Seated Cable Row Alternatives: Substitute Exercises At Home

Seated cable rows are invaluable when building muscle strength and increasing mass in your back and chest. However, cable machines are neither cheap nor compact—which means getting one into your home gym can be challenging.

In this guide, you’ll learn the benefits of doing seated cable rows, alternative exercises that don’t require a machine, and the answers to frequently asked questions regarding this popular exercise.

A seated cable row is what’s known as a compound exercise: a maneuver that works multiple groups of muscles simultaneously.

During a seated cable row, you sit on the bench of a weighted horizontal cable machine, keeping your knees bent. Grabbing the handle of the cable—it can be a triangle or bar—pull the cable down towards your lower abdomen, then return it to its previous position.

Use caution to keep your back straight, and make sure your arms are moving rather than your torso. You also want to avoid letting the weights fall or crash when you return to the starting position.

Seated Cable Row Alternatives

What Muscles Does A Seated Cable Row Work?

Seated cable rows are popular due to their low learning curve: even those new to weight training can perform them. This exercise is also adaptable to any strength level since you can add more weight and reps as you progress with your fitness goals.

During a seated cable row, the following primary muscles are activated:

  • Back muscles 
    These include the lower, middle, and upper groups. Most of the workout targets your trapezius muscles, rhomboids, and outer back muscles.
  • Shoulder muscles 
    These include your posterior deltoids, which can provide a much more toned upper arm profile when strengthened.
  • Arms 
    Your brachialis in your upper arm is responsible for flexing your elbow, while the brachioradialis does the same from the forearm. Seated cable rows are excellent at targeting these muscles, which can stabilize grip and add noticeable definition to your arms.
  • Chest 
    The pectoralis major is very active during seated cable rows.

In addition to these primary muscles, seated cable rows also work out your secondary muscles:

  • Biceps/triceps
    Your upper arms are not directly active during a seated cable row, but rather stabilize the shoulders while you do this exercise.
  • Hamstrings
    Because proper form is crucial, your hamstrings contract to keep your lower body stable.
  • Gluteus maximus
    Like hamstrings, these muscles and other lower body areas remain contracted and keep you stabilized.

Anyone looking to build strength or mass should implement seated cable rows or similar exercises, largely because it strengthens your back—and the stronger your back muscles, the more you can exercise and lift in the rest of your routine.


Alternative Exercises For Seated Cable Rows At Home

While seated cable rows are typically done on a machine, don’t nix this exercise when you’re working out at home!

Plenty of alternative exercises provide the same benefits of seated cable rows without a machine, utilizing much cheaper home gym equipment instead.

Single-Arm Dumbbell Rows

To work out your arms and chest in a similar way as a seated cable row, grab some free weights and a bench to lean on.

  • Place one knee and that side’s hand on the bench, holding a dumbbell in your other hand while the corresponding leg is braced on the floor.
  • Brace your abdominals and make sure your torso and spine are properly stabilized, then pull back your shoulders. Take care not to arch or curve your back.
  • Extend the arm holding the dumbbell downward, then pull it back up slowly while keeping your elbow bent. Lift until you can’t go any higher without rotating your body.
  • Return to the starting position, with your hand extended towards the floor.

Bent-Over Rows (Reverse Barbell)

  • Stand in front of your barbell, keeping feet shoulder-width apart, and bend your knees. Keep your back straight (bending down at the waist) and grab your barbell with your palms facing up.
  • Lift and let it hang with your arms kept straight, then brace your abdominals.
  • Row the weight towards your sternum slowly, then—also slowly—lower it back down for a complete rep.

Inverted Rows

  • Using a squat rack, lie down and grab the bar in an overhand grip.  To target your upper back, align the bar just above your mid-upper pectorals. Alternatively, you can target your lats by aligning the bar over or just underneath your lower pectorals. The bar should be just out of reach when you are lying down and reaching all the way up.
  • Keeping your core engaged and back straight, lift yourself off the ground and towards the bar until your chest almost touches it.
  • Slowly lower yourself back down and repeat.

T-Bar Rows (Landmine)

  • This seated cable row alternative targets your rear delts, middle back, and your trapezius muscles, among others. Start with an empty barbell on a landmine attachment, then load the opposite end and straddle.
  • With arms out, bend at the hips and put your torso at a 45-degree angle to the floor. Grab the handles, then pull the weight toward your upper abdominals by retracting your shoulders, with arms bent at your elbows.
  • Pause for a moment, then slowly lower the weights back down and repeat.

Incline Dumbbell Row

  • Adjust your bench to a 45-degree angle from the floor. Lean against it with your chest and torso on the bench and your feet planted on the floor behind you.
  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand and let your arms hang down on either side of the bench, with your palms facing inward.
  • Bring the dumbbells up to the bench, aligned with your chest, bending your elbows and lifting them towards the ceiling.
  • Keeping control, lower the dumbbells back down and repeat.

Seated Resistance Band Rows

  • To complete a seated row with nothing but a resistance band, sit on the floor or a mat with your legs out in front of you. Loop a resistance band around your feet and firmly grip the ends.
  • Keeping your back straight, squeeze your shoulders and pull the band towards your waist, with elbows bent and arms close to your sides.  
  • Keeping control, reverse the motion and repeat.

Inverted TRX Rows

  • Suspend your cables securely above, then grip the handles and hang with your arms extended. Your abdominals should be engaged, with only your heels making contact with the floor.
  • Pull your body up towards the hands, just below your chest, taking care to roll back the shoulders.
  • Keeping form, slowly lower yourself back to the starting position and repeat.

People Also Ask (FAQs)

Does a seated row work the chest?

Yes, a seated cable row and similar exercises work muscles in the chest and shoulders, even though it primarily targets the back.

Do inverted rows build muscle?

Inverted rows can dramatically strengthen hard-to-target back muscles, as well as neglected areas of the shoulders and chest. Working these groups can build muscle mass and improve tone just on their own—but one of the greatest benefits is that it increases your overall back strength, allowing you to more effectively perform other muscle-building exercises.

Where should you feel seated cable rows?

Overall, you will feel your upper and middle back muscles activated, as well as your shoulders and chest. You should not feel strain in your lower back if you’re doing a seated cable row correctly

Is it better to use a close or wide grip for seated cable rows?

The kind of grip you use during this exercise determines how activated your lats will be. To focus more on your upper back, keep a wider grip. Alternatively, for more activation in the middle back, keep your hands closer together.


Conclusion

Seated cable rows are an incredibly effective exercise to target the entire back, as well as several chest and arm muscles, to increase strength, mass, and definition. If you don’t have a cable machine in your home gym, however, several comparable exercises can achieve the same targeting and benefits.