Machine Row Exercise Guide
The machine row exercise is similar to the seated cable row and barbell row. Its main advantage is that it prevents overloading the lumbar region and muscles along the spinal column because your torso is supported. The downside is that the pressure from the pad on your abdomen and chest can make breathing more difficult.
The row belongs in the basic, multiple-joint exercise category because both the shoulder and the elbow joints are mobilized. As a result, rowing recruits many muscles in addition to the entire back: the rear shoulders, the biceps, the long head of the triceps, and the forearms. The row is considered a good starting exercise because it stimulates many muscle groups of the upper body.
Machine Row Technique – Proper Form
STARTING POSITION (SETUP): Sit facing the weight stack of the machine with your chest and abdomen against the chest pad. Place your feet flat on the floor or on the foot supports (if available). Adjust the seat so your arms are level with the machine’s handles and you must stretch your arms fully to reach them. Grasp the handles using a closed, pronated (or neutral) grip with your elbows fully extended.
EXECUTION (ACTION): Pull the handles toward you until your hands are alongside your chest (or upper abdomen). As you bend your arms, your elbows should travel directly behind you, not out to the side. At the same time, squeeze your shoulder blades together. Slowly straighten your arms, feeling a stretch through your shoulder blades as you return the handles to their original position.
Muscles Involved in Machine Row Exercise
- MAIN MUSCLES: latissimus dorsi, brachialis, biceps, teres major and minor
- SECONDARY MUSCLES: rhomboids, triceps (long head), brachioradialis, trapezius (lower), deltoid (rear)
- ANTAGONISTS: deltoid (front), pectoralis major, triceps
- Adjust the seat of the machine row so that your arms are parallel to the floor when you grab the handles.
- Sit on the machine with your chest and abdomen resting against the pad (do not move your body back).
- Adjust the chest pad so that the weight plates do not touch the bottom of the stack when you hold the handles with full arm extension.
- Pull your elbows as far back as possible and squeeze the shoulder blades together to maximize muscle contraction.
- Common mistakes: extending the torso to get help from the lower back muscles and muscles along the spinal column; incomplete movement; and incorrect set-up (or design) of the machine.
- Don’t allow the weight stack to touch down between reps.
- Maintain the natural curve in your lower back throughout the movement.
- To target the lower latissimus muscles, raise the seat higher so that you’re pulling the handles to a lower point. To target the upper latissimus muscles, lower the seat do that you’re pulling to your chest and use a wider grip if available.
Machine Row Variations
- Although each manufacturer has its own version of the machine row, the same basic rules apply. Depending on the brand, the handles may be parallel, perpendicular, or diagonal; some machines have all three grips. Experiment with different grips to get a different feel from this exercise.
- Pulling the handle through a high trajectory towards the chest targets the upper latissimus and trapezius (lower the seat), whereas a lower trajectory toward the abdomen targets the lower lats (raise the seat higher). Adjust the seat height to change trajectory.
Machine Row Substitutes (Replacement Exercises)
To add variety to your middle back workout routine, replace the machine row exercise with a different exercise that works the same muscles. Use dumbbells, barbell, cables, or your own body weight to perform the rowing motion.
Let’s look at the best middle back exercises with the rowing motion for building muscle and strength.
- Seated cable row
- Supported T-bar row
- Freestanding T-bar row
- Bent over barbell row
- One arm dumbbell row
- Two-arm dumbbell row
- Body row
- Chest-supported dumbbell rows
The Difference Between Free-Weight Rows And Machine Rows
Some machines are pretty good at replicating the rowing movement. The main difference between free-weight rows and machine rows is that most machines attempt to protect the lower back from the excessive pressure the spine receives in the bent-over position. Of course, because machines guide the trajectory of the arms, they do not offer the variety of pathways dumbbells do. However, for beginners who might not have strong lower backs or who lack the ability to strongly recruit their lumbar muscles, machine rowing is a good way to begin back training.
Machine rows (and all other rowing variations) first target the muscles in the inner back. Compared to pull-ups, rows help you gain more thickness but less width. So rows and pull-ups are complementary exercises for the back.