The Seated Row

Many bodybuilders have poorly developed posterior deltoids. They do different kinds of rows to develop this area, but their technique is so bad that the deltoid is minimally involved. In lateral prone raises (reverse flyes), for example, the rear deltoid is maximally affected if the arms are kept straight (or slightly bent) and raised in line with the shoulder above the level of the back. However, most bodybuilders use weights that are too heavy and so do this exercise with severely bent elbows, which changes the angle in the shoulder joint and takes the posterior delt mostly out of the action.

The same thing happens in the bent-over row In addition, most bodybuilders drop the trunk as they pull the weight up, which severely limits the muscle involvement. Even worse, this technique also causes lower back problems. Also, when the seated row is done with the elbows down, the posterior delt acts only as an assistant to the prime muscle movers in the back and thus receives little development.

However, by using an exercise machine that has dual handles, you can replace the bent-over row and seated row in a safe and effective manner. With the pronated grip, your elbows remain out to the sides perpendicular to your body (same as the correct elbow positions for the bent-over or T-bar row) and with a neutral grip the elbows remain close to the body or out somewhat (as in the seated row).


(A) With the pronated grip and the elbows held out to the sides, upper arms in line with the shoulders. The major muscles of the shoulder joint are the middle and posterior deltoid, teres minor, and infraspinatus. These two portions of the deltoid make up the side and back portion of the shoulder contour. The teres minor and infraspinatus, located on the back of the scapula, have identical actions. They makeup part of the rotator cuff and are situated so that they hold the humerus in the joint on the backside.

In the shoulder girdle, the major muscles are the middle fibers of the trapezius and the rhomboid. The trapezius is a flat sheet of muscle fibers located on the upper back and lying just below the skin. The rhomboid muscle, which is named for its shape, lies directly beneath the middle of the trapezius. Note how the shoulder girdle muscles go from the spine and other bony attachments to the scapula and how the shoulder joint muscles go from the scapula to the humerus (arm). This is why the shoulder joint and shoulder girdle muscles always go together in the movements of the arm.

The above named muscles do the brunt of the work, with the latissimus dorsi, teres major and supraspinatus involved only secondarily In the elbow joint the biceps are involved but weakly, more to stabilize the joint than to cause movement.

(B) With the neutral grip and the elbows held in close to the sides (pointed straight back). The major muscles involved are the pectoralis major (sternal portion), latissimus dorsi and teres major. These muscles are assisted by the posterior deltoid and the long head of the triceps.

The pectoralis major is a large muscle lying immediately beneath the skin over the front of the chest. The latissimus dorsi is a very large muscle situated on the lower half of the back and lying immediately beneath the skin, except for a small space where it is covered by the lower trapezius. Because of the exercises typically done, the upper part of the latissimus is usually well developed and can be seen protruding from the upper sides of the trunk. The lower development can be clearly seen, especially when the lumbar erector spinae and the internal and external obliques are not well developed.

The teres major is a small, round muscle lying around the auxiliary border of the scapula. It is involved together with the latissimus in almost all actions.


(A) Pronated grip with the elbows up and out. In the shoulder, joint horizontal abduction (also known as a horizontal extension) occurs, with the arm traveling in a plane perpendicular to the long axis of the body Adduction of the scapula takes place in the shoulder girdle (scapula moves inward toward the spine with no upward or downward rotation).

(B) With the elbows pointed down (back). Shoulder joint extension occurs, with the arm moving in the anterior-posterior plane from a forward position to a position alongside and behind the body Adduction of the scapula takes place along with downward rotation, with the scapula moving in toward the spine and rotating downward on an axis in the middle of the scapula as the elbow approaches the body and goes behind.


Shoulder joint horizontal abduction, extension and movements in between and the respective scapular movements take place when the arm is pulled to the rear in a three-fourths overhead, sidearm or underhand plane (in relation to the erect standing position). These positions are seen in rowing, paddling, gymnastics (on the rings in various lifts and holds, free exercise), tennis, racquetball and badminton (backhand shots), baseball batting in the left shoulder of a right-handed batter (high pitch), archery (the pull back) and swimming (especially butterfly). Wrestlers also use this action when trying to keep the shoulder off the mat to avoid getting pinned.

