Seated Row

What is the seated row?

The seated row is a compound exercise for the upper body. During the lift, the exerciser sits at the machine, reaches forward and pulls the bars back in a rowing action.

What muscles does the seated row use?

The seated row uses the muscles in the back (latissimus dorsi, trapezius, rhomboids), rear shoulders (posterior deltoid) and arms (biceps, brachialis). The primary muscles used in this exercise are the lats and the rhomboids.

This lift is an excellent choice for the upper body and complements the lat pulldown and shoulder press, along with chest exercises, such as the chest press or bench press.

seated row machine

Benefits of the seated row

The back is often a neglected area in strength training routines, so the seated row is an excellent way to incorporate some latissimus dorsi and rhomboid development into your workout.

Benefits of this useful lift include a stronger back, greater flexibility and improved posture.

Some research suggests that this lift has great benefits for the middle trapezius and rhomboid muscles which actually outweigh the benefits of the lat pulldown machine. For an ideal workout we recommend incorporating both exercises into your routine,

The seated row uses several secondary muscles as synergists to stabilise the exercise.

Your biceps and triceps help to stabilse the shoulder as you perform the rowing action. In the lower body, your hamstrings, glutes and adductors also work to stabilise the movement.

seated row cable

Types of seated row

There are a few different types of row exercise. Some of the popular rows include: the seated row machine, the seated cable row, the high pulley row, the seated row using resistance band and the standing row.

These five versions of the exercise each create a slightly different workout. Each type requires a different technique and posture and brings different benefits.


Ideally, you would incorporate all types of row into your routine for variety and interest as the small variations on the angle of the row target different areas of your back. Read on to find out more about each type of row.

Seated cable row 

The seated cable row is a variation on the seated row machine, where the exerciser sits and grasps the bars with palms facing each other or overhand. The exerciser sits with spine neutral during the motion of pulling and returning the weight.

Unlike the seated row machine, there is no chest pad on the cable row machine, so the exerciser needs to be very careful with their seated row technique.

Always be careful to maintain a straight back and controlled form with abs braced to stop the back rounding.

seated row technique - cable row

Seated row using high pulley

Similarly for the row using high pulley, the exerciser sits and leans back at an angle to pull the pulley down in a rowing action.

The exerciser should keep hands in a close grip, pulling the handles to the chest area and squeezing shoulder blades together, before returning with a full stretch in the lats.

seated cable row high pulley

Seated row using resistance band

For the seated row using resistance band, the exerciser uses an attachment to hold the band in place, or wraps the band around a rigid object, such as a post, before pulling the handles back for the rowing motion.

The row using resistance band is great for exercising at home and when space is limited.

seated row - resistance band

Standing row

The row exercise can also be performed standing up. While the seated row targets the back more, the standing row engages the whole body as you need to use more muscles to fix your movement to ensure proper form.

Keep steady on your feet while performing the standing row by keeping your knees flexed placing feet flat on the floor, a shoulder width apart. Your spine should be neutral with abs braced strongly to ensure a strong back with no rounding.

standing row

The rowing machine

The rowing machine is another way to incorporate the row into your routine. This also adds an extra layer of cardio effort to the workout.

The rowing machine will be found in the cardio section of the gym rather than the weights section as it is challenging for the heart and lungs as well as the arms and legs.

The rowing machine uses the leg muscles strongly to help the row as you slide the seat back and forth to create the rowing motion.

rowing-machine2

Often, the legs do much of the work when using the rowing machine. In contrast, when you use the row in the weights section of the gym, you will target the back muscles more specifically without so much influence from the legs as synergists.

The seated row machine and seated cable row are the most common types of row exercise that you will find in the gym.

Performing the seated row

To perform the seated row using good seated row technique, you first need to prepare your stance. Sit down on the seat and position it at the right height so that your feet are flat on the floor and the handles are approximately chest height.

Move the chest pad so that it sits comfortably in the centre of the chest and so that the handles are just out of reach.

Good seated row technique requires proper preparation of the seat position and the handle position.

Setting the handles slightly out of your comfortable reach ensures that the weights do not touch the stack when your arms are fully extended during the exercise.

seated row - sitting at angle

Seated row technique

Some people are unsure how to use the seated row machine. It is important to get a good seated row technique to enjoy the most benefit from the exercise.

To begin the seated row, ensure the seat is at the correct height with your thighs parallel to the floor (some machines have a slanted pad for your knees so you might be sitting at an angle).


Sit on the seat and reach forward to grasp the handles and return to the correct seated position, with spine neutral and chest pad in the centre of the chest. Pull back the shoulders and raise the chest. The hips should be directly under the shoulders.

Brace the abdominal muscles and exhale as you pull the handles by drawing the elbows back.

To maintain good seated row technique, make sure your hips remain in position during this movement and that they do not slide forward. During the pull, squeeze the shoulder blades together to ensure full back engagement.

seated row technique - row machine

On the return movement, extend the arms fully and then pull back again in a slow and controlled motion for the next rep. Once you have completed your last rep, gently return the weight to the stack.

Throughout the seated row using the seated row machine, your technique is helped by the chest pad. This is a useful part of the machine as it supports the back and stops it rounding as you move the weight forward.

This helps to keep all the load on the correct areas of the muscles and reduces the risk of injury through straining the back.

Read about the lat pulldown for another great back exercise.

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