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Cable machines are found in nearly every chain gym. While they can be used for a multitude of exercises, rows are some of the most common movements performed on them.
But trying to figure out which attachment to use for cable rows can be tricky, especially if you’re new to working out or using a cable machine for the first time after only training with a barbell and dumbbells.
So what attachment should you use for cable rows? Depending on the training stimulus you’re hoping to achieve, you can use a V-grip attachment, a straight bar, a lat pulldown bar, a stirrup handle, or a rope attachment. Each attachment is best suited for different grips, which affects the muscles that are targeted and the amount of weight you can lift.
In this article, I’ll walk you through the importance of choosing the right attachment for cable rows and discuss the main differences between each attachment. I’ll also describe each attachment in more detail so you can determine which one is best for the different exercises that may show up in your training program.
Importance of Selecting the Right Attachment for Cable Rows
The most important reasons for using the right attachment for cable rows are:
- Targeting different muscles
- Lifting light vs heavy weights
1. Targeting Different Muscles
Your grip varies based on which attachment you use. As such, different attachments will work different muscles in the back or will target certain muscles more than others.
There are three primary muscles of the back that are targeted with rowing exercises: the trapezius, the rhomboids, and the latissimus dorsi.
The rhomboids are a pair of muscles at the top of your back near your shoulder blades while the trapezius muscles (or traps) run along your shoulders and the base of your neck.
The latissimus dorsi (or lats) are the muscles that run along the middle and lower back. When someone has a wide back, it’s typically because they have well-developed lats.
Certain cable attachments will work the lats more than rhomboids and traps and vice versa because they affect your hand placement and grip width. However, it’s also important to note that the biceps play a role in many pulling exercises as well, and each cable attachment will work them to a varying degree.
Wondering if rows alone are enough to train the back and biceps? Get our expert opinion in Are Rows & Pull-Ups Enough For Back And Biceps?
2. Lifting Light vs Heavy Weights
Although everybody is different, most people can use more weight when doing rowing exercises with a narrow grip. Many individuals can also use more weight with an underhand grip than an overhand grip because the biceps offer more assistance.
As such, your choice of cable attachment will impact how much weight you can lift on a given pulling exercise. This in turn can affect which exercises you do on specific training days.
For example, if you can use more weight for rows with a narrow grip, you may want to do that variation with an appropriate attachment on a heavy back or pull day and do wide-grip rows with a different attachment on a light training day.
These same principles apply to the lat pulldown as well. If you’re not sure what kind of grip you can use for lat pulldowns, check out Close vs Wide Grip Lat Pulldown: Which Is Better?
The 4 Differences Between Cable Row Attachments
The main differences between the various cable row attachments come down to four points:
- One- or two-handed
One of the most obvious differences between cable row attachments is their length. Straight bar attachments tend to run about 20” long while a lat pulldown bar that’s curved at the ends runs about 48” long. V-grip attachments and stirrup handles typically have handles that are 7”-8” long.
The different lengths affect your hand placement, which in turn affects which muscles you target. For example, the longer length of the lat pulldown bar enables you to use a wider grip to work your lats more. But a shorter straight bar attachment or a V-grip attachment will work more of your middle back (the traps and rhomboids) because you use a narrower grip.
Different cable row attachments allow you to utilize different grips. You can either use a pronated grip (also called an overhand grip), a supine grip (or an underhand grip), or a neutral grip (with your palms facing each other).
With some attachments, you can use either a pronated or supinated grip. But with other attachments, you can only use a neutral grip.
Some cable attachments like a rope attachment or straight bar attachment can also be used with fat grips to improve your grip and forearm strength. Learn more about the benefits of grip training in my article Fat Grip Training: How & When To Use & Does It Work?
The shape of the various cable attachments is another obvious difference. A straight bar cable attachment is obviously straight. But some bars like a lat pulldown bar curve down at the ends so you can gauge how wide to place your hands.
You’ll likely also come across rope attachments, which are generally used for exercises like tricep pushdowns and face pulls. But you can also use them for cable rows to achieve a larger range of motion since they enable you to pull your elbows back further. These are usually one single piece of rope threaded throw a metal fastener that form a V- or U-shape.
Looking for more exercises to do on back day? Find out if it’s safe to train the back and chest on the same day in Work Out Back And Chest On The Same Day?
