In this week’s “The Biggest Loser made me want to stab my eye out with a hot poker” moment, I watched what appeared to be a 1,742-pound woman attempt to do an inverted row. It was an admirable attempt, for sure, but I’m sorry to say that in all my years of strength and conditioning, I’ve can think of fewer than a dozen females who have ever been able to perform a single good inverted row.
This isn’t a knock on women; it’s just that they, on average, have markedly less strength than men in the upper body. And, more importantly, the inverted row is a more advanced exercise than people realize - so that strength discrepancy will be more readily apparent.
As a frame of reference, here is what a good inverted row looks like - demonstrated by Kevin Neeld at Cressey Performance last summer:
As you can see, the chin stays tucked to keep the cervical spine (neck) in line with the rest of the body. Without that forward head posture, you’re getting just the kind of scapular retraction you want. Speaking of scapular retraction, you’ll also notice that Kevin’s getting his chest ALL THE WAY up to the bar.
There are three compensation patterns that you’ll come across. To protect the innocent, I won’t post videos, but rest assured that if you did a quick YouTube search for “inverted row,” you’d quickly come across example of the following:
1. The Ceiling Humper: This individual will give a little tug of elbow flexion and scapular retraction to get about halfway up, and then he/she will violently thrust the crotch to the heavens. In some circles, this individual is known as “The Fish.” Regardless, it isn’t pretty.
2. The Scared Cat: This individual basically does a curl - including curling the wrists in - so that there is essentially everything occurring except scapular retraction. In the process, they get to the top - but in that top position, they are rounded up in a ball like - you guessed it - a scared cat. There is, however, a delightful chin protrusion/forward head posture that makes that individual believe that the movement actually took place. Unfortunately, it didn’t - and this effort, too, isn’t pretty.
3. The Half-Asser: This individual is the lazy cousin of the Ceiling Humper and Scared Cat. He can be found around dudes who do half pull-ups, pop their collars, and live in their parents’ basements. Very simply, he (or she, for that mattter) only goes halfway up - but usually still insists on using the feet-on-the-box set-up (the most advanced progression).
Sadly, the acronym IRA was already taken, so Inverted Rows Anonymous could never get off the ground - and these issues persist. I suspect that we’re looking at a $47 million government stimulus package to remedy the issue. And, as our new commander-in-chief has stated, “things are going to get worse before they get better,” be prepared to observe this inverted row ignorance for quite some time before it’s addressed.