One of my favorite ways to increase upper body/back strength is pulling using bodyweight. This exercise demonstrates how to increase upper body pulling strength in a suspended fashion. There are different progressions and adjustments of the body’s lever arm to pull body weight against gravity using a barbell.

Execution: Begin by adjusting the barbell height (inside a squat rack or using pressing stand) low enough to enable both arms to be fully outstretched (elbows extended) without the upper back contacting the floor. Next, grasp the bar with hands at shoulder width, extend the legs (feet positioned shoulder width apart) and pull the body up as you flex the elbows. Pause at the top, and then slowly lower back down to the start position.

Focus on maintaining a straight-line position from head to toe throughout the movement by keeping an active core in the ascent and descent. Perform 2-3 sets for time (30-45 sec) or until fatigue begins to impact form. Avoid using momentum and segmental movement at all times.

Modifications: For those with limited upper body strength or poor core stability, decrease the lever arm by bending the knees in the start position. Gradually walk the heels out away from the body as you get stronger. You may also opt to raise the bar higher which will in turn decrease the difficulty of the exercise.

Progressions: Increase the time under tension by increasing the time of the descent phase. Keep in mind the biceps will fatigue much faster than the latissimus and shoulder retractors, thus limiting output. For advanced users, consider placing a small box or step beneath the feet to begin in a more horizontal position. You can also add a weight vest for more resistance.

Application: Developing pulling strength is important for balancing the body (posture and strength) as well as aiding athletic performance and daily function. The inverted row is a great way to increase not only upper body strength but overall body control and awareness in a more anti-gravity position compared to traditional seated machine or cable rows. Learning to maintain core activation and body alignment is important for runners and recreational/competitive athletes alike.