11 Best Inverted Row Alternative (With Pictures)

11 best inverted row alternative (with pictures)

The inverted row is a great bodyweight back exercise that can be performed with a TRX style suspension trainer (or TRX alternative), a Smith machine, or Olympic rings. 

However, it gets to a certain point where adding more reps on the inverted row is less than ideal, and you want to increase the load. At this point, you may want to choose an alternative to the inverted row.

The 11 best inverted row alternatives are:

  1. Low Row
  2. Pendlay Row
  3. Seal Row
  4. DB Prone Row
  5. Chest-Supported Row
  6. Iso-Lateral Machine High Row
  7. Bent-Over Dumbbell Row
  8. T-Bar Row
  9. Seated Resistance Band Row
  10. Bent Over Resistance Band Row
  11. Yates Row

In this article, I will go through exactly what makes a good alternative to the inverted row, what the best alternatives are to the inverted row, and how best to do them.

I’ve included exercises that use dumbbells, barbells, machines, and resistance bands so you can perform them in the gym, at home, or outdoors.

What Makes A Good Inverted Row Alternative

what makes a good inverted row alternative

A good alternative to the inverted row will be able to satisfy the following conditions:

  1. Target the similar muscle groups that are used in the inverted row
  2. Train the muscles bilaterally

Let’s take a look at the muscles used in the inverted row so you can get a better understanding of which muscle groups an inverted row alternative should target.

Muscles Used in the Inverted Row

The muscles trained in the inverted row are:

  • Latissimus Dorsi (a large, flat muscle that spreads along the middle and lower back on each side)
  • Trapezius (the muscle group that runs along the back of the neck and shoulders)
  • Rhomboids (upper back muscles that enable you to squeeze your shoulder blades together)
  • Biceps (the muscles at the front of the arm between the elbow and shoulders)
  • Spinal Erectors (the back muscles that enable you to straighten and rotate your back)
  • Posterior Deltoids (muscles at the backs of the shoulders)

The prime movers in the inverted row are the traps, lats, and biceps. The rest of the muscles are synergists (i.e. they all work together to enable you to perform the movement) and stabilizers that assist the main muscles.

Wondering if you can train the back and biceps enough by just doing rows? We cover this in detail in Are Rows & Pull-Ups Enough For Back And Biceps?

Train The Muscles Bilaterally

A good alternative to the inverted row will be able to tackle the muscles bilaterally. This means that it will target both the left and right sides of the back and arms at the same time. 

This makes it an efficient way of training your muscle groups and makes it more time-efficient.

Inverted Row Alternatives: 11 Exercises

1) Low Row

The low row is a versatile alternative to the inverted row that is suitable for beginners and beyond. The low row uses a seated cable row or low row machine. It is versatile because you can opt for different shaped handles to perform this exercise. 

By using different handles, you can change the position your arm moves and activate muscles differently on your back and biceps.

The low row provides a similar constant tension on the upper back muscles just like the inverted row.

How To Do It

  • Sit down on the seat for the low row, put your feet on the feet pad with a soft bend in your knees, and grab onto the handle that you have chosen to use.
  • Keep your back flat and arms relaxed, then bring your torso to an upright position.
  • Take a deep breath in, then row by bringing your elbows backward and pinching your shoulder blades together.
  • As you row, forcefully exhale, and when you reach your elbows as far back as possible, hold the position momentarily.
  • Inhale as you relax your shoulder blades and return the cable to your initial start position. Ensure that your torso is stationary and upright throughout the whole exercise.

Pro Tip

Different handles can activate different parts of your back muscles. Using a V grip type handle or some other narrow handle allows you to keep your elbows closer to the torso, thus engaging your lats quite well.

Using a wide lat pulldown handle or some form of a long bar puts your elbows in a slightly more flared position, which can focus the activation on your upper traps and rear delts more.

As well, changing your torso angle slightly can have a huge impact on what muscle groups you feel too. If you lean back ever so slightly, you can engage your upper traps a bit more, but if you lean forward more, you can engage your lats a bit more.

Not sure which cable attachment is best? Check out these 5 attachments you can use for cable rows.

2) Pendlay Row

The Pendlay row is a great progression to the inverted row that can be suitable for intermediate lifters. The Pendlay row was named after renowned weightlifting coach Glenn Pendlay. It was invented to increase power, strength, and muscle mass around the upper back for weightlifters.

The Pendlay row is a very popular exercise among strength athletes as well as bodybuilders, and it is performed with a barbell with an overhand grip.

