Cable Seated Row

The cable seated row is one of the most effective back exercises out there. It not only builds strength and endurance but also improves posture and overall upper-body stability. The benefits are tenfold, making it a must-have in any workout routine. 

Whether you’re performing a back workout at home or in the gym, the cable seated row is a worthwhile addition. 

In this guide, we provide all the information you need to master the cable seated row. Whether you’re just starting or already have some experience, this will help you achieve a strong upper body.

How To Do

  1. Ensure the machine is set up correctly with your feet flat on the foot platform.
  2. Make sure you have a firm grip on the v handle. Both your palms should be facing inwards toward each other.
  3. Sit upright with a slight bend in the knees. From here, extend your arms fully while holding the handle.
  4. Take a deep breath in and engage your core.
  5. Pull the handle towards your body and feel the tension throughout your back.
  6. Ensure you keep a neutral back and chest up throughout the pull. Your head should be facing forward.
  7. Once the V-bar is close to your core area, pause briefly at the top position. Your head should be facing forward to maintain proper form and maximize effectiveness.
  8. Slowly release, extending your arms back to the start position under control.

Tips From Expert

  • Maintain a strong posture throughout the entire movement, focusing on keeping your back straight and chest lifted. This ensures proper alignment and reduces the risk of injury.
  • Control is essential. To make this exercise as efficient as possible, control it from start to finish. Ensure your body torso stays in the same position when you pull.
  • Leave the ego at the door. Start with a lighter weight and increase slowly. 
  • Steady progression. To progress effectively, focus on mastering the recommended reps and sets with proper form. Gradually increase the weight while consistently refining your technique.

Optimal Sets and Reps

Here are the perfect set and rep markers to work with for your training goals.

Training Type Sets Reps
Strength Training 3–5 4–6
Hypertrophy 3–4 8–12
Endurance Training 3–4 12–25
Power Training 3–5 1–3

How to Put in Your Workout Split

The cable seated row is a versatile upper back exercise that can be programmed into different types of workouts. Take a look at the following options.

  • The classic back day — Try pairing it with other back exercises like pull-ups or bent-over rows to make it part of a superset.
  • Part of an upper-body day — You could work from the cable seated row into a push movement, to give you an all-round upper-body superset. This is where you perform one exercise after another.
  • Into a full-body workout — Using this as part of a full-body workout gives you that balanced approach, ensuring full-body muscle development.

When selecting weights for your workouts, consider the following guidelines based on your training goals.

For this approach, you’ll need to work out your one repetition max (1RM). This is the amount of weight you can lift for one repetition with the correct form.

  • Strength Training — Focus on high-intensity workouts, using weights that are between 80%–100% of your one-repetition maximum (1RM).
  • Hypertrophy Training — Aim for moderate to high-intensity exercises, typically using weights that range from 60%–80% of your 1RM. 
  • Endurance Training — Opt for lighter to moderate weights, typically around 40% to 60% of your 1RM.
  • Power Training — Similar to strength training, focus on high-intensity exercises using weights between 80%–100% of your 1RM.

For strength and training sessions, allow yourself two to three minutes of rest between sets to maximize recovery. For hypertrophy and endurance-focused workouts, rest periods of 45 to 90 seconds are usually sufficient to maintain intensity and effectiveness.

Primary Muscle Groups

Latissimus Dorsi

Large, triangular shaped muscles located just below your shoulder blades. They extend along your spine down to your pelvis.

Latissimus Dorsi 

The latissimus dorsi, or lats, are the large muscles in the back that handle the majority of the work during a cable seated row. They consist of three sections; the upper lats, middle lats, and lower lats. These muscles extend from the middle of the back down to the waist. 

Strengthening the lats using the cable seated row enhances your ability in exercises like pull-ups and other rows, contributing significantly to overall back strength and stability. As a primary mover, the cable seated row develops strength and size in your lats.As you bring the cable back, think about tensing your lat muscles. This is known as your mind-muscle connection. Doing this correctly can help to activate the target muscle.

Secondary Muscle Groups

Erector Spinae

Muscles that span the entire length of your spine on either side.

Middle Trapezius

Muscles located in the middle of your back between your upper and lower traps.

Lower Trapezius

Small, triangular shaped muscles located below your middle traps and between your lats.

Biceps Long Head

Most outside part of your bicep.The front of your upper arm.

Biceps Short Head

Most inside portion of the biceps. Located at the front of your upper arm closest to your chest.

