Barbell Pull Ups

In this article you will learn about barbell pull ups – what they are, how to perform them and whether you should consider adding them to your exercise routine.

Barbell Pull Ups Explained

The barbell pull up, more commonly known as the inverted row, is a popular form of pull up usually performed using a barbell rather than a standard high exercise bar.

The exercise takes the barbell row, where the barbell is lifted towards the chest whilst the individual stands waist bent, and inverts it.

By inverting it complications such as poor technique, which can lead to injury, or the lack of availability of equipment such as a barbell, are negated.

How to Do a Barbell Pull up

To perform a barbell pull up (or inverted row) follow these steps:

  1. Lie beneath the barbell (or suitable equivalent) and grip the bar with an overhand grip (palms facing away from you)
  2. Brace your body so that it forms a rigid straight line from head to foot
  3. Pull yourself upwards until your chest touches the bar
  4. Lower slowly bar to the beginning position in a controlled manner
  5. Repeat for desired number of reps

This YouTube video provides a demonstration of the barbell row in action:

4 Benefits of Barbell Pull Ups (or Inverted Barbell Rows)

The inverted barbell row has a number of advantages:

1. Muscles worked

The inverted barbell row works the whole range of the upper body muscles.

This includes the lats, all the other muscles in the back, the forearms, biceps, the grip and all the stabilizer muscles of the upper body.

As a result the technique is great for building upper body muscle mass, strength, mobility and endurance as well as being a good preparatory step to techniques which require even greater upper body strength.

2. Preparation for pull ups

The inverted barbell row is a great preparatory exercise for performing pull ups.

If you do not yet have the strength to perform a pull up then the inverted barbell row is a slightly easier exercise to perform as there is less load placed through the muscles and joints of the upper body.

However, despite this the same muscles as are required for a pull up are engaged and strength is built within them.

This means that they are prepared for the load required in order to successfully perform a pull up when the individual is ready to attempt it.

3. Simple technique

The technique of an inverted barbell row is relatively easy to master by comparison with other forms of pull exercise such as the pull up and many of its variations.

This minimises the risk of injury from using the incorrect technique when performing the exercise.

It also makes it easier to achieve structural balance while exercising rather than the complexity of the technique hindering this.

4. Accessible

The inverted barbell row is an accessible exercise to anyone as it does not require a lot of expensive gym equipment to perform.

Whilst having access to a barbell is ideal other items can be substituted for this, such as a sturdy table, a fence or two chairs with a piece of wood or similar placed across them.

Barbell Pull Up FAQs

Can You Do Pull Ups On a Barbell?

You can definitely do pull ups on a barbell. The technique is known either as barbell rows or inverted rows.

The pull up performed using the barbell is supported by the feet being placed on the floor and the body is positioned horizontally rather than vertically, so in these ways it differs from the more traditional pull up.

However, the exercise does focus on the same muscles of the upper body as the traditional pull up and so is a good substitute or step up on the way to being able to do a full pull up.

Do Pull Ups Without Pull Bar Work?

Pull ups can definitely work without a traditional exercise bar available for use as a pull up bar.

There are a number of substitutes which you could think about using available in every day life, such as:

  • Playground equipment
  • Doors
  • Fences
  • Railings

You can also switch to a different variation of pull up which makes use of a different type of ‘bar’. Consider the following:

  • Inverted rows – this technique uses a barbell or similar rather than an exercise bar
  • Towel pull ups – uses a towel placed securely in a door or similar as a replacement
  • Bent over rows – switching to bent over rows rather than inverted rows will exercise the same muscles

How Do I Build Strength to Do Pull Ups?

To build strength in order to perform pull ups you need to focus on strengthening the same muscles as are required in order to achieve this – the muscles of the chest, back, shoulders and arms.

Exercises which you could do in order to achieve this include:

  • Bicep curls
  • Hammer curls
  • Hanging Hollow Hold
  • Hanging Scapular Hold
  • Bent Over Row
  • Inverted Row
  • Hinged Row
  • Deep Low Row
  • Kettlebell Single Arm Row
  • Dumbbell Pullover
  • Lat Pull Down
  • Negative Pull Ups
  • Assisted Pull Ups

Can Pull Ups Cause Shoulder Impingement?

Pull ups cause a lot of strain on the shoulder joint and so this does place the shoulder at increased risk of impingement.

However, the pull up alone is unlikely to cause shoulder impingement.

Shoulder impingement usually occurs as a result of factor such as:

  • Muscle imbalance
  • Poor posture
  • Inflammation
  • Over training
  • Incorrect technique when moving
  • Disease in the joint e.g. osteoarthritis

Pull ups may contribute to these factors being present in the joint but are unlikely to be the sole issue at play.

It is possible to minimise the chances of suffering from shoulder impingement when performing pull ups by ensuring that you perform them with the correct technique and that you do not do more reps than you are capable of.


Hopefully you now know about barbell pull ups.

In this article we have:

  • Discovered what barbell pull ups are, how to perform them and some of the advantages they offer
  • Found that it is possible to perform pull ups without a pull up bar by substituting other things
  • Learned some of the exercises that can be used to build the strength needed to perform pull ups
  • Seen that pull ups can contribute to shoulder impingement