If you’re looking to build your upper body strength, look no further than the seated row. It’s a type of strength training exercise that works back and upper arms.
It’s done by pulling a weighted handle on a seated row machine. You can also do it on a seated cable row machine or by pulling a resistance band.
This exercise will tone and strengthen your upper body, which is essential for everyday movements, including pulling. Having a strong upper body also improves posture, protects your shoulders, and reduces your risk of injury.
The seated row works several muscles in your back and arms. These include:
- latissimus dorsi (middle back)
- rhomboids (between shoulder blades)
- trapezius (neck, shoulders, and upper back)
- biceps brachii (front of upper arm)
During the seated row, the primary movers are the lats and rhomboids. The trapezius and biceps help the movement by assisting the lats and rhomboids.
Seated rows are typically done on a seated row machine or a seated cable row machine, and the instructions for using each are almost the same.
Before getting started, adjust the seat and chest pad. Your shoulders should be level with the machine handles.
- Sit upright on the bench and plant your feet on the floor or foot pads, knees bent. Extend your arms and hold the handle or cable. Move your shoulders back and down. Brace your core.
- Exhale. Bend your elbows to pull the handle or cable, keeping your elbows tucked in and your back neutral. Pause for 1 second.
- Inhale and slowly extend your arms, counting to 3.
- Complete one set of 12 to 15 reps.
The seated row is normally done with a narrow grip. But if you’d like to focus on the smaller back and arm muscles instead of the lats, you can use a wide grip. These muscles include the:
- middle trapezius (upper back between shoulders)
- rhomboids (between shoulder blades)
- posterior deltoids (back shoulder)
To do this version, you’ll need a seated cable machine with a straight-bar attachment. Hold the bar with your arms slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Perform the seated row as usual.
You can do seated rows with a resistance band if you don’t have access to gym equipment.
This variation works the lats and rhomboids, just like seated rows on a machine.
To do a seated row with a resistance band:
- Sit on the floor, legs together in front of you. Bend your knees slightly. Place the band around the soles of your feet and hold the ends, palms facing inward. Brace your core.
- Exhale and pull the band until your hands are over your thighs, keeping your elbows tucked in and your back neutral. Pause for one second.
- Inhale and slowly extend your arms, counting to three.
- Complete a set of 12 to 15 reps.
Start with a light resistance band. As you get stronger, you can use a heavier band.
Wrapping the resistance band around your hands will also increase the intensity.
The seated row, like all exercises, requires proper form and movement to be effective and safe.
For best results, avoid these common mistakes. Talk to a personal trainer if you need one-on-one help.
- Outward elbows. Keep your elbows against your body during the pulling phase (except during the wide-grip row). Avoid lifting your elbows up and out, which engages the biceps instead of the lats and rhomboids.
- Shrugged shoulders. When you pull the weight, keep your shoulders back and down. Shrugging your shoulders toward your ears will place too much focus on the traps.
- Rounded back. Always maintain a neutral back. To prevent rounding or arching, engage your abdominals and focus on keeping your spine straight.
- Swinging torso. Avoid moving your torso. Otherwise, the targeted muscles won’t feel any tension. Bracing your core during the exercise will help stabilize your torso.
- Rapid movements. To fully activate your muscles, perform each rep slowly. Avoid rapid and jerky movements.
- Partial range of motion. Each rep should go through the full range of motion for optimal benefits. While a reduced range of motion lets you lift more weight, partially extending your arms won’t properly work your muscles.
- Locked knees. Locking your knees is stressful on the joints, so it’s best to slightly bend your knees.
Modifying your seated rows are a great way to switch things up to match your fitness level.
Make it easier
Start with a light weight and low reps. Once you can do the exercise with perfect form, increase the weight and reps.
Make it harder
If your seated rows are too easy, try these modifications for a challenging workout:
- Move the chest pad. When using a seated row machine, shift the chest pad away from your body. Your trunk will have to work harder to stay still.
- Use one arm at a time. Sit on a seated cable row machine with one foot on the floor and one foot on the plate. With one arm, pull the cable along the side of your body.
- Extend the pause. At the end of the pulling phase, pause for 3 to 5 seconds to challenge your muscles.
- Extend the return. Slowing down on the return will also increase the intensity.
To avoid injury, always do seated rows with correct form and movement. This includes:
- slightly bending your knees
- keeping your back still
- straightening your back
- tucking your elbows in
- moving slowly
Begin with a low weight. Using a weight that’s too heavy can seriously hurt your back or shoulders.
Talk to your doctor or physical therapist before attempting seated rows if you have a current or past back, shoulder, or arm injury. A personal trainer can show you safer alternatives to work the same muscles.
You should only feel a light stretch in the starting position. If you feel pain at any point, stop the exercise immediately.