The high row machine can help modify the classic row movement. While it can be helpful, you want a few alternatives with similar effects.
High rows are a row variation where you hold your upper arms at about 45-degree angles to your body instead of right by your sides. The machine form has pads for your chest and legs.
By keeping your upper arms at this angle, high rows work your rear deltoids slightly more, focus slightly more on the middle part of your trapezius, and work your latissimus dorsi less.
That being said, high row machines still work all of these muscles, a few other upper back muscles, and your biceps. By doing it in machine form, you don’t really have to use your lower back.
Whether you don’t enjoy using the high row machine, you don’t have the machine available, or you want an alternative for any other reason, these alternatives to the high row machine can offer you some or all of the same benefits.
1. High rows with other equipment
Having a specific machine for the high row exercise can be great but it is not necessary to be able to do this movement. You can also use other pieces of fitness equipment like the cable machine, dumbbells, a barbell, etc.
One of the closest alternatives is the kneeling cable row. This option engages your lower back less than many of the other options similar to the high row machine.
Take the following steps to do a kneeling high row with a cable machine:
- Set the cable machine pulleys at a medium height, attach a double rope attachment, and select your desired weight. This exercise will be done while facing the pulley.
- Grab the rope handle, take a step or two back, and sit on your knees. Hold one rope in each hand and let your arms follow the resistance for now.
- Slowly pull the cable towards you by folding your arms and moving back your shoulder blades. Keep your upper arms at 45-degree angles to your sides.
- Move your hands back into the position of step 2 in a controlled motion.
Since these other high rows are a very similar movement as the machine form, it also works mostly the same muscles.
Two exceptions are that these other high rows work your lower back and erector spinae muscles more compared to the machine form. Even when doing the kneeling cable machine substitute.
2. Face pulls
For this next high row machine alternative, you preferably want to use a cable machine with the double rope grip cable attachment. Take the following steps to do a cable face pull:
- Set the cable machine at about the height of the bottom of your face, attach a double rope grip handle, and select your desired weight.
- Grab the handle in your hands, hand palms facing each other, with your face towards the anchor. Take a step or two backward with your arms stretched forward. Stand with your 2 feet at about shoulder width.
- Move your arms in a smooth motion towards a position where your upper arms are at a 90-degree angle with your body and your lower arms are pointing up and are at a 45-degree angle with your upper arms. Keep your feet in the same position and your back straight during the exercise.
- Slowly move your arms back into the position of step 2.
You can also use other fitness equipment like a good resistance band for face pulls and to do a bent-over version, one-handed free weights.
During face pulls you raise your upper arms even more than a machine high row. This shifts the focus even more towards your rear deltoids and the middle part of the trapezius and even further away from your latissimus dorsi.
To make face pulls resemble the high row machine somewhat more you can do it with your chest on a weight bench. This makes it so the exercise engages your lower back and erector spinae muscles less.
3. Chest-supported rows
A chest-supported row machine is a machine where you can sit down and rest your chest against a support pad to brace against the resistance you will row.
Some machines allow you to load each arm differently. This can help you avoid muscle imbalances by making sure each arm rows the same weight. Others require you to row a single weight with both of your hands.
To do this seated row alternative you simply adjust the seat, load your desired weight, sit down, grab the handles, and row for your desired number of repetitions.
Different from the high row machine is that you keep your upper arms close to your body. This makes the exercise focus more on your latissimus dorsi and less on the rear part of your deltoids.
Additionally, you still work your biceps and upper back muscles like your trapezius.
You can also do chest-supported rows with free weights with an incline bench.
The potential downside with these is that you likely have to use something like dumbbells or kettlebells which generally have a relatively low weight capacity compared to a cable machine.
4. Reverse pec deck
The pec deck is a gym machine where you sit up straight with your arms folded and your upper arms behind pads. To do the exercise you then push these pads toward each other, engaging your chest muscles in the process.
By sitting in reverse on the machine and adjusting the settings of the handles, you can also make this an exercise that works your rear deltoid muscles and potentially upper back muscles if you also move your shoulder blades.
Similar to the high row machine you are positioned in a way where you don’t really have to use your lower back and erector spinae muscles. Additionally, the resistance goes through a fixed range of motion.
All of these things combined make the reverse pec deck another good alternative to the high rows.
5. Bent-over rows
Bent-over rows are generally done with a barbell so this high row machine may seem out of reach at home if you don’t have this.
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. Take the following steps to do a bent-over row with a barbell:
- 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.
Similar to chest-supported rows, bent-over rows will focus more on your latissimus dorsi, lower back, and erector spinae and less on your rear deltoids compared to the high machine row.
Besides that, the benefits of this high machine row substitute are very similar. Engaging your muscles in a different ratio can be both an advantage or disadvantage depending on your training goals and personal situation.
6. Resistance band pull-aparts
This next high row machine substitute is another option that focuses more on the rear part of your deltoids and less on the latissimus dorsi and biceps. As the name implies, you need resistance bands to do pull-aparts.
Once you have these, take the following steps to do the exercise:
- Stand upright with your feet at about shoulder width. Point your arms which are slightly less than stretched horizontally forward. Hold a resistance band in your hands.
- Pull the resistance band apart by moving your hand horizontally outward until your arms are in one horizontal line.
- Move your hands back into starting position in a controlled motion.
Some of the benefits of resistance bands include that they are relatively cheap, easy to use at home, and can be used to train a variety of body parts.
Resistance bands are not an alternative in the sense that they offer the exact same benefits. That being said, this exercise can be a good way to work some of the same muscles.
7. Bent-over rear delt raise
For the next exercise, you can use a wide variety of one-handed shoulder workout equipment options like dumbbells, resistance bands, kettlebells, a cable machine, etc.
Take the following steps to do a bent-over reverse fly with dumbbells:
- Stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart and one dumbbell in each hand with your hand palms facing each other. Keep your arms slightly less than stretched throughout the exercise.
- While keeping your back straight bend your knees and slightly bend forward until your upper body is as close as horizontal to the ground while keeping your posture good. Let gravity do its work on your arms so that they point vertically to the ground.
- Slowly raise the dumbbells out to the side until they are at shoulder height.
- Move the dumbbells back into the position of step 2 in a controlled motion.
You can shift the focus of the bent-over rear delt fly depending on how you do it. If you only move your arms the exercise will mainly focus on the back part of the deltoid muscles.
If you move your shoulder blades too, bent-over rear delt raises will work additional upper back muscles like your trapezius too.
As you may suspect, rear delt raises are a high row machine alternative with a more narrow focus. Depending on your training goals this can be an advantage or disadvantage.