15 Best Seated Row Alternatives (With Pictures)

15 Best Seated Row Alternatives (With Pictures)

The seated row is one of the most popular upper back and bicep exercises performed by bodybuilders, athletes, and casual gym-goers because it is great for isolating the upper body. Unfortunately, however, not everyone has access to a seated row machine, so you may need to find an alternative.

The 15 best seated cable row alternatives are:

  1. Underhand Barbell Row
  2. Pendlay Row
  3. Bent Over Dumbbell Row
  4. Alternating Dumbbell Row
  5. Chest-Supported Row Machine
  6. Iso-Lateral Chest-Supported Row
  7. Incline Prone Dumbbell Row
  8. Barbell Seal Row
  9. Dumbbell Seal Row
  10. Seated Resistance Band Row
  11. Landmine Row
  12. TRX Suspension Trainer Reverse Row
  13. Machine T-Bar Row 
  14. Smith Machine Reverse Row
  15. Bent Over Resistance Band Row

These seated row alternatives include exercises you can use with a barbell, dumbbells, machines, and bands. You can find a seated row substitute regardless of what equipment you have access to.

In this article, I’ll discuss what makes a good seated row alternative, what the best alternative exercises are, and how to perform them. I’ll also provide pro tips for the exercises on this list so you can get the most out of each one.

What Makes A Good Seated Cable Row Alternative?

what makes a good seated row alternative

A good seated row alternative will be able to satisfy the following conditions:

  • Targets the upper back and bicep muscles
  • Targets both sides at the same time

Targets the Upper Back and Bicep Muscles

The seated row targets the following muscles:

  • Trapezius (a large triangular muscle over the back of the neck and shoulders)
  • Latissimus Dorsi (a large, flat muscle that runs along the mid and upper back)
  • Biceps

The traps and lats are the largest back muscles that you can see on the rear of the body, and the biceps are the most noticeable muscle at the front of the upper arm. A good seated row alternative will be able to target all of these muscle groups by utilizing a similar pulling motion.

Targets Both Sides at the Same Time

The seated row exercise is a bilateral exercise, which means that it targets both sides of the body at the same time. Bilateral exercises have the advantage of being more time-efficient when training certain muscle groups. A good alternative to the seated row will be able to target the same muscle groups on both sides simultaneously.

If you’re a powerlifter wondering how to train your back, check out How Do Powerlifters Train Back (3 Must-Do Workouts).

15 Best Seated Cable Row Alternatives

1. Underhand Barbell Row

The underhand barbell row is an advanced alternative to a seated row that uses a barbell. It’s an advanced alternative because there are additional demands on your mid to lower back, glutes, and legs to help stabilize your posture during execution.

How To Do It

  • Stand up while holding a barbell with an underhand grip (palms facing forward)
  • Hinge through your hips until your back is between 30 to 45 degrees, keeping a soft bend in your knees and your shins vertical
  • With your back flat and arms extended, let the bar hover above your foot with your head in line with your body
  • Row the barbell towards your abs and bring your elbows as far back behind you as possible
  • Slowly return the barbell down towards the start position without it touching the ground
  • Repeat for desired repetitions

Pro Tip

There is a strong tendency to go too heavy on this exercise, which causes you to cheat by using momentum generated from your hips and legs. There are a few things you can do to ensure that you avoid swinging yourself to the barbell. 

The first thing is to ensure that the barbell is constantly hovering above the mid-foot, as you are more likely to shift your body around if the barbell moves over your foot too much.

The second thing you can do is to stand by a wall without fully leaning back on it. This will give you slight feedback because you’ll feel your glutes hitting the wall if you move too much. It also provides some stability so you do not find yourself involving your hips.

Related Article: 10 Best Cable Back Workouts And Exercises For Muscle Mass

2. Pendlay Row

The Pendlay row is similar to the underhand barbell row and is also an advanced alternative to the seated row that uses a barbell. It was named after weightlifting coach Glenn Pendlay and was invented for the purpose of increasing upper back strength for athletes.

The difference between a Pendlay row and an underhand barbell row is the posture and grip used during execution.

