Build A Bigger Bench and Massive Lats with The Reverse Inverted Row / Reverse Bench Press
Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.
Rows are a staple for any powerlifter, bodybuilder, or athlete looking to improve their bench press and increase upper body strength. Unfortunately many lifters have a difficult time transferring their lat strength and rowing mechanics to the actual bench press. However, as any powerlifter can tell you one of the most important cues on the bench press is to essentially use your back to row the weight into position. This produces maximal co-contraction of agonist and antagonist muscle groups during the eccentric phase.
As a result this promotes optimal reciprocal inhibition (releasing of the antagonists to allow the agonists to maximally contract) and ultimately produces max power output on the concentric phase. Another way to think of this is that by using the back to help pull/row the barbell into position this creates a slingshot effect. In essence the body ends up producing a coiled-like sensation similar to a spring-loading device ready to launch the weight up as soon as the lats release ultimately allowing the pressing muscles to unload with maximal torque.
With this in mind it’s essential to transfer lat activation and proper rowing mechanics to the eccentric phase of the bench press. The more specifically we can customize a row to mimic the bench press, the better the transfer. With this in mind here are several variations of a rowing movement that I consider to be one of, if not the perfect rowing exercise to improve bench press technique and strength. I refer to it as the Reverse Inverted Row or Reverse Bench Press with bands as it provides the exact same bar path yet precise antagonistic activation patterns as the bench press. Also big shoutout to legendary world-famous strength coach Josh Bryant for the inspiration on these. If you don’t follow Josh (@jailhousestrong) I highly recommend getting on that ASAP as he’s one of the best in the business.
Just like the barbell bench press there are numerous variations you can use on the reverse inverted row/inverted bench press as each provides a slightly unique stimulus to the upper torso. These include but are not limited to traditional grip, floor variation, head off variation, wide grip, close grip, incline, and reverse grip. Also big thanks to my athletes and clients including NFL athlete Vantrel McMillan, Matt Jordan, Leslie Petch, and Andre Williams for showcasing these.
As you can also notice from the video I have each lifter holding a significant amount of chains on their lap. And no, that’s not for the “hardcore barbarian” factor. Instead it’s used to keep the band tension from pulling the lifter off the bench. Plates can also be used however they have a tendency to slide off. A weighted vest is another option however I’ve found that it can slightly interfere with optimal scapulohumeral rhythm due to the load pushing against the shoulders.
Without the use of a counterweight to help keep the lifter pinned to the bench or floor, most lifters will not be able to go heavy enough to warrant programming these as an intense mass builder for the lats and upper back. Because the lighter loads would produce lower levels of activation it would also make these less effective for transferring to the bench press. In reality, we want near maximal effort when rowing the barbell towards the body and for stronger lifters that’s going to mean using a counterweight.
Lastly, you’ll notice the range of motion used in each variation with the bar stopping several inches short of touching the chest (similar to a reverse Spotto press). This is intentional as it represents the ideal range of motion and body mechanics for horizontal pulling/rowing exercises. In fact the reverse inverted row or reverse bench press is one of the best exercises I’ve found for helping to eliminate “over-rowing” – one of the most common rowing mistakes (read more about Over-Rowing Here). And yes the transfer to the bench press is ideal in this fashion as it reinforces the idea of pulling with the lats instead of the upper traps and shoulders which tend to take over when you use an excessive range of motion during rows.
The same exercise can also be performed with a trap bar or football bar.
These tends to be a bit more joint friendly particularly on the wrists, elbows, and shoulders due to the neutral grip which are typically more conducive for packing and centrating the shoulder joint.
Additional Notes and Training Recommendations
On a side note I’ve used the reverse inverted row/reverse bench press on a variety of athletes over the last several weeks and I was pleasantly surprised at the very positive feedback. In fact nearly every athlete reported that they felt a stronger lat contraction and muscle mind connection in their upper back compared to nearly any rowing exercise they had ever performed.
As far as setup goes if you don’t have access to pins at the top of the rack designed for reverse band barbell movements, simply loop the bands around the top sides of a squat rack then hang a bar from the bands.
The reverse inverted row or reverse bench press can be implemented in one of two different ways. First it can be used as a pre-activation potentiation set to help groove the appropriate bar path and movement pattern for the bench press. Simply perform a set of 3-5 moderately intense yet powerful reps 1-2 minutes before each heavy bench press set. The other method is to simply use it as a functional mass builder and hypertrophy-inducing exercise by incorporating 3-5 sets of 8-12 reps when training back.