How To Do It

  • Set up a barbell with the desired load and stand with your feet underneath the barbell.
  • Hinge through your hips by pushing them back with a soft bend in your knee so that your shins are vertical.
  • As you bend your hips until your torso is horizontal and parallel to the floor, grab onto the barbell with a wide enough overhand grip that your elbows are just straight.
  • Take a deep breath in, and exhale as you explosively row the barbell towards your lower chest or upper abdomen.
  • Return the barbell back down to the floor and inhale. Try to control the bar path during the descent so that it moves the same way down as it came up so you return to the exact same starting position.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions in your set.

Pro Tip

The way you perform the Pendlay row can depend on what you want to achieve during the exercise. If you want to keep the tension more in your back extensors during execution, don’t let the barbell touch the floor. You can do this by raising the back angle enough that the barbell is hovering above the floor ever so slightly.

Alternatively, you can elevate your feet by standing on some form of a platform such as a weight disc or exercise step.

Pendlay rows are very similar to barbell rows, but there are some key differences between the two movements. Learn more about the differences between barbell rows and Pendlay rows.

3) Barbell Seal Row

The barbell seal row is a specialist back exercise that requires a purpose-built prone row bench or seal row bench. You can also use a makeshift setup with a flat free weight bench that is elevated on top of an appropriate platform such as hard plyo boxes, exercise steps, or lifting blocks.

The barbell seal row is also a very popular exercise that is used to test upper back strength as it is a reliable and repeatable movement. There are also specialist prone row barbells so you can get extra range of motion.

The advantage that the barbell seal row has over the inverted row is that you can isolate the upper back muscles more and standardize the range of motion of each repetition.

How To Do It

  • Set the seal row bench or prone row bench so that you can just about grab onto the barbell from the J-hook rack. Choose a selected load for the barbell.
  • Lie on top of the seal row with your body prone (i.e. lie flat on your stomach) and hold onto the barbell with a shoulder-width grip.
  • Unrack the barbell and allow it to hang directly below your upper chest area.
  • Take a deep breath in and exhale as you row the barbell towards your torso as high as possible.
  • Hold the barbell at the top momentarily before lowering the barbell back down to the start position. Inhale as you do this.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions in your set.

Pro Tip

You can change the focus on the muscle activation by slightly adjusting your grip width on the barbell. If you have a narrower grip, you can then bring the barbell lower down your torso and engage your lats more, but if you have a wider grip, you can bring the focus on your mid to upper traps a bit more.

4) DB Prone Row

The dumbbell prone row or dumbbell seal row is a similar alternative to the regular barbell seal row except it is performed with dumbbells.

There are advantages to the dumbbell prone row to the inverted row, namely that the dumbbell prone row uses two independent loads so your stronger arm cannot take over from the weaker arm.

You can benefit from extra range of motion with this variation as you can open and close your arms more as well as rotate your arms during execution.

How To Do It

  • Set the seal row bench station height or free weight bench high enough so that you can just about reach the dumbbells from the floor.
  • Lie on the bench in a prone position (i.e. face down) and grab your selected dumbbells with your arms extended and your palms facing each other.
  • Take a deep breath in and exhale as you row the dumbbells by bringing your elbows toward the side of your torso.
  • In a controlled manner, return the dumbbells back to a dead hang and inhale as you lower them.
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps in your set.

Pro Tip

With the dumbbell prone row, it can be slightly easier to cheat the range of motion by not bringing the weight high enough in later reps in each set.

A great strategy that you can implement to avoid this is to touch the side of the bench at the top if possible. If not, the other thing that you can do is to hold the dumbbells at the top momentarily to ensure that you have squeezed your back muscles as much as you can.

If you’re looking for more dumbbell exercises to specifically target the lats, check out 9 Best Lat Exercises With Dumbbells.

5) Chest-Supported Row

The chest-supported row is a great alternative to the inverted row that is suitable for beginners and can really isolate the back muscles. 

The advantage over the inverted row is that the chest-supported row can teach beginners how to retract (pinch back) their shoulder blades. 

How To Do It

  • Set the seat level of the chest-supported row machine seat so that when seated, the handle is roughly mid-torso level.
  • Adjust the chest support pad or handle distance so your shoulder blades can be protracted (stretched forward) when you hold onto the handle. This will create constant tension in your back muscles.
  • Hold onto the handles, keeping your back flat with your head tall and facing forward.
  • Take a deep breath in and forcefully exhale as you row by bringing your elbows back and tucked close to the side of your torso.
  • Inhale as you return your handles to the start position and let your shoulder blades stretch without rounding your back forward.

Pro Tip

The chest-supported row is best performed with high repetitions and low load. With high loads, it is very easy to cheat and lose the range of motion as you fatigue. Range of motion is key for increasing the stimulus for muscle mass. It’s easier to make sure most repetitions are good quality repetitions by using high reps and low loads.

