The seated row targets almost all of the muscles of the back. You can use a lever- or cable-based machine as well as a resistance band to complete the exercise. Which one you choose will not affect how the upper body is worked but does affect which lower body muscles assist and stabilize.
To perform a seated row, sit on the seat of either a cable or lever machine. If you are using a cable machine, place your feet against the vertical platform as you grasp the handle; for lever machines, put your feet firmly into the floor as you hold one handle in each hand. Draw the handles back to pull the elbows alongside the torso and behind the back. Squeeze the shoulders together to ensure you are engaging the muscles of the back. Extend the elbows to a nearly straight position to complete one repetition. When using a resistance band, hook it around a sturdy apparatus low to the floor and sit down, legs extended, holding a handle in each hand. Perform a row as you would with the machine – drawing the elbows behind the back and squeezing the shoulder blades together.
When doing a seated row with a machine or resistance band, the latissimus dorsi that lies along the backs of the ribs and the rhomboids of the upper back are the primary muscles used. While using a resistance band, the biceps are also very active during the row. A resistance band enables you to change position of the row to make the posterior deltoids at the back of the shoulders a primary mover. For this high-back row, keep your palms facing the floor and the upper arms and forearms parallel to the floor as you pull the handles back, allowing the elbows to flare out as they come behind your back instead of keeping the upper arms and elbows close to your torso. The high-back row deemphasizes the latissimus dorsi.
Many muscles assist during all versions of the row, including the upper back -- the trapezius -- and the rotator cuff at the shoulder. The subscapular muscles that are below the shoulder at the upper back called the teres major and teres minor also help the back during a row. Your forearm muscles and the upper portion of the pectoralis major, the large fan-like muscle of the chest, help with the pulling action, too. In versions of the row in which your elbows pull in close to your ribs, the posterior deltoids act as an assister.
When you use a lever machine, the abdominal muscles are less active because the machine supports you. To make the rectus abdominis and the obliques act as stabilizers during the row, use a cable machine or resistance band. Keep your shoulders pulled together and down your back throughout the exercise. Do not lean forward as you row, rather keep your shoulders balanced over your hips with your knees slightly bent.
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.