Face Pulls and Cable Seated Rows are two popular exercises that are often used to strengthen the muscles of the upper back and shoulders.
Both exercises involve using a cable machine and both emphasize muscles of the upper back and shoulders, including the rhomboids, lats, and rear deltoids. While both exercises are effective at targeting these muscle groups, there are some key differences between the two that may make one more suitable for certain individuals or training goals.
In this article, I will explain how to do both exercises and then compare Face Pulls and Cable Seated Rows side-by-side to help you determine which exercise is best for you.
Table of Contents
Cable Face Pulls
- Cable Machine
- Rope Attachment (can also be done with a straight bar attachment)
- Face Pulls can also be done with a resistance band (see Band Face Pulls)
- To begin, adjust the cable machine to a high setting and attach a rope attachment to the pulley.
- Stand facing the cable machine with your feet shoulder-width apart and grasp the rope with both hands, using a neutral grip (palms facing each other).
- Extend your arms in front of you so that the rope is taut, and step back slightly to create tension in the cable.
- Engage your core and maintain a neutral spine as you pull the rope towards your face, keeping your elbows wide and your hands level with your ears.
- As you pull the rope towards your face, squeeze your shoulder blades together and imagine that you are trying to pinch a quarter between your shoulder blades.
- Hold the contraction for a moment, then slowly release the tension in the cable and return to the starting position.
- Repeat the exercise for the desired number of repetitions.
Be sure to maintain good form and avoid using momentum to swing the weight. If you find yourself rocking forward and back, lighten the weight.
Keep your chest up and avoid rounding your shoulders forward as you perform the exercise.
Focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together and engaging your upper back muscles, rather than just pulling the weight with your arms.
Experiment with different grip positions (narrow, neutral, wide) to target different muscles in your upper back and shoulders.
Don’t have a cable machine or a resistance band? Check out these 10 Face Pull Variations and Alternatives.
There are several benefits to doing Cable Face Pulls, including:
- Improved posture: Cable face pulls can help to improve posture by strengthening the muscles of the upper back and shoulders, which can help to prevent rounded shoulders and hunched posture.
- Increased upper body strength: This exercise targets the muscles of the upper back and shoulders, which can help to build strength in these areas.
- Improved shoulder mobility: By strengthening the muscles that surround the shoulder joint, cable face pulls can help to improve shoulder mobility and reduce the risk of injury.
- Enhanced muscular balance: Cable face pulls can help to address imbalances in the upper body by targeting muscles that are often overlooked in traditional chest and arm exercises.
- Reduced risk of injury: By strengthening the muscles that support the shoulder joint, cable face pulls can help to reduce the risk of common shoulder injuries like rotator cuff tears and impingement syndrome.
Cable Seated Row
- Cable Pulley Machine
- 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.
Face Pulls vs Cable Seated Row: Which is Better?
Now, let’s compare both exercises side-by-side and see how they compare for a couple of common lifting goals.
Better For Size and Strength: Cable Seated Row
Both Face Pulls and Cable Seated Rows can be effective at building size and strength in the upper back and shoulder muscles, including the rhomboids, lats, and rear deltoids. However, Cable Seated Rows may be more effective at building size and strength due to the ability to use heavier weights.
If you’ve ever played Tug-of-War, you know that leverage is a huge factor in strength. The ability to sit and brace your feet against a platform allows a lifter to move a considerable amount more weight than can be done with Face Pulls. Generally speaking, more weight will result in more strength and more muscle mass.
Having said that, if you want to solely focus on the rear delts, then Face Pulls are a better option. Face Pulls de-emphasize some of the larger, stronger rowing muscles like the lats and focus heavily on the rear delts.
Better For Beginners: Toss Up
I think both of these exercises are extremely beginner-friendly. Both movements are easy to learn and easy to execute.
As long as someone just starting out begins with lighter weight and focuses on technique, I think both exercises can be very beneficial for beginners.
I’ve just spent the last section of this article comparing which is better – Face Pulls vs Seated Cable Rows. However, the truth is, there is no reason you shouldn’t have both exercises in your strength training program.
Both are excellent exercises for developing power and improving cardiovascular conditioning. Incorporating both exercises into your training program can also add variety and 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 Face Pulls or Seated Cable Rows in your training plan.