4. One- or Two-Handed
Most cable attachments are meant to be held with two hands. There’s only one, the stirrup attachment, that’s ideal for one-handed use.
One-handed rows have many benefits, such as helping you address weaknesses between your two sides. If you want to be able to do one-handed rows, you’ll need to have a stirrup attachment handy.
5 Attachments You Can Use For Cable Rows
Five attachments that you can use for cable rows are:
- V-grip handle
- Rope attachment
- Straight bar
- Lat pulldown bar
1. V-Grip Handle
The V-grip attachment is the most common one used for seated cable rows. It’s sometimes also called a double D attachment. It’s made of two square-shaped chrome or steel components that are fused together to form a V.
It’s one of the most versatile attachments because you can use it for seated rows, close-grip lat pulldowns with a neutral grip, or T-bar rows. However, the shape of the handle means you can only use one grip with it — the neutral grip.
When used for cable rows, the V-grip handle primarily works the lats, rhomboids, and traps with some assistance from the biceps.
If you’re looking for a V-grip attachment to add to your collection of gym equipment, I recommend the Yes4All double D attachment. It works well with both cable machines and a barbell attached to a landmine for T-bar rows. It’s also affordable, and the rubber handles will allow you to maintain a secure grip.
How to Do Rows with a V-Grip Attachment
- Adjust the pulley on a cable machine so it’s at the lowest setting and attach the handle to it
- Sit in front of the machine and place your feet on the footpads
- Bend forward to grab the handle with both hands, then sit with your torso upright and your arms extended
- Bend your elbows and pull the handle towards you, stopping once it’s close to your stomach
- Keep your arms low to engage your lats more
- Straighten your arms and lean forward a bit to return to the starting position, maintaining control of the weight the entire time
If you don’t have access to a cable machine or just want some variety in your training, check out these 15 seated cable row alternatives.
2. Rope Attachment
The rope attachment is a thick, braided rope threaded through a metal hook that can attach to a cable machine. The ends typically have rubber stoppers to prevent your hands from slipping off.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s primarily used for tricep pushdowns or face pulls. You can even use it for weighted cable crunches or overhead tricep extensions. But you can use it for cable rows for a larger range of motion to contract the lats more. Doing cable rows with the rope attachment will also work the rhomboids and traps with the biceps providing some assistance.
The Harbinger tricep rope is a good option if you’re looking for a rope attachment of your own. It comes in two lengths, 26-inch and 36-inch. If you’re only using it for rows, either size works. But if you want to use it for cable crunches or overhead extensions, I recommend the longer size. Regardless of which size you get, this rope attachment is durable and will last for a long time.
How to Do Rows with a Rope Attachment
- Adjust the pulley system on a cable machine to the lowest setting and secure the rope attachment to it
- Sit in front of the cable stack and place your feet on the platforms
- Lean forward to grab the rope with both hands, then sit back with your torso upright and your arms straight out in front of you
- Begin to bend your elbows as you pull the rope towards you, making sure that your arms move in a straight line and don’t travel up or down
- Pull as far as you can. You should find that your elbows can go several inches further past your torso than they can when you use the V-grip attachment
- Return to the starting position by straightening your arms. You can let the weight pull you forward a bit so you feel a stretch in your back, but do your best not to use too much momentum or let the weights slam down.
3. Straight Bar
The straight bar attachment is a short, straight bar that’s best for when you want to do rows with a narrower grip. It’s another versatile tool because you can use it for upright rows, tricep pushdowns, straight-arm lat pulldowns, and more.
Using the straight bar attachment for rows with an overhand grip will feel similar to rowing on a rowing erg. You’ll be able to hit the lats and traps as well as the rear deltoids (the muscles at the back of your shoulders).
If you use the bar with an underhand grip, you’ll feel a lot more engagement in your biceps. This can be a useful variation if you’re short on time and aren’t able to do a lot of bicep isolation work.
The Synergee straight bar cable attachment is an excellent choice if you need one for your own gym. It comes in four different lengths ranging from 12” to 20”, has knurled handles, and comes with rubber ends to prevent your hands from falling off.
It’s also designed to swivel as you move through each rep, which helps put your wrists, forearms, and elbows in a more comfortable position.
