When it comes to training back there are a number of cable exercise variations useful for increasing both thickness and width. The main muscles targeted through rowing motions are the ‘lats’ and ‘traps’, however the rhomboids biceps also have some involvement. Cables allow for a more precise constant tension as opposed to plate-loaded equipment which is beneficial when wanting to train in a time-under-tension fashion.
There are a number of different variations of cable rows which allow for you to target your back in multiple ways, from the seated cable row, to the uni-lateral free-standing cable row. These exercises are incredible for overall back development and will definitely help you achieve that aesthetic V-taper physique with a thick back and thin waist leading up to wide lats and shoulders.
This article will explain the different variations of cable rows and how to perform them.
Seated Cable Row (V-Bar/Two Hands)
The Seated Cable Row is one of the most popular back exercises. It is considered one of the main compound back exercises which targets the traps and lats.
It’s used to build thickness in your back and can help improve your performance at compound lifts such as the deadlift.
1) Use a V-bar on the seated cable row machine (this is a small attachment where your hands will face each other in a narrow grip)
2) Place your feet on the foot rest and take a seat
3) Create a slight bend in the knees without allowing them to lock-out
4) Take hold of the V-bar and create a 90° angle between your torso and legs (maintaining a slight bend at the knees)
5) Make sure you bring your chest up and out, retract your scapular, and create a slight arch in your lower back; this posture should be maintained throughout the movement
6) Your arms should be extended out in front of you holding the V-bar: this is your starting position
7) Pull through your elbows until they reach your sides and the V-bar reaches your abdominal
8) Squeeze your back muscles once fully contracted and slowly begin to lower the weight back
9) Allow a stretch in your back muscles when performing the eccentric contraction but do not allow your scapular to become un-retracted and your shoulders to hunch forward
10) Maintain the tension and begin your next repetition once you’ve felt a full stretch; this is usually just before your elbows become straight
11) Continue to perform the exercise for your desired amount of repetitions/sets.
Tip | Always maintain retracted shoulder blades, keep your chest up and make sure your spine and neck are neutral
Tip | Exhale on the concentric contraction and inhale on the eccentric contraction of each repetition
You can also perform this exercise with a wider grip attachment; the wider bar you choose the use, the more of your lats will become involved and the more width you will target.
Some seated rowing cable also give you the ability to set the pulley at a higher level; this will allow you to incorporate more of your rhomboids and upper back as opposed to the middle back
Another method is to use a straight bar and alternate your grip from supinated to pronated. Pronated grip will isolate your back muscles and minimise biceps involvement, while a supinated grip will allow you to handle more weight through the assistance of your biceps.
Cable Row (Free-Standing Variation)
By using a free standing variation of the cable row, you have to focus on balancing in a squat position while performing a row from the cable.
The benefits of a free standing variation are; you must have more control over the movement and use less momentum, and you cannot pull the weight by leaning backwards, you must maintain a tight posture. This means that the free standing cable row is slightly more specific in training the traps and lats for thickness.
1) Set the cable at a height in line with your waist and use the V-bar attachment once again.
2) Take hold of the V-bar, retract your scapular and push your chest out like you would for the seated variation.
3) Take a couple of steps backwards and perform a slight squat until you are in a parallel position.
4) You should be well grounded due to your bodyweight being supported by your quads/hamstrings and glutes in the squatting position, while the cable provides the same balancing assistance in front of you.
5) You should start this exercise exactly as you would with the seated variation; arms out in front keeping your elbows from locking out and maintaining your retracted scapular.
6) Pull through the elbows in the exact same fashion as you would the seated cable row.
7) Once the V-bar reaches your abdominal, slowly begin the eccentric contraction until you reach your starting position again.
8) Continue to perform the rest of your repetitions maintaining constant tension throughout the exercise.
9) To place the cable back safely, come out of your squat position but do not lock out your knees.
10) Slowly step forwards and return the cable.
Always breathe in when performing the concentric contraction, and breathe out when performing the eccentric part of the motion
This exercise can be performed uni-laterally, meaning with one arm at a time. In order to do this, you’ll use your secondary arm for more balance by placing it on your thigh. The rest of the movement is exactly the same as stated above.
When performing with one arm, turn your pinky inwards and upwards slightly at the end of the concentric contraction when squeezing back for a slightly larger range of motion; this is a very good isolation exercise for incorporating the lats a little more.
Take Home Message
These cable row variations will give you a number of new ways to target the thickness of your back; be sure to incorporate some of them into your routine.
For example; pairing the seated cable row, with the free standing uni lateral cable row is a great combination of compound and isolation exercises for the same muscle groups.