Seated cable rows are great but not everyone likes them. Discover alternatives to seated cable rows that offer similar results.
Some of the positive effects of doing seated cable rows include strengthening your upper back, lower back, erector spinae, core, forearms, and bicep muscles, potentially improving your posture, etc.
Whether you don’t enjoy seated cable rows, you want to isolate certain muscles more, or you want an alternative for any other reason, these alternatives to seated cable rows can offer you some or all of the same benefits.
Remember that if you are at home and/or don’t have a cable machine available, you can also do seated rows with resistance bands as a replacement.
1. 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. 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.
The benefits of bent-over rows are very similar to seated cable rows. One thing to keep in mind is that bent-over rows are more challenging for your lower back muscles.
If you keep using the right technique, doing bent-over rows instead of seated cable rows can lead to more lower back strengthening.
The downside is that it also becomes easier to implement a suboptimal technique.
2. Chest-supported row machine
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.
Because of the chest pad, you will be able to work out your upper back muscles without having to worry about things like posture or how strong your core muscles are.
This can help you focus more on building upper back muscle compared to the seated cable row.
The potential downside is that you train your core muscles, erector spinae, and balancing muscles a lot less with the chest-supported machine row.
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.
3. 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 seated row substitute with resistance bands for building muscle.
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 seated cable rows like deltoids, forearms, biceps, and trapezius.
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 seated cable 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 standing bent over 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 seated cable rows with inverted rows is that you are not able to use that much external resistance.
You may need something like a heavy weighted vest to make the movement challenging enough.
5. T bar rows
The T-bar row is a type of machine where one end of a bar is anchored to the ground behind you. At the other end of the bar, you can attach weights.
The name of this exercise comes from the shape this bar has because of the horizontal handle at the end of the bar.
To do this exercise you start standing up over the bar which is between your legs with your back to the ground anchor point. Pick the weight off the ground by using your legs while keeping your back straight.
Get in a position where your legs are slightly bent, your back straight at about a 45-degree angle or more to a vertical line, and your arms stretched.
Pull the bar toward your body as far as comfortable while keeping your spine straight and upper arms close to your body. After that, lower the bar in a controlled motion until your arms are stretched.
If you don’t feel your back muscles fatiguing during this seated cable row alternative your technique is likely not optimal.
T-bar rows offer very similar benefits as seated cable rows but they will be slightly more challenging for your lower back and erector spinae.
The pull-up is a classic compound back exercise that can be a great substitute for seated cable rows. This exercise will target very similar muscles but focus a bit more on your latissimus dorsi.
It is true that you need something to do the pull-up on but even if you currently don’t have something like this, a doorway pull-up bar is relatively inexpensive.
Take the following steps to do a pull-up:
- Hang from the pull-up bar with your hands at about shoulder-width with your hand palms facing forward.
- Pull your body up slowly until your shoulders are the height of the bar.
- Lower your body again into starting position in a controlled motion.
One potential downside is that pull-ups are too challenging for many people. If that is the case you can start with some of the other options on this list to strengthen your muscles.
On the other hand, if you are more experienced with resistance training, bodyweight pull-ups may currently be too easy.
In that case, you can make them dips weighted with equipment like a dip belt, weighted vest, ankle weights, or a dumbbell clamped between your feet.
7. 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 object can be helpful.
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.
This seated cable row alternative is done with one side at a time, unilaterally. This can help you avoid using one arm more than the other which can lead to muscle imbalances.
You can also do single-arm rows bent-over. This will engage your oblique core muscles a lot more, especially with heavy weights.
Stronger individuals may want to choose a cable machine with something like a D-grip handle to achieve enough resistance. Fitness equipment options like dumbbells and kettlebells may be too light.
8. Renegade rows
The upper body movement of the renegade row is similar to the seated cable row but due to the different lower body setup, this alternative engages your muscles with a different focus.
Take the following steps to do a renegade row with dumbbells:
- Place the dumbbells on the ground at about shoulder-width and the grips at horizontal lines with each other.
- Get into the position where your face is facing the floor with your hands on the dumbbell grips. Your arms are stretched and your knees are on the ground.
- Move your feet back until your body is in a straight line. If you notice you need more stability during the exercise you can put your feet slightly more apart.
- Raise one dumbbell upward until it is at the height of your upper body. Keep your elbow close to your body and mainly use your back muscles for this movement.
- Lower the dumbbell back into the position of step 3 and raise the dumbbell on the other side in the same way.
Compared to seated cable rows you will engage core muscles like your abs and obliques more when doing the renegade row.
Keep in mind that this can be a downside if these muscles fatigue before you train your upper back muscle enough.
Additionally, for your upper back muscles, renegade rows are a unilateral exercise.
9. Dumbbell pullover
For the dumbbell pullover, you preferably want a dumbbell and a flat weight bench. Once you have these, take the following steps to do a dumbbell pullover:
- Lie on a weight bench with your head on the end of the bench. Hold the dumbbell with both of your hands on one weight.
- Extend your arms upward until they are slightly less than stretched and point them up.
- Slowly move back your arms as far as comfortable. To engage your back muscles more instead of your lower chest bring your elbows slightly more away from your body. Your arms stay slightly less than stretched throughout the exercise.
- Move your arms back to the position in step 2 in a controlled motion.
If you feel your lower chest muscles working a lot harder than your latissimus dorsi your dumbbell pullover technique may be off.
In that case, you likely want to focus on bringing your elbows more outward.
Dumbbell pullovers are more of a seated cable row replacement if you are interested in isolating your lat muscles. Other muscles like your biceps, core, shoulders, etc. will not have to do much.
10. Landmower pulls
You can do this next seated cable row substitute with a wide variety of equipment options including a cable machine, dumbbell, kettlebell, weight plate, resistance bands, etc.
Take the following steps to do a lawnmower pull with a dumbbell:
- Stand up straight with a dumbbell in one hand.
- Take a medium step forward with the leg on the opposite side of the dumbbell.
- Slightly fold your front knee and tilt your upper body forward until it is at about a 45-degree angle with the ground while keeping your back straight.
- Bend the elbow of the arm with the dumbbell until your hand reaches your body. 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.
- Instead of stopping there, raise the dumbbell slightly more by twisting your upper body.
- Rotate your upper back until it is horizontal and lower your hand again to the position of step 3 in a controlled motion.
In simple words, you can describe lawnmower pulls as a one-handed bent-over row with an extra twist at the top of the movement.
This extra twist can help you train your oblique muscles more compared to a more static single-arm bent-over row.