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8 Seated Cable Row Alternatives – For Back Growth

When it comes to building a fit, healthy, attractive body, strength training is a must. Eating a lot of protein and lifting weights will increase your muscle tone, size, and strength and is good for your bones and joints. Strength training is also a very useful form of exercise, even if your primary fitness goal is weight loss.

Ultimately, your body doesn’t know whether you are working out using state-of-the-art resistance training machines, riding a bike, or lifting a rock; it just responds to the stresses placed on it. Because of this, there are hundreds (if not thousands) of exercises you can choose from. 

Most gyms have seated cable row machines, and this is a very popular exercise. But what if you’re following a workout that includes cable seated rows and you don’t have access to one. Maybe you train at home or outdoors. Or, what if you simply do not like this particular exercise? 

The good news is there are lots of exercises you can do instead, and your body can barely tell them apart! 

In this article, we reveal eight of the best-seated cable row alternatives that work the same muscles but involve different workout equipment.

Seated Cable Row Alternatives

What Is a Seated Cable Row?

Seated cable rows are a strength training exercise found in many gyms. Doing this exercise involves sitting on a flat bench with your legs out in front of you and your feet on footplates.

Then, holding a handle in both hands, you bend your arms and “row” the handle into your abdomen. This may or may not be accompanied by leaning forward and back with your torso. 

Seated cable rows strengthen the following muscles:

Man doing seated cable row

Latissimus Dorsi

Known as the lats for short, this is the large, wing-shaped muscle of your upper back. Its main functions are adduction and extension of the shoulder joint.

Viewed from behind, this is the muscle that gives your upper back its width.

Middle Trapezius and Rhomboids

The middle (mid) traps and rhomboids are located between and across your shoulder blades. These important postural muscles work together to pull your shoulders back and together. 

Posterior Deltoids

The rearmost shoulder muscle, the posterior deltoids work with your lats to extend your shoulders. Like the mid traps and rhomboids, this is a vital postural muscle. 

Biceps

While seated cable rows are mostly thought of as a back exercise, they also strongly involve your biceps, which is the muscle on the front of your upper arms. The primary function of the biceps is flexion of the elbow joint. 

Erector Spinae

This is the collective term for the muscles of your lower back. They run up either side of your spine to keep it stable and stop it from rounding. The erector spinae is also responsible for extending your spine, although that is not its function during this exercise. 

Forearms

Holding the handle as you row requires and strengthens your forearms and grip. A strong grip makes many everyday activities easier and is also linked to longevity, as people with a solid grip tend to live longer, more active lives. 

8 Alternatives to Seated Cable Rows

Can’t row, won’t row? Don’t worry; here are eight alternatives to use instead!

1. Bent-Over Barbell Rows

Bent-Over Row

Bent-over barbell rows work the same muscles and use a similar movement as seated cable rows.

The only real difference is the position of your body. Done with a barbell, this is a simple but effective upper back exercise.

How to do it:

  1. Hold a barbell with an overhand, slightly wider than shoulder-width grip, or an underhand, shoulder-width grip. Stand with your feet about hip-width apart, knees slightly bent. Brace your abs and pull your shoulders down and back.
  2. Without rounding your lower back, lean forward until your upper body is angled to around 45-degrees. Let your arms hang down from your shoulders.
  3. Bend your arms and pull the bar up and into your abdomen.
  4. Extend your arms and repeat.

2. Single-Arm Dumbbell Rowssingle arm row

If barbell bent-over rows bother your lower back, this is a good alternative. With one arm free, you can support your lower back which may mean you can use heavier weights or do more reps.

How to do it:

  1. Hold a dumbbell in one hand. Standing in front of a knee-high bench, lean forward and place your free hand on the top for support. Bend your knees slightly, brace your abs, and arch your lower back. Let your arm hang down from your shoulder.
  2. Bend your arm and row the weight up and into the side of your torso. Lead with your elbow and keep your wrist straight.
  3. Extend your arm and repeat.
  4. Try to do the same number of reps on both sides.

3. Chest Supported Row

This seated cable row alternative provides your lower back with lots of support, so you’re free to focus on training your lats and biceps. This is a very lower-back-friendly exercise.

How to do it:

  1. Set an adjustable exercise bench 45-degrees. Sit on it with your chest against the back support, head uppermost. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and let your arms hang down.
  2. Without lifting your chest off the bench, bend your arms and row the weights up and into your sides.
  3. Extend your arms and repeat.

4. Incline Bodyweight Rows

You don’t have to use weights to replicate the seated cable row; there are bodyweight exercises you can do too (This is a great exercise for people that are quite tall like basketball players).

