Why You Should be Doing the Bodyweight Row

By on December 8, 2020

The bodyweight row, also referred to as an “inverted push up,” is a movement that unfortunately has the reputation as a “poor man’s pull up.” This is an injustice! In fact, the bodyweight row is one of the most useful movements in your calisthenics arsenal, and has many advantages unique to it that pull ups can’t touch. In this post, we’re going to explore why the bodyweight row absolutely belongs in your training arsenal!

The Basics: How to Perform a Bodyweight Row

Let’s start with the basics.

The bodyweight row involves lying flat on the ground and holding a bar, rings, rope, suspension strap, or a pair of dip bars. From there, you simply pull your upper body up towards your hands, keeping your torso rigid at all times while your heels remain on the floor.

Bodyweight row

This is a horizontal pulling movement, which right away establishes it as an extremely useful movement for calisthenics athletes: there aren’t that many other horizontal pulling exercises available!

There are plenty of variations. You can perform bodyweight rows with your feel suspended on a raised surface (such as a chair or a stability ball), you can perform bodyweight rows while standing and leaning backwards, or you can perform them unilaterally and potentially add in some rotation.

The Benefits of Bodyweight Rows

But this is not why I personally love bodyweight rows.

To me, the big advantage of the bodyweight row is as an anti-flexion movement. There are so few of these and they’re absolutely critical.

Plank is often heralded as a useful tool to build core strength. The only problem is that when you perform plank, you are combating the force of gravity by contracting the rectus abdominis: the abs. This is to prevent your waist from sagging to the ground. That makes it “anti-extensions” as you contract on the front of your core to prevent backward bending.

Bodyweight row anti flexion

While that’s moderately useful, it’s not as useful as it could be. After all: most of us get plenty of this anti-extension training. Most of us also have strong abs. Everything from push ups to sit ups trains this exact same thing.

Conversely, when you perform a bodyweight row, you are preventing gravity from bending your body in the opposite direction: you are trying to stop your buttocks touching the ground. Thus, it is your erector spinae that are working, which are also the muscles that get weak from too much sitting; and that are prone to giving out at just the wrong moment rendering us immobile!

The bodyweight row is essentially plank for your back.

The bodyweight row is essentially plank for your back then, which is exactly what most of us need! And keep in mind that the front lever (raising the feet off the ground and holding a horizontal position) does not achieve the same thing. By lifting the heels off the ground, you revert the movement back to an anti-extension movement as your body now wants to bend backward again.

The Perfect Difficulty

This makes bodyweight rows the perfect movement to perform in high volume if you also perform a lot of push-ups. Bodyweight rows place a percentage of your weight on the ground, meaning you are pulling about the same amount of resistance as you are pushing against during the push up. Thus you can perform 50 push ups and 50 bodyweight rows and develop a perfectly balanced physique (theoretically!). This will improve posture and resilience.

Bodyweight row closeup

That slightly easier skill floor also means that the bodyweight row is accessible to more people. I always forget what a large portion of the population cannot perform a single pull up. Using the bodyweight row anyone can start pulling their weight – they just have to find the right angle for themselves.

Scapula Retraction

While the bodyweight row is its own thing versus the front lever, it nevertheless works as a great front lever progression. That’s because a properly-performed bodyweight row maintains scapula retraction: pulling the shoulder blades back. This is an example of a skill many people have lost due to disuse but which is essential for many bodyweight movements and optimizing performance. Don’t allow your back to round and you will get an additional isometric workout that develops straight arm strength.

The Rotational Row

I won’t go into this in detail now, as it’s a separate movement and I’ve already touched on it before. But if you want to get extra credit, then you can also perform a one handed bodyweight row and add a rotation at the end. This is a great way to train for strength in the transverse plane – something a huge number of people are missing. Not only that, but by combining the pull with the twist, you are training a movement pattern that comes up a lot in real life. This allows for more coordinated and powerful demonstrations of strength and power.

Bodyweight row with sticks

Have I convinced you yet? Bodyweight rows absolutely belong in your training program!

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About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

One Comment

  1. Kevin O’Donnell says:

    Hi,
    Just wanted to know if the supplements that you take for cognitive improvement are taking individually and if so at what amounts per ingredient. Amount meaning mg, IU,s, etc.
    Came across your “YouTube” video showing body weight rows and loved it. 64 yr old guy who wants to improve all phases of my life meaning physically, mentally and spiritually. Want to be able use body weight exercises primarily, gymnasticEts rings, doorway pull-up bar, etc.
    Looking into animal movements to improve flexibility and balance as that gets somewhat lost with increasing age!
    Thank you for any suggestions/advice, etc.

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