The Beginner’s Guide to the Seated Row

By Brittany Risher |

Prevent poor posture and back pain with this simple but powerful exercise.

The seated row is one of the best strength exercises you can do. Why? Because during many everyday activities—sitting, driving, eating—gravity is pulling our upper back and shoulders forward. The resulting hunched position closes off our breathing, reduces circulation, causes back pain, and leads to poor posture. The seated row is the perfect antidote to all of that. Plus, since the machine provides stability and guides you through the movement, it’s generally safe and easy to master. Follow this step-by-step guide from fitness expert David Jack.

Step #1: Set Your Seat

Adjust the seat so that your hips are slightly above your knees.

Step #2: Adjust the Chest Pad

The chest pad should be in the middle of your chest and far enough away so that you can’t quite reach the handles when your arms are extended.

Step #3: Select Your Weight

Insert the pin into the weight stack to set your starting weight. At first, go lighter than you think you can do to learn proper form. You can always add more weight during your next set or workout.

Step #4: Get into Upright Rowing Position

Set your feet, and reach forward to grab the handles with a comfortable grip. Pull your back to an upright position by pushing through your legs. Your shoulders should be down and back, with arms straight.

Step #5: Start Rowing!

Pull the handles into your chest as far as you can comfortably go, and then reverse the movement with control until your arms are fully extended. That’s one rep. When you’re just getting started, aim for two sets of 10 to 15 reps using a light weight.

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Want More of a Challenge? Do This

When you feel comfortable on the seated row machine, you can challenge yourself in a few different ways. First, try adding more reps to your total. So rather than performing three sets of 15 reps (45 total reps), you could do three sets of 20 reps (60 total reps) or four sets of 12 reps (48 total reps). Every extra rep counts, so don’t feel like you need to add too many right away.

Another option: Increase the weight. Start by moving the pin one slot lower. Remember: It’s normal to do fewer reps when you increase the weight, so don’t worry if can only finish 10 good reps instead of your usual 15.

You can also change your tempo, or the speed at which you do the exercise. That might mean quickly pulling the bar to your chest and then taking three to five seconds to return to the starting position. This keeps your muscles under tension longer and makes it more challenging.

And if you’re experienced on the seated row, you may want to try different grips to work your muscles from different angles. In addition to your standard grip, you can try:

  • Top grip
  • Wide top grip
  • Underhand grip
  • Wide underhand grip
  • Neutral grip

Whether you change your reps, weight, tempo, or grip, remember that proper form is the number-one priority. If you ever feel too tired or that your form is compromised, stop. Safety always comes first!

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