The seated pulley row with the pronated grip is important for good posture since it keeps the shoulders back and prevents forward drop. When both grips are used, it is especially important to bodybuilders for development of the middle of the upper back musculature (from the neck to the lumbar area) and the back of the shoulders.

Development of the muscles involved also allows for greater weights to be used in other arm movements.


On the upper back machines, sit with your feet on the floor and the handles at arms length. When in position, your arms should be completely extended (with hands on the grips) and your back should be in its normal, anatomical position. Also, and this is very important for the best results, you must be able to adjust the seat height so that the hands grasp the grips shoulder high in the pronated grip and about 6-8 inches lower with the neutral grip. You must also adjust the chest pad so that your trunk is in a vertical position when the chest is in contact with the pad and your arms are fully extended.

When in position, pull back with the arms as far as possible so that the elbows go beyond the plane of your back. During the pull hold the upright position or lean into the chest pad. After reaching the rear-most position, return the pulley bar under control to the starting position and repeat.

Inhale and hold your breath during the entire pulling action. Exhale on the return and inhale again as you prepare for the next repetition.


  1. You must be positioned correctly when doing this exercise, not only for maximum muscle involvement, but to prevent injury to the spine. Thus when your chest makes contact with the pad in front, you should be seated in such a position that you are not leaning forward or backward. Your trunk should be erect and your arms straight. The shoulder girdle should be slightly protracted to allow for a greater stretch and its resulting stronger muscle involvement.
  2. Since different grips produce very different muscle involvement, you need a machine that has both neutral and pronated grips. By using both, you can get maximum development of a multitude of muscles. Use one grip for one set and the other grip for the second set, or do more sets with the same grip if you are seeking to develop a specific muscle or muscle group.
  3. When using the upper back machines air machine, you can also change the resistance during the pull, adjusting the pressure so that it matches your abilities. Some bodybuilders and other athletes are strong in the middle pulling range but weak in the end range. By releasing some of the pressure with a slight foot press while in the act of pulling, you can go the full range with maximum muscle involvement.
  4. If your elbows do not go beyond the plane of the back, you will not get the muscle development needed to hold the shoulders back in good posture. Weakness of the middle back muscles allows the shoulders to drop forward, giving you a hollow chest or rounded shoulders. To strengthen these muscles, the machine you use must provide adequate resistance in the latter range of motion. Some machines, including recent computerized ones, are very weak in the latter range.
    Bodybuilders must realize that pulling far to the rear is critical for additional definition of these muscles. Working only the initial range will not produce great muscle definition.
  5. When doing the exercise, keep your feet firmly on the floor or pressed against the machine framework. If your feet are not secured, your trunk will move and you won’t be able to isolate the movement strictly in the shoulders. Other bodyparts will be called into play, which will detract from your working the major muscles involved, and may cause injury.
  6. The seat on the exercise machine must be adjustable to either raise or lower your body. This is needed so that the pronated grip is in line with or level with the top of your shoulders. If the grips are below or above this position, you will be doing a different movement. But, in some cases this can be of benefit for more all-around development of the muscles. However, for the posterior deltoid and middle trapezius, the arms must be perpendicular to the trunk.
    The seat adjustment is also needed for the neutral grip. In this case, it must be lower so that the forearm remains fairly level during the pull. If the forearm is severely angled, your force will be split in two directions. This may create stress on the elbows, but more importantly it keeps you from bringing the elbow back as far as possible.
  7. Do not try to execute active elbow joint flexion. This will detract from using the shoulder joint and shoulder girdle muscles, which are the key muscles to be worked. By actively engaging the biceps (which on a machine exercise is futile because you cannot move the handles with elbow flexion), you limit the actions of the shoulder extensor or horizontal extension muscles. Also, you will not be able to bring the elbows as far to the rear as possible. Thus, you should keep the action in the elbow joint passive. It does occur, but only as a consequence of the shoulder action.

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