Everyone wants a huge muscular back.
The v-taper that looks good in any shirt amplifies the physique! But how do you get slabs of muscle and width onto the back and lats?
Targeting the back with heavy rows and chin-ups – that’s how!
Adding bent-over cable rows to your workout routine can set you on your path to back dominance and pack on the size and thickness you’ve always wanted!
In this blog, I will answer all your questions relating to bent-over cable rows. You will know what they are, why you should do them, the benefits, how to do them and what you need to do to add them to your workouts!
By the time you finish reading this blog post, you will be ready to unleash a new phase of back muscle growth!
So let’s go!
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Alright, so you want to know about Bent Over Cable Rows?
Well, let me tell you, it’s one of my favorite exercises for building a strong and defined back.
Basically, bent-over cable rows involve using a cable machine with a handle attached to pull the weight towards your body while bending over at the hips. This movement targets your lats, traps, and rhomboids and engages your biceps and forearms.
Bent-over cable rows primarily target your back muscles, particularly the latissimus dorsi (lats), trapezius (traps), and rhomboid. But they also train the upper and lower arms as secondary muscles.
This makes them a powerful exercise when wanting to train multiple muscle groups.
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Over the past 20 years, I have trained thousands of people and have amassed significant experience with what works and what doesn’t. Through that journey, I have observed what works and what doesn’t, more importantly, what is beneficial.
Below are five of the biggest benefits of this exercise:
1. Improved Posture: Cable rows will call upon the muscles responsible for scapula retraction. What are these, I hear you ask? They are the muscles that allow you to push your arms back and stick your chest out. But by training these indirectly, you will improve your upper back posture.
2. Versatility: The beauty of this exercise is that you can perform it with different handles, heights and grips. This allows you to target the back muscles with varying degrees of muscle activation.
3. New Growth: Cable’s add a variation to muscle training whereby the stress and contraction on the muscles remain constant throughout the movement. This added stress forces the muscles to adapt and grow bigger!
4. Core Stability and Strength: Bent over cable rows force your core to be used as part of the exercise and so trains the central and supporting muscles as you execute the movement.
5. Trains Many Muscles: Bent Over Cable Rows force the entire upper back, rear shoulders, and arms to be trained. The entire movement from start to finish will stress multiple muscles, thereby adding to strength and tissue gains in the upper body.
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The form is everything when it comes to getting the most results from your exercises.
It will ensure your muscles work the full range of motion AND that you reduce any risk of injury:
Step 1: Set the cable pulley machine up with a curved or straight bar and set the weight up depending on if it’s a warm-up or main set.
Step 2: Ensure the adjustable low cable pulley is closer to the ground.
Step 3: Bend over and grab the bar with a shoulder-width grip and get into the starting position as below.
Step 4: With your knees slightly bent in a quarter squat position, maintain a natural arch in your lower back, keep your core tight and push your shoulder blades back and down
Step 5: Allow arms to hang out before you with palms facing the ceiling (underhand grip). You are now in the stating position.
Step 6: Begin the exercise by flexing your core and pulling your elbows back so your hands end up just under the chest. Hold for a count of two and then release slowly over a count of 4 seconds.
Step 6: Slowly lower the weight back down to the starting position. That’s one rep done! Now repeat for up to 10 reps.
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Overtraining is the worse thing you can do to your muscles and body.
It increases stress hormones, increases the risk of injury, affects your mental health, and will limit (and often reduce) the results you can get in the gym.
I don’t want that to happen to you!
So to avoid this, I want you to think of your workouts holistically.
What does that mean? It means you must think about ALL the exercises you do over a week and ensure it’s not too much.
So for your Back muscle group, limit your total number of sets to 16 per week and stay in the rep range of 12.
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Currently, you may be performing a row movement in your back workouts.
Regardless, I recommend that towards the end of the workout, add three sets of 10 reps on the bent-over cable row and aim to perform them with strict form and with a 2-second pull and 4-second release and only increase the weight once you get ten strict reps.
Monitor your progress from this, and always aim to add one rep or more weight from the last workout.
Here are five tips to maximize your bent-over rows:
Focus on proper form: Maintaining proper form throughout the exercise is crucial to prevent injury and maximize the movement’s effectiveness. Keep your back straight and shoulders down, and engage your core to stabilize your body.
Use a full range of motion: Make sure you’re pulling the weight up to your chest and lowering it to avoid shortchanging the exercise and limiting your gains.
Vary your grip: Changing your grip can target different areas of your back and help you avoid plateaus in your progress. Experiment with overhand, underhand, and neutral grips to find the best.
Increase weight gradually: As with any exercise, gradually increasing the weight you lift will help you build strength and muscle over time. Start with a weight that allows you to perform 10-12 reps with proper form, and gradually increase the weight as you progress.
Mix it up: Incorporating different variations of the bent-over row, such as dumbbell rows or barbell rows, can keep your workouts interesting and challenge your muscles in new ways.
Bent-over cable rows are a great exercise for targeting your upper back muscles. Still, avoiding certain mistakes is important to prevent injury and maximize the movement’s effectiveness.
