The back is made up of several different muscles and numerous exercises can target them. The cable row is a popular choice for building a stronger and bigger back.
This article will detail the muscles worked by the cable row, how to perform the movement with proper form, and a few of its primary benefits.
Table of Contents
- 1 How to Perform the Seated Cable Row with Perfect Form
- 2 Top 5 Seated Cable Row Benefits
- 3 Cable Row Muscles Worked
- 4 Other Exercise Posts
- 4.1 Side Plank Benefits, Form, and Muscles Worked
- 4.2 The 5 Best Benefits of Planks
- 4.3 How to do Bulgarian Split Squats with Proper Form
- 4.4 The Landmine Press: Muscles Worked, Benefits and Form
- 4.5 The Top 10 Pull-up Muscles Worked
- 4.6 Incline Bench Press Muscles Worked and Benefits
- 4.7 The 7 Best Compound Chest Exercises
- 4.8 Leg Extension Benefits and Muscles Worked
- 4.9 The 6 Best Gym Machines For Weight Loss
- 4.10 T-Bar Row Benefits and Muscles Worked
- 4.11 The 5 Best Gym Machines for Chest
- 4.12 Hack Squat Muscles Worked and Benefits
- 4.13 The Top 5 Bench Press Muscles Worked
- 4.14 Lat Pulldown Benefits and Muscles Worked
- 4.15 Inverted Row Benefits and Muscles Worked
- 4.16 How to Do a Lat Pulldown with Proper Form
- 4.17 How to Front Squat with Proper Form
- 4.18 Hammer Curl Benefits and Muscles Worked
How to Perform the Seated Cable Row with Perfect Form
- Attach a V-bar or two D-handles to a seated row cable attachment
- Sit down on bench and brace feet against platform. Knees slightly bent
- Keep torso upright, lean forward, and grab attachment with both hands
- Arms should be fully extended and torso perpendicular to the floor before beginning
- Take a deep breath and brace core. Exhale while pulling attachment towards belly button.
- Touch attachment to abdomen, pause for 1-2 seconds and squeeze back
- Slowly return attachment to starting position by slightly leaning forward and fully extending arms.
Note: If no seated row cable attachment set-up, attach the V-bar or D-handles to a low cable attachment and sit on the floor to perform this movement.
Check out the instructional video below from Scott Herman Fitness to see how to perform the seated cable row with proper form:
Seated Cable Row Tips
- Pull shoulder blades down and back
- Drive with the elbows
- Perform pause repetitions
- Try different cable attachments
Pull shoulder blades down and back
Keeping shoulder blades down and back throughout the movement engages the lats. Avoid using too much weight, which causes the shoulders to shrug and pull with the arms instead of engaging the back. Keep a relatively straight torso with chest up and core engaged.
Drive with the elbows
Driving with the elbows helps to retract the shoulder blades and engage the lats. Doing so also limits bicep involvement because it prevents curling the cable.
Perform pause repetitions
One of the best ways to make this exercise more challenging besides adding more weight or reps is by slowing down the movement. At the top of each rep, pause for one to two seconds and focus on squeezing the back as hard as possible.
Then, slowly return the cable back to the starting position. This will help with mind-muscle connection, which will pay dividends long-term for muscle growth.
Try different cable attachments
Although the V-bar cable attachment is most commonly used for a seated cable row, several others exist. Try different attachments to see which one feels the best.
An attachment with a neutral grip is likely ideal for most people. The two D-handles, for instance, allows for more movement and range of motion.
Common Seated Cable Row Mistakes
- Using momentum
- Rowing with arms
- Flaring elbows
- Locking outknees
Using momentum by rounding the back and swinging the torso puts more tension on other muscle groups, which reduces hypertrophy and increases your risk for injury. Instead, reduce the weight, focus on perfecting form, and maximize the mind-muscle connection. Using momentum
Rowing with arms
Engaging arms more than the back or lats occurs most often when lifting too much weight and/or if lacking proper form.
If biceps are fatigued while performing seated cable rows, technique may need adjusting. Make sure the movement starts and ends with retraction and protraction of shoulder blades rather than pulling with the arms.
Close-grip rows are intended to train lats, not upper back. So it’s important to keep elbows tucked throughout the movement. Flaring elbows will engage more of the traps and upper back, often occurring when lifting too much weight.
Locking out knees
Always keep a slight knee bend while performing the seated cable row. Locking out legs completely can place excessive strain on knee joints, which is unnecessary. Engage the core and keep back relatively straight.
In the video below, John “Mountain Dog” Meadows covers some common cable row mistakes that people make and how to fix them!
Top 5 Seated Cable Row Benefits
- Effective for building a bigger and stronger back
- Can help improve your posture
- Causes less lower-back strain than other horizontal rows
- Most gyms have a cable row set-up
- Relatively easy to learn
Effective for building a bigger and stronger back
Cable are very effective for increasing the size and strength of various back muscles. Not only do they target the lats, but they also engage the rhomboids, lower and middle traps, teres minor, and teres major. Secondarily, they work the forearms and biceps.
Cable rows are one of the only exercises that places constant tension on your back muscles, which is great for hypertrophy. Since cable rows help strengthen lats, they have carry-over to other lifts, such as the bench press and squat because the lats play a huge role in stabilization.
Can help improve your posture
Many people suffer from upper-crossed syndrome, which means their shoulders are rolled forward leading to head and neck issues. Upper-crossed syndrome is usually attributed to having tight pectoralis major and minor muscles and weakness of the upper and lower traps.
The cable row can help improve posture by strengthening your upper and middle traps, especially since shoulder blades are kept down and back throughout the movement. The exercise can make a huge difference over time and improved posture may also reduce your risk of shoulder injuries.
