What Muscles Does a Seated Row Work?

Medically Reviewed on 8/31/2021
seated row muscles worked
A seated row machine offers a powerful latissimus dorsi workout that targets your rhomboids, trapezius, and biceps brachii, as well as other groups of muscles.

Seated row targets muscles in the upper back and the muscle covering the outside of the chest wall, latissimus dorsi. It will tone and strengthen your upper body including the shoulders, which is necessary for daily activities, as well as burn abdominal fat.

A strong upper body improves posture, protects the shoulders and lowers the chances of injury. The seated row is a weight-machine-based strength-training activity and is a great way to burn calories and strengthen and define your muscles. It helps engage muscles of the core, glutes and thighs.

According to the American Fitness Professionals Association, the rowing stroke consists of 65 to 75 percent leg effort and 25 to 35 percent upper body exertion.

A seated row machine works what muscles?

The muscles involved in the seated row include:

  • Latissimus dorsi (lats)
    • A broad, flat muscle that covers the middle and lower back.
    • It connects the upper arm's bone to the spine and hip.
    • It aids in the depression of the arm along with other muscles and adducts (moves the shoulder toward the body), extends and rotates the shoulder internally.
    • It helps move the trunk upward and forward while doing exercises, such as pull-ups.
  • Rhomboids
    • Two pairs of muscles are located in the upper back between the two shoulder blades.
    • These muscles support the scapula (shoulder blade) and superomedially (upward and inward) move the scapula.
    • They rotate the glenoid cavity (the area on the scapula where the bone of the upper arm attaches) inferiorly.
  • Trapezius
    • Large pair or trapezoid-shaped muscles that extend longitudinally from the occipital bone (present at the back of the skull) to the lower vertebra of the spine and connect with the scapula laterally.
    • It covers the upper back, shoulders and neck.
    • Its function is to stabilize the scapula and control its movement and rotation.
    • It helps stabilize and extend the arm and neck.
  • Biceps brachii
    • A two-headed large muscle that runs between the shoulder and elbow on the front of the upper arm.
    • The two heads of the muscle emerge from the scapula and combine to form a single muscular belly that attaches to the upper forearm.
    • It runs through the joints of the scapula and elbow.
    • Its primary function is to flex and supinate the forearm (movement in which the forearm or palm faces upward).

Seated row targets and strengthens other groups of muscles, such as:

  • Pectoralis muscles
  • Abdominal muscles
  • Oblique muscles
  • Quadriceps
  • Calves
  • Glutes

How does the seated row workout work?

The seated row strengthens the back and forearm muscles. It is a great all-around compound exercise for strengthening the middle back and working the arms.

A seated row machine utilizes a weighted horizontal cable with a bench and footplates. You can perform a seated row workout with regular handles or a wide-grip handle. If you don't have access to the gym equipment, you can do seated rows with a resistance band.

Seated row workout on the machine

  1. You must adjust the seat, chest pads and desired weight.
  2. Sit on the bench, bend your knees and grab the handle attached to the cable with extended arms.
  3. The handle is to be pulled toward your torso while bending your elbows and moving the arms backward.
  4. Shoulders should move backward and downward, while the shoulder blades squeeze together as you row and the chest stretches out.
  5. Exhale simultaneously and pause for a second after pulling it tight.
  6. Release the tension and move the handle forward slowly by extending your arms while inhaling.
  7. You should always keep your back neutral.
  8. Repeat the exercise until you have completed the required number of repetitions.

Seated row workout with resistance band

  1. Sit on the floor with legs stretched together in front of you and slightly bend your knees.
  2. Wrap the band around your feet’s soles and grasp the ends with your hands and palms, facing forward.
  3. Pull the band across your thighs with an exhale, keeping your elbows tucked in and your back neutral.
  4. Pause for a second and slowly extend your arm with an inhale.
  5. Repeat the exercise until you have completed the required number of repetitions.

What are the safety measures to follow throughout the seated row workout?

A seated row workout involves pulling a heavyweight. If not done properly, you may injure your back, shoulders or elbows. You must maintain proper posture to avoid injury, including:

  • Maintaining a straight back
  • Keeping the back still
  • Bending your knees slightly
  • Tucking in your elbows
  • Moving slowly

Always start your workout with a lower weight. If you have a current or previous shoulder or lower back injury, proceed with caution. Consult your doctor or physical therapist to check if it is recommended. If you experience any sharp pain, stop doing the activity.


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Medically Reviewed on 8/31/2021
Lehman GJ, Buchan DD, Lundy A, Myers N, Nalborczyk A. Variations in Muscle Activation Levels During Traditional Latissimus Dorsi Weight Training Exercises: An Experimental Study. Dyn Med. 2004;3(1):4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC449729/

Flo Health. Seated Cable Row Exercises: A Short Guide. https://flo.health/menstrual-cycle/lifestyle/fitness-and-exercise/seated-cable-row-exercises

Athleticmuscle.net. How to Avoid Added Nitrates and Nitrites in Your Food. https://athleticmuscle.net/seated-cable-rows/