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Seated Cable Row: Tips, How-To, Common Mistakes + FAQ

A well-known exercise for the (upper) back that you can do in almost every gym is the seated cable row. This exercise has been performed by gym-goers all over the world for decades.

The exercise is often simply called a cable row because the variant where you have to sit on a bench is by far the most popular and is seen as the official implementation of the exercise.

Read a detailed explanation about the seated cable row on this page and discover which common mistakes you should avoid.

Which muscles do you train with the cable row?

Logically, you mainly train the back muscles with this exercise. After all, the pulling movement you make is mainly made possible by your back. However, it doesn't stop there. Your biceps are also an important factor in performing seated cable rows. These are also used to pull the handle closer to your body. You move your arms from extended to bent and you use the biceps for that.

Seated Cable Row

In addition, your shoulder muscles are also important, especially the back of this muscle group. Your shoulders also move during the exercise, which creates tension and this muscle group will grow with it. Finally, we also mention the forearms. Of course, you need to squeeze the handle firmly to hold it during the exercise. This also trains your forearms by doing the cable row.

Seated cable row version

Follow the steps below to perform the exercise correctly and efficiently. Start with a weight that is light enough to pay close attention to the performance, so that you can master the seated cable row before increasing the weight.

  1. Choose a suitable handle for the device

    To start, you need to choose a suitable handle that you hang on the cable. A handle with a narrow grip is often seen as the standard variant. We will therefore describe this variant in these steps. So choose a handle with a narrow grip and hang it on the cable.

  2. Sit on the bench and grip the handle firmly

    Then sit on the bench and place your feet against the supports. The idea is that you put your feet down firmly, as this allows you to stay in place. Now grip the handle firmly and move your upper body back, until you are sitting straight. Your arms are fully extended and you feel the tension of the cable. Keep your legs slightly bent throughout the exercise.

  3. Move your hands towards your navel

    Squeeze the handle firmly as you move it toward your navel in a controlled manner. Make sure to push your shoulder blades in during the entire movement. For example, as you pull the cable toward your body, visualize that you want to clamp a narrow object between your shoulder blades. This will also automatically push your chest forward.

  4. Move the cable back in a controlled manner

    Once you have reached your navel with the handle, you have completed the first part of the movement. Then move your arms back to the starting position in a controlled manner. Make sure to keep your back straight and to keep pushing your chest forward. You have now done one repetition.

  5. Repeat as many times as desired

    You can now repeat this until you have reached a number that you find sufficient or until you have reached the number that is in your schedule, for example. Not sure how many reps to do? For example, a good number to start with for the seated cable row is 8, 10, or 12.

You will notice when performing the cable row that it may be a bit difficult to push your shoulder blades in properly. However, this will become a lot easier the more you perform the exercise. Try the exercise for a few weeks until you have mastered the technique. Only then can you really determine whether you find it a pleasant back exercise or not?

Common mistakes

Unfortunately, mistakes are still often made in the implementation of the cable row. Below we have detailed the three most common errors. Please read this carefully so that you can avoid them in your next workout and work as efficiently as possible.

  1. Not keeping the back straight
    A large number of people who perform the seated cable row do not know how to keep their back straight. When they stretch their arms, their backs move with it and it becomes, as it were, round. In principle, this does not have to be a bad thing, but it is not recommended for people who have yet to master the exercise. So always make sure that you have enough tension on your back and that it remains neatly straight during the exercise.
  2. Don't
    push your shoulder blades inward In the pulling motion, it is important to push your chest forward and move your shoulder blades inward at the same time. Unfortunately, we still see this going wrong quite often. To use the back properly during the exercise, it is very important to pay attention to this. So, during the movement, focus on moving the shoulder blades inward and pushing the chest forward.
  3. Not doing a full moving
    Once the exercise gets tougher, the last part of the exercise will definitely be the hardest. However, you don't want to skip this last part but just do it correctly. People regularly opt for too much weight, which means they perform a number of repetitions that are not complete. It is better to choose a weight that is slightly lighter and perform the exercise correctly than to choose more weight and do incomplete reps.

Variations on the seated cable row

As we described earlier on this page, the standard seated cable row is equipped with a handle with a narrow grip for both arms. However, there are many ways you can do the exercise. After all, you can use almost any handle that is suitable for a cable station. Below we describe the two most common variations of the cable row, namely the wide grip cable row and the single-arm cable row.

wide grip cable row

The wide grip cable row is more difficult for most people to perform than the regular cable row. This is because it is more difficult to move the shoulder blades inward with a wide grip. It is also more difficult to keep a straight back in the starting position. This also makes it an effective variation, because you'll quickly notice if you don't take the correct position.

The steps you need to follow are the same as with the regular cable row. You will notice that, because your grip is different, the bar will not move towards your navel. This is because your elbows are pushed down a lot less than with the regular cable row. This allows you to reach higher with the handle/rod. So do not try to force it to end up at the height of your navel and use a natural shape.

Single-arm cable row

You can also do the seated cable row with only one arm at a time. This way you can focus more on the different sides of your back muscles since you only train one side at a time. You use a single handle for this that you can hang on the cable.

During the performance, make sure that your upper body remains as straight as possible. Since the tension is on one side of your body, you will find yourself being pulled that way as well. Because of this, you have to pay extra attention to keep your back straight with every repetition you do.

Frequently Asked Questions

We round off this information with some frequently asked questions about the seated cable row. Do you still have a question about the exercise after reading this information and the questions below? Leave it at the bottom of this page and we will respond as soon as possible.

Is the cable row a compound exercise?

You could see the exercise as a compound because in addition to the back muscles, you also effectively train the biceps and back of the shoulders.

Seated cable row vs dumbbell row?

One exercise is not explicitly better than the other. If you have the option to do both, you can swap them every 2 or 3 months, for example.

What are good alternatives to the cable row?

The dumbbell row is a great alternative to the (seated) cable row. In addition, you can also do a machine row or you can opt for a barbell row.

Close grip cable row vs wide grip?

The variant with a wide grip is slightly more difficult to perform than the narrow grip. For that reason, it is wise for beginners to first start with the close grip cable row. Have you mastered it? Then you can also try the wide grip.

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