Smith Machine Inverted Row: How-to & Common Mistakes

smith machine inverted row featured taken by Joseph Lucero, Strength Coach

Smith machine inverted rows are a good alternative to barbell inverted rows for beginners. You can easily tweak the difficulty by changing the bar height and angle.

Inverted rows enhance back and arm strength, and as a strength coach, I often program them with my clients. But not everyone can do this exercise.

Read on as I discuss the Smith machine inverted row and its form, row alternatives, and common mistakes that, if not addressed, could cause injury and discomfort.

How To Do Smith Machine Inverted Row

How To Do smith machine inverted row, taken by Joseph Lucero, Strength Coach

Here is a step-by-step guide on how to perform inverted rows on a Smith machine:

  1. Set up the Smith machine barbell at waist height, ensuring the starting position is secure.
  2. Position yourself underneath the bar, lying on your back with arms extended and shoulder-width apart.
  3. Keep a neutral spine, straight from your head to your hips.
  4. Pull your chest towards the bar with your legs bent or straight and perform a bodyweight row.
  5. Maintain control and tension throughout the movement, keeping your torso in a straight line and glutes tight.
  6. Lower yourself back down slowly, fully extending your arms.

Pro Tip: Set the Smith machine barbell to hip height. This will ensure the bar is high enough to give you room to perform this excellent bodyweight exercise.

Before you start, check out this article about how much a Smith machine bar weighs to know how much you lift in your next session!

Common Mistakes Doing Smith Machine Inverted Row

Common Mistakes Doing smith machine inverted row, taken by Joseph Lucero, Strength Coach

The three most common mistakes with the Smith machine inverted row are:

  • Pull too high onto your chest: Pulling too high onto your chest can lead to excessive strain on the shoulder joint and reduce engagement of the appropriate pulling muscles.
  • Pull with your arms too wide: Pulling with your arms too wide may place unnecessary stress on the shoulder joints and decrease the effectiveness of targeting the mid-back muscles.
  • Set up the Smith machine too low: Setting up the Smith machine too low can limit the range of motion and reduce the exercise's effectiveness.

Pro tip: If you’re struggling with an inverted row, try the Smith machine row instead.

How To Add Smith Machine Inverted Rows To Your Workout

Follow these guidelines for the desired number of reps and sets based on your goals:

  • For building size: You want to do 3-5 sets of more than 10 reps to failure.
  • For building strength: You want to do 2-3 sets of 5-8 reps. If these reps are too easy, you could perform “pause” reps instead.

Below are some sample upper body programs that implement these principles of building size or strength using the Smith inverted row:

Sample Workout for Building Size

  1. Smith Machine Deadlift: 3 sets of 10 reps
  2. ***Smith Machine Inverted Rows: 3 sets to failure
  3. Cable Lat Pulldowns: 3 sets of 20 reps
  4. Dumbbell Shrugs: 5 sets of 20 reps

When aiming for muscle growth, prioritize high-repetition exercises that serve as the spark needed for a size-building regimen.

Sample Workout for Building Strength

  1. Smith Machine Deadlift: 2 sets of 6 reps
  2. ***Paused Smith Machine Inverted Rows: 3 sets to 8 reps
  3. Cable Lat Pulldowns: 3 sets of 10 reps
  4. Dumbbell Shrugs: 3 sets of 12 reps

When building strength, performing lower reps and heavier weights is important to optimize your strength gains. The heavier load is the catalyst for increases in strength and power.

Looking to build a full Smith machine back workout? Check out our article.

Muscles Worked During Smith Machine Inverted Row

Muscles Worked During smith machine inverted row, taken by Joseph Lucero, Strength Coach

The Smith machine inverted row muscles worked are:

Primary Muscles

  • Latissimus Dorsi: The lats pull the arms down and back toward the body, assisting in shoulder extension and stabilization. Lats are one of the largest upper back muscles.
  • Rhomboids: Located between the shoulder blades, the rhomboids retract and stabilize the shoulder blades during the rowing motion.
  • Trapezius: The trap muscles assist in retracting and depressing the shoulder blades (scapula), contributing to the overall pulling motion of the row.

Secondary Muscles

  • Biceps: The biceps help with elbow flexion when the elbows reduce the range of motion and pull the body towards the bar.
  • Forearm Muscles: The forearms stabilize the wrists and assist in maintaining grip strength throughout the exercise.
  • Lower back and glutes: They stabilize your body as you keep a neutral spine.

A Smith machine RDL is more of a compound exercise, so check it out if you want to work more muscles.

Alternatives To Smith Machine Inverted Row

Three things to consider when finding row variations to the inverted row are equipment availability, lifting experience, and type of resistance.

TRX Inverted Row

The TRX inverted row offers a versatile alternative to the Smith machine version. The suspension straps allow you to adjust your body to perform the movement in different ways, making it harder or easier.

To perform the TRX inverted row:

  1. Adjust the TRX suspension straps to your preference.
  2. Grasp the handles with a neutral grip, palms facing each other, and move your feet until your body is stable.
  3. Keep a neutral spine, straight from your head to your hips.
  4. Pull your chest upward with your legs bent or straight and perform a bodyweight row.

T-Bar Row

The T-bar row offers a different angle and grip than the Smith machine inverted row, providing variation in muscle engagement of the posterior chain muscle group.

To perform the T-bar row:

  1. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and knees bent, holding the T-bar handle with your palms in an overhand grip.
  2. Hinge at the hips while keeping your back straight, lowering your torso until it's almost parallel to the ground.
  3. Pull the T-bar towards your lower chest by retracting your shoulder blades and bending your elbows.
  4. Squeeze your back muscles at the movement's top, then lower the T-bar with control.

Looking to incorporate the Smith machine deadlift into your routine? Check out this article and how it can add more depth to your next back day workout!


What are the benefits of the inverted rows?

Inverted rows have a number of benefits, including:

  • Strengthen the back, shoulders, and arms
  • Improving posture
  • Reduce back pain

What is another way to do inverted rows?

Another way to do inverted rows is to use an underhand grip with palms facing upward. Using this version of the inverted row will recruit your back muscles and prioritize the bicep muscles. This is a great way to perform a rowing motion for bigger arms.

Are inverted rows easier than pull ups?

Yes, inverted rows are easier to perform than pull-ups because you do not lift the same amount of your body weight during an inverted row. When comparing both movements, the inverted row only incorporates a portion of the bodyweight you would use for pull-ups or chin-ups.

How many inverted rows equal a pull-up?

In my experience, once I was able to do 10 inverted row reps was the day I could do 1 pullup. Although the inverted row is a vertical movement, it represents a horizontal rowing motion, which seems to be a bit easier than a true vertical movement, like pull-ups.


Schoenfeld BJ, Contreras B, Vigotsky AD, Peterson M. Differential Effects of Heavy Versus Moderate Loads on Measures of Strength and Hypertrophy in Resistance-Trained Men. Journal of sports science & medicine [Internet]. 2016;15(4):715–22. Available from:

About The Author

joseph lucero

Joseph Lucero is a Strength Coach and Author and owns Harvesting Strength LLC. He's CSCS Certified, and when he's not helping clients get stronger, he writes about strength and conditioning to help readers. You can connect with him on LinkedIn and Instagram. You can book a free 20-minute consultation with him to see if a custom program would help you achieve your goals.