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Seated Cable Row Exercises: A Short Guide

Most people who have ever been in a gym — which is most of us — have probably seen other people performing seated cable row exercises. Maybe you have even tried them out yourself at some point. But do you know the muscles that cable rows work? Or common mistakes that you should avoid during your cable row workout?

Seated cable rows: what are they good for? 

Seated cable rows, or seated back rows as they’re also known, are performed with an exercise machine that simulates a rowing action. The rowing machine is attached to a set of weight plates, which can be modified to change the difficulty of the exercise. The machine also features a bench, foot plates, and a V-shaped bar, which is what you’ll grab and pull.

Seated cable rows are a great all-around exercise. They can be performed as part of an upper-body workout routine. Rather than developing aerobic endurance, seated cable rows are used to improve muscle strength and posture.

Since you need to keep your core engaged and your back straight during seated cable rows, this exercise is also helpful to improve your form for other exercises that require a similarly optimal posture. These exercises include squats and deadlift exercises.

Common mistakes in seated row exercises

Just like with any exercise, using poor form during seated cable rows can lead to injury. Performing seated cable rows properly is of vital importance, since back and shoulder injuries can be very uncomfortable and difficult to recover from. These seated back row tips will help you develop great technique:

  • During the rowing motion, make sure you’re not swinging your torso back and forth. Doing so could lead to a lower back injury.
  • Keep your core muscles engaged and your back straight as you pull on the V-shaped attachment. You can flex your hips slightly to improve your motion range, but make sure your back is always straight.
  • Don’t drop the weights too fast. Make sure you go back to your starting position slowly, maintaining steady tension in your core, back, and shoulders.
  • Increase the load progressively. Don’t try to pull more weight than what you’re realistically able to. If the weight is so heavy that it doesn’t allow you to perform the motion correctly, reduce the load until your muscles are stronger.

To perform seated cable row exercises correctly, follow this step-by-step guide:

  • Sit upright on the rowing machine bench, and place your feet on the plates.
  • Make sure to bend your knees slightly and strengthen your back.
  • Keeping your back straight at all times, lean over and grab the V-shaped bar. Relax your shoulders and flex your hips slightly to place yourself in the starting position.
  • Slowly pull back the V-shaped bar. Breathe out during this motion, and make sure your torso doesn’t swing back. Keep your elbows close to your body.
  • Engage your core, squeeze your shoulder blades together, and pull back until you can touch your abdomen with your thumbs.
  • Get back to the starting position slowly, making sure you don’t drop the weight too fast.

Seated row: which muscles are worked? 

Seated back rows mainly engage your back, forearms, and shoulder muscles. This exercise is great for your middle back and shoulder muscles; it’s particularly efficient for your latissimus dorsi, trapezius, deltoids, infraspinatus, teres minor, and erector spinae muscles. 

When you perform seated cable rows, your arms and forearms also get a workout. Your biceps and triceps work to stabilize your arms as you pull on the handle. Even your legs can benefit from seated cable rows, since your hamstrings and gluteus maximus also serve as stabilizing muscles. And additionally, your core muscles are also engaged during this exercise! 

Seated row exercises

You can combine seated cable rows with other exercises for a great upper-body workout. Cable rows are often combined with lat pulldowns during exercise routines. 

There are several variations on this exercise, including:

  • High-pulley seated row — This variation is great for your latissimus muscles. It requires you to pull the V-bar from a high pulley. 
  • Seated one-arm cable rows — As the name suggests, this exercise allows you to work on a single side of your body.
  • Seated dumbbell row — With a dumbbell in each hand, sit upright on a bench. Let your arms hang by your sides. Keeping your back straight, bend forward slightly. Then, squeezing your shoulder blades together, pull the dumbbells up until they reach chest level. This variation allows you to work the same muscles as a traditional seated cable row, without requiring a row machine. 

If you’re a beginner, you can try starting with 3 sets of 12 repetitions. As your strength increases, you’ll be able to perform sets of up to 25 repetitions. 

Before you start any workout, remember to stretch and warm up. You should also make sure to stay hydrated, since dehydration can worsen muscle fatigue. And of course, you’ll need to stretch again once you’re done.

Cable row workout benefits 

Seated cable rows are very effective at increasing your back, shoulder, and arm strength. Since you also use many other parts of your body to stabilize your movements, this exercise can also improve your core strength and balance. It can even improve your overall form when performing other exercises that require maintaining a straight back and performing slow movements. 

Even if you’re not an elite athlete, developing your back muscles can be very helpful in your day-to-day life. Having strong back muscles is especially helpful in avoiding injuries when trying to lift heavy objects — something that many of us have to do frequently. 

If you want to increase your upper-body strength, seated cable rows could be ideal for you. Remember to perform them following each step properly to avoid injuries, and combine them with other exercises for a full-body workout. Remember that regular exercise, a balanced diet, and plenty of sleep are the keys to a healthy lifestyle! 


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