There are people at the gym who refuse to perform any kind of routine that isn’t a free weight. Free weights are especially beneficial as it challenges the body in ways machines simply cannot. Today we will check out the low cable row!
However, machines do have some benefits in terms of weight placement and movement, some of which simply cannot be replicated with a dumbbell. The low cable row is one such move and it offers benefits you need to look into.
But how do you perfect the movement and add it into your workout routine?
We’ve got all the answers for you right here.
What is a Low Cable Row?
Most machines offer a very limited range of movement.
However, the cable machine is an exception.
While not a free weight, you do completely depend on your own body’s ability to pull the cable, without the stability or support of a machine locking you into place. It is why even the most hardcore free weight lifters often make an exception for the cable machine.
This is where the low cable row begins.
The low cable row is a seated exercise.
The movement is similar to that of a rowing machine as well. The two-bar handle attachment is used with the cable for this particular movement (two vertical bars are attached together so you grab ahold with both wrists facing each other as if you’re holding onto the bars of a jail cell). If you’re at the gym and can’t seem to find the handle attachment, ask for a “V-bar” (this is the technical term for it). The cable itself should be located in front of you, slightly under your chest level. With the handle attached to the cable, you pull it towards your chest. Due to the fact you are seated during the exercise, the move is also referred to as a seated low row.
The bench itself is a variation on the traditional workout bench. You have the basic bench, but there are foot grips in front of you (along side the pulley machine and the weights). This way, you can anchor your lower body, so all movement comes out of your upper body.
What Muscles are Worked During a Low Cable Row?
Do you struggle with working your middle and upper back?
The front of your body, like your chest and biceps are relatively easy, and even your shoulders are engaged in just about every upper body workout you perform. But what about your back? Wouldn’t you love those defined, larger than life traps? If that sounds like you, there are more workout options than just a few shoulder shrug variations to building your back. The low cable row is one such move. While the traps are not the primary muscle group engaged, you will touch on this area.
The primary muscles hit with the move is your middle and lower back. Strengthening your lower back is important, yet few exercises really hit it. You can add a squeeze with your back muscles to your deadlift to help hit the area, but the lower back is often under developed. The downside to this is the lower back is, like your abdominal muscles, part of your middle core, which assists in stabilizing your entire body. A weak lower back opens you up for a greater injury potential and other problems. That is why the low cable row is so important (as are other lower back exercises).
The low cable row goes beyond just the middle and lower back though. You’ll also work your shoulders, biceps, and traps. While your front deltoids are commonly hit with other chest and shoulder exercises, the upper back and traps are, like the lower back, often under utilized (T Nation, 2016).
Equipment Variations For Lower Rows
The low cable row has its name because, obviously, it uses a cable. But there are some equipment variations available, should you need to switch it up for whatever reason. If you’re at the gym and the V-bar isn’t available, you can use the straight bar instead. This will change up the muscles it somewhat as your forearms are twisted in a different position. Your chest will aid in the pull back (very little of the chest is used with the V-bar). This reduces some of the stretch placed on your biceps and it also takes a bit away from your traps as well. So ideally you’ll locate the V-bar (you probably already do a good number of chest exercises anyway), but this is always an option when nothing else is available.
Perhaps you have the V-bar readily available and you just want to get a bit experimental with your attachments?
Nothing wrong with that at all!
In fact, experimenting with the proper form may lead you to discover a great lift for you that really hits an area of your body you’re missing. If you attach an EZ curl bar and use an under hand grip, you’ll hit the lower lats. Or, if you switch it up and use a wider grip on the curl bar you’ll hit the inner portion of your back (also known as the rhomboids). If you use all three of these you can torch your lower, outer and upper lats for a great back workout.
Then, if you’re feeling really experimental, you can try out the face pulls. This is where you use the rope attachment and pull the cable back directly towards your face. Your nose will end up in between the rope split. This is a great move for your traps, upper back and rear delts (Lee Hayward, 2016).
What happens if you don’t have a cable machine?
Perhaps your gym doesn’t offer one, it’s always in use by the one guy who likes to hog the cable machine for his marathon daily workout, or you workout at home. Whatever the reason, if you don’t have a cable machine you can turn towards resistance bands. With resistance bands, you can sit on the floor with your legs out in front of you (like you’re about to lay back and perform a crunch, only the bottom of your feet are facing the wall in front of you instead of the floor and you have a bend in your knees).
