Perform Rotational Ring Rows For Massive Back Gains and Postural Health

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.  Unfortunately, many individuals often perform them improperly, which you can see in subtle form mistakes.

Like any row, inverted rows require significant degree of t-spine extension.  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.  In other words, focus on military-style posture:  elongated, tall spine with a big chest and tall head.  Technically, you should be able to take a snap shot of your inverted row, tilt it up 90 degrees, and still see perfect standing military-style posture. 

In addition, the feet and ankles should be dorsiflexed throughout.  Doing so helps to create lengthening of the calves, glutes, and hamstrings, thereby allowing better spinal alignment up the kinetic chain, which is more conducive for maintaining a neutral arch and t-spine extension.  It also helps to promote irradiation and concurrent activation potentiation, thereby eliminating energy leaks throughout the body.  In fact, the dorsiflexed foot position is a subtle, but vitally important, cue for locking in the inverted row. 

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 (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.  This is something I’ve discussed quite a bit recently, highlighting how important it is to use optimal--not maximal or exaggerated--ranges of motion.

You'll also notice I'm using a rotating or semi-rotating grip, with a pronated hand position in the bottom and neutral position in the top contracted position.  I've found this to be the most natural mechanics for optimizing scapulohumeral rhythm and shoulder packing. Doing so helps to keep the scapula depressed and retracted throughout especially in the contracted position.  This also allows a more natural squeeze at the top, resulting in greater strength and hypertrophy development.

Try these technique cues next time you perform inverted rows and watch your back strength and postural alignment markedly improve.