Inverted Rows and Seated Cable Rows are both excellent exercises for strengthening the upper back and improving posture. However, they differ in their setup and the equipment needed to be able to do each one.
And, while both exercises target the same muscle groups, is one exercise better than the other? Should you be sticking to one of these back exercises and kicking the other to the curb?
In this article, I’m going to go over how to do each exercise and then compare how they stack up against one another depending on an individual’s specific goals.
This article includes affiliate links. If you buy something using these links I may earn a commission. Thanks.
Table of Contents
- Squat Rack
*I generally do Inverted Rows with a barbell in a rack, but if you have rings they work great as well.
- Start by placing a bar on the rack about waist height.
- The higher the bar is placed, the easier the rows will be. The lower the bar is placed, the harder the rows will be. (Just make sure to leave yourself enough room to fully extend your arms at the bottom of the rep)
- Set the bar on either the J-Hooks or the Safety Bars
- Lay down underneath the bar.
- Grab the bar with an overhand grip, brace the core and make sure your body is fully extended – including your legs.
- You should be positioned to where when you pull yourself up towards the bar, the bar touches the same spot on the chest as it would for bench press. Slide up or down to adjust accordingly.
- Now, keeping your body in a straight line, pull your chest up to the bar and lower back down until your arms are fully extended.
- Repeat until all reps are completed.
There are two common mistakes that I see all the time when it comes to Inverted Rows.
One, athletes I coach love to either pull their face to the bar or even raise their chin up and over the bar like a pull-up. These are both wrong.
You should think of the Inverted Row like a reverse bench press. Keep your head back, chest out and pull your chest directly to the bar. Pull the shoulder blades down and back at the top of the rep and squeeze the back.
The second mistake I see all too often is tired athletes that start to look like they’re doing the worm. They start rocking and rolling their entire body to try to get their chest up to the bar. Don’t do this! Maintain a rigid body posture and continue pulling yourself as high as you can each rep.
Inverted Rows are sometimes referred to as Inverted Pull-ups and/or my personal favorite, Aussie Pull-ups. If you see one of those names in a program or workout, they are most likely referring to the same exercise.
Note: If you’re simply looking for an alternative for Inverted Rows, then I recommend checking out my 13 favorite Inverted Row variations and alternatives.
Seated Cable Rows
- 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.
Inverted Rows vs Seated Cable Row: Which is Better?
Now, let’s directly compare the two exercises to see which is better based on a variety of goals.
Better For Building Strength: Draw
This one is close and ultimately I believe this depends on each individual’s current level of strength.
For beginners and intermediate lifters, I would give a slight edge to Inverted Rows. Because the lifter is having to engage the core and stabilize the body through a more open range of motion I think Inverted Rows can be more beneficial for beginners.
However, at a certain point, it will be hard to continue to challenge an advanced lifter with Inverted Rows. Even modifications like elevating the feet and adding extra resistance (wearing a weight vest for example) will start to lose their effectiveness.
I’ve had athletes who could throw on a 20-pound weight vest, lay a 45-pound plate on their chest, elevate their feet on a bench – and still easily do a set of 10 to 15 reps.
On the other hand, Seated Cable Rows have a much higher ceiling (assuming the machine has plenty of available weight) to develop strength. Even advanced lifters can add enough weight to a stack to challenge them.
Better For Beginners: Inverted Rows
I already alluded to my answer above, but I believe the Inverted Rows can help build a much more functional base of strength.
Becoming efficient at bodyweight movements – pull-ups, push-ups, inverted rows, etc – is one of the first priorities I have when working with athletes. It’s not until they’ve crossed that hurdle that we can start truly advancing with their strength programming.
It is close, though, between the two exercises as Seated Cable Rows can also be a very beginner-friendly exercise. The setup for Seated Cable Rows is easy to learn and the weight used can easily be modified to an appropriate amount. I also like that Seated Cable Rows force the lifter to learn how to brace their core and hold their posture as they row.
I’ve just spent an entire article comparing which is better – Inverted Rows or 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 building upper-body strength and hypertrophy. Incorporating both into your training program can also add much-needed variety and keep your plan from getting stale.
So, my suggestion would be instead of trying to decide between the two exercises, figure out how you can utilize both Inverted Rows and Seated Cable Rows in your training plan.