How To Do It

  • Start with a barbell above the middle of your foot
  • Keeping your shins vertical, bend through your hips and knees until your torso is parallel to the floor
  • Hold onto the barbell with an overhand grip (palms facing away from you) at roughly a shoulder-width grip
  • Explosively row the barbell to your lower chest level while keeping your posture as stationary as possible
  • Return the barbell back down to the floor in the original position above mid foot, then repeat for the desired number of repetitions

Pro Tip

The Pendlay row was initially designed to increase strength and power for your upper back. If you want to focus on building muscle more, you may want to alter how you execute this exercise.

A good way to do this is to focus on using a slower tempo where you take 2 seconds to row the barbell up and 4 seconds to lower it.

Curious about the differences between the Pendlay row and the barbell row? Check out Pendlay Row vs Barbell Row: Differences, Pros, Cons.

3. Bent Over Dumbbell Row

The bent over dumbbell row is another advanced alternative to the seated row and uses dumbbells during execution.

The advantage of the bent over dumbbell row is that the use of the dumbbells means that the stronger arm cannot assist the weaker arm when you fatigue. The load is felt independently on each arm. This is useful if you want to balance out the strength and muscle mass of each arm.

How To Do It

  • Stand up with a pair of dumbbells held in both hands with palms facing each other
  • With a soft bend in your knee and your shin vertical, hinge through your hips until your back is at a 30- to 45-degree angle
  • Keeping your back flat, let the dumbbells hover above your foot with your head in line with your body, and let the weights hang straight down
  • Row the dumbbells towards the side of your core and bring your elbows as far back behind you as possible while pinching your shoulders blades back
  • Slowly return the dumbbells back down towards the start position
  • Repeat for desired repetitions

Pro Tip

You can adjust this exercise to target different back muscles slightly. If you want to focus more on the lats, keep your elbows tucked close to your abdomen. If you want to focus more on the upper back, flare your elbows out more with your upper arm at 45 degrees to your torso.

Wondering if you should be doing more to train your upper back? Get our expert opinion in Are Rows & Pull-Ups Enough For Back And Biceps?

4. Alternating Dumbbell Row

The alternating dumbbell row is another advanced seated row alternative that’s similar to the bent over dumbbell row. The difference is you alternate between one arm and the other during the set. The advantage of this is that you can focus on good technique and range of motion on each arm one at a time.

How To Do It

  • Stand up with a pair of dumbbells held in both hands with palms facing each other
  • Hinge through your hips until your back is at a 30- to 45-degree angle, keeping a soft bend in your knees and your shins vertical
  • With a flat back, let the dumbbells hover above your foot with your head in line with your body and keep your arms extended
  • Row one dumbbell towards the side of your core, bringing your elbow as far back behind you as possible while squeezing the shoulder blade on the working side
  • Slowly return the dumbbell back down towards the start position
  • Repeat the same rowing action with the dumbbell on the other arm
  • Repeat for desired repetitions

Pro Tip

You can change how you execute the alternating dumbbell row by increasing time under tension and making this exercise slightly harder.

To do this, hold the elbow of your resting arm by the side of your torso so you are actively engaging the back and bicep muscles on the non-working side as you alternate arms.

5. Chest-Supported Row Machine

A chest-supported row machine is an easier variation than the seated row. A chest-supported row takes tension away from your back extensor muscles (the ones responsible for the bending and straightening of your back) so that it does a better job at isolating the biceps, traps, and lats.

The pad that gives you chest support means you can also allow the machine to give you a better stretch in your back muscles to give a slightly better range of motion during execution.

How To Do It

  • Set up the chest-supported row machine seat so that when you sit down, the handle is roughly mid-torso level
  • Adjust the chest support or handle distance so that when you hold onto the handles, your shoulder blades are stretched forward
  • Hold onto the handles, keep your back as flat as possible, and take a deep breath in
  • Exhale as you row your elbows back and down to the side of your torso
  • Inhale as you return your handles back forward, and let your shoulder blades stretch without hunching forward

Pro Tip

The chest-supported row machine is a great and safer exercise to train to repetition failure on. A great strategy you can implement to finish off your back and bicep muscles is using drop sets.

