How to Do the Seated Cable Row: Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Targets: Back, forearms

Equipment Needed: Cable machine

Level: Beginner

The seated cable row develops the muscles of the back and the forearms. It is an excellent all-around compound exercise for developing the middle back while offering useful arm work as well.

The seated cable row is performed on a weighted horizontal cable machine with a bench and footplates. This can be a stand-alone piece of equipment or part of a multi-gym. Seated cable rows can be used as part of an upper-body strength workout. For example, in this series of exercises for new weight trainers, the seated cable row follows the triceps pushdown, which also uses the cable machine.

How To Do the Seated Cable Row

Sit on the bench 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, so you have to reach to grab the handle with outstretched arms without curling the lower back over. Brace the abdominals, and you're ready to row.

  1. 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.
  2. Target the middle to upper back by keeping your back straight and squeezing your shoulder blades together as you row, keeping your chest out.
  3. Return the handle forward under tension to full stretch, remembering to keep that back straight even though flexed at the hips. Repeat the exercise for the desired number of repetitions.

Benefits of the Seated Cable Row

The seated cable row is a pulling exercise that generally works the back muscles, particularly the latissimus dorsi, a.k.a. "lats." The rhomboid muscles between your shoulder blades also get a workout with this move. Your trapezius muscles along the back of your neck, shoulders, and upper back are also involved in seated cable rows. This move also works the forearm and 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.

Prevents Back Pain

Because this muscle strengthens the upper back muscles, it can be a good exercise to perform to prevent back pain. Strengthening exercises on muscles along the backside of your body (known as posterior chain muscles) are more effective than general exercise in healing lower back pain.

Develops Strength

This exercise is done to develop strength rather than as an aerobic rowing exercise. Even though it's called a row, it is not the classic action that you might use on the aerobic rowing machine. It is a functional exercise, as many times during the day, you pull items toward your chest.

Prevents Injury

Strong latissimus dorsi muscles contribute to stability in your shoulders. This can help prevent injury in this area. Shoulder injuries are prevalent in those who participate in sports that use overhead motions, such as basketball, baseball, some track and field sports, volleyball, tennis, lacrosse, and others.

Improves Throwing Ability

Developing the muscles of the shoulders by using the seated cable row can help you gain power in throwing objects. This is beneficial for those who compete in sports that involve throwing but can also be helpful for everyday activities.

Prepares You For Other Exercises

Engaging your abs and using your legs while keeping your back straight can help prevent strain and injury. This straight-back form with abs engaged is one you also use in the squat and deadlift exercises.

Other Variations of the Seated Cable Row

You can do this exercise in different ways to meet your needs and goals. Start with light weights when you first begin to do this exercise. As your body adapts, you will be able to add more weight.

Single Arm Cable Row

You can also perform a single-arm cable row. Keep your free hand at your side while the other pulls the handle toward your navel. This can be useful if you have one side of your body that is much stronger than the other. The single-arm exercise is also a core challenge, as the muscles must work harder to stabilize and keep your torso from rotating.

Wide Grip Cable Row

Changing your grip to a wider stance will target slightly different muscle groups, focusing more on the back than the arm muscles. To perform this variation, use a bar grip attachment and keep your hands a little more than shoulder-width apart as you complete the move. Aim for your chest as you pull back on the bar.

Common Mistakes

Avoid these errors to get the most from this exercise and prevent strain.

Rounding Your Back

Your back should be straight at all times, not bent. You can flex slightly at the hip to allow a full range of motion. Focusing on your posture will allow you to get the most out of this exercise.

Moving Your Torso

When you move your torso during this exercise, you rely too much on momentum to move the weights. Use your arms for the motion rather than moving your torso. Keep your torso still throughout the exercise.

Returning the Weight Too Fast

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. This will ensure your muscles are activated for the full course of the exercise.

Reduced Range of Motion

If the weight is so heavy that you cannot go through the full range of motion with good form, it is too heavy. Reduce the weight and ensure you get a full range for this exercise. A good rule is to start with a lighter weight while focusing on form, then add more weight once you know you are doing the exercise correctly.

Safety and Precautions

Be cautious if you have an existing or past shoulder or lower back injury. You may talk to a healthcare provider to see if it is advised. Stop the exercise if you feel any sharp pain.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Should you lean back for seated cable rows?

    You should lean back just slightly in the neutral position for this move. Aim for about 10-20 degrees of backward lean for an optimal position. If you are leaning back too much, try using less weight to fix the problem.

  • Does the seated cable row work the chest?

    Not primarily. You want to feel the most muscle activation in your upper back and shoulders, including the rhomboids, deltoids, trapezius, latissimus dorsi, and biceps.

  • Which grip is best for seated cable rows?

    It depends on your goals. A standard grip using a V-bar is the classic version of this exercise. If you use a wide grip, you will work your back muscles more than your arm muscles.

3 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Tataryn N, Simas V, Catterall T, Furness J, Keogh JWL. Posterior-chain resistance training compared to general exercise and walking programmes for the treatment of chronic low back pain in the general population: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Sports Med Open. 2021;7:17. doi:10.1186/s40798-021-00306-w

  3. Snarr RL, Hallmark AV, Casey JC, Esco MR. Electromyographical comparison of a traditional, suspension device, and towel pull-up. J Hum Kinet. 2017;58:5-13. doi:10.1515/hukin-2017-0068

By Paul Rogers
Paul Rogers is a personal trainer with experience in a wide range of sports, including track, triathlon, marathon, hockey, tennis, and baseball.