Chest-supported rows can be great but this exercise has downsides too. Find out what alternatives to chest-supported rows could be better.
Chest-supported rows are a row variation where you lie down stomach-first on an incline weight bench.
By doing this you have to engage your lower back muscles less and one-handed weights become the preferred type of resistance.
Among other benefits, chest-supported rows can strengthen and grow your upper back, forearm, and bicep muscles, they can improve your posture, help you burn calories, etc.
You may not enjoy doing chest-supported rows, not have the right type of (or any) weight bench, or want an alternative for any other reason.
In these situations, some of the alternatives to chest-supported rows below can offer you some or all of the same benefits.
1. Seated bent-over rows
For this first chest-supported row alternative you need something narrow to sit on, for example a weight bench, and two one-handed weights, preferably dumbbells.
Once you have these, take the following steps to do a seated bent-over row:
- Put dumbbells of the weight of your choice next to the end of the weight bench.
- Sit down on the weight bench and grab one dumbbell with each hand while keeping your spine straight.
- Tilt your upper body a bit backward until the dumbbells are far enough away from the ground. Keep your arms stretched.
- Bend your elbows until your hands reach your body. The goal is to mainly make your back muscles support this movement. Keep your arms close to your body, your spine in a straight line, and your upper body in the same position during the movement.
- Lower your hands again to the position of step 3 in a controlled motion.
Some benefits of doing seated bent-over rows instead of chest-supported rows include that you don’t need an incline weight bench and that some people find this alternative more comfortable.
At the same time, you do still need something to sit on. Additionally, your lower back and erector spinae muscles have to work harder during seated bent-over rows which can be both an advantage or disadvantage.
Similar to chest-supported rows, it becomes impossible to cheat with your legs during seated bent-over rows. There is still the possibility of using your lower back muscles to cheat.
2. Seated cable rows
The seated cable row machine is a type of gym machine where you sit down with your feet on sloping pads to brace yourself against the resistance caused by the weight you will row.
Similar to chest-supported rows, this movement will work out a variety of back muscles.
One potential downside or upside depending on your training goals is that you engage your lower back and erector spinae muscles slightly more.
Using a seated cable row machine is relatively straightforward. Select your desired resistance, adjust the seat, take place in the seat, grab the handle, and push yourself back with your legs a small distance.
You then pull the handle horizontally toward your stomach while keeping your back straight and your upper arms close to your body.
Once the handle reaches your body return your hands to starting position in a controlled motion. You can start off with light weights and once your technique is good, increase the weights for more and faster muscle gain.
If you don’t have a cable machine available you can also do seated rows with resistance bands.
3. Single-arm rows
For single-arm rows, you need a type of one-handed resistance like a kettlebell, dumbbell, or cable machine, and a weight bench or similar sturdy yet comfortable object at about knee height.
Take the following steps to do a single-arm row with a kettlebell and a weight bench:
- Hold the kettlebell in one hand. Put the knee and arm of the other side on the weight bench. Put your slightly less-than-stretched arm and upper leg vertically on the weight bench. Let the arm with the kettlebell hand down while keeping your back horizontal.
- Bend the elbow of the arm with the kettlebell until your hands reach your body. The goal is to mainly make your back muscles support this movement. Keep your arm close to your body and your upper body in a straight line.
- Lower your hand again to the position of step 1 in a controlled motion.
Single-arm rows can be a good chest-supported row alternative for a few reasons. First of all, you keep using muscles besides the target muscles to a minimum.
Additionally, you work out each side separately. This can be helpful for avoiding and resolving muscle imbalances. One downside of single-arm rows is that you have to do this alternately which takes more time.
Besides that, you don’t need an incline weight bench for single-arm rows but you still need a somewhat comfortable horizontal object that can hold the weight of your body and the resistance you use.
4. Inverted rows
For inverted rows, you can use a sturdy barbell rack with a bar, sturdy table, dip bars, gymnastic rings, or trx bands.
If you are more experienced with resistance training this chest-supported row alternative may not be enough to engage your back muscles enough for a lot of muscle growth.
