How to Do the Seated Cable Row Exercise

The seated cable row develops the muscles of the back and the forearms. It is an excellent all-round compound exercise for developing mainly the middle back while offering useful arm work as well. It's considered a beginner's level exercise. Here's a step by step how-to.

Equipment Needed for the Seated Cable Row

The seated cable row is performed on a weighted horizontal cable machine with a bench and foot plates. This can be a stand-alone piece of equipment or part of a multi-gym.

Muscles Worked

The seated cable row is a pulling exercise that works the back muscles in general, particularly the latissimus dorsi. It also works the forearm muscles and the upper arm muscles, as the biceps and triceps are dynamic stabilizers for this exercise. Other stabilizing muscles that come into play are the hamstrings and gluteus maximus.

Exercise Precautions

Good form for the cable row includes pulling the shoulder blades together with each stroke. The usual care applies, especially if you’ve suffered from lower back or shoulder problems. 

How to Do the Seated Cable Row -- Positioning the Body

Seated Cable Row
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Body Position

  • Sit on the platform with your knees bent and grasp the cable attachment. It often has a triangle handle, but it may be a bar.
  • Position yourself with your knees slightly bent and so that you have to reach to grab the handle with outstretched arms yet without curling the lower back over.
  • Your back should be straight at all times, not bent, and you will want to keep your torso still throughout the exercise. This straight back form is one you also use in the squat and deadlift exercises.
  • Brace the abdominals and you're ready to row.

How to Do the Seated Cable Row -- Body Movement and Check Points

Seated Cable Row Movement
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Body Movement

  • Pull the handle and weight back toward the lower abdomen while trying not to use the momentum of the row too much by moving the torso backward with the arms.
  • Target the middle to upper back by keeping your back straight and squeezing your shoulder blades together as you row, chest out. Even though it's called a row, it is not the classic rowing action that you might use on the aerobic rowing machine.
  • Return the handle forward under tension to full stretch, remembering to keep that back straight even though flexed at the hips. Repeat the exercise.

Check Points

  • Keep a straight back, but it can flex slightly at the hip to allow a full range of motion.
  • Squeeze the shoulder blades (scapula) together. This is important for most pull exercises emphasizing the back.
  • Return the weight under tension to the starting position. Don't crash the weights and don't pause or bounce at the bottom of the lift.
  • Be cautious if you have an existing or past shoulder or lower back injury.

Progressing

Start with light weights when you first begin to do this exercise. As your body adapts, you will be able to add more weight.

More Exercises

Row on down to the lat pulldown, which is often performed after the seated cable row in a series of top 10 exercises for new weight trainers.

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