Q: Almost every type of weighted row irritates my lower back, thanks to an old injury. Is there an alternative exercise I can do that has the same benefits? —H. Tasker, Washington, DC

A: Although you might think that free-weight rowing exercises like the barbell bentover row are the best way to build big lats, research suggests that one body-weight exercise might be even better, and keep stress off your back: the inverted row.

One study from the University of Waterloo, in Canada, reported that lat muscle activity during the inverted row was about 60% greater than during the barbell bentover row, meaning more fibers were working. And the more muscle fibers working, the greater the potential for growth and strength gain. The study authors also found that the inverted row significantly reduced the stress placed on the lower back as compared to the barbell bentover row.

To do the inverted row, set the bar of a Smith machine or a power rack just below hip height. Lie on the floor under the bar and hold onto it using a shoulder-width, overhand grip, with your heels together on the floor. This will look like an upside-down push-up position. Pull your chest to the bar while keeping your body straight, then slowly lower your body back to the start position. To add resistance, wear a weight vest or have a partner place a weight plate on your chest.

The Workout

Exercise Sets Reps Rest
Inverted Row 3 10-15 1-2 Min.
Pull-up 3 8-12 1-2 Min.
Reverse-grip Pulldown 3 8-12 1-2 Min.
Standing Pulldown 3 8-12 1-2 Min.