What is a Cable Row?

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  • Written By: Dan Cavallari
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 16 February 2020
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Cable weight machines have become a staple in gyms and fitness centers everywhere because they are easy to use and provide a safe alternative to free weights. The cable machines also offer a variety of exercises not commonly available before, such as the cable row. This exercise uses a cable weight machine — that is, a metal frame with weights secured within it, and cables attached to a pulley system that allow the user to pull the weights upward — to provide resistance in a rowing motion that mimics a rower in a row boat.

The cable row can be performed several different ways. Perhaps the most common method is the seated cable row. This exercise begins by sitting on a low bench or even on the ground facing the machine. The feet are pressed against a plate or bar for stability. The user will then grasp the handles that are attached to the cables. There may be one cable with one handle meant for two hands, or there may be two independent cables with two independent handles, depending on the machine being used.


Once in position, the user will pull the handles back toward the body, thus engaging the pulleys and lifting the weights. Cable machines offer adjustable weights so the beginner can start with less weight and the more advanced user can use more weight. It is important to move slowly, as slower motions are generally better for muscles than jerky, quick motions. Slower motions also help prevent injury. Once the cable handles have been pulled all the way back toward the body, the user should slowly release the cables back toward the machine.

This exercise works several of the back muscles, as well as shoulder muscles, forearms, and upper arms. When executing this exercise, it is important to keep the legs slightly bent and the back straight to prevent undue strain. When done correctly, this exercise can become a key part of any upper body workout.

Variations on the cable row include the standing row and the one arm row.The standing row is usually executed in the same way as a sitting row, except the user is standing in a squatting position rather than sitting. The one-arm cable row is executed exactly like the sitting cable row, except one arm at a time is used to pull back on the pulley system. A set of repetitions is performed with one arm, and then another set is done with the other arm.


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