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June 13, 2022 7 min read

Your back is an essential part of your body for posture, strength, and overall function. The seated cable row is a beneficial way to build the muscles in your back, like your lats, traps, rhomboids, and erector spinae.

Whether your goal is strength or hypertrophy, the seated cable row can be a great choice for athletes of all fitness levels. 

Maybe all the cable machines are taken or you're just looking for some variety in your workout, know that there are other ways to get the benefits of the seated cable row with different compound exercises. Your back day just got better with these seven moves. 

Why Do the Seated Cable Row? 

Having a strong back can help you lift heavy objects like barbells or groceries. The seated cable row recruits the latissimus dorsi, erector spinae, rhomboids, and trapezius to help pull a heavy amount of weight. It can be beneficial for beginners looking to obtain more support from a machine, or for anyone wanting to build muscle mass in their back.

The muscles worked by the seated cable row help to support the spine, which can aid in improved posture and overall athletic performance.

The back muscles are sometimes neglected because you can't see them in the mirror like you can your chest or biceps, but it's important to exercise the back just as much as the front in order to maintain a balanced body.    

The cable machine can offer more control and support than a barbell or dumbbell might, so it can help isolate the back more, making it a great choice if hypertrophy is your goal.

Building muscle mass isn't just for bodybuilders, and just about anyone can benefit from the seated cable row. 

Seated Cable Row Alternative Exercises 

If the seated cable row is so great, why should we do anything else? There's nothing wrong with training on a seated cable row machine, but there are a few reasons as to why you'd want to have alternatives up your sleeve.

The first simply being if all the cable machines are taken, then you have a back up plan. Having alternatives also helps spice up your workout and can allow for similar or even added benefits. Check the seven best seated cable row alternatives here.  

1. Bent-Over Row 

Like the seated cable row, the bent-over row recruits the lats, rhomboids, and traps.

Unlike the cable row, the bent-over row uses a barbell and requires more stability.

It uses a similar movement pattern except you're hinged over at the hips. The cable row can be a good progression exercise to the bent-over row because it can be more of an advanced movement. 

Pulling exercises like this one can carry over to other exercises like deadlifts, pull-ups, and other row variations. They can also contribute to overall upper body strength and with pushing exercises like the bench press. 

How to do the Bent-Over Row: 

  • Grab a barbell with an overhand grip with your hands about shoulder-width apart.
  • Keep your spine in neutral as you hinge at your hips.
  • With your arms fully extended, hold the bar in line with your ribcage.
  • With your back flat and core tight, pull the bar up towards you.
  • When you've reached a full range of motion, lower the bar to the starting position.    

2. Inverted Row 

Bodyweight exercises can be efficient, challenging, and accessible.

The inverted row simply requires your own bodyweight and a stable apparatus like a bar secured on a squat rack.

You use your lats, rhomboids, traps, erector spinae, deltoids and biceps to pull yourself up towards the bar. Although primarily an upper body exercise, it also recruits the glutes and hamstrings to help keep your body in a straight line. 

Since you're holding your own bodyweight, the inverted row can help improve grip strength, which can be an indicator of overall health.

This row variation is a great alternative to the cable row because it can produce similar benefits and potentially elicit greater lat activation, while being potentially more accessible and modifiable.

How to do the Inverted Row: 

  • Position yourself under a stable bar so that your body is at an angle. The more you're angled, the more aggressive the move can be.
  • Keep your core and glutes tight to help maintain a straight line with your body and pull yourself up towards the bar.
  • Once you reach the bar, lower back down to the starting position.  

3. T-Bar Row 

Gripping the bar when there's a heavy amount of weight on it could be your limiting factor.

The t-bar row, also known as the landmine row, allows you to pull heavier weight because the position you hold the bar in and your neutral grip can create more leverage.

Since more weight can be loaded onto the barbell, it can help increase back muscle hypertrophy and strength. Like the cable row, multiple muscle groups in the upper back are recruited in this exercise. 

Popular in the bodybuilding community for muscle growth, the t-bar row is a great back exercise to do in place of the seated cable row. It can be more advanced because of the positioning, but it can be easily modified by reducing the weight.

How to do the T-Bar Row: 

  • Use a landmine machine or place one end of a barbell in the corner.
  • Load the other end with weight plates appropriate to your fitness level. It's best to start light if you're unsure.
  • Put a V-shaped handle on the loaded end of the bar and hold it with a neutral grip.
  • Straddle the bar and hinge at your hips until you're at about a 45 degree angle.
  • Pull the bar up towards your chest and slowly extend back down. 

