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Exercise of the month: seated cable row

The seated cable row is a great exercise for strengthening back muscles. Having a strong back helps to keep the spinal column in proper alignment and allows for completion of every day tasks with reduced injury risk. In addition to helping strengthen the back, the exercise secondarily works the arms and shoulders.

Starting position (photo 1): When using a cable row machine, it is important to grasp the V-attachment without leaning forward excessively, which can strain the low back. Sit close in, and with a safe grip established, torso erect and feet planted firmly on provided platforms, push yourself back until the knees are only slightly bent. Once in place, you are ready to begin the exercise.

Strengthening phase (photo 2): Slowly pull toward the midsection, keeping elbows in and squeezing the shoulder blades together as the arms travel closer to the body. Pause briefly and then return arms to an extended position. When completing a set, bend the knees and without rounding the back, scoot forward so that you are as close as possible to safely releasing the V-attachment.


Always check with your doctor before trying a new exercise. Rows are not appropriate for everyone, especially those with very weak low back muscles.

If you cannot avoid rounding the back, this is most likely due to hamstring and/or low back inflexibility. In this case, avoid the seated cable row and opt for using resistance bands instead. Place band around a solid immovable surface at hip height, and holding onto either end while standing, slowly pull the arms toward the midsection.

Keeping the abdominals tight will help stabilize the torso. Be sure to move in a slow and controlled manner rather than using excessive weight and momentum. Trying to pull too much weight impedes the ability to go through a smooth full range of motion, which is important for complete contraction of the muscles being worked.

Avoid hunching or shrugging the shoulders when performing this exercise. Doing so brings about the assistance of other muscle groups.

Variations to grip and positioning the arms further away from the body can be applied when performing rows to work muscles differently. Instead of using a V-attachment, you can use a straight bar and with hands shoulder width apart or wider, pull to midsection or higher. If in doubt, seek the advice of a qualified fitness professional.

Beginners can start with 1 to 2 sets, performing 8 to 12 repetitions. Add sets or repetitions as strength improves.

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