Pushup/Inverted Row Test + Feedback

Towel Inverted Row
Towel Inverted Row

My internet buddy, Ben Bruno, recently asked me if I could test out the push/pull experiment he's conducting. You can read about it HERE in case you haven't already. Essentially, what you have to do is test your max reps on inverted rows and pushups, in order to gather a rough feel of how your pushing strength compares to your pulling strength on fairly comparable exercises. I was happy to help him out, and I was also curious where I stood personally. Here were the ground rules for the test:

  1. Hands MUST touch your chest on each rep of the inverted rows.
  2. Full range of motion on the pushups.
  3. Feet have to be elevated for both the rows and the pushups. (This makes the exercises significantly harder FYI, thanks to physics).
  4. The strap height for the rows should be set so that your upper back is only a couple inches from the floor upon extending the arms.
  5. Don't flounder around like a fish out of water. (All too frequently I hear people touting their ability to do 100 pushups in a row, and upon watching them demonstrate I see them doing something like THIS that quickly makes my eyes bleed).

I wanted to film myself completing this experiment, given that tests such as these with a large sample size can quickly lead to skewed results due to the proclivity of humans to fabricate their results, especially with regards to something like a physical test.

Case in point: peruse any exercise-related internet forum or youtube page and you'll quickly find various cyber warriors writing about how they can bench 405 for reps. Sure you can. In related news - I once took out Mike Tyson in a sparring match.

Anyway, here is my test below:

A few notes:

  • I certainly do not think my results are close to impressive. On the contrary, I consider my results to be "eh, that was okay" at best. This is not surprising, considering the last time I trained muscular endurance occurred right around the same time the US government was debt-free. (**ba-DUM-ching!!**)
  • Following the point above, it should be obvious that this is really a test of muscular endurance as opposed to muscular strength. After all, once (or if) you get past the 10-12 rep mark you're, in essence, testing your musculoskeletal system's ability to delay fatigue as opposed to it's capability to produce maximal force. Ben did note this in his test, but due to the fact that not many people have weight vests or other means of loading these movement, the current protocol seemed to be the one that will work for the largest number of people.
  • As I was performing the inverted rows it became quickly evident that my grip and biceps (specifically, the brachioradialis, due to the neutral grip wrist position) were on fire, and thus limiting the my ability to continue to row all the way up. I see this two ways:
    1. I was not using my upper back correctly, hence my lower arm musculature giving out before my back (or at least feeling like it). This could very well be true, telling me I still have some much needed work to do in the upper back department.
    2. If we're really seeking a true measure of upper back strength, and upper back strength alone, perhaps this test could be used in conjunction with something else that doesn't allow your body to cheat as much (ex. a chest-supported row), or an exercise in general that doesn't require you to hang from an apparatus the entire time, thus causing your grip to give way.
  • During the test, I did my best to keep my reps controlled, while at the time time not executing the movements as I would in a normal training session. This was a test, after all, so I needed to break a couple rules. For instance, during a typical "rowing" movement, I like to squeeze at the top for a solid second to ensure I'm actually using my back and not cheating.

However, I still kept my elbows in on the pushups, chin tucked, core locked in, all that good stuff in an attempt to emulate a perfect pushup as much as possible. I stopped the test (especially on the rows) when I felt I was jerking too much instead of actually doing the movement correctly.

  •  I DO find it interesting that even though I rarely perform higher than ten reps in training, I was still able to hit 47 pushups and 28 rows. No, not impressive, but I think it still supports the efficacy of strength training even in something like improving muscular endurance. In fact, the Journal of Strength and Conditioning research published a study confirming the very fact that improving one's maximal strength will aid in a muscular endurance. To the distance runners and "feel the burn" fanatics out there: yes, this applies to you. So, even though I normally perform my pushups weighted and keep them at eight reps and below, the fact that may "1RM" pushup was improved helped me to score higher on an endurance test than I normally would have.
  • Yes, my number of pushups did significantly outweigh the number of rows I got, but this is to be expected on a test like this. I was at least glad that my personal ratio wasn't quite at a 2:1 (push:pull), and it was indicative to me that I need to continue to prioritize my pulling in my programs (which I'm already doing). Good to know things are moving in the right direction, as I'm sure my push:pull ratio would have been MUCH worse had I done this test six months ago.
  • A lot of people view inverted rows as an elementary movement, but I think many would be surprised how tough they are when performed correctly. I think Ben made a wise move in subbing out the chinup as the standard measure of push-to-pull comparisons, given that it's much easier to cheat on chinups. I did laugh to myself after doing this test, as my max chinups and inverted rows are very similar. Guess I've got some more work to do in the rowing department, no?

That's all for now. It was definitely a fun test and I look forward to the conclusions Ben draws from this particular study. I encourage you to try it out for yourself, and then send your results over to him on his page HERE.