A good protocol for drop sets is to perform the last set to failure. Once you have reached failure, immediately drop the weight by 10%, then perform another set to failure. Repeat the process of dropping the weight by 10% one more time to then do another drop set.

6. Iso-Lateral Chest-Supported Row

An iso-lateral chest-supported row is an easier alternative to the seated row but a slight progression from the regular chest-supported row. The difference is that the handle and load experienced on each arm are completely independent of each other. This is beneficial for preventing your weaker arm from relying too much on your stronger arm.

How To Do It

  • Set up the chest-supported row machine seat so that when you sit down the handle is level with your mid torso
  • Adjust the chest support or handle distance so your shoulder blades are stretched forward when you hold onto the handles
  • Hold onto the handles, keep your back flat, and take a deep breath in
  • Exhale as you row your elbows back and down to the side of your torso, making sure to move both sides as symmetrically as possible
  • Inhale as you return your handles back to the start position, and let your shoulder blades stretch without hunching forward

Pro Tip

If you find that your shoulders feel asymmetrical when you perform this exercise, you can perform the sets one arm at a time rather than simultaneously. This will give you more mental space to focus on your posture and how you move your shoulders and elbows during execution.

7. Incline Prone Dumbbell Row

The incline prone dumbbell row is a free weight alternative to the iso-lateral chest-supported row that uses a free weight bench and dumbbells. It’s a similar alternative to the seated row but provides the option of adjusting the exercise to target different parts of your back more.

How To Do It

  • Set up a free weight bench to be at an incline of 30 to 45 degrees
  • Lie down on the bench with your chest on the pad and head above the top of the bench
  • Hold onto a pair of dumbbells and allow your arms to hang straight down
  • Take a deep breath in, row the dumbbells towards the side of your core, and bring your elbows as far back behind you as possible while pinching your shoulders blades back
  • Slowly return the dumbbells back down towards the start position
  • Repeat for desired repetitions

Pro Tip

You can adjust the incline of the free weight bench and elbow position to target slightly different parts of your back muscles. 

Increase the incline of the free weight bench if you want to target the upper trapezius muscles more. Decrease the incline of the free weight bench if you want to focus more on the lats. The more you flare your elbows for this exercise, the more you can target your trapezius and rear deltoids (the back of the shoulders) too.

Looking for more dumbbell exercises that target the lats? Check out the 9 Best Lat Exercises With Dumbbells.

8. Barbell Seal Row

The barbell seal row is also known as a prone row. It uses a station called a prone row bench or seal row bench and a barbell. You can use a regular barbell or a specialist seal row bar that has handles on it. It is a good alternative to the seated row where you can isolate your back and bicep muscles.

How To Do It

  • Load up the desired weight on the barbell and set the height of the machine so you can just about reach the barbell when you are on the prone row bench
  • Lie face down on a prone row bench, bring the barbell out of the rack, and let it hang below your shoulders with a shoulder-width grip
  • Take a deep breath in, then breathe out as you row the barbell towards the middle of your torso while keeping your forearms vertical
  • Slowly return the barbell back to a dead hang and inhale as you lower it
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps

Pro Tips

It is very common to go too heavy for this exercise even if it is difficult to use momentum to cheat the repetitions. A clue you may be going too heavy is if you fail to reach the underside of the bench halfway through a set. You also may not be fully locking out your arms when executing it.

If you find yourself cheating in such a way, you can do something called a rest-pause before finishing off the set with more quality repetitions. A rest pause is a short and momentary pause in the middle of the set that is long enough for you to recover and maintain quality reps with a full range of motion. A rest-pause is typically around 10 to 20 seconds.

9. Dumbbell Seal Row

The dumbbell seal row or dumbbell prone row uses dumbbells as an alternative to a barbell on a seal row bench. The movement and how you hold on to the dumbbells replicate the seated row and make it a good alternative.

How To Do It

  • Set the height so that you can just about reach the dumbbells when you are on the prone row bench
  • Lie face down on a prone row bench and hold a pair of dumbbells with your arms extended and your palms facing each other
  • Take a deep breath in and exhale as you row the dumbbells back towards your sides while keeping your elbows tucked close to your body
  • Slowly return the dumbbells back to a dead hang and inhale as you lower them
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps

Pro Tip

As you are using dumbbells in this exercise variation, there is more freedom of movement through your wrist and elbows.

