Lat Pulldowns vs Seated Cable Rows: Which Builds Back Muscle Better?

Lat pulldowns and seated cable rows?

Both are stellar exercises that leverage cable machines for top-notch back and bicep workouts, but they’re far from identical.

Each exercise adds its flavor to your training, influencing strength and muscle development in unique ways.

So, aiming for wide shoulders with lat pulldowns or a stronger core with cable rows?

Either way, folding them into your workout plan is a brilliant move for well-rounded back development.


Feature Lat Pulldowns Seated Rows
Primary Latissimus Dorsi Mid &

Lower Trapezius

Secondary Biceps, Posterior Deltoids Biceps, Forearms
Equipment Cable Cable
Level Beginner-Interm. Beginner-Interm.



Table of Contents

Lat Pulldown: Definition, Execution, and Muscles Involved

Let’s talk about the Lat Pulldown, a gym staple that’s your ticket to building a wide, strong back and achieving that coveted V-shape.

Beyond being an alternative to the classic pull-up, this exercise serves as a comprehensive way to target your back’s major muscles with both precision and effectiveness.

Why the Lat Pulldown Rocks

The beauty of the Lat Pulldown lies in its simplicity and effectiveness.

By using a cable machine, you’re in for a smooth, controlled workout that lets you focus on form and muscle engagement.

Whether you’re lifting light or going heavy, this exercise has your back—literally.

Plus, it’s customizable.

Adjust the seat, the pulley, and the weight to make the Lat Pulldown perfectly match your fitness level and goals.

How to Nail It

Sit down, get comfy, and grab that bar with a firm, wide grip.

Now, with your arms stretched out and a relaxed posture, pull the bar towards your chest smoothly, like a pro.

Engage those lats by squeezing your shoulder blades together as if you’re trying to hold a pencil between them.

Remember, keeping your back straight is non-negotiable if you want to avoid injury and target those muscles.

Muscles on the Move:

The star of the show is your latissimus dorsi, the broadest muscle of the back, which is doing the heavy lifting here.

But remember, the trapezius and posterior deltoids help out a lot too.

These guys help stabilize everything, ensuring your shoulders are in good company.

And a shoutout to the biceps brachii, flexing their way through the exercise and making sure you get a comprehensive upper-body workout.


Behind-the-Neck vs. Front: The Lat Pull-Down Study Verdict

Diving into the nitty-gritty of lat pull-downs, a cool piece in the “Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research” threw down some serious knowledge on how to level up this classic move.

They checked out three styles: behind-the-neck, front-of-the-neck, and V-bar, putting 24 gym-savvy dudes through their paces to see which method fires up those back muscles.

Spoiler alert: pulling down in front of your neck is where it’s at for max muscle engagement.

Behind-the-neck? Not so much – might be time to ditch that one.

And if you’re feeling adventurous, the V-bar variation is a solid bet too. (Pubmed/19855327)

Jumping into another study, this time focusing on grip games during lat pull-downs, turns out where you place those hands makes a big difference.

Ten guys tested out close, supinated, wide grip in the front, and wide grip behind, with some techy gear measuring muscle mojo in the back and arms.

The trick to getting those lats to exert extra effort? A wide grip with your palms facing away was the golden ticket for making those lats work overtime.

So next time you’re eyeing the lat pull-down machine, remember it’s all about that front-of-the-neck action and getting your grip just right to light up those back muscles (Pubmed/12423182)



Seated Cable Rows: Definition, Execution, and Muscles Involved


The Seated Cable Row is the go-to for a stronger, well-defined back, making everything from workouts to daily tasks feel easier.

Let’s get into the how-to’s and the muscle mojo of this killer exercise.

How to Row Like a Pro

First, make yourself comfy on the bench. This is your zone, your moment.

Grab that cable attachment — be it a straight bar or that cool triangular handle — with confidence, arms outstretched.

Now, with a motion as smooth as pouring your favorite drink, pull that bar toward your chest.

The trick?

Squeeze those shoulder blades like you’re trying to make them kiss.

Keep your back as straight as an arrow — no cheating!

Muscle Activation Breakdown

While the Lat Pulldown sets the scene, Seated Cable Rows take the spotlight for specific muscle groups.

Your lats are part of the action, but now it’s prime time for the rhomboids, rear deltoids, and trapezius to step up.

Picture them taking the lead as you row. And don’t overlook the crucial roles played by your biceps and brachioradialis.

They may not be the main focus of this exercise, but they play an important role, adding depth to the total upper body workout.

A Workout Staple

The Seated Cable Row stands out as a cornerstone in your routine, essential for building a strong, well-defined back

It brings together a mix of major muscle groups, allowing you to sculpt a back that not only looks good but is stacked with strength.

The beauty of it?

You get to control the intensity, making it perfect for anyone from beginners to gym veterans.


