How To Do A Cable Row
A cable row is a back exercise that helps strength, muscular development, weight loss, and posture. The arm mechanics are like a bent-over row. But, a bent-over row requires a lot from the erector spinae. Since the upper back is so strong, most people can’t get what they need from a free weight row. Therefore, choosing a cable row will get better results.
As with any compound exercise, the technique is critical. Especially in the case of a row, the heavier you lift or pull, the more likely you are to do the exercise wrong. This can cause injury or make your workout less effective. To get the most out of a rowing exercise, understand the joint motion and the muscles you should be targeting. This will make it easier for you to see and feel the muscles you should be activating.
You’ll learn everything you need to get the levels of fitness you want through a row exercise. We’ll start with the exercise basics, progress to technique, then talk about variations. You’ll know:
- What joints move and muscles activate during a cable row
- What you need to do for good cable row form
- How to avoid pitfalls when you row
- Different ways to change the standard cable row
Joints And Motions In A Cable Row
The major difference between a bent-over row and a cable row is the isometric contraction of the spinal erectors. But, the upper body joint motions are the same. One reason why a row is so good for muscle development, strength, function, and weight loss is because of the size of the muscles contracting. As you’ll see, the joints moving include the shoulder joint and the elbow joint (humeroulnar joint). Let’s look at what happens with each of the muscles you need to activate when rowing.
Shoulder Joint Muscle Actions
During a row, the shoulder will go into extension and external rotation. You can feel shoulder extension if you simply stand with your arms by your side and push them back. Should flexion, on the other hand, lifts the arms up. Then, if you rotate your hands out and back, you’ll get the sensation of external rotation. Practice these motions keeping your chest open, to get experience what good form will be without weight. Here, the posterior deltoid does the extension and external rotation. This means it will be the prime mover for any rowing exercise.
While the shoulder joint extends and externally rotates, the shoulder blade motion will retract and depress. You can experience this by pulling your shoulders down and back. The middle trapezius and lower trapezius do this action. So, at this point, you have four muscles of the posterior shoulder girdle responsible for the majority of the work.
Other muscles will jump in and help the prime movers. For example, the latissimus dorsi also performs shoulder extension and will assist the movement. Then, because the rhomboid major and rhomboid minor (a deeper muscle group of the back) perform scapular retraction, they’ll also help the traps pull the weight.
Elbow Joint Muscle Actions
Things are simple at the elbow. The humeroulnar joint can only do elbow flexion and extension. Therefore, the triceps and biceps are the only muscles crossing this joint. During the concentric contraction, the biceps will be the prime mover muscle as they flex the elbow and pull the cable toward the body.
Correct Cable Row Form
If you’re doing a cable row instead of a barbell row, chances are it will be a seated row. When using a flat bench for your seated row (or a seated cable row machine), you have more support at the foundation. This means you’ll be able to pull more weight than if you were standing. Therefore, we’ll take a look at how to perform a seated cable row first.
- Start by sitting flat on the seated cable row machine.
- Your feet should be shoulder-width apart.
- Keep the upper body upright, with the core activated to keep the lumbar spine neutral.
- Gaze should be straight ahead.
- Holding the machine handles, maintain a neutral grip with the palms facing in.
- Pull the handles in toward the torso by flexing the biceps of the upper arm and extending the shoulder.
- Imagine the shoulder blade blades moving back toward the spine to activate the scapular retractors.
- Maintain constant tension on the cable and repeat the movement.
Errors In Cable Row Form
Although a seated row will have less form mistakes than a barbell row, it can still happen. Watch out for these row mistakes.
- Arching in the lumbar spine: Good core activation will prevent this. You can improve core activation with a good forearm plank at the beginning of your workout. If not, you should decrease the weight of the machine.
- Craning the head forward: Sometimes the upper traps will jump in to try and help. This takes away from the lower trapezius and you should avoid it.
- Elbows winging out: If you have a tight chest, your range of motion might be shorter. In this instance, the harder you pull, the more your elbows will wing out to the side, engaging your anterior rather than posterior deltoid. Thumbs should come in, close to the torso.
- Rocking the torso: If you have to move your trunk to pull the weight toward you, it’s too much. Practice with better form, keeping your upper body stabilized.
If you’re feeling pain in your lower back, or elsewhere, you could get an injury from doing a cable row. Either discontinue the exercise or find a modification.
Different Exercises For Cable Rows
You can change up your regular cable row pretty easily. Here is a list for the seated cable row alternative.
- Alternate pulling arm: This is a good way to also work on your core and develop unilateral strength. Perform the row one arm at a time or alternate each repetition.
- Seated row machine: This will give you even more support and teach you the movement if you’re new.
- Stability ball row: Get a large stability ball and kneel down with it in front of you. Extend your legs straight so the ball is on your lower abdomen. Then, with a dumbbell in each hand, perform your row. It’s a good alternative to a barbell row and helps to build strength along your spine.
- Resistance band row: Progressive resistance bands are great because they increase in resistance as you continue to pull. Wrap around a door handle or immovable object and perform the exercise.
- Change the grip Instead of keeping a neutral grip, you can turn your palms up for an underhand grip. This further helps with the external rotation at the shoulder.
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Cable Row Technique
With good shoulder mobility, the shoulder will go into extension, with the scapula fully retracting and the biceps pulling