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How To Do A Seated Cable Row

When it comes to building upper body strength, particularly in your back and arms, the seated cable row is one of the best exercises you can do. 

If you want to incorporate this exercise into your gym routine but don’t know where to start, we’ve compiled the ultimate guide to the seated cable row!

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What Is A Seated Cable Row?

seated cable row

The seated cable row (also known as the seated back row, the seated machine row, the seated lat row or the seated pulley row) is a compound strength exercise that primarily works the back and upper arms. It is widely regarded as one of the best exercises for the upper body!

The main muscles worked in the seated cable row are: the latissimus dorsi, the rhomboids, the trapezius and the biceps brachii. Glute and core activation is also required to stabilise the movement and to ensure good seated row form. 

The seated cable row is performed on a weighted horizontal seated row exercise machine, which you can find in most commercial gyms. Don’t have access to a gym? There are actually plenty of surprising household items you can use for home workouts

There are lots of variations of the seated cable row and you can modify the amount of weight you use, making it an ideal exercise for all levels from beginners to advanced!

It is a great addition to any upper body workout and is often paired with other upper body cable exercises, such as the cable bicep curl.  

How To Do A Seated Cable Row

So, do you want to incorporate this exercise into your next upper body workout? Here’s all you need to know about how to do it and how to make sure you have a good seated row technique. 

Set up

To do the seated pulley row, you will need a seated cable row machine.

Firstly, select the standard cable attachment. We will explore some different variations of the exercise that use different attachments later in this article. 

Select the appropriate weight on the weight stack and then adjust the seat pad and chest pad on the seated row machine, so that your shoulders are level with the machine handles.

Tip: you should select a weight that feels challenging but not so heavy that you can’t control the movement. 

Starting position

seated cable row neutral starting position

  • Start by sitting upright on the seat with your knees slightly bent and feet firmly flat on the floor or a platform.
  • Reach your arms forwards and grab the cable handles with both hands. 
  • Engage your core and roll your shoulders back and down so that you are sitting up tall. 

Execution 

seated cable row execution

  • Inhale and bend your elbows to pull the handles back towards your lower abdomen. Keep your back straight and your elbows into your sides. 
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades and hold this position for a few seconds.
  • Inhale and slowly straighten your arms to return to the starting position, still keeping your back straight.
  • Repeat for the desired amount of repetitions and sets (see below). 

Reps and Sets

As with any exercise, the correct number of reps and sets that you should do for a seated cable row is determined by your individual exercise goals. 

  • For strength: 3-5 reps, 2 sets and 1-3 minute rest between sets
  • For hypertrophy: 8-12 reps, 3 sets, 60-90 seconds rest between sets 
  • For muscular endurance: 12+ reps, 5 sets, 30-45 seconds rest between sets 

Muscles worked in the Seated Cable Row

Primary movers: lats and rhomboids 

Secondary movers: trapezius and biceps

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Rounding the back: One really common mistake made when performing this exercise is rounding the back. This can compromise the benefits of the seated back row, so you should always keep a straight back when performing this exercise. Engaging your core can help you do this!

Rounding the shoulders: Remember to roll your shoulders back and down before you pull the cable back and make sure that there is space between your ears and your shoulders. This reduces tension in the shoulders and ensures that the right muscles are targeted.  

Pointing the elbows outwards: For correct seated row form, it is vital to keep your elbows against your body when pulling the cable back. This ensures that you are really working your back muscles! This point is also applicable when using a cardio seated row machine; read about the benefits of rowing machines here 

Moving too quickly: It is important to perform the back seated row in a slow and controlled way in order to fully activate all the target muscles. Especially when returning to the starting position, make sure to keep the tension and move slowly. 

Moving your torso: The movement should come from your arms, rather than your torso. Try to keep the torso still by engaging your core. 

Locking the knees: Avoid putting your joints under unnecessary strain by keeping a slight bend in your knees rather than locking them. If you suffer from knee pain, you might want to have a read of our list of the best knee compression sleeves to help support your knees. 

Reduced range of motion: Make sure to go through the full range of motion when performing the seated row exercise. This ensures that all the muscles are fully engaged! 

Here are some more great exercises to pair with the seated cable row in your next upper body workout:

Seated Cable Row Benefits

seated back row

The seated back row works a range of muscles

The seated row is a compound exercise, meaning that it builds multiple muscle groups at the same time. Although the primary targeted muscles are the lats, it also works the trapezius, the erector spinae, the rear deltoids, biceps and forearms. Plus, this exercise also engages the core! Other examples of compound exercises include deadlifts, squats and the bench press. 

