Seated Cable Row vs. Bent-Over Barbell Row

The seated cable row and the bent-over barbell row are staple exercises in any workout routine. They are both compound exercises that focus mainly on your back muscles. While they work the same muscle groups, the bent-over barbell row is slightly more advanced than the seated cable row and you need complete understanding of the proper execution to avoid injury. Add each exercise into your workout routine to fully target your back muscles; perform two to three sets of eight to 12 repetitions.

Both exercises target your entire upper back region. (Image: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Execution

Perform the seated cable row by sitting on the bench and grasping the cable grip attachment. Sit upright, straighten your lower back and slide your hips back so there is a slight bend in your knees. As you pull the attachment toward your waist, pull your shoulders back and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Return your arms to the beginning position and repeat.

For the bent-over barbell row, stand behind the bar with your knees flexed and bend forward from the waist so your torso is roughly parallel with the floor. Keep your back flat as you pick up the bar using a wide overhand grip. Engage your abdominals and bend your elbows as you pull the bar towards your waist using your back muscles. At the peak position your upper arms should be horizontal and next to your sides while your elbows point behind you. Extend your arms and stretch your shoulders downward to return the barbell to the starting position to complete one repetition.

Muscles Targeted

The seated cable row and bent-over barbell row both focus on your entire back area. During the exercises your trapezius, rhomboids, latissimus dorsi and deltoids are the synergist muscles, which assist the muscles during the pulling movement. Your erector spinae and upper leg muscles act as stabilizers as you return the weight to the starting position. The bent-over barbell row needs more stabilization from your core region because you are in a bent-over position. Therefore, your rectus abdominis and obliques aid in keeping your back straight during the exercise.

Variations

There are alternate versions of the cable seated row, depending on the cable attachments you use. The close grip is the standard attachment and works mostly your rhomboids. The wide grip attachment allows for a wider arm range and targets mainly your latissimus dorsi. Using a single grip attachment allows you to focus on each side of your back individually. The hand placement during the barbell bent-over row can change which muscles are the main focus. A wide underhand grip puts more of an emphasis on your rear deltoids. A shoulder-width underhand grip allows for more emphasis on your latissimus dorsi.

Difficulty

The cable seated row is a beginner exercise you can do when you are starting to exercise, but you can still do it when you're more advanced. Because you are in a seated position, your body is supported the focus remain on your back, shoulders and upper arms. To increase the difficulty, gradually increase the weight to continue to challenge yourself. The barbell bent-over row is a slightly more advanced activity. It's a free-standing exercise, which requires more core stabilization than the seated row. If your hamstrings are inflexible and your low back begins to round, you may cause muscular strain. To avoid this problem, maintain a large bend in your knees throughout the exercise.

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