You can take advantage of this to increase activation of your biceps without taking it away from your back muscles. You can start in an overhand grip when your arms are extended, then rotate into an underhand grip as you row the dumbbells up.

10. Seated Resistance Band Row

The seated resistance band row is a very accessible alternative to the seated row that you can do at home or in the gym. All you need is a resistance band and a stable anchor to hook it to.

The difference between the seated resistance band row and the seated row is that the resistance gets harder when you row towards your body. This gives the exercise a variable resistance through the range of motion, which can potentially increase tension and stimulus on the muscle.

How To Do It

  • Set up a resistance band by looping it around a stable and sturdy anchor that is roughly around mid to lower torso level
  • Sit down on a seat with your torso upright and back flat
  • Ensure that you are far away from the resistance band when you are holding onto each end so there is tension through the band. Make sure your arms are roughly parallel to the floor.
  • Take a deep breath in, then exhale as you row the band towards your abdomen while keeping your elbows tucked close to your torso and your shoulder blades pinched back
  • Inhale as you slowly return your arms back to the initial start position.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions

Pro Tip

As a progression, you could consider adjusting your position to increase the difficulty of the exercise. For example, you could stay in a half-squat position, which will help engage your legs and core. It will also change the tempo of the exercise since you’ll need to move slower to maintain your balance.

On top of this progression, you could move towards a half-kneeling position where you have one foot forward and the knee on the other leg on the ground underneath your hips. You will need to engage your obliques more in order not to rotate during the movement.

11. Landmine Row

The landmine row is also often called a T-bar row. It uses a barbell that is either anchored into the corner of a room or inserted into a landmine post. The exercise also uses a V-grip handle attachment that is normally used in lat pulldown machines. However, there are also specific landmine row handles.

The landmine row recruits additional muscles including the back extensors, the glutes, the quads, and the hamstrings to stabilize your posture during the exercise. This makes it an advanced alternative exercise to the seated row.

How To Do It

  • Set up a landmine by the corner of a room or on a landmine post
  • Load up the landmine with the desired load and hold the V-grip handle under the barbell by the barbell sleeve. The handle should be between you and the plates.
  • Straddling the barbell, stand at roughly two-thirds of the length of the bar away from where it is anchored and hold onto the V-grip handle
  • Bend at the hips and knees until your back is close to parallel to the floor. Make sure your back is flat and that your head is in line with your spine
  • Take a deep breath in, then exhale as you row the barbell up towards your chest, keeping the elbows tucked close to your body and shoulder blades pinched back
  • Slowly lower the weight until your arms are extended (but not fully locked out) and inhale as you lower it
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions

Pro Tip

A common mistake I see a lot of people make is that they limit their range of motion by using large full-size weight plates. The plates will naturally hit the chest when you row it up.

To alleviate this, you can use smaller plates to load the landmine. Most gyms will have smaller plates that are smaller in size, such as 25lb or 10kg plates.

12. TRX Suspension Trainer Reverse Row

The TRX suspension trainer reverse row is a good bodyweight exercise alternative to the seated row. You will need to set up a TRX or suspension trainer on an appropriate anchor high enough that you can perform a horizontal rowing movement. You’ll rely solely on your own body weight as resistance for the exercise. 

How To Do It

  • Attach the TRX suspension trainer onto an appropriate frame and adjust the length according to how difficult you want the exercise to be. The more horizontal you are, the more challenging it will be.
  • Keep your feet on the floor and hold onto the handles while you hang underneath the suspension trainer. Your lower chest or upper abdomen should be roughly underneath where the TRX is anchored.
  • Keep your knees bent, hips extended, and back flat throughout the whole exercise
  • Take a deep breath in and exhale as you row yourself towards the TRX
  • Breath in as you slowly lower yourself back down to the bottom position

Pro Tip

If your body weight stays consistent, you cannot easily change the load to progress this exercise, and there is an extent to which you can just keep progressing with more repetitions.

To progress this exercise, lengthen the TRX suspension trainer so that your body becomes more parallel to the floor. The lower the angle of your body is, the harder the movement is to perform. You can also elevate your feet, add isometric holds at the top, or row with one arm at a time to make the movement even more challenging.