The seated lat row encourages good posture

As well as building functional strength, having a strong upper back is good for your posture. Practicing good seated row technique by keeping the back straight and core engaged is also beneficial for improving your posture. Read all about the benefits of good posture here!

The cable seated row is a safe exercise for the lower back

Compared to exercises such as squats, deadlifts and bent over rows, the seated cable row puts a lot less strain on the lower back. If you suffer from lower back pain, check out our list of the best hamstring stretches for back pain and tight muscles 

There are lots of variations of the seated row exercise

One of the main seated row benefits is that it is a highly adaptable exercise. Using different attachments and grips allows you to make it easier or harder, depending on your level and goals.

Seated Cable Row Regression and Progression

how to do a seated row

Seated Cable Row Regression (how to make it easier)

Use a lighter weight: As with any weighted exercise, simply selecting a lower weight is an obvious way to make the seated pulley row easier. It is always better to do it with a lower weight and have good seated row form, than to use a heavier weight and have bad form. You can work the weights up over time as you get stronger! 

Reduce the reps: Doing less reps is another simple way to make the seated machine row easier. However, keep in mind that different rep ranges are associated with specific exercise goals. 

For example, if you’re training for hypertrophy, you should perform 8-12 reps. You can make the exercise easier by sticking to the lower end of that threshold, say, 8 reps. If you feel like you can’t manage 8 reps, you should choose a lighter weight as doing any fewer reps will change the range in which you are training.

Seated Cable Row Progressions (how to make it harder)

cable seated row

Use a heavier weight: If you get to a point where you can do lots of reps with one weight easily, it’s time to up the weight! Recording what weights you use in a weightlifting and bodybuilding app is a great way to track your progress and stay motivated. 

Increase the reps: Doing more reps of the seated cable row is another easy way to increase the intensity of the seated cable row. But again, be mindful of rep ranges and always stick within the recommended reps and sets for your exercise goals.

Pause for longer: If you want to really challenge your muscles, increase the length of the pause when you pull back. Try 3-5 seconds to really feel the burn!

Move slower: Moving slower is a lot harder on the muscles than moving quickly, especially the movement that returns to the start position.

Try a one-handed seated back row: The one-handed variation of the seated row is a harder version of the exercise, which we will cover later in this article!

Seated Cable Row Variations

As well as the traditional seated row exercise, there are several variations to help you progress, focus on specific muscles and to add some variety! Why not combine a few of the variations below to make a seated cable row workout for the next time you’re in the gym? We’d also recommend doing these arm stretches before and after your workout

Seated Cable Row with Lat Bar- Medium Grip 

Using a lat bar attachment is a good way to add variety to your seated cable row workout. The standard cable attachment requires more stability which helps you work on muscle imbalances, but the bigger grip range of the lat bar allows you to perform a much more stable movement. 

Set up: To perform this seated cable row variation, you will need a seated cable row machine and a lat bar attachment.  

Starting position: 

seated cable row lat bar medium starting

  • Start by sitting upright on the seat with your knees slightly bent and feet firmly flat on the floor or a platform.
  • Reach your arms forwards and grab the lat bar handles, placing your hands in the middle of the bar on each side. 
  • Engage your core and roll your shoulders back and down so that you are sitting up tall. 

Execution: 

seated cable row lat bar medium execution

  • Inhale and bend your elbows to pull the handles back towards your lower abdomen. Keep your back straight and your elbows into your sides. 
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades and hold this position for a few seconds.
  • Inhale and slowly straighten your arms to return to the starting position, still keeping your back straight.
  • Repeat for the desired amount of repetitions (see above section on reps and sets).

Seated Cable Row with Lat Bar- Close Grip 

Using a close grip may seem like a small change, but it actually targets slightly different muscles compared to using a standard grip. The close grip seated row particularly targets the latissimus dorsi in the middle and lower back. 

Set up: To perform this seated cable row variation, you will need a seated cable row machine and a lat bar attachment.  

Starting position:

seated cable row lat bar close grip starting 

  • Start by sitting upright on the seat with your knees slightly bent and feet firmly flat on the floor or on a platform.
  • Reach your arms forwards and grab the lat bar handles, placing your hands close towards the centre of the bar. 
  • Engage your core and roll your shoulders back and down so that you are sitting up tall. 

