull up

The inverted row involves pulling yourself up towards a bar from a position where your feet are on the floor and your body angled at about 30°. Rather than pulling your body vertically against gravity, you are rowing with more of a horizontal movement. 

This changes the emphasis on the muscles worked. 

2. Pull ups are harder as you lift your full bodyweight

The pull up is also significantly harder, because you’re lifting your entire body weight up with each rep. 

With the row, you’re lifting less of your body weight (the amount of body weight you lift is dependent on the distance between your feet (anchor point) and the barbell).

The closer your feet are to the bar, the lower the percentage of your weight you are lifting. 

3. Rows are different to pulling movements

The easiest way to differentiate these two exercises is by just thinking about their names. The inverted row is part of the rowing family of exercises.

The action involved is a rowing movement, even though you are not in a horizontal position when you do it.

The pull up, on the other hand, is a classic pulling movement, where you are pulling directly opposite to the downward force of gravity. 

So, the inverted row should not be used as a progression toward being able to do pull ups. Instead, I recommend using a loop resistance band to do this.

The band allows you to take away some of your body weight as you pull up. Here is a video to show you how this works …

You can find the best pull up alternatives here too. 

Whilst you can increase the difficulty of the inverted row (raise your feet from the floor on a box, increasing the range of movement), slowing the tempo down, or wearing a weighted vest to add resistance, all of these are limited variables so you need more challenging alternatives… 

How I’ve Selected the Best Inverted Row Alternatives

For any alternative exercise article to be useful, it needs to provide like-for-like alternatives. Unfortunately, that’s not what you get when you click on most of these types of articles.

Usually, you’re presented with a random list of movements that generally target the main muscle worked (in this case the back) but don’t actually move the specific muscles through the same range of motion.

At Strong Home Gym, we are committed to only publishing information that is relevant and practical to you as a home gym user. That’s why we go the extra mile to research and provide you with like-for-like alternatives that will achieve a similar result to the original exercise. 

As a result of being more selective than most, our alternative exercise lists are not as long as you’ll see on other websites. You can be assured, however, that every single one of these exercises makes an ideal alternative or progression to the inverted row.

Here are the key things I considered before adding an alternative exercise to this list:

  • Does it target the same muscle groups as the inverted row?
  • Does it move those muscles along the same angles and through the same range of motion?
  • Is it scalable?
  • Can it be done in a home gym with minimal equipment?

1. Inverted row muscles worked

The key muscles that are worked in the inverted row are:

Main muscles:

  • Latissimus Dorsi 
  • Trapezius
  • Rhomboids

Secondary muscles:

  • Biceps
  • Erector spinae (lower back)
  • Rear shoulder

The latissimus dorsi (lats), trapezius (traps), rhomboids and biceps are the prime movers of the exercise. The other muscles are secondary movers that act to stabilize and support the body as you’re doing the movement.

Inverted row muscles used

Note- your rowing grip can change the activation of muscle groups during any rowing movement, but the impact is minimal.

2. Angle of movement

The angle of movement with the inverted row is pulling the elbows back behind your body and squeezing the shoulder blades together. As we saw with our pull up comparison,it is a rowing and not a pulling exercise. 

3. The inverted row isn’t scalable

A problem with the inverted row is that it is not easily scalable – you can only go so far with changing body angles and adding weight i.e. a weighted vest or balancing a plate on your abs. 

In other words, once you’re strong enough to do a high number of reps, you can’t really make the exercise dramatically harder beyond changing angles and adding a little weight.

To be useful, all of our inverted row alternatives can be made more difficult by adding significant extra resistance. 

4. Home gym friendly

This website is dedicated to the home gym user. As a result, we recommend alternative exercises that can be done in the average home gym that doesn’t cost a fortune.

Equipment needed for these exercises

5 Inverted Row alternatives that replicate the same movement pattern

Inverted row alternative infographic

1. Incline Prone Dumbbell Prone Row

The incline dumbbell prone row is my go to exercise for home gym trainers who want to build lat and trap strength and density while protecting their lower back. 

Even though this is a bilateral exercise like the inverted row, the use of dumbbells means that each side must carry its own weight (literally).

That makes this exercise a great option if you have a strength imbalance that causes the bar to come up unevenly when doing barbell rows. 

Equipment needed for the incline prone dumbbell row:

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Adjustable Dumbbells

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Classic
Read our best adjustable dumbbell guide here

These are the dumbbells we recommend for ‘most people’.

We have spent over 50 hours of research and compared over 100 dumbbells. Adjustable dumbbells make sense for most home gyms as they save space.

The Nüobell dumbbells go all the way to 80lbs per hand. This means they are much more versatile than most 50lbs adjustable dumbbells. You can use these for heavy shrugs, squats and bench press etc.

The main reason they are the top pick is because of their shape. They actually feel like real dumbbells and are not awkward to lift like some others.

How to do the incline prone dumbbell row:

  1. Put a pair of dumbbells at the head of an adjustable weight bench. Adjust the bench to a 45-degree angle.
  2. Lie face down on the bench so that you are looking down at the dumbbells. Plant your feet firmly on the floor.
  3. Reach down to take hold of the dumbbells with a neutral grip, where your palms are facing each other.
  4. Depress your shoulders and flare out your lats. Now press your abs into the bench as you pull the dumbbells up to the bench. Squeeze the shoulder blades together in the top position.
  5. Lower the dumbbells in a controlled manner
  6. Repeat for the required number of reps.

Incline prone dumbbell row muscles worked:

  • Latissimus Dorsi 
  • Trapezius
  • Rhomboids
  • Biceps
  • Rear shoulder

2. Yates Row

The Yates Row is named after six-time Mr Olympia winner Dorian Yates, who was renowned for his superior back thickness.

