Great Cable Row Alternative: Seated Barbell Band Rows

Posted on by Ben Bruno

I hope everyone had a nice weekend.

Here in the Northeast it was sunny for about the first time in six years (only a slight exaggeration) so it was great to get outside a little bit. On Saturday, I went home to get some of my warm-weather clothes and came across one of my old costumes: cut-off flannel shirt and jorts (jean shorts). To say I was excited to find it would be a massive understatement.

Can you blame me?

I’m not sure if I’ll break it in the gym any time soon, but if I do, expect big things.

Anywho, I digress.

Today’s post is meant to be a short one sharing a cool rowing variation that I actually came across sort of by accident. One of my online personal training clients was looking for an exercise to mimic seated cable rows but he didn’t have a cable and a specialized rowing handle. With that in mind, I went to the gym to mess around a little bit and try to figure something out, and this is what I came up with.

Seated barbell band rows.

I must say that I really like them, and in fact, even though I have a cable station I’ve been using them in my own workouts.

I like them for a couple reasons.

1. The bands offer accommodating resistance so it’s harder at the point of contraction. While this doesn’t mimic the strength curve very well, it makes for one heck of a contraction and really forces you to accelerate through the row.

2. Using a barbell forces you to keep your lats contracted throughout the entire set to keep the bar from tipping. You’ll have to try it to see what I mean, but the bar wants to wiggle around on you, so to keep that from happening you’ve got to brace your lats and core. It’s hard to describe, but the feeling is very different than using a specialized rowing handle.

3. With a regular seated row, your feet are usually placed in front of you. This isn’t a problem necessarily, but it often leads to rounding at the lumbar spine if you aren’t careful or don’t have good hamstring flexibility.

4. Because the barbell is heavier than a normal seated row handle, it works the shoulders quite a bit too.

5. When you use a traditional close-grip “V” handle, it usually leads to internal rotation of the shoulder as you row into your stomach. With a wider grip you can keep that from happening as much.

With the band version, it’s much easier to keep a neutral spine position since you’re seated upright.

As far as the form goes, it’s almost identical to a regular seated cable row. I like to hold each rep at the point of contraction for a second to accentuate the squeeze. I also like to use a thumbless “false” grip because that helps me engage my back more by using my arms merely as hooks. Both of those things are personal preference though so you don’t necessarily have to do either of them.

I realize this looks like a pretty wussy exercise but I urge you to try it before you judge it. It’s actually quite difficult and I like it feels great.

To progress the exercise, you can use a thicker band, move further away from the anchor point, or add small weights to the end of the barbell (don’t crazy with this though as it’s not meant to be a shoulder exercise).

If you don’t have a cable station (or even if you do and are just looking for a change) give this one a shot and let me know your thoughts.

Also, if you missed this weekend’s Good Reads, give that a look too.

Start the week strong!

  • simonboyce

    Hi Ben: Posted this question before in the wrong area. Would you say this barbell/band row set up you describe here is preferable to doing inverted rows with a Jungle Gym or one of those type things?

  • Ben Bruno

    Hi Simon. Inverted rows are my favorite rowing variation, but that’s just me. That being said, I think variety is a good thing.

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