If you’re interested in TRX bands but don’t want to spend a lot of money, check out my favorite TRX alternatives.

13. Machine T-Bar Row

The machine T-bar row is a good advanced alternative to the seated row. It is similar to the landmine row except that a dedicated machine T-bar row does not allow too much freedom of movement to the left or right. That makes it slightly easier than a regular landmine row. 

How To Do It

  • Load up the machine with the desired load and hold onto the handle
  • Stand up with the handle with your feet on the platform
  • Bend at the hips and knees until your back is close to parallel to the floor. Keep your back flat and your head in line with your spine.
  • Take a deep breath in, then exhale as you row the barbell up towards your chest, keeping the elbows tucked close to your body and shoulder blades pinched back
  • Slowly return the handle back down to the start position and inhale as you lower it
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Pro Tip

To make this exercise more challenging, elevate your feet by standing onto an exercise step or some bumper plates. By elevating your feet, you can keep your hips higher, which will put your torso into a more horizontal position. This will increase your range of motion as well as emphasize the lats a bit more during the exercise.

If you don’t have access to a T-bar machine, check out my favorite T-bar row alternatives.

14. Smith Machine Reverse Row

The Smith machine reverse row is another bodyweight exercise alternative to the seated row. It is similar to the TRX suspension trainer row, except it is performed with a Smith machine where the bar is fixed at a selected height.

The Smith machine reverse row is an easier variation than the TRX suspension trainer row as the handle that you hold onto is fixed and stable.

How To Do It

  • Set up the Smith machine bar and latch it at the level of difficulty you want it. The higher the barbell, the easier the movement is.
  • Hold onto the bar with a shoulder-width overhand grip and keep your feet on the floor with bent knees. Make sure your back and hips are fully extended.
  • Hang underneath the bar with your lower chest or upper abdomen roughly underneath the bar
  • Take a deep breath in and exhale as you row yourself towards the bar
  • Breath in as you slowly lower yourself back down to the bottom position
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions

Pro Tips

As you are training with your own body weight in this movement, there are two ways you can progress this exercise.

The first way is to lower the level that the bar is set at. The second is to elevate your feet by putting them on a plyo box or exercise step. Both progressions tip the weight of your legs towards your torso, which will increase the tension felt in your arm and back muscles.

Related Article: What Attachment To Use For Cable Rows?

15. Bent Over Resistance Band Row

The bent over resistance band row is a great alternative to the seated row that can be performed at home, in the gym, or even outdoors. All you need to use with this is a large resistance band. The bent over resistance band row can be an easier or harder alternative to the seated row depending on the resistance you choose.

How To Do It

  • Stand with your feet on the resistance band and hold onto opposite ends of the band
  • Bend at your hips and knees until your back is at a roughly 30-degree angle. Make sure your shins are vertical.
  • Ensure that there is still tension in your arms and the resistance band in the start position. If there is slack, then loop the resistance band around your hands over and over again until there is tension.
  • Row the band towards your abs, bring your elbows as far back behind you as possible, and pinch your shoulder blades.
  • Slowly return the band to the start position
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions

Pro Tip

You can focus on one arm at a time if you find that there is an imbalance between your left and right side. You can perform this exercise one arm at a time for each set, or you can alternate between each arm just like the alternating dumbbell row.

Additional Back Exercise Alternatives

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, the best seated row alternatives will be able to replicate the movement and target the same muscle groups. However, there are nuances with how to execute the different alternatives.

When deciding which seated row alternatives to use in your program, you’ll need to figure out what equipment you have access to, which movements are suitable for your experience level, and which ones you enjoy performing.


About The Author: Norman Cheung ASCC, British Powerlifting Team Coach

Norman Cheung

Norman Cheung is a powerlifting, and accredited strength and conditioning coach under the UKSCA. He has been coaching powerlifting since 2012 and has been an IPF Team GB coach since 2016. He has experience coaching various lifters, from novices to international medallists and international university teams. Alongside coaching, he takes interest in helping powerlifters take their first step into coaching. He currently runs his coaching services at strongambitionscoaching.com