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Apart from some light auxiliary RTC work, my workouts consist of bodyweight squats, inverted rows and push ups, the two latter in the form of lighter versions on the bar of a Smith machine.

I have been steadily making progress by increasing reps from 3x3 to 3x15, then lowering the Smith bar and starting again with 3x3... But I started today a new inverted row cycle by lowering one step the bar and trying 3x3 and failed. It is simply too hard. Going back by raising the bar a step and 3x15 makes not much sense, I think, since I am already able to do that (In fact that is what I did after seeing that the new level was impossible).

Should I add one auxiliary exercise? (Dumbbell bentover row / Barbell row / Cable seated row are some options I am thinking of, as well as something more vertical like the lat pulldown machine). Or should I simply insist and keep on trying until achieving 3x3 perfect-form, slow repetitions? - I would like to maintain the workout length to a minimum in order to stay away from overtraining and to focus my body resources on making progress in a few basic exercises.

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I started today a new inverted row cycle by lowering one step the bar and trying 3x3 and failed. It is simply too hard. Going back by raising the bar a step and 3x15 makes not much sense, I think, since I am already able to do that

I think the training variables you can control are intensity, volume, and muscles worked. Since increasing the intensity (and slightly changing the muscles worked, by changing the angle) didn't work, try increasing the volume even more. Try 3x20 at the easier angle, or 3x15 with 10-second holds at the top on the last rep, or every fifth rep.

The other option, which I would try simultaneously to increased volume, is to get in as many reps as possible using the harder angle. If you have to do singles, do singles. If you have to rest five minutes between sets, OK. If you have to do partials or negatives, OK. As long as you're getting a solid base number of reps (at least 3x15) on the easier bar position, you'll be OK doing minimal volume with the harder version, which will help you get used to it.

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  • That is, I might go up to 3x20 of the high bar version, followed by attempting 3x3 of the low bar version until I am able to achieve a decent volume of the hard version. At least that way I won't become deconditioned due to the low volume. It seems sound. Thanks! – Mephisto Mar 2 '15 at 23:45
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    That's not exactly what I said. It's unlikely that after failing at lower-height 3x3 you'll be able to do it after 3x20 of the easier. What I'm saying is after a warm-up, do something on the lower-height bar: singles or doubles or negatives or whatever allows you to confidently get the reps in. Then follow that with 3x15 or 3x18 or 3x20 or 3x15 with static holds on the easier height to make sure you're getting plenty of volume. – Dave Liepmann Mar 3 '15 at 5:51
  • I understand. I think I will stick to 3x15 to keep some fuel in the back, followed by negatives and partial reps and such of the heavy version. – Mephisto Mar 3 '15 at 6:49
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    Is there a reason you want to do the 3x15 first? – Dave Liepmann Mar 3 '15 at 7:12
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    Food is anabolic. Unless you're trying to lose fat weight, don't deprive yourself. – Dave Liepmann Mar 7 '15 at 11:46
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The barbell row really is a terrific exercise right up until (for me) you start going over your bodyweight. So if you're 180lb, having 180lb's of bar+plates tends to be pretty heavy primarily because you're probably already doing a lot of other lower back exercises.

A big advantage to barbell lifts (vs bodyweight) is that you can incrementally change your weights and really tweak the volume vs intensity vs reps vs sets. The angles stay nearly identical, versus what you're experiencing on your inverted (supine) row. With inverse rows your pull angle is changing as you move the bar up and down.

Eventually, you will plateau strength with bodyweight training. Pistols squats are awesome, but your body only weighs so much and you get more efficient at doing them as you progress so they become easier. You can put a weighted vest or backpack on, but now that's not bodyweight training anymore.

Boiled down, I'd recommend these points:

  • The inverted (supine) row is for total novices. Once you have sufficient strength to move to "real" rows, you should. It's not that inverse rows are bad, they're just not as good as barbell rows, dumbbell rows, or cleans.
  • If you want to stay with inverse rows, you can work negatives a lot to build strength at angles that you can't quite nail on the way up. This is commonly done for folks who can't quite nail a pullup yet.
  • If you're making steady progress in those areas as stated, you really might want to consider moving to Starting Strength or Strong Lifts.
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  • Oh, great! Yes, negative reps! I hadn't thought about it! Negative reps what I might need at this point. As for SS / SL5x5, that might be in the future, I must reach fully horizontal inverted rows and pull ups before. Thanks! – Mephisto Mar 2 '15 at 20:54

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