Why I don't do Seated Rows

We have all read the preaching articles before, titles like, '3 exercises you should never do!' or '5 exercises you must do for a big chest', but don’t worry I’m not going to lecture you on why Seated Rows are the spawn of Satan, or that you must be a complete muppet for doing them.  I'm just going to lay out my point of view on why I think they are not an optimal exercise to include in your program and how you could probably be spending your time doing better things (in my humble opinion of course).

Ask yourself the question, 'what muscles am I targeting when doing the seated row?’.   You may answer ‘the lats, of course’. And you’d be right; they are definitely working when doing the seated row but only through a partial range of motion (ROM).  The Latissimus Dorsi originates at the ilium, sacrum, vertebral column and lower ribs.  It inserts at the humerus and is a strong shoulder adductor (bringing the arms from straight up overhead to hands by the side) and shoulder extensor (like a pullover movement).  So for the lats to be at the fully stretched position, your arms must be overhead, which the Seated Row does not require. See, my friend Bob, here in the image below.

So why does this matter?  Well, studies have shown that working a muscle through a full range of motion is far better for strength and hypertrophy than working it through only a partial range (1,2,3).  We all roll our eyes at the big man doing partial squats with a tonne of weight, so why treat the lats any different from the quads? To successfully work the lats through a full ROM I would suggest pull-up variations.

Some of you may even defend the Seated Row by claiming that you’re also working your rhomboids.  However, the rhomboids are also targeted during pull-up variations.  They are also being put through their paces when doing exercises for your rear deltoids such as reverse flyes (you are working your rear deltoids, aren't you?).


On that note, when selecting exercises like the reverse flyes, you are also training your middle and lower traps, but the lats aren't helping with the load.


Your erector spinae is worked hard when doing any deadlift variation so this should be covered in any well-balanced program.


Another reason I recommend pull-up variations over rows is that rows have an open kinetic chain, whereas pull-ups are closed.  See here for an explanation of what an open and closed kinetic chain exercise is.  Put simply, if your body moves during the exercise it is closed but if your arms or legs move while the body remains stable it is open.


Closed chain exercises take stress away from your joints and put more tension on the muscles.  This leads to more growth on the targeted muscles (5,6,7).


These principles can be used for many exercises and it is not just Seated Rows that they apply to.  Have a think about the muscles you a trying to hit and if the exercises you have chosen are optimal.


In conclusion, I think the Seated Row is just one of those generic exercises that works a lot of muscles at once, great, right? Wrong!  Not a single one of them are trained optimally!  And who has time for that!?! 

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Jan 2016