How to Do Rows with a Straight Bar
- Set the pulley system on a cable machine to the lowest setting and attach the straight bar to it
- Sit in front of the machine and place your feet on the platforms
- Bend at the waist to grab the bar with both hands, using either an overhand or underhand grip, depending on which muscles you want to target more
- Lean back again so your torso is upright and your arms are straight out in front of you
- Pull the bar towards you as you move your arms in a straight line, stopping once the bar hits a spot between your sternum and belly button
- Straighten your arms to return to the starting position. Lean forward slightly so you feel a stretch in your back, but avoid using too much momentum to begin your next rep.
Did you know that having a strong back can help increase your bench press? We cover this in more detail in Does a Strong Back Help Bench Press? (Yes, here’s how).
4. Lat Pulldown Bar
A lat pulldown bar is a long bar that’s straight in the center and has long ends that curve downward. The benefit of using a lat pulldown bar for rows is that it’s easier to alter the width of your grip. A wider grip will work your lats more while a narrower grip will target more of the traps and rhomboids.
As you can do with the straight bar attachment, you can also take an underhand grip with the lat pulldown bar if you want to work more of your biceps.
An excellent lat pulldown bar that you may want to consider for your own gym is the FITNESS MANIAC lat pulldown bar. This bar is unique in that it has D-shaped handles at the end, which offers more options for you to use different grips when doing rows. The straight part also has rubber handles to prevent your hands from slipping.
How to Do Rows with a Lat Pulldown Bar
- Set the pulley system on a cable machine to the lowest setting and secure the lat pulldown bar to it
- Sit in front of the machine and put your feet on the footpads
- Grab the bar with both hands with either a wide or narrow grip and your hands in an overhand or underhand position
- Before you start your rep, make sure you’re sitting back with your torso straight and your arms extended in front of you parallel to the floor
- Moving your arms in a straight line, pull the bar towards you until it hits the middle of your stomach
- Return to the starting position by straightening your arms and leaning forward a bit so you feel a stretch in your back
Looking for more ways to train your lats? Check out some of my favorite dumbbell exercises that target the lats.
The stirrup attachment is best suited for single-arm rowing. It’s a square- or rectangular-shaped metal attachment with just one handle. You can use it for nearly any exercise that you can do on a cable machine, but you can only hold it in one hand.
Doing rows with just one arm at a time allows you to work both sides of the body evenly since your stronger side can’t compensate for your weaker side. The single-arm cable row works your lats as well as the smaller stabilizer muscles surrounding the rotator cuff and shoulder blades.
The Rogue single handle cable attachment is an excellent stirrup attachment for doing single-arm rows. It has long nylon straps and a knurled steel handle with the same knurling that’s used on the Bella barbell. The nylon straps are grommeted to allow the handle to move freely to help make rowing movements more comfortable on your joints.
How To Do Rows with a Stirrup Attachment
- Set the pulley system on a cable machine to the highest setting and attach the stirrup handle to it
- Stand in front of the machine with your feet shoulder-width apart. Stand far enough away from it so your arm can be fully extended at the start of the rowing movement.
- Reach up to grab the handle, making sure that your wrist, forearm, and shoulder are in a straight line
- Pull the handle down and back so that it reaches a point around the top of your armpit
- Straighten your arms to return to the starting position
For more ideas on how you can train your back with a barbell, dumbbells, or other machines, check out my top 10 hammer strength row alternatives.
Even though most cable row variations target the lats, traps, and rhomboids, each attachment will require a different type of grip. This affects how effectively each of your back muscles is worked as well as how much your biceps come into play.
As such, your choice of cable attachment will depend on your training goals. Attachments that require a narrow grip are best for heavy back training and targeting the rhomboids and traps more. Attachments that require a wide grip are best for training with light weights and targeting more of the lats.
As well, any attachment with which you can use an underhand grip will also enable you to work your biceps more. This can come in handy when you don’t have a lot of time to work out and want to hit as many muscle groups as possible.
Other Cable Attachment Article
About The Author
Amanda is a writer and editor in the fitness and nutrition industries. Growing up in a family that loved sports, she learned the importance of staying active from a young age. She started CrossFit in 2015, which led to her interest in powerlifting and weightlifting. She's passionate about helping women overcome their fear of lifting weights and teaching them how to fuel their bodies properly. When she's not training in her garage gym or working, you can find her drinking coffee, walking her dog, or indulging in one too many pieces of chocolate.