How to Do Rows at Home Without Equipment: Step-by-Step Guide

Rowing provides a full workout, targeting your upper and lower body. It’s also a great aerobic exercise, getting your heart and blood pumping.

Luckily, you don’t need an expensive rowing machine to enjoy some of these benefits.

With inverted, upright, or incline rows, you can continue working your upper body. You won’t get the full-body workout, but you’ll still build your arms, shoulders, and back muscles.

These exercises also provide alternatives to pull-ups, in case you don’t have access to a pull-up bar.

Here are a few techniques for those wanting to know how to do rows at home.

What Are the Rows?

When people talk about “rows,” they’re typically talking about standard upright barbell rows, but there are several exercises that involve the rowing movement, such as:

  • Inverted row (bodyweight row)
  • Incline row
  • Bent-over barbell row
  • Dumbbell row

You use your upper body to pull a heavy load instead of pushing it. The resistance works your muscles differently compared to presses and push-ups, increasing muscle mass and boosting bone health

These exercises also target the back and shoulders. You can build a stronger back with barbell rows and bodyweight rows, adding strength that carries over to other big lifts.

The only drawback is the potential risk of back, neck, or shoulder pain. 

If you don’t perform these exercises properly, you’re more likely to pull a muscle or experience unnecessary soreness. 

The following info covers the basic steps for the most popular rows.

Using Your Bodyweight or Weight Plates for Rows

There are three main types of rows – bodyweight rows, barbell rows, and dumbbell rows. 

The inverted row is a type of bodyweight row, as you’re pulling yourself up to the bar. It’s typically performed with pulley machine or specialized weight bench. 

Luckily, you can perform the inverted row at home without any equipment. You’ll just need a table or a pipe and two chairs.

Barbell rows and dumbbell rows require barbells or dumbbells. There are not a lot of good substitutes for a barbell, due to the typical weight that you’ll want to lift. However, you can find replacements for dumbbells.

So, if you want to perform rows at home without any equipment, you may need to stick with bodyweight rows and dumbbell rows. 

How to Perform an Inverted Row

You’ll use your own weight against gravity to create resistance as you try to pull yourself up to a bar. It’s a partial pull-up.

The inverted row is also a full-body exercise. As you pull your body up, you’ll need to engage your glutes. The drawback is that you put extra pressure on your wrists, elbows, and shoulders. 

To perform the inverted row, you’ll need a bar that you can pull yourself up to. 

Lay flat below the bar and grab it with your hands. Keep your legs straight and about hip-width apart. 

Pull yourself up while bringing your elbows out, following the standard rowing motion. 

Don’t bring yourself all the way to the top of the bar. Stop about three to four inches away and hold the pose for a second before lowering back to the starting position.

If you don’t have a bar that you can perform this with, you can try a couple of different DIY solutions.

First, try using a table. This works best with a large, stable dining room table. 

Lie underneath the table and grab the edge of the tabletop with your hands. Pull yourself up while keeping your torso stable.

The second option is to use a metal pipe or thick wooden bar and two chairs. The bar or pipe needs to be thick enough to support your weight without breaking in half. 

Position the two chairs far enough apart for you to lie on your back between them. Place the bar or pipe over the top of the chairs.

You can then lie underneath the bar or pipe and pull yourself up between the two chairs.

How to Perform an Incline Row

The incline row is one of the more difficult rows to perform at home without any extra equipment, as it requires dumbbells and an incline bench.

If you don’t have an incline bench, you could perform this exercise lying facedown on a standard bench. However, the flat bench may not offer enough clearance for your arms without hitting the ground.

One option is to add cushions on top of the bench to increase your height. 

No matter if you use an incline bench or a standard flat bench, place dumbbells on each side of the bench and lie face down.

Hold the dumbbells in each hand, with palms facing inward and your elbows completely extended.

Contract the muscles in your back and bring your elbows out as you pull the dumbbells up toward your armpits. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and hold the pose for a second before lowering back to the starting position. 

How to Perform a Dumbbell Row

The standard two-arm dumbbell row is performed upright but may also be performed bent over. With the upright row, you target the shoulders, backs, and arms. 

Bending over adds more pressure on the back, especially the lower back.

You can also perform it with your palms facing in or out. Using a reverse grip lets you target your muscles from a different angle.

Switching to a one-arm dumbbell row allows you to engage your core. When you lower the dumbbell, you need to keep your torso stable, targeting the abdominal muscles. 

To perform an upright dumbbell row at home, stand with a pair of dumbbells in your hands. Slightly bend your knees. 

Pull the dumbbells up toward your chest. As you bring your arms up, try to keep your shoulders from rising. Squeeze your shoulder blades backward and bring out your chest slightly. Lower the weights to the starting position and repeat.

To perform this exercise bent over, place the dumbbells on the ground in front of your feet. Stand with your feet together and bend over to grasp the dumbbells. Keep your back bent at a 90-degree angle.

Grab the dumbbells and pull them up toward your chest while keeping your back stable. This requires you to engage more of the lower back and increases the risk of injury.

The one-arm dumbbell row requires a variation. You’ll need to use a bench or the arm of a chair or couch for support. Hold the furniture with one arm and grab the dumbbell with the other, keeping your back at a 90-degree angle.

The one-arm variation puts a little less pressure on your lower back compared to the bent-over two-arm dumbbell row. 

You could perform the dumbbell rows without dumbbells. If you don’t own any weights, try using other objects that provide the weight that you need. 

Some of the best dumbbell alternatives include:

  • A jug of milk
  • Paint cans
  • Books
  • Exercise bands

One gallon of milk weighs about 8.6 pounds. It’s not a lot of weight, but you could try grasping two jugs with one hand.

If you need something heavier, a five-gallon paint bucket weighs about 56.5 pounds. A one-gallon bucket of paint weighs about 11.3 pounds.

You could try bundling your heaviest books together. Use twine or rope to secure the bundle and then grasp the knot as the handle. 

Exercise bands also provide an alternative to dumbbells. For the dumbbell row, perform the exercise as described while standing on the resistance band and grasping it in each hand.

How to Perform a Barbell Row

The barbell row and the bent-over dumbbell row involve the same range of movement. You position the barbell in front of your feet and reach down to grab it, bending your back and knees.

After grabbing the barbell, you bring it up to your chest and then lower it to complete one repetition.

Don’t lower it all the way back to the ground. Lower it to just about your chin. Your back also won’t completely reach a 90-degree angle. 

It’s one of the classic exercises used by old-school bodybuilders. Guys such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ronnie Coleman used the barbell row to build massive chests and shoulders.

You’ll also build more strength in your lower back and gain greater stability in your core. 

Conclusion – Rows Don’t Replace Pull Exercises

If our guide on doing rows at home without equipment is too challenging you can always join a gym. For convenience, I’ve included links to several gym comparison guides:

Although, the various bodyweight, dumbbell, and barbell row exercises are useful when you don’t have a pull-up bar or pulley machine, but they don’t fully replace the need for pull exercises.

Bodyweight rows don’t require you to pull your entire bodyweight vertically. You’re pulling horizontally or diagonally, utilizing less of your weight.

You also work your muscles a little differently. In fact, some of these exercises tend to cause shoulder pain, especially if you don’t use the right technique.

While the improper form may lead to complications, rows still offer many advantages. They’re effective at building back strength and bigger biceps, triceps, and shoulders.

You also don’t need a lot of equipment, especially for bodyweight rows.

If you want to add more variety to your workout, try using some of these rows, but remember to pay attention to your technique.

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