By wrapping the resistance band around your feet, you can perform a similar grip as what you’d receive with a V-bar. When investing in a resistance band some are able to replicate a similar pull as what you’d receive from 75 pounds or so of weight. This gives you an available option for home workouts or for when you’re on the go.
As a side note, if you are on the road a good amount for work, consider investing in a resistance band. You can extract a decent workout with the bands, and thankfully it is easy enough to pack into your luggage.
How to do a Low Cable Row
Before you begin, make sure the bench is properly configured to your height and legs.
You should also start out with lighter weight until you perfect the form. While one of the main benefits (outside of the muscles you target) of the move is its reduced pressure on your joints, you still need to make sure you have quality form before adding on weights. Heavy weights plus poor form equals injuries often every time.
Position your feet on the foot pads. You want to keep your knees bent throughout this move. Grab hold of the V-bar and keep your back straight. Poor posture during the move reduces the amount of tension placed on your back and instead may divert the tension to your shoulders or chest. It also opens you up for added injuries. With your back and hips set at a 90-degree angle, pull the cable towards your body. It should be right on your chest.
This ensures you target your middle back during the move.
With the V-bar pulled all the way back, hold the position for a second to maintain the tension and squeeze placed on your back.
Also, make sure your elbows do not flail out.
Inhale as you return to starting position. Do not simply allow the cable to pull back though. This cheats you out of half the exercise. Return to start slowly. The reverse movement works your traps and your chest. Once back in starting position you’re ready for the next rep.
Workout Example With Low Cable Rows
Are you the kind of guy looking to put on size or you want to increase strength?
If you’re looking to boost strength you want to go as heavy as possible. Shoot for about three sets of 3-4 reps. It is important you struggle with the fourth rep (if you make it to four). If you still have energy left in the tank and can keep going, the weight is not heavy enough. Your muscles should reach failure at or before four reps. If you hit four reps on any of the sets, increase the weight for the next time through.
If you want to add size, you want to increase the number of reps to around 8-12. This tears down your muscles additionally, which in turn allows you to build the muscles back up fuller and larger.
When hypertrophy is more important to you, aim for eight to 12 reps. Much like the previous workout example, if you hit 12 and still have energy left in the tank, the weight is too light.
You want your muscles to hit failure in the eight to 12 range. If you hit 12 on one set, increase the weight for the next set.
Who Should Do the Low Cable Row
If you wanted to simplify the answer, realistically everyone should do this. Chances are you’re not hitting all the muscles of your back. The back is a problem for a lot of people. Whether it is out of sight, out of mind or if you simply don’t know what kind of exercises are worth wild for the back, this is a trouble area. So no matter who you are, you should add this move to your upper body workout routine. However, if your workout is already jam packed with lifts or if you’re in a bind for time, what should you do? Chances are, you should still include this exercise.
First of all, you probably aren’t hitting your back enough. This is especially the case with your lower back.
You also work a number of secondary muscles as well, so a large number of muscle groups are activated during the move. Beyond all of this though, if you have any kind of shoulder or elbow discomfort performing other moves, this is the perfect lift for you. Shoulder shrugs are one of the most common traps and back lifts. However, this puts an excessive amount of strain on your shoulders and elbows. If you’re recovering from shoulder surgery (such as rotator cuff surgery) or if you have injured it in the past, the low cable row almost completely reduces the amount of strain placed on your shoulder as your shoulder is not required to hold up the weight throughout the entire exercise (Stack, 2017).
Finding the right exercises for your back is a challenge. This is especially the case with it comes to your lower back. The lower back is one of the most overlooked areas of the body as not only is it out of sight, but it doesn’t grab the kind of attention as most other muscle groups.
However, having a strong lower back helps reduce potential injuries during most lifts, improves stabilization of the core and it can help improve upon the rest of your upper body and deadlifts.
The low cable row is an excellent move that works not only your lower and middle back but also your traps, biceps, shoulders and potentially your triceps and pecs. So, if you’re looking for a great move to add to your workout that doesn’t take a load of time to setup or perform, the low cable row is for you.