Seated Cable Row vs Lat Pulldown (Differences & Benefits)
When it comes to building a strong back, there are many exercises to choose from. Two popular choices are the Seated Cable Row and the Lat Pulldown.
Both exercises target the muscles in the back, but they do so in slightly different ways. The Seated Cable Row is a horizontal row whereas the Lat Pulldown is a vertical row. This makes the movement, and the muscles each exercise emphasizes different.
In this article, I will compare these two exercises in terms of their effectiveness, the muscles they target, the differences in technique, and the equipment required. In just a few minutes, you will have a better understanding of the Seated Cable Row and the Lat Pulldown, and which exercise (or both) may be better suited for your strength training program.
Seated Cable Row
- 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.
Benefits of Seated Cable Row
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.
Don’t have a cable machine? Here are some Seated Cable Row alternatives you may be able to use as a replacement.
- Lat Pulldown Machine or Lat Pulldown Rack Attachment
- Latissimus Dorsi
- Lower Trapezius
- Forearm Flexors
- Biceps (Biceps Brachii, Brachialis, Brachioradialis)
- Depending on the machine or attachment that you’re using the setup may be a bit different.
- Regardless of the setup, try to position your torso predominantly upright with a very slight lean back.
- Grab the bar* just outside shoulder width grip with an overhand grip.
- Now, pull the bar down to your chest, squeezing the lats hard at the bottom.
- After a quick pause at the bottom of the rep, slowly bring the bar back up to the starting position.
- Repeat for the designated number of reps.
*This is assuming you’re using a standard long Lat Pulldown Bar. If you’re using a different attachment, this is going to vary.
Stay in control of the weight. By far the most common mistake I see lifters make when doing Lat Pulldowns is using way too much weight and rocking and swinging all over the place to try to get the weight to move.
Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with pushing yourself with heavier weight, but make sure you’re able to maintain proper technique.
Some benefits of incorporating Lat Pulldowns into your exercise routine include:
- Improved posture: Strong lats can help support good posture, which can reduce the risk of back pain and improve overall health.
- Increased upper body strength: Lat pulldowns can help improve strength in the upper body, including the back, shoulders, and arms.
- Enhanced athletic performance: Strong lats can improve your performance in activities that require pulling movements, such as rowing, swimming, and climbing.
RELATED –> My 10 Best Lat Pulldown Alternatives
Seated Cable Row vs Lat Pulldown: Which is Better?
Now, let’s compare the two rowing movements side-by-side and discuss if one is better than the other for some common lifting goals.
Better For Developing Strength and Size: Toss-Up
For starters, comparing these two exercises is a bit of an apples-and-oranges comparison. Yes, they’re both back exercises, but one is a horizontal row and the other is a vertical row.
Comparing the two would be a bit like comparing Bench Press to a Shoulder Press. There are a lot of similar muscle groups in play with both exercises but they’re not really a direct comparison.
Having said that, I still think both are equally effective at developing both strength and hypertrophy.
Both exercises are done on a cable machine which fixes the movement path to a certain degree and both are compound exercises that get a lot of muscle groups involved.
If you want an exercise that is going to really target the lower part of the lats, go with the Lat Pulldown.
If you want an exercise that is going to target the lats, but also heavily involves the teres major, posterior delts, rhomboid and traps then go with the Seated Cable Row.
Better For Beginners: Toss Up
When choosing an exercise for beginners I like to look for three things. Safe to do, easy to learn and easy to execute.
I think the Seated Cable Row and Lat Pulldown check all three boxes.
Plus, both are done on a cable machine, which is generally less intimidating for many beginners compared to some barbell movements or even other types of machines.
Whichever exercise you choose, just make sure to start light, focus on technique first and then gradually increase in weight once your technique is sound.
Need a Training Program?
Coach Horton has 20 years of experience training elite level athletes at schools like the University of Tennessee and Georgia Tech. He has also written plenty of programs for other coaches and friends and family.
So, whether you need a program to improve your performance in your sport or you just want to look good at the beach, there is a program designed just for you.
I’ve just spent the last section of this article comparing which is better – Lat Pulldown or Seated Cable Row. 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 upper-body strength and hypertrophy and actually complement each other very well. Also, 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 Lat Pulldowns and Seated Cable Rows in your training plan.