Low Row (Bodybuilding guide to the low pulley row)

Low pulley row

What is the low row?

The low row is a resistance exercise performed in a gym on a low pulley cable machine with a straight bar attachment. 

Rows are a fantastic way of targeting muscles in the back, especially the upper traps. They're a relatively easy compound movement that you can use at the end of a workout to really challenge your lats, upper back and abs. 

The row is a single joint movement (meaning the exercise works on just one joint), and, in addition to being great for the major back muscles,  it is also ideal for targeting the muscles around your scapula. 

Rows are in fact an old school weightlifting exercise, and they're especially popular among cross-fitters these days. 

How to do a low row

Sit down on a row machine with your feet on the front platform or crossbar provided keeping your legs slightly bent at the knees. (Alternatively, you can sit down on a flat bench with one dumbbell on either side of you and your feet firmly planted on the floor).

Bend over as you keep the natural alignment of your back and grab the bar. Keep your shoulders retracted and pull back until your torso is at a 90-degree angle from your legs. 

Your back should be slightly arched and your chest should be sticking out. You should be feeling this exercise in your back muscles, especially the lats (latissimus dorsi). 

The forearms should do no other work except for holding the bar; therefore do not try to pull the bar using the forearms.

After a second contraction at the top, slowly go back to the original position while breathing in. Exhale as you perform this step. 

Tip: Make sure that you do not go all the way down to avoid unnecessary stress on your back. Go only until you feel a stretch on your lats (as shown in the illustration above).

How to do a low pulley row

Which muscles are worked with a low row?

Rows are a compound exercise that work the muscles of the back. The major muscles that are worked are the lats, rhomboids, traps and biceps.

Muscles worked with a low row

The Lats

The lats are a large muscle that covers the side of your body from shoulder to hip and they help pull your arm down toward your torso. 

Well developed lats give your back real width and the much sought after V taper. Many people prefer pulldowns for lat development but get real thickness and width, there is no better exercise than a row. 

The Rhomboids

The rhomboids are located between your shoulder blades and they help move your shoulder blades together by pulling them back. 

There is probably no better exercise than a low row for developing the rhomboids. At the top of the movement, you can really squeeze the muscle and feel the connection. 

The Traps

The traps are located at the top of your shoulders and they help stabilize the upper body while moving it through space. Whilst shrugs are great for adding height to your traps, the low pulley row is the best movement for thickness and mass. 

The Biceps

The biceps are located on the front of your upper arm and they help bend your elbow when you lift something with one hand (like holding a dumbbell). Biceps are a secondary mover here as they are just assisting the back muscles. Regular, heavy rows will add mass and strength to the bicep.

What is a row machine?

Row machines provide assistance with your rows, so you can exercise safely and effectively. 

These chairs support your back while you perform the exercise, while also ensuring that you still get the full range of motion benefits.

Machine row

The exercise involves sitting down on the machine, placing your feet against the pads, grabbing the handle with your palms facing in toward you, and pulling it towards your body until it touches underneath your rib cage. 

Once you've reached this point, you extend your arms out again to return to the starting position.

It's really important to keep your back flat and not arch during this exercise—you want to avoid putting unnecessary strain on your spine.

Why Do You Need to Use a Row Machine?

The best way to perform a low row is manually, on a low pulley, with a straight bar attachment.  

This will build strength in your stabiliser muscles and allow you a bit of flexibility in the movement allowing you to lift a little heavier. 

If you are feeling a little fatigued or just want to isolate the back muscles without hinging, you could use a row machine and get similar benefits.

If you choose to use a machine, opt for a modest weight and focus on muscle connection. Use a slow and controlled movement with an emphasis on maximum time under tension. 

Using a machine does have one advantage over heavy manual rows, you can really squeeze the working muscles and hold the top of the movement. 

Doing this with a slow, controlled release will really break down the muscle fibres and for adaptation. 

Alternative Exercises

Once in a while, it is a good idea to add some variation to your back workout. We have you covered with our list of the best alternatives to rows.

1. The Face-Pull - This move is similar to a row, but instead of holding onto the bar, you'll be holding onto two ends of a rope. 

The motion is very much the same as a low row, and involves pulling the rope toward your face. Face pulls are great for rear delt and trap development. 

Your grip will probably dictate how heavy you can go with face pulls so focus on strict form with a slow, controlled movement. Squeezing the traps at the top of the movement will give them the best workout. 

2. Wide Grip Row - Instead of pulling the bar toward your chest, this move involves bringing both ends of the bar up toward your waist while you're bent at your hips and knees. It's hard to describe, but once you try it you won't forget it!

3. Bent Over Two-Dumbbell Row - This variation on the low pulley row allows you to pull two dumbbells at one time, making it an excellent alternative for those looking to increase their weights without having to use a barbell. 

It uses the same range of motion as a regular low row, but with added weight and grip options. If you do not have dumbbells, you can use kettlebells or just weight plates. 


Overall the low pulley row is a great exercise to increase muscle hypertrophy in the upper back. 

The main difference between this exercise and the standard barbell bent row is that you have greater activation of stabiliser muscles and there is less work on the hinge joint (lower back).

We hope that you have found this article helpful and informative. Please check out our free HyperGrowth bodybuilding program if you are looking to get the maximum growth in your back. 
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