Progress Toward the Pull-Up with the Inverted Row
Proficiency with the pull-up is difficult, even for those with above-average physical conditioning. Its difficulty can be intimidating, and how to approach it in a progressive way is often not common knowledge. This can lead to hindered progression, or avoiding pull-ups completely. By understanding how to build toward the pull-up, one can effectively manage their progress and maximize strength gains at each level. To clarify, the term “pull-up” in this discussion refers to the palm out, shoulder-width apart variation.
Traditionally, when one imagines a pull-up, it is executed in a vertical manner with the upper body perpendicular to the floor and the arms pulling downward. However, for those looking to build enough strength to achieve the pull-up, it is beneficial to understand the inverted row, or “Australian Pull-up”. The positioning of the inverted row involves gripping the bar (generally at waist height) from below with the legs out and the feet resting on the ground. With the core tight and the back straight, the chest is then pulled toward the bar in an upward rowing fashion. If one lacks the strength to do a pull-up, placement of the feet on the ground can mitigate the difficulty. When the feet come into contact with the ground, a new weight-to-limb ratio is established with less demand placed on the back and arms, and more on the legs. This allows for easier execution, and with proper technique, is a great way to progress toward the pull-up. The weight that passes through the arms and back can be further mitigated by positioning the feet closer to the body, or using a higher bar. In contrast, placing the feet farther from the body, or using a lower bar, will place greater demand on the arms and back.
It is important to note that while the inverted row is an effective way to work toward the pull-up, it is not the only method. Both exercises work the major muscles of the back, however, the inverted row is typically horizontally oriented, and the pull-up vertically. The inverted row will target the middle back and rear deltoids to a greater degree, while the pull-up will include more of the upper back and lats. Regressions that simulate the vertical nature of the pull-up do exist and are worth discussion. These will be discussed in a future article.
Having the ability to tailor your training according to your proficiency level is a valuable skill, especially when working toward an exercise as daunting as the pull-up. It builds effective habits around technique, and maximizes strength gains throughout the process. The inverted row is a great place to start for those looking to achieve their first pull-up, and by using the above principles, can be customized to fit any level of proficiency.