Brachialis

Muscle which starts at the middle of your upper arm and connects just below the elbow.

Brachioradialis

Muscle located between outside portion of your forearm from the elbow to the wrist.

Posterior Deltoid

Muscles located at the back of your shoulder. Helps with posture.

Posterior Deltoid 

The posterior deltoid is a key muscle located at the back of the shoulder. It’s one of three deltoid heads that make up your shoulders. The other two are your anterior deltoids and lateral deltoids. 

It plays a crucial role in shoulder extension and stabilization during the cable seated row. This muscle assists in pulling your arm backward, working alongside your primary back muscles to ensure smooth and controlled movement. 

Strengthening the posterior deltoid with cable seated rows can enhance shoulder stability and overall upper-body strength.

Middle Trapezius 

The middle trapezius is situated in the upper back. It is part of three trapezius muscles; the other two being your upper traps and lower traps.

Your middle traps are responsible for retracting your shoulder blades, which is essential for maintaining proper form during the cable seated row. They help to draw your shoulders back, supporting a stable and effective rowing motion. 

Strengthening the middle trapezius improves posture and upper back strength.

Lower Trapezius 

The lower trapezius muscle is located below your middle traps and above your waistline. It supports the depression of the shoulder blades, pulling them down and back. 

This action is vital for counteracting shoulder elevation and ensuring proper posture during the cable seated row. Strengthening the lower trapezius contributes to better shoulder stability and posture.

Erector Spinae 

The erector spinae is a group of muscles running alongside the spine. These muscles are responsible for spinal extension and maintaining an upright posture. 

During the cable seated row, your erector spinae helps stabilize the spine, reducing the risk of lower back injuries. Strengthening these muscles enhances overall back strength and stability.

Brachialis

The brachialis is a muscle that technically forms part of your biceps. It’s located just above your forearm, between the heads of your biceps and triceps. Your brachialis is primarily responsible for elbow flexion. 

During the cable seated row, this muscle is activated when pulling the bar towards the torso. Strengthening the brachialis improves endurance, strength, and control of the rowing motion.

Brachioradialis

The brachioradialis is a forearm muscle that is situated on the inner side just below your bicep. It primarily supports flexing the forearm at the elbow and helps to stabilize your elbow joint.

Consistent use of this muscle during the cable seated row enhances grip strength which is a key marker of health. Improved grip strength benefits various other exercises that require a firm grip, promoting overall efficiency of movement.

Biceps Short Heads

Your biceps brachii are made up of two main muscle heads. The short head of the biceps is the smaller of the two. It works in conjunction with the long head to flex the elbow. 

It is most activated when the elbows are kept close to the body during the cable seated row. Building the short head of the biceps enhances the aesthetics and strength of the upper arm.

Biceps Long Heads

The long head of the biceps is the other muscle head that makes up your biceps brachii. It’s the bigger of the two heads and sits alongside your short head.

Your biceps long head plays a crucial role in both elbow flexion and shoulder stabilization. It supports the short head in flexing the elbow during the cable seated row. 

Strengthening the long head of the biceps contributes to increased arm size and overall upper-body strength.

Equipment

Seated Row Machine

V-Bar Attachment

Seated Row Machine

This is good for working your back muscles whilst limiting lower back load. Ensure you keep your chest against the pad. Adjust weight and seat height for comfort.

V-Bar Attachment

You can attach this to a cable machine to perform a wide range of arm exercises. Ensure the carabiner is hooked on correctly.

Alternatives

Exercises that target the same primary muscle groups and require the different equipment.

Who Should Do?

Athletes

Athletes benefit greatly from the cable seated row as it enhances overall back strength and stability. Strong back muscles are crucial for various sports, aiding in better performance, power, and injury prevention. 

The exercise also improves posture and core stability, which are essential for athletic movements. By incorporating the cable seated row into their routine, athletes can develop a more balanced and powerful upper body. This leads to improved performance in their specific sports.

Bodybuilders

Bodybuilders find the cable seated row indispensable for building a well-defined back. This exercise targets multiple muscle groups, allowing for significant hypertrophy. The ability to easily adjust weights makes it perfect for drop sets, enhancing muscle growth and endurance. 

Additionally, the seated row promotes symmetry and balance in the back muscles, which is crucial for bodybuilding competitions. Incorporating this exercise helps bodybuilders achieve a more muscular and aesthetically pleasing physique.