The key difference with this exercise over other barbell rowing moves is that it uses an underhand grip and your torso is parallel to the floor.

You can load more weight on this exercise without stressing the lower back.

Equipment needed for the Yates row:

Rogue Ohio Cerakote Bar

Rogue Ohio Bar Cerakote
Read our best Olympic barbell guide here

This is the bar that we recommend for ‘most people’.

We have spent over 120 hours of research and tested over 100 barbells.

It is affordable but comes with some high specs. The Rogue Work Hardening and 190k PSI tensile strength mean the bar will last a lifetime in a home gym.

It is a multi-purpose bar with a 28.5mm diameter shaft and composite bushings in the sleeves. This means it’s balanced for heavy slow bench presses but you can also perform snatches and fast overhead lifts.

How to do the Yates row:

  1. Place a loaded barbell on the floor. Stand behind it so that the bar crosses your midfoot.
  2. Hinge at the hips and bend the knees to grab the bar with a shoulder-width under hand grip. Now come up to a standing position.
  3. Slide the bar down your legs until it is at mid-shin level. In this position, your back should be parallel to the floor.
  4. Row the barbell up to your hip level, allowing your elbows to track behind you. Squeeze your shoulder blades together in the top position.
  5. Lower the bar under control, keeping your back flat throughout.
  6. Continue for the required number of reps. 

Yates row muscles worked:

  • Latissimus Dorsi 
  • Trapezius
  • Rhomboids
  • Biceps
  • Rear shoulder

3. Seated Resistance Band High Row

The seated resistance band row allows you to simulate a cable machine row. You’re also able to adjust the anchor point of the band to provide a different angle of pull for the lat and trap muscle fibers.

In the description, the band is anchored to an upright support. 

Equipment needed for seated resistance band row:

  • Resistance band

How to do the seated resistance band row:

  1. Secure a resistance band to the top of a  door, using the band’s anchor stopper.
  2. Grab the handles and sit on the floor facing the door with your feet against it. Your knees should be bent slightly so that your torso is about three feet from the door.
  3. Readjust your positioning so that the band is taut and angled slightly when your arms are fully extended.
  4. From a fully extended arm position, pull your arms down to bring the band to chest level. Squeeze your shoulder blades together in the contracted position.
  5. Return your arms to a fully extended position under control.
  6. Repeat for the required number of reps. 

Seated resistance band muscles worked:

  • Latissimus Dorsi 
  • Trapezius
  • Rhomboids
  • Biceps
  • Rear shoulder

4. Seal Row

The seal row has you in the opposite body position to the inverted row, with your body supported by a flat bench. The rowing movement, though, is just the same.

This exercise allows you to more effectively target the lats, traps and rhomboids while protecting the lower back. 

This exercise is done in commercial gyms on a specially made bench. You can improvize at home by placing some 45-pound weight plates under the bench – just make sure it’s stable before you get on.

Equipment needed for the seal row:

REP AB-3000 Bench

REP AB-3000 Weight Bench
Read our best weight bench guide here

This is the weight bench we recommend for ‘most people’.

We compared over 70 benches against 12 criteria. This is our highest-ranked flat, incline & decline (FID) bench.

Some adjustable benches can be a bit wobbly when on the incline. But the AB-3000 is very sturdy.

With a height 18mm it’s comparable to benches that cost twice as much.

How to do the seal row:

  • Elevate a flat bench by around six inches by placing 45-pound plates under the feet.
  • Position a loaded barbell horizontally under the bench to align where your arms would hang.
  • Lie on the bench and hang your arms to take hold of the bar at shoulder width with an overhand grip.
  • Push your core into the bench as you row the bar up to the bottom of the bench. Squeeze your shoulder blades together in the top position. 
  • Lower under control and repeat for the required rep count. 

Seal row muscles worked:

  • Latissimus Dorsi 
  • Trapezius
  • Rhomboids
  • Biceps
  • Rear shoulder

5. TRX Row

The TRX row is a body weight exercise that uses a suspension rowing strap system to work against gravity. By adjusting your body position, you are able to make the exercise harder or easier; the lower your body angle, the more difficult it is. 

Suspension strap trainers require a greater element of balance and stability than when you work with barbells or dumbbells. This makes more use of the stabilizer muscles of the back and core. 

Equipment needed for the TRX row:

  • TRX suspension trainer (or other brand of suspension trainer)

How to do the TRX row:

  1. Secure the TRX straps to a secure upright above your head. Stand a few feet back from the band and grab the handles with a neutral (palms facing) grip.
  2. Lean back so that your body is at about a 45-degree angle when your arms are fully extended.
  3. Pull your body up so that your chest comes up to the level of the TRX handles. Squeeze your shoulder blades together in the top position.
  4. Return to the start position under control.
  5. Repeat for the required rep count. 

TRX row muscles worked:

  • Latissimus Dorsi 
  • Trapezius
  • Rhomboids
  • Biceps
  • Abdominals
  • Rear shoulder

Inverted Row Alternative exercises: the bottom line

While the inverted row is a good bodyweight exercise for beginners, most people will reach the point where they need a greater challenge.

You’ve now got five effective alternative exercises that can be used to progress your workouts to get progressively stronger and bigger. 

Choose the exercises that match your available equipment and that you feel the most in the target muscles. Be sure to use proper form and don’t make the mistake of using a weight that forces you to use momentum.

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Steve is a certified personal trainer, current home gym owner, former gym owner, and copywriter. He joined his first gym at age 15 and, five years later, he was managing his own studio. In 1987, he became the first personal fitness trainer in New Zealand.

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