Can Rows Replace Pull Ups | Explanation of Every Aspect

The real Work out starts when you want to stop, So quitting earlier is not an option. It is the most questioned thing I have heard peeps wondering Can Rows Replace Pull-Ups?

Doubtlessly pull-ups are strenuous and require a lot of internal strength.

If someone is tired of doing tough exercises, in such a case someone might want to quit or look for some other options that can replace the pull-ups.

In my case, the first idea which crossed my mind was replacing it with rowing.

I thought it might be working the same muscles as pull-ups do.

Well, there is no harm in looking for other options.

So here I want to make a clear picture for you about the benefits of rowing and a comparison of both rowing and pull-ups.

I’ll be addressing a few more relevant queries which I’ve jotted down.

Which muscles do Rowing work and which muscles do pull-ups build and for Which muscles rowing do not work?

If one thinks about replacing the rowing with pull-ups then which kind of rowing technique should be opted for?

Which row works better for the upper back, Is it an inverted row or a bent-over dumbbell row?

We are going to walk you through all the situations.

First of all, we need to make sure if a row can work the same muscles as pull-ups do.

Having complete knowledge is necessary to make a better decision for substituting the rows with pull-ups.

Are rows a good substitute for pull-ups?

Rows can definitely tone lats (latissimus dorsi) muscles but it is quite different than what pull-ups can do.

The prime focus of rowing is to build back muscles upper and lower lats.

Pull-ups actually serve the purpose of building upper back muscles.

Speaking precisely, Pull-ups are efficient in working your shoulder blades (muscles connected to a large triangular-shaped bone that lies in the upper back).

Briefly speaking, any exercise involving hanging with something or pulling can work the muscles which are toned with exercises done mostly in a standing position

You must be needing to start bodyweight rowing or you can get the pull-up bar for working shoulder blades.

Also to some extent kneeling lat pulldowns will do the same job. using a parallel bar you can do this and you can start practicing the pull-ups and chin-ups.

Rows can definitely play a much better role to strengthen up but rowing works more likely as a push-up and in such a position.

Rowing can not create pressure on the upper back as it does in pull-ups.

Muscles Worked in Row vs Pull-Ups

Muscles Worked in Row vs Pull-Ups
Muscles worked in an Inverted row
Which Muscles are worked in pull-ups
Pectoralis muscles
Lats (Latissimus dorsi) – Primary
DeltoidsTeres Major
Upper back
Traps (Trapezius)
Pecs (pectoralis major)
Latissimus dorsiRhomboids
ForearmsUpper back

What can I substitute for pull-ups?

Pull-ups are the best thing to do if the prime focus is shoulder blades.

If you are about to start and confused about whether you can do pull-ups or not then you can start it from a few alternatives.

Namely, bent-over rows, kneeling lat pulldowns, overhead dumbbell presses, and back bridge push-ups.

To some extent, rows and all these alternatives are doing the same job as pull-ups do but do not focus on teres major and minor (upper shoulder muscles).

These substitutes can build your body strength and works on the lower-middle back.

If you are still concerned about your shoulder blades(upper shoulder muscles) then it is recommended to do Assisted pull-ups.

What can I substitute for pull-ups

The majority of people find it pretty hard to do pull-ups as a newbie as you have to carry your own body weight.

It’s better to have some coach or partner who can assist you in carrying your body weight and make you practice different variations of the grip.

Grips which you should practice are close group wider group, and casual or a grip somewhere in between.

Once you have practiced Rowing enough that you can handle more weight on your body without hurting the lower back then you should try doing both exercises without replacing the pull-ups with rows.

Inverted row vs barbell row

Bent-over Barbell Row

Barbell row has been a common exercise for many decades to build back muscles.

In this exercise, multiple muscles work and improve your body strength, and most importantly your body posture improves.

The muscles which benefit directly from barbell bent-over row are lats, traps, rhomboids, and muscles surrounding your shoulder joint (Rotator cuffs).

In order to do a proper bent-over barbell row, you should ensure that your back is in proper posture.

Before lifting the bar you need to ensure that your feet are slightly wider than your hips and less than the width of your shoulders and your feet should be under mid of the bar.

A bar is lifted up and held in hand and paused at a position slightly lower than the knees and when you are bent at an angle of 15 to 45 degrees and pulled towards the chest or belly button and you do the reps.

A wider over handgrip is recommended to work the upper back as it does in pull-ups, while an underhand grip works the latissimus dorsi.

The most common problem gym-goers share is that their lower back is injured when they were doing exercise of bent-over barbell row.

What actually happens in this exercise is that Your shoulders inwardly move, and this results in pumping the chest muscles and a tight neck.

All of this leads to discomfort in the lower back.

Inverted Row

The inverted row plays a vital role in strengthening the upper body.

Latissimus muscle (lower and middle back muscles) activity is considerably higher in the inverted row.

It works more efficiently on back muscles. In this exercise, the user is under the bar and hangs on it with an overhand grip, and pulls himself up towards the bar.

It is required that the chest of the user touches the bar and then moves back, and this exercise repeats.

One of the most supportive common arguments from our athletes is that in an inverted row, the back doesn’t experience more pressure as it does in a bent-over barbell row.

Can Rows Replace Pull Ups

Also if someone thinks that they should be going for some heavy strength workout to burn more calories and improve more muscle fibers then hang the chains on the chest and then do the inverted row reps as much as you can to a safe limit.

So those athletes claiming that their lower back hurts while doing the bent-over barbell row and looking for some substitutable exercise to work upper and lower lats should go for Inverted rows.

If someone is keen enough to train different energy systems then another exercise can also be included, the bench row.

Muscles did not work in Rowing

Teres major and minor muscles are not worked by Rowing

Shoulder blades are not the main focus of rowing

Pectoralis (chest muscles) are worked by pull-ups

For abdominal muscles, rowing might not work efficiently

Rowing does not work Rhomboids

Muscles do not work in pull-ups 

Pull-ups do not work Delts.

Pull-ups do not work lats.

Also Read: Is Rowing Machine Suitable for Losing Belly Fat?


If you are looking for the answer that can row replace the pull-ups then the answer is that the Row exercise is not a complete substitute for pull-ups. There are some commonalities in the muscles working in Rowing and Pull-ups.

Rowing can be a good start for the beginner as it would help you gain mid-back strength. But if you are a gym-goer and doing working out for a long time then it is recommended to do both exercises.

What a row can do is that it primarily strengthens your lower back and build your stamina to carry your own body weight in doing pull-ups.

So, once you are ready to do pull-ups then you should be going for both exercises. In the beginning more sets of reps in rowing and fewer in pull-ups and with the passage of time. You can gradually start increasing sets of reps in pull-ups.

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