Let me begin by asking you this – what’s the first exercise that comes to your mind when you think of a back workout? At first thought, more than half of us would think of lat pulldowns, and another significant portion would think of rows.
Why is this so? Well, the majority of back workouts involve some sort of pulling motion, either from above or rowing motion, performed in front of your body while being seated (or standing in case of rowing on a cable machine). Admittedly, most workouts appear to be pretty much the same.
The High Row Machine, on the other hand, is a machine that combines the advantages of pulldowns and rows into a single movement, making it an excellent choice for developing the back muscles (especially the lats, rhomboids, and middle and lower traps).
Although a selectorized weight-stack or plate-loaded machine is used, the motion is quite similar to that of a free-weight row. Multiple grip options and varying widths are typically available on such machines. Rowing machines are commonly utilized for moderate to high rep ranges (8-12 repeats per set or more) during the upper body or back-focused portion of a workout.
In this article, you’ll learn how to perform the machine high row, the muscles worked, the benefits of performing this exercise as well as some alternatives if you work out at a gym that doesn’t have this machine.
How To Perform The Machine High Row
It’s not too difficult to complete the high row, but there are a few details to keep in mind. Sit down on the machine first, and then adjust the height of the leg support pads and handles to your liking. The seat should be at the right height so that your feet are flat on the ground and your thighs are straight and parallel to the ground.
- Keep your core tight and your back straight. Grab the handles and pull them toward you until your elbows are behind you. As you do this, exhale and tighten the muscles in your back.
- Hold the handles for a couple of seconds and give a little squeeze when they reach chest level.
- Slowly let the handles go back to where they started by raising your arms as you breathe in.
- Repeat for the prescribed number of reps.
Muscles Worked In High Row Machine
The machine high row will work the same group of back muscles as other back rows. The main difference is in the way the body moves, which can change the amount of muscle activity. Here are the main muscles that are used during a machine high row and what they do.
The latissimus dorsi, or lats, are the main muscles used in the high row machine. The lats are the large muscles that run the length of your side. During a machine high pull, the main job of the lats is to pull down on the shoulders and bring the shoulders closer together horizontally (pulling back).
Also, the machine high row works the rhomboids, teres major, and teres minor, which are two small muscles that connect the humerus to the scapula. Their main job is to pull the humerus down, similar to how a lat pulldown works. And, like a low row, it works the lower traps.
Last but not least, the biceps are the main muscles that bend the elbow, so they are used as a secondary muscle because this movement involves bending the arm.
Benefits Of Machine High Row
A wide variety of muscles are used in the machine high row. It’s also less of a struggle to keep proper form thanks to the machine’s cushioned seat pads. The machine high row is a great addition to any workout routine, and here are some of the main benefits you’ll reap from including it
Setup Is Simple And You Are Ready To Workout In No Time
In order to use a high-row machine, all you need to do is swap out the pin in a weight stack or add some plates to the machine, rather than fumbling around for barbells and plates. This is great if you’re performing rows after a strong deadlifting session and you’re completely spent.
Has A Unique Movement Pattern
The machine high row is different from pulling with free weights because it is done at an angle. You could set up something with pulleys but it wouldn’t be the same and you wouldn’t be able to use such heavy loads. This means that the high machine row is the only way to train your back muscles in this way. Adding this unique move is a must if you want to get the most out of your strength and hypertrophy training.
Can Be Done With Single Or Both Arms
Most machines have arms that move separately from each other. This means you can pull them together (bilateral) or one arm at a time (unilateral). This is a huge benefit since all programs should include a mix of both kinds of moves for the best results.
High Row Machine Alternatives
Every fitness center/gym may not have a high-row machine, but there are other ways to get similar results. The best high-row options are shown below.
Seated High Cable Row
The only thing you really need for seated high rope cable rowing is: a rope and a cable machine, here’s how to do it
- Put your feet in the holders and sit down on the seat.
- Grab both ends of the rope handles.
- Let your arms extend out.
- Pull the rope in at chest level and spread it out as wide as you can as you pull it in.
- Stretch your arms out again. This is the end of one rep.
Standing High-cable Row
The high-cable standing row is an exercise that targets the lats. The high position also makes it easier to work the rhomboids and teres major in the upper back.
- Use the attachment with the rope handles and make sure the handles are set up at shoulder height or higher.
- Reach up and take hold of each handle.
- Step your legs out to the width of your hips and tighten your core muscles.
- Start the movement by pulling your shoulder blades back together and bending your elbows while looking straight ahead.
- Your elbows should be bent out to the side so that the top of your arm stays flat on the floor.
- Slowly move back to the starting position by straightening your arms and letting go of your shoulder blades.
- This is one rep, repeat for the prescribed number of reps.
Kneeling High Cable Row
Kneeling high cable row is a great exercise that works a lot of muscles well, especially the shoulder, back, lats, and trapezius muscles. It also gets the trapezius muscles working. The infraspinatus and subscapula muscles that cover the scapula may help relieve pain caused by weak muscles, such as bad posture and shoulder blades that stick out.
- Kneel down in front of the high pulley cable and grab the handle that is attached to it with one hand.
- Keeping your body straight and your elbow close to your body, pull your shoulder blade back and then pull back with a strong movement.
- Before returning the weight back where it started, squeeze at the peak of the contraction.
- Let the weight pull you forward a little bit before you pull back to do another rep.
A study looked at alternatives to pull-ups, including the kneeling lat pulldown. They found that the activation of the muscles was a lot like the pull-up, with a lot of activity in the core. Their thinking was based on the need to stabilize, which we can assume would be similar to doing a kneeling high cable row.
When you want to feel a burn that’s tough to replicate with the barbell, the machine high row is the way to go. The unit is simple to work on and serves as an excellent tool for building muscle mass and strength.
And keep in mind that you can’t do this exercise with a dumbbell or barbell. When you put it all together, it’s clear that you should incorporate the machine high row into your back workouts. If you’re after a thick, muscular back, that is. Also, you may want to look at the list of 10 best back workouts that we put together.
Rahul is a sports and performance consultant. Over the course of his 15-year career in the fitness sector, he has held positions as a strength and conditioning instructor, gym owner, and consultant.
He is deeply committed to assisting people in finding happiness and feeling good about themselves.
Rahul has a master’s degree in exercise science and is a certified NSCA CSCS and CISSN.