Execution: 

seated cable row lat bar close grip execution

  • Inhale and bend your elbows to pull the handles back towards your lower abdomen. Keep your back straight and your elbows into your sides. 
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades and hold this position for a few seconds.
  • Inhale and slowly straighten your arms to return to the starting position, still keeping your back straight.
  • Repeat for the desired amount of repetitions (see above section on reps and sets). 

Seated Cable Row with Lat Bar- Wide Grip

The wide grip seated cable row is good for targeting the upper back. It particularly works the trapezius, rhomboids and rear deltoid muscles which are at the back of your shoulders. 

Set up: To perform this seated cable row variation, you will need to find a seated cable row machine and a lat bar attachment.  

Starting position: 

seated cable row lat bar wide grip starting position

  • Start by sitting upright on the seat with your knees slightly bent and feet firmly flat on the floor or a platform.
  • Reach your arms forwards and grab the lat bar handles, placing your hands at the ends of the bar. 
  • Engage your core and roll your shoulders back and down so that you are sitting up tall. 

Execution:

seated cable row lat bar wide grip execution

  • Inhale and bend your elbows to pull the handles back towards your lower abdomen. Keep your back straight and your elbows by your sides. 
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades and hold this position for a few seconds.
  • Inhale and slowly straighten your arms to return to the starting position, still keeping your back straight.
  • Repeat for the desired amount of repetitions (see above section on reps and sets). 

Seated Cable Row With Rope Attachment 

Using a rope attachment is another way to mix up your seated cable row workout. It primarily targets the trapezius muscles, so it is ideal if you want to build muscle in your upper back. 

Remember, the rope attachment is not to be confused with battle ropes! Check out OriGym’s guide to the best battle ropes here. 

Set up: To perform this seated cable row variation, you will need a seated cable row machine and a rope attachment.  

Starting position: 

seated cable row rope attachment starting position

  • Start by sitting upright on the seat with your knees slightly bent and feet firmly flat on the floor or a platform.
  • Reach your arms forwards and grab the rope.
  • Engage your core and roll your shoulders back and down so that you are sitting up tall.  

Execution: 

seated cable row rope attachment execution

  • Inhale and bend your elbows to pull the handles back towards your lower abdomen. Keep your back straight and your elbows into your sides. 
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades and hold this position for a few seconds.
  • Inhale and slowly straighten your arms to return to the starting position, still keeping your back straight.
  • Repeat for the recommended amount of repetitions (see above section on reps and sets). 

Single Arm Seated Cable Row

This variation of the seated cable row is perhaps the hardest! By targeting one side of the back at a time, you can really work on developing unilateral upper body strength. The press up row is another exercise that targets one side of the body at a time and makes a great addition to any upper body workout. 

Set up: To perform this seated cable row variation, you will need a seated cable row machine and a rope attachment.

Starting position: 

seated cable row single arm starting position

  • Start by sitting upright on the seat with your knees slightly bent and feet firmly flat on the floor or platform.
  • Reach one arm forwards and grab the cable with a neutral grip. Keep your other arm at your side.
  • Engage your core and roll your shoulders back and down so that you are sitting up tall. 

Execution:

seated cable row single arm execution 

  • Inhale and bend your elbow to pull the cable back towards your lower abdomen. Keep your back straight and your elbows into your sides. 
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades and hold this position for a few seconds.
  • Inhale and slowly straighten your arm to return to the starting position, still keeping your back straight.
  • Repeat for the desired amount of repetitions before switching to the other arm (see above section on reps and sets). 

Before you go!

So, will you be incorporating the seated cable row into your next workout? With so many benefits and a range of variations to try, it’s no wonder that it is one of the most popular upper body exercises out there! 

Feeling inspired to turn your passion for fitness into a career? Completing a personal training course at OriGym is the perfect way to start! Browse our full range of courses by downloading our free prospectus here

Written by Alice Williams

Content Writer & Fitness Enthusiast

Alice is a content writer at OriGym. With a first-class degree in French and Linguistics, she loves all things language, fitness and culture. As part of her degree, she spent a year living in France where she worked for a lifestyle blog, gaining professional experience in both translation and content writing. 

When she’s not writing, you can usually find Alice practicing yoga and she hopes to one day become a yoga instructor herself. She also loves running, tennis and cooking up a vegan storm in the kitchen! It was this passion for health and fitness, combined with her love for writing, that brought Alice to OriGym.

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