Take the following steps to do an inverted row with a barbell rack:
- Sit or lie down with your back on the ground under the barbell.
- Put your hand in an overhanded position on the barbell at about shoulder width.
- Move your body so your arms are stretched, your knees are at about a 90-degree angle, and the rest of your body is in a straight line.
- Raise your body by slightly bending your elbows until your body reaches the bar. The goal is to mainly make your back muscles support this movement. Keep your arms close to your body, your body in a straight line, and your feet in the same position during the movement.
- Slowly lower yourself again until you are back in the position of the third step.
A regular weight lifting row involves a bent-over position and moving an external weight up and down. With this inverted row, you will move your body weight up and down in a way that targets similar upper body muscles.
The main downside of replacing chest-supported rows with inverted rows is that you are not able to use that much external resistance unless you get a good heavy weighted vest.
5. Lat pulldowns
The lat pulldown exercise often has its own back machine setup in the gym.
This is basically a seat with pads to brace your upper thighs against in front of a cable machine. The pads are there so you don’t pull yourself up during the exercise.
If you have some type of straight bar attachment and a good anchor somewhere high you may also be able to do this chest-support row substitute with resistance bands at home or in the gym.
Take the following steps to do a lat pulldown:
- Take place the seat with your legs anchored behind the thigh pads. Select the desired weight.
- Grab the handle with an overhanded grip, this means hand palms facing forward/downward, with your hands at about shoulder width. Lean back slightly with your upper body.
- Slowly pull down the bar by folding your elbows and squeezing your shoulder blades together until the bar reaches your chest.
- Lower the bar back into the position of step 2 in a controlled motion.
As the name implies this exercise mainly focuses on your latissimus dorsi also known as your lats. Even so, it also engages a few other muscles similar to chest-supported rows like deltoids, forearms, biceps, and trapezius.
6. Seal rows
For this next chest-supported row alternative you either need a specific seal row bench or elevate a flat weight bench with something sturdy like plyo boxes and possibly steppers if they are strong enough.
Make sure you prioritize safety when putting together the set-up.
Besides these things above, you also need some form of resistance. Once you have these, take the following steps to do a seal row:
- Lie down on the bench with your stomach first. Hold the weight(s) in your hands but let your arms hang down for now. A neutral or pronated (hand palms down/back) grip is the most popular but you can do supinated (hand palms forward/upward) too.
- Bend your elbows and bring them towards your body as far as comfortable. The goal is to mainly make your back muscles support this movement. Keep your upper arms close to your body.
- Lower your hands again to the position of step 2 in a controlled motion.
Seal rows are mostly a substitute for chest-supported rows if you like them more due to personal preference. In general, the benefits of these exercises will be very similar.
You could argue that seal rows don’t require an incline weight bench and that the set-up is generally sturdier. Even so, there are still a good amount of equipment requirements to be able to do seal rows.
7. Bent-over rows
Bent-over rows are generally done with a barbell so this exercise may seem out of reach at home. However, you can also other back exercise equipment like dumbbells, kettlebells, resistance bands, etc.
Even if you don’t have more traditional fitness equipment you can use a backpack with heavy books. To do a bent-over row with a barbell take the following steps:
- Load the desired number of weight plates on the barbell and stand in front of it.
- Put your feet at about shoulder width, grab the barbell with an overhanded grip, and lift up the barbell with your legs until you stand up straight. Keep your spine straight throughout the exercise.
- Slightly fold your knees and tilt your upper body forward until it is at about a 45-degree angle with the ground. Let your arms hang down to the ground for now but hold the barbell tightly.
- Bend your elbows until your hands reach your body. The goal is to mainly make your back muscles support this movement. Keep your arms close to your body, your spine in a straight line, and your feet in the same position during the movement.
- Lower your hands again to the position of step 3 in a controlled motion.
The benefits of bent-over rows are very similar to chest-supported rows but you don’t need a weight bench for this exercise. One thing to keep in mind is that bent-over rows are a lot more challenging for your lower back muscles.
If you keep using the right technique, doing bent-over rows instead of chest-supported rows can lead to more lower back strengthening. The downside is that it also becomes easier to implement a suboptimal technique.