How to Do a TRX Row

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

TRX Row

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Also Known As: Suspension Row, TRX Pull-Up, Suspension Pull-Up

Targets: Upper Back (Latissimus Dorsi, Rhomboids, Traps), Shoulders, Biceps, Core

Equipment Needed: TRX suspension trainer or similar suspension trainer

Level: Intermediate

Training the major muscle groups of the upper back can be a bit of a challenge if you don't have access to much space or heavy-duty fitness equipment. This is especially true if you're not strong enough to perform a traditional pull-up. That said, the invention of suspension trainers, like the TRX suspension trainer, made this type of training much easier to perform.

These trainers, which can be hung from practically any fixed and sturdy overhead point (a pull-up bar, a tree limb, a banister) make it possible to easily and effectively perform rows, modified pull-ups, and get-ups, all of which target the muscles of the upper back, shoulders, and arms without needing much space or heavy equipment to complete them. In fact, aside from the trainer itself (which can easily be taken down and stored), all you need is your own body weight to do each exercise.

The TRX row is nice because it's easily modifiable based on personal strength—you don't have to be able to complete an unassisted pull-up to do the row. It also hits all the major muscle groups of your back, shoulders, and core. You simply hang, suspended from the trainer's handles, supported by your arms and feet, then pull your chest up toward the handles, "rowing" your body upward.

As a general rule, the TRX row can be incorporated into just about any strength training workout. That said, it's also an effective move to include in a circuit or high-intensity interval training routine if you're alternating between strength and cardio-focused movements.

Benefits

The primary benefit of the TRX row is that it makes it easy to train the posterior chain (the back half) of the upper body without needing heavy, bulky fitness equipment or needing to be able to perform an unassisted pull-up. The TRX row hits all the major muscle groups of the back—the lats, rhomboids, and traps—as well as the shoulders and the core. Suspension trainers are also lightweight, easy to transport, and easy to store, making it possible for you to hit these muscle groups in practically any environment—at home, at a park, on vacation—without much effort or hassle. It's also very easy to modify the row based on your body's position to make it easier or more difficult to perform.

While suspension training, as a whole, requires a baseline level of core engagement and stability, as long as you've been exercising for a while, the TRX row is an appropriate exercise for most people to try.

Finally, done correctly, the TRX row can help shore up weaknesses with shoulder or core stability. In addition to targeting the major muscle groups of the upper back, suspension training requires the engagement of the body's stabilizing muscles to maintain control throughout each repetition of each exercise. The TRX row can help strengthen the shoulder stabilizers, spinal erectors, and deep abdominal muscles. This can help prevent injuries to the shoulders and low back while improving overall coordination for day-to-day life.

Step-by-Step Instructions

The most important thing you'll need to perform the suspension row is a suspension trainer. TRX trainers are popular and available at many gyms and fitness centers, but there are other, more affordable options available if you plan to exercise at home or at a park. Otherwise, you'll need several square feet of space surrounding the point where the suspension trainer is hanging from.

  1. Grasp the handles of the suspension trainer, one per hand. Step backward, away from the point where the suspension trainer is anchored until the suspension trainer and your arms are forming a straight line, your elbows extended, your arms reaching straight out in front of your chest.
  2. Position your feet about hip-distance apart. Roll your shoulders back and "lock them" in place so you're standing with good posture. Engage your core and start leaning back, your weight in your heels, until your arms (holding the suspension trainer handles) are keeping you from falling backward. Your body should look like it's in an upright plank position. Keeping this plank-like position, with your core activated and your shoulders "locked" in place so they don't roll forward, start stepping your feet forward so your body begins creating an angle with the ground. Aim for a position where your body is angled somewhere between 30 and 60 degrees with the ground. Your feet and your arms are supporting your body weight, but your core remains engaged to prevent any sagging of the hips. This is the starting position.
  1. Turn the handles of the suspension trainer inward so your palms are facing each other. Make sure your hands are positioned chest-width apart. The goal will be to keep them in this position throughout the exercise. Take a breath in.
  2. Use the muscles of your upper back, arms, and shoulders to pull your chest and torso up toward the handles of the suspension trainer, bending your elbows as you pull yourself up. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and keep your elbows close to your body and your palms facing in. Exhale as you go, and keep pulling until your chest is even with your hands.
  3. Hold the top position for a second then reverse the movement and slowly lower yourself back to the starting position as you inhale. You may find yourself tempted to "drop" down to the starting position, but don't. Lower yourself slowly—aim for a speed double that of the upward phase—to maximize the strength-building benefits. Also, avoid allowing your shoulders to "collapse" or "slouch" forward at the bottom of the movement—they should remain engaged and "locked" in place, maintaining good posture throughout the row.
  1. Complete a full set of repetitions, then exit the movement by walking your feet backward until you're standing upright. If you find you can only complete a few good repetitions at a given body angle, feel free to make adjustments to the angle of your body as you perform each set. For instance, if you start a set and it feels too easy, walk your feet forward to make it more difficult. Likewise, if you perform a few repetitions and it starts to feel too hard, walk your feet back a step or two to make the exercise easier.

