Use This Single Leg Inverted Row on a Stability Ball to Crush Your Back and Glutes
Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.
Inverted rows are a great exercise for building strength and size in the upper back as well as improving posture and spinal alignment. When performed properly the glutes and hamstrings also get thoroughly taxed as the lifter is essentially holding a straight leg isometric glute bridge throughout. To increase the demands of the posterior chain performing these on a single leg places significantly more tension on the glutes and hamstrings.
Add in the stability ball and your backside will get absolutely crushed from these. In addition your core will have to work overtime to resist rotational forces attempting to sway your body and destabilize it particularly when balancing on one leg. The rowing mechanics must also be incredibly locked in, crisp, and symmetrical as even the slightest deviation in form or compensation pattern will result in loss of balance.
The stability ball also provides another unique feature when performing barbell inverted rows. It actually allows the lifter to more easily lock their elbows and shoulders into the proper position. Here’s why.
When performing standard barbell inverted rows with the feet on the ground or on the bench, the feet are very fixed into their position and won’t move significantly unless the lifter deliberately makes an adjustment. This may seem like it would make the movement more conducive for locking into the appropriate position however that’s not the case.
When the lifter performs a row or any upper body pull or pushing motion, the arms and hands need to move to a very precise position relative to the rest of their body. If the feet are positioned too far away from the bar resulting in the hands and the bar being positioned too high (closer to the persons neck), this can cause the elbows to flare and shoulder to elevated. In contrast if the feet are positioned too close to the bar resulting the arms being positioned too low (closer to their stomach), this can cause the shoulders to internally rotate as the shoulder joint will be crowded.
In essence, if the lifter is not in a perfect position he or she will have to continually adjust his or her feet until the hands and bar lock into the precise position that allows optimal and natural scapulohumeral rhythm and optimal osteokinematics of the glenohumeral joint. And yes this perfectly locked-in position is very precise for each lifter and deviating even slightly can result in greater strain to the surrounding joints and significantly less tension to the targeted musculature. So what am I getting at?
The ball allows the lifters feet to very subtly roll and move with each repetition adjusting perfectly to the precise location needed to dial in the upper body joint segments for optimal pulling mechanics. Although the ball does in fact make the lift more strenuous and challenging in terms of stress to the targeted musculature, core, and stabilizers, most lifters will find it significantly easier on their joints due to the continually adjusting nature of the ball that allows them to lock in their body mechanics.
The foam roller can also be used in a similar fashion however, the difficulty in terms of activation to the lats and upper back muscles is more intense although the instability is not as extreme. Read more about the foam roller inverted row here.
Once you nail down the stabilization component, there are several important factors you’ll want to incorporate on this row.
1. The range of motion should be natural without over-pulling at the top or overstretching at the bottom. When the shoulders and spine have to lose position you know you've moved too far. When you over-stretch there will be excessive protraction and lateral rotation of the scapula away from the spine. When you over-pull at the top contracted position (with the humerus traveling significantly past the plan of the torso), the shoulders will elevate and also fall into internal rotation resulting in faulty positioning of the glenohumeral joint.
As you’ll notice in the video, my body stops 1-2 inches away from touching the barbell, which is optimal not only for this row but any row including bent over rows, cable rows, and machine rows. This is something I’ve discussed quite extensively in recent writings highlighting how important it is to use optimal range of motion not maximal or exaggerated range of motion. To move further and touch the bar to my chest would have resulted in faulty shoulder mechanics with reduced tension to the upper back and lats not to mention pressure on the glenohumeral joint, cervical spine, and elbows. By incorporating a pause in both the bottom and top position this allows the lifter to find his or her optimal mechanics as each repetition can be precisely executed with proper technique and body alignment.
2. Besides producing an optimal range of motion, there needs to be a significant degree of t-spine extension just like there would be on any row. As I tell my athletes and clients try to tilt the chest up to the point where it feels like your body and head are about to lean back into the floor while simultaneously keeping the core tight and stomach in. In other words focus on military style posture with an elongated and tall spine including a big chest and tall head. Technically you should be able to take a snap shot of your inverted row and tilt it up 90 degrees and it should resemble perfect standing military-like posture.
3. The feet and ankles should be dorsiflexed throughout the exercise. This helps create elongation of the calves, glutes, and hamstrings thereby allowing better spinal alignment up the kinetic chain as it's more conducive for maintaining a neutral arch and t-spine extension. It also helps to promote irradiation and concurrent activation potentiation (increased full body tension) thereby eliminating energy leaks throughout the body. In fact the dorsiflexed foot position is perhaps the most subtle but also the most important cue for locking in the inverted row.
If this movement still isn’t challenging enough try adding weight to your middle torso. Besides destroying your upper back, your glutes and hamstrings will get pulverized from this making it one of the most effective movements to work your entire posterior chain from head to toe.
BONUS: Hip Adduction Inverted Row
Want to crush your upper back and lats while also targeting your adductors and inner thighs? Try this ball adduction inverted row using the trap bar as my awesome athlete Ben Lai shows here. This is a variation of a move a stole from Shea Pierre. Definitely follow him for great content. The inner thighs and adductor muscles are a commonly neglected and weak area in many lifters particularly as we’re seeing more and more athletes fall prey to the overspreading cue during squats.
Besides fixing the squat and other lower body movements so that the knees track in line with the hips (not outside/varus or inside/valgus) including drills that target the adductors is very beneficial. Copenhagen planks are another great drill for targeting this weakness. The trap bar also provides a very user friendly grip for performing inverted rows as the neutral grip is very shoulder friendly and easy to create a strong muscle mind connection in the lats and upper back while maintaining a natural elbow tuck. These are deceptively difficult as they not only requires significant upper body and core strength but high levels of stability and motor control.