Here are three key things I want you to avoid when doing bent-over cable rows:
Rounding your back: Maintaining a neutral spine throughout the exercise is important to avoid placing excessive stress on your lower back. Avoid rounding your back or hunching over the cable machine by engaging your core and keeping your shoulders down and back.
Using too much weight: Using too much weight can compromise your form and lead to injury. Start with a weight that allows you to perform the exercise with proper form, and gradually increase the weight as you progress.
Pulling the weight with your arms: Bent over cable rows should primarily target your upper back muscles, not your biceps. Avoid pulling the weight with your arms by initiating the movement from your back muscles and keeping your elbows close to your body.
By avoiding these mistakes, you can perform bent-over cable rows safely and effectively to build a stronger and more defined upper back.
Here are five alternative options I’ve used in the past that have given my client and me awesome muscle and strength gains in the back:
Barbell Rows: This is the most popular rowing exercise and is a compound back movement. It will help build you a thick, wide back, requiring only a barbell and weight plates. Performing 3 sets of 10 reps will be a worthwhile addition to seeing gains.
T-Bar Rows: Performed on a specially adapted piece of equipment, the t-bar row is excellent for building back thickness. Adding them for three sets of 10 reps will suffice.
Dumbbell Rows: This movement can be done with one arm or bent over with two arms. The benefit of this exercise is that it hits each side of the back unilaterally and can help fix muscle imbalance.
Seated Cable Rows: Seated cable rows involve using a cable machine to perform the exercise in a seated position. This exercise targets your upper back muscles and can work your biceps and forearms.
Pull-Ups: Pull-ups are a bodyweight exercise that can be performed with various grips, including wide grip, narrow grip, overhand grip or neutral grip. This exercise targets your upper back muscles and can help build strength and size.
Incorporating these alternative exercises into your routine can help keep your workouts challenging and prevent boredom. Remember to focus on proper form and gradually increase weight or reps as you progress to maximize the effectiveness of each exercise.
Add bent over cable rows to your existing back training routine by selecting one of the following
(Preferred) Cable Bent Over Cable Rows : 4 sets of 10 reps, and once you hit 10 reps add weight
Barbell Bent Over Rows – 4 sets of 10 reps, and once you hit 10 reps add weight
Dumbell Bent Over Rows – 4 sets of 10 reps, and once you hit 10 reps add weight
T-Bar Bent Over Rows – 4 sets of 10 reps, and once you hit 10 reps add weight
Yates Rows – 4 sets of 10 reps, and once you hit 10 reps add weight
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Bent-over cable rows are a strength and bodybuilding training exercise that targets the primary muscles in your upper back, including your latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, and trapezius muscles. You’ll need a cable machine with a low pulley attachment and a straight bar to perform the exercise.
Bent-over cable rows effectively target your upper back muscles because they allow for a greater range of motion than other rowing exercises, such as barbell rows. The cable provides constant tension throughout the movement, challenging your muscles throughout the entire range of motion. Additionally, the bent-over position of the exercise helps activate your core muscles, improving stability and overall strength.
This exercise needs a cable pulley machine, a straight bar, and a selectorized weight stack usually attached to the cable low pulley system.
You can add bent-over cable rows near the end of the back workout by performing 3 or 4 sets of 10 reps, whereby you fail at the 10th rep. Once you hit the top rep range with strict form, increase the weight next workout. This progressive overload training style will push you and the body to perform better and grow more!
Bending the back, using too much weight and performing the row to quick are all improper techniques you must avoid.
The advantage of the cable machine over the barbell row is that it provides continuous tension through the range of motion. Whereas a traditional barbell row peaks and troughs during the range of motion.
Pulling in the straight bar to the lower stomach area will hit the lower lats, whereas pulling the cable to the chest area will target the upper back and rear delts. Both have their benefits, and switching it up every workout is good.
If you have back injuries, we do not recommend performing this exercise without medical clearance. The back is a critical part of the body, and any risk of injury could seriously impact your movement.
To increase strength and muscle mass in the cable row, I recommend that you perform every rep to understand strict control. A 2-second Pull and 4-second release will place the muscles under an optimal time under tension range to help build strength and muscle tissue.
Resistance bands bent over rows are an excellent alternative to the cable version as they also provide continuous tension to the muscle through the entire range of motion. Adding them for four sets of 10 reps will get your back growing!
You can add cable pulley exercises to a compound routine but aim to add them toward the end of the muscle group workout as they are an excellent form of exercise to work the muscles with increased time under tension.
I hope this blog post has given you confidence in adding this awesome back exercise to your workout!
It is an excellent alternative to the standard barbell row and will bring about change and newfound growth opportunities in your back muscles, especially your lats.
As always, start slow, learn the form, and then start with lower weights till you master how to do the exercise. Then adopt the progressive overload principle and aim to grow stronger with every workout!
(oh, and do keep in touch and check in with us regularly for more fantastic content. For a complete list of our previous blog posts, please go here)
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