Try going for 3 to 4 sets of 12 to 15 repetitions, leaving 2 to 4 repetitions in reserve.

6) Iso-Lateral Machine High Row

An iso lateral machine high row is another great machine alternative to the inverted row, but it is considered a progression from the chest-supported row.  

The advantage that the iso-lateral machine high row offers is that both sides are independent of each other, so the stronger arm cannot take over. As well, the angle of pull increases the focus more on the mid traps and lats.

How To Do It

  • Set the seat level of the iso-lateral machine high row seat so that when seated, your arms are fully extended when you hold onto the handle.
  • Make sure that your back muscles are flat and taut and your head is facing forward when holding onto the handles.
  • Take a deep breath in and forcefully exhale as you pull by bringing your elbows back and down, keeping them close to the side of your torso.
  • Inhale as you return the handles to the start position by straightening your arms, and let your shoulder blades stretch upward without slouching forward.
  • Repeat for a desired number of repetitions.

Pro Tip

You can adjust the seat height to change the emphasis on the back muscles. The higher the seat is, the more horizontal the arms are, which brings the emphasis closer to the trapezius muscles. The lower the seat, the more you stretch the lats and engage them in a similar way to a lat pulldown machine.

7) Bent-Over Dumbbell Row

The bent-over dumbbell row is a good free weight alternative to the inverted row that is similar to the Pendlay row. The bent-over dumbbell row can provide a similar stimulus to the back extensor muscles in a way where they are kept in constant tension.

The benefit of the bent-over dumbbell row is that you can make the exercise easier or harder by changing the weight of the dumbbells. Another benefit is that both left and right sides are loaded independently.

How To Do It

  • Hold onto a pair of dumbbells with your hands facing inward towards your body.
  • Bend at your knee and hip with your shins vertical until your back is parallel or just above parallel to the floor.
  • Keeping your back flat, let the dumbbells hang above your feet with the back of your head in line with your spine and hips, and let your shoulders stretch down.
  • Exhale as you row the dumbbells towards the side of your torso and pull your elbows as far back behind you as possible.
  • Make sure you retract (pinch back) your shoulder blades at the top and squeeze for a momentary pause.
  • Slowly return the dumbbells back down towards the start position and inhale at the same time.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Pro Tip

You can change the emphasis of the muscle activation by changing how you position your hands and forearms during the exercise.

If you want to focus more on the lats, then maintain a position where your palms are constantly facing each other and you keep your elbows tucked close to your torso.

If you want to focus more on your upper back, i.e. the traps and rear delts, rotate your hands so that your thumbs are facing each other and your palms are facing backward. When you row, try to flare your elbows as much as possible.

8) T-Bar Row

The T-bar row, or landmine row as it is sometimes called, relies on using a barbell lodged in the corner of a room or a landmine post station with a V-grip handle. There are also alternative handles specifically designed for the free-weight variation of the T-bar row. 

There are also machine T-bar row stations, with some even being chest supported, but we are going to focus on the free weight version.

How To Do It

  • Secure a barbell in the corner of a room or on a landmine post.
  • Put the desired load on the free end of the barbell and hold onto your choice of handle under the barbell on the opposite end of the collar from where you load the plates. The handle should be between you and the plates.
  • Stand at roughly two-thirds of the length of the bar away from where it is anchored and grab onto your chosen handle.
  • Hinge through your hips and bend at the knees until your back is close to parallel to the floor.
  • Make sure your back is flat and the back of your head forms a line with your spine and back of the hips.
  • Take a deep breath in, then exhale as you row the barbell up towards your chest, keeping the elbows tucked close to your torso and shoulder blades pinched back.
  • Lower the weight in a controlled manner until your arms are relaxed and inhale as you lower it. Make sure your body posture and position stay fixed, rigid, and stationary throughout.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Pro Tip

A common problem that many people experience with the T-bar row is that they often go too heavy and end up using the legs to cause momentum. The best thing to do is to avoid training with low reps and high loads and use low loads and high reps instead.

It may also be useful to use a tempo throughout the repetition. By using a controlled ascent during execution, you are unlikely to use your legs to jerk the weight up.

As well, the dimensions of large plates can cause you to lose range of motion as you row the barbell to your chest. A solution to this problem is to actually load the T bar with smaller increments with plates that are smaller in dimension so you can get the barbell close to your body when you row it.

Learn more about the T-bar row and how it differs from other row variations in T-Bar Rows Vs Barbell Row: Differences, Pros, Cons.

