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. It 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.


The seated cable row is a pulling exercise that works the back muscles in general, particularly the latissimus dorsi, a.k.a. "lats." 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.

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 rowing 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.

Learning to engage your abs and use 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.

Step-by-Step Instructions

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 and so that you have to reach to grab the handle with outstretched arms yet 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, 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.

Common Mistakes

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

Rounded 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.

Moving Torso

Use your arms for the motion rather than moving your torso. Keep your torso still throughout the exercise.

Too Fast on Return

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.

Reduced Range of Motion

If the weight is so heavy that you are not able to go through the full range of motion with good form, it is too heavy. Reduce the weight and ensure you are getting a full range for this exercise.

Modifications and Variations

This exercise can be done in different ways to meet your needs and goals.

Need a Modification?

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

Up for a Challenge?

You can change the hand attachment and your grip to target different areas of your back and how much you are using your biceps.

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 also is more of a core challenge, as the muscles have to much work harder to stabilize and keep your torso from rotating.

Safety and Precautions

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

Frequently Asked Questions

What muscles do cable rows work?

As a pulling exercise, the cable row targets the back muscles, especially the lats. It also works the muscles in the forearms and upper arms, particularly the biceps and triceps.

What is the difference between a seated and standing cable row?

The standing cable row recruits more stabilizer muscles in the legs and core compared to the seated cable row, which uses more of your back muscles.

Try It Out

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

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2 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.
  1. Lorenzetti S, Dayer R, Plüss M, List R. Pulling exercises for strength training and rehabilitation: Movements and loading donditions. J Funct Morphol Kinesiol. 2017;2(3):33. doi:10.3390/jfmk2030033

  2. Huxel Bliven KC, Anderson BE. Core stability training for injury preventionSports Health. 2013;5(6):514-522. doi:10.1177/1941738113481200