Beginners

Beginners will find the cable seated row to be an excellent introduction to strength training. The exercise allows for manageable weight adjustments, making it easy to start with lighter loads and gradually increase resistance. 

The guided nature of the machine provides clear instructions on foot placement and body positioning, reducing the risk of improper form and injury. This exercise helps beginners build foundational back strength and develop confidence in their training routine.

As a beginner, focus on maintaining a neutral back and high chest position at all times. Think about squeezing your shoulder blades as you bring the cable back.

Who Should Not Do?

Anyone with chronic lower back issues

Individuals with lower back injuries should avoid the cable seated row until fully recovered. Engaging in this exercise without proper healing and guidance from a physiotherapist can exacerbate the injury. It’s crucial to follow a structured rehabilitation program to ensure safe recovery. 

Once the lower back is healed and stronger, these individuals can slowly reintroduce the cable seated row with professional supervision. In this case, lower back stretches may be beneficial for rehabilitation. 

Anyone with shoulder injuries

Those with shoulder injuries should steer clear of the cable seated row. Although the exercise primarily targets the back, the shoulders are still actively engaged.

Avoiding this movement helps prevent further strain on the shoulder joint. It’s essential to focus on rehabilitation exercises and gradually rebuild shoulder strength before attempting the cable seated row or any similar exercises.

Benefits Of The Cable Seated Row

Improves Throwing Ability

Strengthening your back and shoulders with the cable seated row can significantly enhance performance in sports that involve throwing. This exercise targets key muscles used in the throwing motion, such as the latissimus dorsi and the posterior deltoids. 

By increasing the strength and stability of these muscles, athletes can achieve greater power and precision in their throws. Additionally, a strong back supports better shoulder mechanics, reducing the risk of injuries commonly associated with repetitive throwing movements.

Prevents Back Pain

Regularly incorporating the cable seated row into your workout routine can help prevent back pain. This exercise strengthens the muscles of the upper and lower back, which are crucial for maintaining proper posture and spinal alignment. 

Strong back muscles provide better support for the spine, reducing the strain on the lower back. This can mitigate the risk of pain and injury. By building endurance in these muscles, the cable seated row offers a proactive approach to maintaining a healthy back.

Improves Strength

The cable seated row is a highly effective exercise for boosting overall upper body strength. It targets a variety of muscle groups, including the latissimus dorsi, trapezius, rhomboids, and biceps. This leads to comprehensive muscle development. 
Improved upper body strength translates to better performance in other exercises and daily activities. Examples include lifting weights, performing bodyweight exercises, or engaging in physical tasks. A stronger back and arms can enhance your efficiency and reduce the likelihood of fatigue and injury.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the cable seated row best for?

The cable seated row is best for building the muscles of the upper and mid-back. It uses a compound movement pattern that works the lats, traps, and rhomboids, promoting balanced muscle development and improved strength.

Are cable seated rows worth doing?

Absolutely. It builds back strength, improves posture, and promotes muscle balance, making it a highly effective addition to any workout routine.

Do cable seated rows build muscles?

Yes they do. They target and build the lats, the traps, and the other upper-body muscles surrounding the back.

Are cable seated cable rows good for posture?

Yes, the primary muscle groups used play key roles in posture. This allows you to maintain good posture throughout the day.