How to do it:

  1. Set the bar on a Smith machine or squat rack to around waist height. You can also use a suspension trainer, such as a TRX.
  2. Sit on the floor below the bar/handles. Reach up and hold on with an overhand, slightly wider than shoulder-width grip.
  3. Straighten your legs, lift your butt off the floor, and lean back, so your weight is supported on your hands and feet only. Make sure your body is straight.
  4. Without bending your knees, hips, or lower back, bend your arms and pull your chest up to the bar.
  5. Extend your arms and repeat.
  6. Make this exercise easier by raising the bar and creating a shallower angle with your body. Make it more challenging by raising your feet or resting a weight on your hips.

5. Standing Cable Row

This exercise is all but identical to seated cable rows, but you do it while standing instead. You won’t be able to go as heavy but standing instead of sitting means this exercise is better for your posture.

How to do it:

  1. Using an adjustable cable machine, set the pulley to about waist height. Attach a handle to the pulley. Grab the handle in both hands and, with your arms straight, step back. Brace your abs and pull your shoulders down and back.
  2. Bend your arms and pull the handle into your abdomen.
  3. Extend your arms and repeat.

6. Seated Row With Resistance Bands

Training at home often means not being able to do a lot of gym exercises. This alternative mirrors seated cable rows, and all you need to do it is a resistance band.

How to do it:

  1. Sit on the floor with your legs extended in front of you. Loop the middle of a resistance band over your feet and hold an end in each hand. Sit up tall, brace your abs, and pull your shoulders down and back.
  2. Bend your arms and pull your hands into your abdomen. Extend your arms and repeat. 
  3. You can also do this exercise by fixing the band to a suitable anchor point instead of looping it over your feet.

7. Renegade RowsRenegade Rows

Renegade rows work not just your back and arms but your core too. Use light dumbbells; this is a challenging exercise, but that’s precisely what makes it such a good one!

How to do it:

  1. Holding a dumbbell in each hand, squat down and get into the push-up position. Your arms, legs, and body should be straight. Brace your abs.
  2. Bend one arm and row the dumbbell up and into your ribs. Extend your arm and put the weight back on the floor.
  3. Repeat on the opposite side.
  4. Continue alternating arms for the duration of your set.
  5. Add a push-up to make this a total upper body exercise.

8. T-bar Rows

Using the same movement as seated cable rows, T-bar rows are a little more lower back-friendly than full-on bent-over barbell rows. However, they’re every bit as effective.

How to do it:

  1. Stand astride the T-bar row and lean forward. Grab the bar using an overhand, underhand, or neutral grip as preferred. Brace your abs and arch your back. Lift the weight clear of the support.
  2. Bend your arms and row the handle up and into your abdomen.
  3. Extend your arms and repeat.
  4. Take care not to round your lower back.

Are Seated Cable Rows Necessary?

Seated cable rows are popular for a reason; they’re an excellent exercise. Whether you want to build a bigger, more muscular back or just tone your muscles and develop better posture, this exercise can help.

However, that doesn’t mean it’s compulsory, as there are many very similar exercises you can use instead. Ultimately, all rowing exercises are interchangeable because they all work the same muscles. The only thing that differs is the equipment you are using.

So, while seated cable rows can be helpful, not doing them doesn’t have to be a problem either. Use any of these alternatives to train the very same muscle groups, even if you work out at home.

Bottom Line

Your body is immensely complex. It’s made from over 600 muscles, 206 bones, miles of nerves and blood vessels, and billions of cells. And yet, despite this complexity, it’s unable to tell the difference between using a seated cable machine and lifting dumbbells.

In many ways, this is an advantage because it means you can use a wide range of exercises in your workout, and none of them are compulsory. There is always more than one way to build the body of your dreams. A well-balanced diet high in protein and nutritious vegetables will do wonders.

Many trainers will try to tell you that machines are better than free weights or that bodyweight exercises are better than machines, but the truth is that how you work your muscles is not really that important. So long as you challenge them to work harder than they’re used to, they’ll respond by getting stronger.

Exercisers have a lot of love for the seated cable row machine, which IS a very good exercise. But it’s no better or worse than bent-over rows, single-arm dumbbell rows, or chest-supported rows. They all do more or less the same job.

Ultimately, the best exercises are the ones you enjoy, that you can perform comfortably, and that you have access to.

So, don’t worry if you don’t have or don’t like seated cable rows. Use any of these rowing alternatives to achieve your workout goals.

Patrick Dale is an ex-British Royal Marine and owner and lecturer for a fitness qualifications company. In addition to training prospective personal trainers, Patrick has also authored three fitness and exercise books, dozens of e-books, thousands of articles, and several fitness videos.

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