4. TRX Row

The TRX is a beneficial tool you can use in the gym or can be easily installed in your home gym. It conveniently uses your bodyweight for resistance, so just about anyone can use it.

The TRX Row can help target the stabilizer muscles like the shoulder stabilizers, abdominals, and spinal erectors.

Training the stabilizer muscles can help reduce pain and increase function in the joints. 

You don't always need weights to build muscle and strength, and in fact, the TRX row is a great way to target the lats, rhomboids, traps, shoulders, and core. It can be low impact and easily modified for a more or less challenging workout. 

How to do the TRX Row: 

  • Grab the TRX handles with a neutral grip and angle your body, so your arms are fully extended.
  • Keep your back straight and your entire body in a straight line.
  • With a tight core and tight elbows, pull your body up towards the anchor point of the TRX.
  • Make sure to keep tension in the strap the whole time, and slowly lower back down to the starting position. 

5. Dumbbell Row 

One of the great things about dumbbells is their ability to train both sides of your body equally. The dumbbell row is similar to the bent-over row as the movement pattern is the same, but you'll likely use a lighter weight because instead of using a barbell, you're using dumbbells.

The unilateral benefits that can come from using dumbbells make this move a great alternative to the cable row. 

Muscle imbalances in your upper body can be exposed and improved in this exercise. It's versatile because you can perform both sides at a time or a single-arm dumbbell row to help really focus on one side at a time and help you pull a heavier weight. 

How to do the Dumbbell Row: 

  • Hold one dumbbell in each hand and hinge at the hips.
  • Keeping a neutral spine, pull the elbows up towards your ribcage and squeeze your shoulder blades at the top of the movement.
  • Slowly lower back to the starting position.
  • For a single-arm, perform the same motion but with one dumbbell in hand. Repeat the same reps on each side. 

6. Seal Row 

When pulling a heavy weight on the cable machine or barbell, your body may use momentum to get the weight up, but that could sacrifice the actual work you're putting in.

With the seal row, the ability to use momentum is eliminated because you're lying down on a bench.

Your mid-back and lats are recruited to pull the weight up, and because of the position you're in, the back can be more isolated compared to an exercise like the barbell row. 

Since you're lying on the bench, this can also be a good way to maintain a flat back if that's something you struggle with. In this position, you can help strengthen your back muscles needed for other back exercises without compromising too much form. 

How to do the Seal Row: 

  • Lie on a flat bench with one dumbbell in each hand.
  • Make sure the bench is high enough, so when lying down, you can fully extend your arms without touching the ground.
  • Keep your elbows tucked in and pull the weights up towards the lats.
  • Slowly extend back down. 

7.  Pendlay Row 

The pendlay row is similar to the bent-over row, but the starting position is one of the biggest differences.

With the pendlay row, you lower the bar all the way down to the ground, which helps give you more range of motion.

With more range of motion means more power is required. You're pulling straight from the floor, so you don't have the momentum from previous repetitions. 

Typically, you can use more weight with this exercise and probably do fewer reps. Since you're hinged farther over through the whole set, it can be great for building lower back strength but can also fatigue it easier. This makes it a beneficial progression for deadlifts.

How to do the Pendlay Row: 

  • Grab a barbell from the ground with a wide grip just outside of shoulder-width apart.
  • Your knees should be slightly bent, and your hips should be hinged, so that your back is parallel with the ground.
  • Keeping a neutral spine, row the barbell up towards your sternum.
  • Lower the bar all the way back to the ground.   

Change Up Your Workout 

The seated cable row is no doubt a great exercise, but you need variety in your workout to keep it interesting and progressively challenging. Depending on what your goals are will help you determine what could be the best seated cable row alternative for you, or you can use all seven of these exercises.

Using a resistance band is another way to change up an exercise and can help make it more or less challenging. Either way, it's important to understand how and why you're performing an exercise.

Building a strong, sculpted back takes time and patience in and outside the gym. Accelerating your recovery time and feeding your muscles with ADALoad can help optimize muscle growth and heighten your muscle endurance.

Keeping your workouts different and intentional can help you stay motivated, and getting out of your comfort zone by using alternatives is what can help get you results.