Resources

  1. Lorenzetti, S., Dayer, R., Plüss, M. and List, R. (2017). Pulling Exercises for Strength Training and Rehabilitation: Movements and Loading Conditions. Journal of functional morphology and kinesiology, [online] 2(3), pp.33–33. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/jfmk2030033.
  2. Schoenfeld, B.J., Grgic, J., Van, D.W. and Plotkin, D.L. (2021). Loading Recommendations for Muscle Strength, Hypertrophy, and Local Endurance: A Re-Examination of the Repetition Continuum. Sports, [online] 9(2), pp.32–32. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/sports9020032.
  3. Grgic, J., Lazinica, B., Schoenfeld, B.J. and Zeljko Pedisic (2020). Test–Retest Reliability of the One-Repetition Maximum (1RM) Strength Assessment: a Systematic Review. Sports medicine – open/Sports medicine – Open, [online] 6(1). doi:https://doi.org/10.1186/s40798-020-00260-z.
  4. Calatayud, J., Vinstrup, J., Markus Due Jakobsen, Sundstrup, E., Brandt, M., Jay, K., Juan Carlos Colado and Lars Louis Andersen (2015). Importance of mind-muscle connection during progressive resistance training. European journal of applied physiology, [online] 116(3), pp.527–533. doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-015-3305-7.
  5. Jeno, S.H. and Varacallo, M. (2023). Anatomy, Back, Latissimus Dorsi. [online] Nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK448120/ [Accessed 4 Jul. 2024].
  6. Adel Elzanie and Varacallo, M. (2024). Anatomy, Shoulder and Upper Limb, Deltoid Muscle. [online] Nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537056/ [Accessed 4 Jul. 2024].
  7. Adel Elzanie and Varacallo, M. (2024). Anatomy, Shoulder and Upper Limb, Deltoid Muscle. [online] Nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537056/ [Accessed 4 Jul. 2024].
  8. Ourieff, J., Scheckel, B. and Agarwal, A. (2023). Anatomy, Back, Trapezius. [online] Nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK518994/#:~:text=The%20function%20of%20the%20trapezius,in%20upwardly%20rotating%20the%20scapula [Accessed 4 Jul. 2024].
  9. Mehmet Micoogullari, S. Fatma Uygur and H. Baran Yosmaoglu (2023). Effect of Scapular Stabilizer Muscles Strength on Scapular Position. Sports health, [online] 15(3), pp.349–356. doi:https://doi.org/10.1177/19417381231155192.
  10. Taylor, E.W., U. Chris Ugbolue, Gao, Y., Gu, Y., Baker, J.S. and Frédéric Dutheil (2023). Erector Spinae Muscle Activation During Forward Movement in Individuals With or Without Chronic Lower Back Pain: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Archives of rehabilitation research and clinical translation, [online] 5(3), pp.100280–100280. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.arrct.2023.100280.
  11. Lung, B.E., Ekblad, J. and Bisogno, M. (2024). Anatomy, Shoulder and Upper Limb, Forearm Brachioradialis Muscle. [online] Nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK526110/#:~:text=The%20brachioradialis%20is%20considered%20a,the%20other%20being%20the%20supinator [Accessed 4 Jul. 2024].
  12. Tiwana, M.S., Charlick, M. and Varacallo, M. (2024). Anatomy, Shoulder and Upper Limb, Biceps Muscle. [online] Nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK519538/ [Accessed 4 Jul. 2024].
  13. Makaruk, H., Marcin Starzak, Tarkowski, P., Sadowski, J. and Winchester, J. (2024). The Effects of Resistance Training on Sport-Specific Performance of Elite Athletes: A Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis. Journal of Human Kinetics, [online] 91, pp.135–155. doi:https://doi.org/10.5114/jhk/185877.
  14. None Krzysztofik, Wilk, N., None Wojdała and None Gołaś (2019). Maximizing Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review of Advanced Resistance Training Techniques and Methods. International journal of environmental research and public health/International journal of environmental research and public health, [online] 16(24), pp.4897–4897. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16244897.
  15. Aerenhouts, D. and D’Hondt, E. (2020). Using Machines or Free Weights for Resistance Training in Novice Males? A Randomized Parallel Trial. International journal of environmental research and public health/International journal of environmental research and public health, [online] 17(21), pp.7848–7848. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17217848.
  16. Łysoń-Uklańska, B., Michalina Błażkiewicz, Kwacz, M. and Wit, A. (2021). Muscle Force Patterns in Lower Extremity Muscles for Elite Discus Throwers, Javelin Throwers and Shot-Putters – A Case Study. Journal of Human Kinetics, [online] 78, pp.5–14. doi:https://doi.org/10.2478/hukin-2021-0026.
  17. Matheve, T., Hodges, P. and Lieven Danneels (2023). The Role of Back Muscle Dysfunctions in Chronic Low Back Pain: State-of-the-Art and Clinical Implications. Journal of clinical medicine, [online] 12(17), pp.5510–5510. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/jcm12175510.
  18. Gentil, P., Soares, S. and Bottaro, M. (2015). Single vs. Multi-Joint Resistance Exercises: Effects on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy. Asian journal of sports medicine./Asian journal of sports medicine, [online] 6(1). doi:https://doi.org/10.5812/asjsm.24057.
  19. Liu, C., Shiroy, D.M., Jones, L.Y. and Clark, D.O. (2014). Systematic review of functional training on muscle strength, physical functioning, and activities of daily living in older adults. European review of aging and physical activity/European review on aging and physical activity, [online] 11(2), pp.95–106. doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/s11556-014-0144-1.