9) Seated Resistance Band Row

The seated resistance band row is a unique alternative to the inverted row because the use of the resistance band changes the resistance your muscles feel throughout the range of motion. This is a great alternative that you can perform at home, in the gym, or in the park. 

The benefit of the seated resistance band row is that as you row the band towards your body, the resistance felt from the band will increase.

How To Do It

  • If you are going to sit on a seat, loop the resistance band at a fixed and stable anchor. Alternatively, you can sit down on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you and loop the resistance band around your heels.
  • While being in a seated position, maintain an upright torso with a flat back posture.
  • Ensure that you are far enough away from where the resistance band is looped that your arms feel tension when holding onto each end of the band.
  • Take a deep breath in, then exhale as you row the band by bringing your elbows towards the sides of your torso while keeping them tucked. Ensure that you pinch your shoulder blades back.
  • Inhale as you slowly return your arms to a fully extended position.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Pro Tip 

The seated resistance band row can be progressed through adjusting the posture that you put yourself in outside of being seated.

The first progression would be to perform the resistance band row in a squatted position with your thighs parallel to the floor. This will help engage your legs and hips to stabilize you throughout the motion.

The next progression above this would be to perform it in a split stance, which will engage your obliques and abdominal muscles more to stop you from rotating.

10) Bent-Over Resistance Band Row

The bent-over resistance band row is another alternative that can be performed indoors and outdoors. This variation will engage your leg and hip muscles as well as your back muscles.

The advantage of the bent-over resistance band row is its versatility. You can change the angle of your torso to change what muscle groups you want to emphasize more. The more horizontal you are, the more you can engage the lats. The more upright you are, the more you can emphasize the traps.

You can also increase the resistance of the exercise by increasing how many times you loop the resistance band around your feet or hands.

How To Do It

  • Stand on top of the middle of the resistance band and hold onto opposite ends of the band.
  • Bend your hips back and keep a soft bend at the knees so that your shins stay vertical. Make sure your back angle is between 30 degrees and parallel to the floor.
  • Make sure your back is flat and that the back of your head forms a straight line with your back and hips.
  • Ensure that your back and arm muscles are taut when holding the resistance band in the start position.
  • If there is still slack, then wrap the resistance band around the feet over and over again until there is tension from the start.
  • Take a deep breath in and exhale when you row the band towards the side of your torso. Bring your elbows as far back behind you as possible and pinch your shoulder blades.
  • Inhale as you return the band to the start position.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Pro Tip

Since you experience maximum tension at the top of the row during execution, this position is best for stimulating muscle mass. I recommend including an isometric hold where you hold it at the top for extra time under tension. Aim for a 3- to 4-second hold for every repetition.

11) Yates Row

The Yates row is a barbell row variation popularized by world-famous bodybuilder Dorian Yates. The things that distinguish the Yates row from other barbell row variations are the grip used and the torso angle.

The benefits of doing the Yates row are that you can load more on the barbell, keep the stress away from your lower back, and emphasize the traps more. From an upper back strength standpoint, these benefits make it a superior exercise to the inverted row.

How To Do It

  • Using an underhand grip of about shoulder-width apart, grab onto a barbell from a rack or deadlift it from the floor and stand up with it.
  • While keeping the barbell close to your body, slide the barbell down your thighs until the barbell reaches your knee cap. Make sure that your armpits are hanging above the barbell when your arms are straight.
  • Make sure your shins are vertical, your back posture is flat, and the back of your head forms a straight line down your spine and hips.
  • Take a deep breath in and exhale as you row. Bring the barbell towards your hips and squeeze your back muscles and shoulder blades together.
  • Pause momentarily and slowly control the barbell back down toward the starting position. Inhale again as you return the barbell back down.
  • Repeat for a desired number of repetitions.

Pro Tip

As people often go heavy with this barbell row variation, their bodies often shift forward and backward. A useful cue to keep the body as stationary as possible throughout execution is to sit your buttocks by a wall or something fixed. This will help avoid using momentum and isolate your back muscles during execution, thus preventing you from cheating the technique.

Each of the exercises on this list can be used by powerlifters to help strengthen the back. Learn more in How Do Powerlifters Train Back (3 Must-Do Workouts).

Other Back Exercise Alternatives


About The Author: Norman Cheung ASCC, British Powerlifting Team Coach

Norman Cheung

Norman Cheung is a powerlifting coach and an accredited strength and conditioning coach under the UKSCA. He has been coaching powerlifting since 2012 and has been an IPF Team GB coach since 2016. He has experience with coaching a variety of lifters from novices to international medallists and international university teams. Along side coaching, he takes interest in helping powerlifters take their first step into coaching. He currently runs his coaching services at strongambitionscoaching.com