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Low Cable Row: Ultimate Back Isolation Exercise

Isolating back muscles isn’t easy. Being made up of several different muscle groups, how do you know what you're targeting? The low cable row sheds light on this issue. The goal of an upper back-building exercise should be to isolate different muscle groups without sacrificing other body parts. I love bent-over rows, but all that unwanted stress on my lower back and shoulders just doesn't seem worthwhile.

In this post, we’ll dissect how you can use the cable machine to your benefit and master the low row.


Low Row on a Cable Machine: How to

Choosing an Attachment: Choose the proper attachment for your low cable row. Depending on which muscles you want to target, you can use a V-bar, T-bar, straight bar, or a wide-grip bar. 

Begin seated on the cable machine and put your feet firmly on the footrests. 

Keep your knees slightly bent.

Grip the attachment, ensuring a solid hold.

Move your hips back, sit straight, and keep your shoulders pulled back and down.

Extend your chest and keep a small arch in your lower back. Your torso should be tilting slightly forward, not fully upright. (you're going to want to keep this position throughout the exercise)

Begin the low row by pulling the weight towards your stomach. Pull and keep your elbows in and squeeze your shoulder blades together. 

Your upper body should stay solid and avoid utilizing momentum to lift the weight.

Pull until you reach your torso or close enough to it.

Stop to allow your back muscles to contract fully.

Return to the starting position by allowing the weight to draw your arms forward while remaining in control of the action.


low cable row


Low Row Tips

Choosing the correct grip: A wider grip attachment (such as a lat pulldown bar) primarily targets the lats and deltoids, particularly the posterior deltoids, due to greater arm abduction. A narrow attachment such as a v-bar will target the mid back (rhomboids and trap muscles) by focusing the movement on bringing the shoulder blades together.

Maintain Proper Form: Keep your knees slightly bent, shoulders retracted, and chest out. This posture protects your lower back while engaging the targeted muscles efficiently.

Control Your Movement: Resist jerking or utilizing momentum. 

Elbow Position: During the low-row exercise, keep your elbows close to your torso. Flared elbows can draw attention away from the back and onto the shoulders. 

Weight path: Maintain a low and controlled weight path to master the movement and target your preferred muscles. 

Weight Selection: If you're a beginner, start with a light-moderate weight to emphasize form. As you progress you'll be able to increase the weight and comfortably push yourself.


Low Cable Row Muscles Worked

Latissimus dorsi (lats)

The lats control shoulder adduction (pulling the arms downwards towards the body), shoulder extension (pushing the arms back), and the internal rotation of the shoulder joint. Lats are essential for pulling actions and are used in various upper-body workouts.

Lats - low cable row

Deltoids (delts)

The deltoids are separated into three sections: anterior (front), lateral (middle), and posterior (rear). They are in charge of shoulder abduction (raising the arms to the side), flexion (raising the arms forward), extension (backward movements), and aid in the overall rotation of the shoulder socket. Each portion of the deltoid muscle contributes to specific shoulder mobility ranges and direction.

low cable row - deltoids

Trapezius (traps)

The trapezius is a big triangle-shaped muscle that runs from the neck to the middle of the back. It consists of three sections: top, middle, and lower. The upper traps raise the scapula (shrugging the shoulders), the middle traps compress the scapula (pushing the shoulder blades together), and the lower traps draw the shoulder blades downward. 

trapezius - row


The rhomboids (major and minor) reside between the shoulder blades. Their major function is scapular retraction (bringing the shoulder blades inward), scapular elevation (raising the shoulder blades), and scapular downward rotation. Rhomboids aid in healthy posture and are essential in rowing movements. If you suffer from a knot behind your shoulder blade, rhomboids are the likely culprit.

rhomboid - row muscles worked

Secondary Muscles

Erector spinae and biceps are also engaged throughout the low-row exercise.

Low Row Grip Difference

Depending on your fitness goals, the attachment you chose can make a difference in what area of your back you’re targeting during the low-row exercise. 

Wide Grip

Muscles Worked: When using a wider attachment on the cable rowing machine, you are likely working the lats (latissimus dorsi) and deltoids. The wider grip forces increased abduction of the arms, which works the deltoids, particularly the posterior deltoids. The lats are working as they draw the arms down and back.

wide grip low cable row

Narrow Grip

Muscles Worked: A narrow attachment on the cable row stresses the rhomboids and trapezius muscles. With a tight grip, the action is more concentrated on drawing the shoulder blades together, which better engages the rhomboids and mid traps.

Narrow grip low cable row

Low Row - FAQ

What does the low-row exercise target?

The low row is a back exercise that primarily targets the latissimus dorsi (lats), trapezius (traps), deltoids (delts), and rhomboid muscles. All of these play an important role in the low-row movement.

Is the low-row machine a good alternative to the cable low-row?

Yes, the low row machine is a fantastic alternative to the cable machine as it stimulates the same back muscles and provides an effective and controlled weight path, which helps maintain correct form.

Is a cable machine better than free weights?

Cable machines have a few benefits over free weights, including continuous tension, a wider range of motion, and attachment variations. A cable machine also helps to maintain proper form and target certain muscle groups (especially in the back). 

However, free weights are ideal for increasing general strength, activating stabilizing muscles, and providing practical movements. Both are great options, your choice should be dependent on preference, access to equipment, and overall fitness goals.

Now that you've read about low cable row, check out our page on the cable Y raise!



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