You can also perform a single-arm cable row if you have muscular imbalances from side to side.
Causes less lower-back strain than other horizontal rows
Since the torso is upright and your core is still engaged, it’s much easier to isolate the back muscles rather than working the entire posterior chain. Cable rows are a great horizontal row variation for those with lower back injury.
Most gyms have a seated cable row machine set-up
Even if a gym doesn’t have one or if the machine being used, a V-Bar cable attachment hooked to a low cable pulley can be a good substitute.
It’s very easy to set up, which makes it great for tracking progress, especially when traveling and training at different gyms.
Relatively easy to learn
Cable rows are classified as a compound exercise but are quite easy for most people to learn compared to other back exercises, such as the barbell row. Beginners should start with a cable row while increasing strength or working toward free weights.
The exercise can also improve form by teaching how to keep your shoulder blades down and back while performing a row. With that said, cable rows can be used by anyone regardless of what experience level you’re at.
Cable Row Muscles Worked
- Latissimus dorsi
- Teres major & minor
- Rear delts
- Erector Spinae
Here are the main muscle groups worked by the seated cable row:
Cable Rows work the Lats
The lats, the latissimus dorsi, are the primary muscle group engaged in the cable row. The lats perform extension, adduction, and internal rotation of the shoulder. The lats are important in stabilizing your shoulder blade while performing nearly any upper-body movement.
As we mentioned before, stronger lats will carry over to other exercises, such as the bench press and overhead press, since they help provide a stronger position to press from. The lats contribute to several other motions, such as throwing a baseball and swinging a golf club. The lats also assist with good posture.
Cable Rows work the Trapezius
Photo Courtesy of TeachMeAnatomy.info
Another major muscle group that the cable row works are the traps, also known as the trapezius. The trapezius is a rather large superficial muscle on the upper back that is similar to a trapezoid. Since the traps are responsible for scapular retraction, it’s heavily worked by the cable row. It’s important to note that there are three areas of the trap – upper, middle, and lower fibers – each one performs a different action.
The upper fibers are responsible for scapular elevation, the middle fibers perform scapular retraction, and the lower fibers assist with scapular depression. During a cable row, you perform scapular retraction, so the middle fibers are the most activated.
The traps help stabilize the scapula during various upper body movements and also help with correct posture. They are involved in nearly any pulling exercise or motion.
Cable Rows work the Teres Major and Minor
Photo Courtesy of TeachMeAnatomy.info
Two smaller muscles that cable rows work are teres major and minor, located just underneath the shoulder blades. These two muscles work synergistically with the lats to adduct the upper arm, which means bringing it closer to the body.
The teres minor is one of the four muscles that make up the rotator cuff, which helps hold the humeral head in the glenoid fossa, preventing shoulder dislocations.
The teres minor, teres major, and lats all contribute to overhead upper-body motions, such as throwing and pulling. Many sports require throwing, so it’s beneficial to strengthen and ensure all three of these muscles are strong and stable.
Cable Rows work the Infraspinatus
Cable rows activate the infraspinatus, which is another key muscle that makes up the rotator cuff. The infraspinatus runs along the back side of the scapula. Along with externally rotating the shoulder, it also stabilizes the shoulder joint.
Similar to the teres minor, a stronger infraspinatus may reduce the risk of shoulder dislocations. Regardless of your arm movement, such as throwing, pushing, or pulling, the infraspinatus actively keeps the humeral head in the glenoid fossa.
Cable Rows work the Rhomboid Major and Minor
The rhomboids are another major muscle group that cable rows activate. The rhomboid major and minor are responsible for retracting, rotating, and elevating the shoulder blades. The rhomboids are located just under the middle fibers of the traps.
In addition to performing various movements of the shoulder blades, the rhomboids help stabilize the entire shoulder girdle. So they are important for any upper extremity movement. Weakness of the rhomboid muscles can lead to winging of the scapula, which can lead to shoulder pain and dysfunction.
Cable Rows work the Rear Delts
Cable rows work the rear delt, a superficial muscle acting as a primary mover of the shoulder. The rear delt mainly performs horizontal abduction and assists with extension and external rotation. If you aim to have 3-dimensional shoulders, then building up your rear delt is something you should emphasize.
Many people have overdeveloped anterior delts, contributing to upper-crossed syndrome. Increasing the strength and size of your rear delt is beneficial for strength, performance, and overall shoulder mobility. A wide grip cable row targets the rear delts even more.
Cable Rows work the Biceps
Cable rows secondarily work the long head and short head of the biceps brachii. The biceps are located on the front of your upper arm. Their primary action is elbow flexion, but they also perform shoulder flexion and wrist supination.
Although the biceps are active while performing seated cable rows, they should not be the main focus of the exercise. Limit their involvement and lift the weight with your back muscles instead. Reassess form/technique if only feeling it in the arms.
Cable Rows work the Forearms
Forearm muscles are engaged while gripping the attachment. Like the biceps, the forearms are a secondary muscle in this exercise, so they are not the focus.
Consider using lifting straps if grip is a limiting factor. Many lifters use lifting straps for back exercises to help reduce the involvement of the forearms, even if their grip isn’t an issue.
Cable Rows work the Erector Spinae
Photo Courtesy of TeachMeAnatomy.info
Last, but certainly not least, cable rows work the erector spinae, which are three muscles that help extend the spine and keep your torso upright. The three erector spinae muscles include the Iliocostalis, Longissimus, and Spinalis.
These three muscles are huge in any posterior chain exercise or movement, especially deadlifts and Romanian deadlifts. The erector spinae and core stabilize the torso in this exercise. They will become even more engaged if you lean slightly forward and back throughout the exercise.