Common Mistakes

Not Engaging the Core

The beauty of suspension training is that it's designed to target your core and the stabilizing muscles of your upper body while performing common moves, like the row. Failing to engage your core as you perform these exercises causes two problems; first, it limits the overall benefits of the movement, and second, it's more likely to lead to low back strain or other possible injuries. You need to keep your core engaged to prevent unwanted movements of the spine.

If, while performing the TRX row, you notice your hips sagging or slouching toward the ground, or if your body isn't forming a straight angle from heels to head, chances are you aren't sufficiently engaging your core. Check your form in a mirror, draw your belly button toward your spine, tuck your pelvis forward and roll your shoulders back. You should feel tension from your quads to your shoulders.

Allowing Your Shoulders to Slump

Allowing your shoulders to slump or slouch is a mistake similar to that of not engaging the core. Done correctly, suspension training can help develop greater shoulder stability by regularly engaging the rotator cuff and the stabilizing muscles of the back, chest, and shoulders. Done incorrectly, though, suspension training could actually lead to shoulder injury if these stabilizers fail to properly stabilize. And the main reason they might not stabilize effectively? You get lazy about keeping them engaged.

If your shoulders roll forward or collapse upward at any point during the row, pulling them out of alignment with your ears, you're getting lazy about engaging your shoulder stabilizers and upper back. This is particularly true when your arms are fully extended and your body is closest to the ground. Check yourself in the mirror at this point. If your ears aren't in alignment with your shoulders, so a straight line could be drawn from your ears to your shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles (that "perfect posture" position), roll your shoulders back and reset yourself.

Performing the Downward Phase Too Quickly

One of the most tempting (and detrimental) mistakes performed with the TRX row is a descent that's too fast. Essentially, you row yourself up to the handles, then just "drop" back down to the lowest position without controlling the downward movement. This is problematic because allowing your body to drop suddenly against the force of gravity could lead to injury. If you're not controlling this movement, you could easily strain a muscle or ligament, or even pull your shoulder out of the socket. Work against this tendency by counting the time it takes you to lift and lower your body. If it takes you a count of two to row your torso up to your hands, then you should take at least that long to lower yourself back to the starting position, although for maximum benefit, aim to take double the time on the downward (eccentric) phase of the exercise than the upward (concentric) phase.

Modifications and Variations

Need a Modification?

The nice thing about the TRX row is that if you find it particularly challenging at a given angle, you can simply change the angle of your body (making your body more vertical and upright), which ultimately makes the exercise easier to perform. This is because more of your weight is supported by your feet, rather than your hands, which means you're lifting less of your body weight as you perform the row. That said, the unstable nature of using a suspension trainer may still be too challenging for individuals with weak upper back muscles, grip strength, or shoulder stabilizers.

You can perform the exercise in the exact same way with a fixed bar—using something like a barbell racked on a squat rack—to make it just a little bit easier. With a fixed bar, your core and shoulder stabilizers don't have to work as hard to control the movement of the suspension trainer, allowing you to focus most of the work on the muscles of your back.

Up for a Challenge?

You can always make the exercise harder by stepping your feet forward and creating a more significant body angle (closer to horizontal with the floor). This requires you to lift more of your body's weight as you perform the row, since less of your weight is supported by your feet. But if you're ready for an even greater challenge, try a single-arm row. Simply perform the exercise in the exact same manner as you do with both arms, but instead target one arm at a time. Just remember to keep your torso square with the suspension trainer so the non-working side of your body isn't twisting toward the floor.

Safety and Precautions

Almost anyone can try the TRX row, but to prevent injury, it's important to take things slow and steady. Start with a body angle that's greater than you think you need. If the exercise feels easy, walk your feet forward to make it more difficult. Likewise, make sure you keep your core engaged and the movement smooth. Take at least as much time on the downward phase as the upward phase. And if, for any reason, you feel a sharp pain in your shoulders, discontinue the exercise. You can always try a dumbbell row if you're not quite ready for the challenge of lifting a portion of your own body weight.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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