Barbell Bent Over Rows vs Cable Seated Rows: The Row-down
When it comes to targeting the muscles of the back, the Barbell Bent Over Row and the Cable Seated Row are two popular options. Both exercises can be effective for developing strength and muscle mass in the lats, rhomboids, and middle and lower traps.
However, there are some differences to consider when deciding which one is right for you.
In this article, I will compare and contrast the technique, muscles worked, and benefits of the Barbell Bent Over Row and the Cable Seated Row. I’ll also compare both exercises side-by-side for some common lifting goals so you can better decide which is better for your training program.
Barbell Bent Over Rows
- Bumper or Iron Plates
- Lifting Straps (optional)
- Approach the barbell and take a shoulder-width stance. Your shins should be almost touching the barbell.
- Hinge at the waist and bend the knee until you can grab the barbell. Use a pronated grip (Knuckles facing the floor). I will talk later about the supinated grip (palms up) in this movement.
- Always keep a flat back, and a neutral spine, and keep your eyes focused slightly down about 1 foot in front of you.
- Take a deep breath, brace the abdomen, and pull the bar in until it makes contact right about the belly button.
- Pause for about 1 second. Squeeze the shoulder blades and lock in the rep.
- Slowly return the barbell back to the starting position (weights about 1-2 inches off the ground).
The initial setup and stance for Barbell Bent Over Rows should be specific to the lifter’s deadlifting and Olympic lifting goals. Having identical setups and grips will be great for the lifts to carry over to the compound movements.
I would highly recommend this movement to any lifter or athlete. It develops strength in the posterior chain and can be overloaded over time easily.
I typically recommend the pronated grip here for athletes. Especially athletes that are cleaning and snatching as the pronated grip will carry over to cleans and pulls.
However, there is some benefit to the supinated grip for general lifters and bodybuilders. The supinated grip will engage more of the biceps and can be a great time under tension movement for hypertrophy.
Are you simply looking for good alternatives for Barbell Bent Over Rows? Here are 10 of my favorite Bent Over Row alternatives.
The setup here is very similar to the Deadlift. With that in mind, always remember to keep a nice neutral spine. DO NOT ROUND YOUR BACK.
Another common mistake is I have seen lifters go too heavy and therefore need to “hitch or yank” into a lock in position. Never sacrifice your form for more weight. You will get hurt eventually.
Some potential benefits of Barbell Bent Over Rows include:
- Building hypertrophy and strength in the upper and lower back and arms.
- Improving posture by strengthening the muscles that support the spine.
- Increasing grip strength, which can be useful for many sports or activities like rock climbing.
- Improving athletic performance, such as in sports that require upper body strength and power.
Cable Seated Rows
- Cable Pulley Machine
- Latissimus Dorsi (Lats)
- Teres Major
- Posterior Delts
- Biceps, Brachialis & Brachioradialis
- Trapezius and Rhomboids (during full contraction)
- Erector Spinae (as stabilizers to hold posture)
- Begin by setting up a cable machine with the desired weight. Adjust the seat of the machine so that it is at a comfortable height for you to sit on.
- Sit on the bench and plant your feet firmly on the ground (or foot plate). Grasp the handle attached to the cable with an overhand grip, making sure that your arms are extended straight in front of you.
- Engage your back muscles and pull the handle towards your body, bringing your elbows back as far as you can. Keep your chest up and your back straight throughout the movement.
- Hold the contracted position for a moment, then slowly return to the starting position.
- Repeat for the desired number of reps. Make sure to breathe evenly and keep good form throughout the exercise.
- When you are finished, carefully release the weight back onto the stack and return the handle to its starting position*.
*Don’t be the person that just lets go of the handle at the end of your set and allows the weight stack to just come crashing down. It just tears up the machine.
Keep your core braced and maintain a static upright posture. Don’t confuse Seated Cable Row with a rowing machine. You shouldn’t be rocking back and forth through the movement.
The Seated Cable Row is a great exercise for building muscle mass in the back and arms, as well as improving posture and overall upper body strength. Some additional benefits of the Seated Cable Row include:
- Improving grip strength: gripping the handle of the cable and pulling it towards your body can help improve your grip strength and overall hand and forearm strength.
- Developing core stability: the seated cable row requires you to maintain a strong, stable core throughout the exercise, which can help improve your overall core strength and stability.
- Improving posture: the seated cable row can help improve your posture by strengthening the muscles in your upper back, which can help keep your shoulders back and your chest lifted.
- Increasing overall upper body strength: the Seated Cable Row can help improve your upper body strength by targeting the muscles in your back, arms, and shoulders.
- Enhancing athletic performance: the Seated Cable Row can help improve your athletic performance by increasing your upper body strength and power, which can be beneficial for sports such as rowing and swimming.
RELATED –> 10 Seated Cable Row Alternatives for Building Mass
Bent Over Rows vs Seated Rows: Is One Better?
Now, let’s take a side-by-side comparison of the two different rowing exercises to see which is better for some common lifting goals.
Better For Developing Strength and Hypertrophy: Bent Over Rows
First, let me be clear, both are excellent exercises for building strength and size. And, the difference between the two is not a big one.
Having said that, there are a couple of reasons why Barbell Bent Over Rows have a slight edge. Because of the body position that has to be maintained during Bent Over Rows, the movement engages a lot more muscle groups.
The core and especially the low back (Erector Spinae) is really challenged. In fact, the whole posterior chain including the glutes and hamstrings are engaged to help stabilize and maintain the proper body position.
The other reason is that, depending on your cable machine, you’re going to be able to use more weight doing Bent Over Rows. It wasn’t uncommon for some of the stronger players I coached to use 225 to 275 pounds when doing Bent Over Rows. Many cable machines simply can’t match that even if you’re using the full stack.
Better For Beginners: Seated Cable Rows
The biggest reason I would suggest for beginners to start with Seated Cable Rows first is it can be easier on the lower back.
The seated position of the cable seated row can be easier on the lower back than the bent over position of the Barbell Bent Over Row. This can be especially true for beginners who may not have the core strength or proper technique to maintain a stable position while bent over.
I’ve just spent an entire article comparing Barbell Bent Over Rows and Cable Seated Rows. However, the truth is, there is no reason you can’t have both exercises in your strength training program.
Both are excellent exercises for building strength and hypertrophy. And, incorporating both into your training can also add much-needed variety to keep your workouts from getting stale.
So, my suggestion would be instead of trying to decide between the two exercises, figure out how you can utilize both Bent Over Rows and Seated Rows in your training plan.