Benefits of Lat Pulldowns and Seated Cable Rows

Chisel Your Back to Perfection

Aiming for a back that’s both wide and mighty?

Enter Lat Pulldowns and Seated Cable Rows.

These exercises hone in on the latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, and trapezius, sculpting your back into a powerhouse.

But it’s more than just aesthetics; you’re building a bedrock of strength.

Beyond the Back

The benefits don’t stop with your back.

Arms and core, you’re up! Engaging biceps, forearms, and abs, these exercises turn every session into a comprehensive strength fiesta.

It’s a multitasking muscle miracle.

Take Charge with Control

The beauty of cable machines?

They put you in the driver’s seat.

Dial in the weight that suits your vibe for the day, ensuring a focused, form-perfect workout every time.

Keep Things Fresh

Break free from workout routine boredom.

Changing your grip and pulling angle surprises your muscles, keeping them active and growing.

This strategy ensures comprehensive back development and maintains an engaging routine.

Level Up Your Strength

These workouts are more than just a path to a visually impressive back; they’re about elevating your overall upper body strength.

From enhancing performance in other exercises to making daily tasks a breeze, you’re setting the stage for a stronger, more resilient you.


Cable Rows: How Your Choice of Attachment Impacts Your Workout

Every type of attachment in cable rows, from the V-grip to the rope, brings its flavor to the table, targeting your muscles in unique ways.

Here’s a rundown on how to mix and match these attachments to keep your back workouts fresh and effective.

1. V-Grip Attachment: The Jack of All Trades

The V-grip is your gym buddy who’s always reliable.

It’s fantastic for seated cable rows because it promotes a neutral grip, which is kinder on your wrists and elbows.

This attachment helps you focus on squeezing those shoulder blades together, making it a solid choice for overall back development.

Rowing with the V-Grip:

  • Sit squarely on the bench, feet braced.
  • Grab the V-grip with both hands, keeping a neutral wrist position.
  • Pull towards your abdomen, focusing on moving your elbows straight back.
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together at the end of the movement, then slowly return to the start.

2. Rope Attachment: For That Extra Stretch

Want a bit more reach in your rows?

The rope attachment is your go-to.

It lets you pull your hands past your torso, offering a greater range of motion and a deeper stretch in your lats.

This attachment adds a bit of flair to your back workouts and can help target those hard-to-reach muscles.

Rowing with the Rope:

  • Attach the rope and grip it with both hands, thumbs pointing towards each other.
  • Pull towards your waist, separating your hands as you complete the movement to maximize the stretch.
  • Control the motion back to the starting position, feeling the lats extend.

3. Straight Bar Attachment: Narrow Grip, Big Gains

The straight bar forces a narrower grip, which can shift the focus slightly towards the inner back muscles like the rhomboids.

It’s a change-up pitch for your muscles, providing variety and stimulating muscle growth from different angles.

Rowing with the Straight Bar:

  • Hold the bar with hands about shoulder-width apart.
  • Pull towards your lower rib cage, keeping your elbows close to your body.
  • Focus on the contraction in your back before returning to start.

4. Lat Pulldown Bar: Wide Grip Wonders

Though typically associated with pulldowns, using the lat bar for rows allows you to play with grip width.

A wider grip targets the outer lats more, giving your back that sought-after V shape.

Rowing with the Lat Pulldown Bar:

  • Grip the bar wider than shoulder-width.
  • Pull towards your chest, keeping your back straight and chest up.
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades at the end of the movement.

5. Stirrup Attachment: Single-Arm Mastery

The stirrup (or single handle) lets you row one arm at a time, ensuring both sides of your body work equally hard.

It’s ideal for correcting imbalances and focusing on unilateral strength.

Rowing with the Stirrup:

  • Attach a single handle.
  • Row with one hand, pulling towards your side, keeping your torso aligned.
  • Ensure each side does the same number of reps for balance.


 Leaning forward during seated rows can impact the quality of your workout and help you achieve better results with less weight.


4 Differences Between Lat Pulldowns and Seated Cable Rows

Let’s break down the gym showdown between Lat Pulldowns and Seated Cable Rows.

They’re both about pulling weight and building strength, but the way they do it?

Different vibes.

Here’s the lowdown on how these exercises stack up against each other.

1. It’s All About the Direction

Imagine pulling down the stars versus reeling in a big catch.

Lat Pulldowns have you reaching up and pulling down vertically like you’re showing the sky who’s boss.

Seated Cable Rows?

It’s more of a face-off, pulling weight towards you on the horizontal. Different approaches for different goals, but both make you stronger.

2. Muscles targeted

Both workouts are gunning for your back, but they’ve got different targets in sight.

Lat Pulldowns zero in on those wings—your latissimus dorsi—and give your arms a good workout too.

Seated Cable Rows, though?

They’re like the Robin Hood of back exercises, hitting the broader back landscape, including those sneaky rhomboids and the mighty trapezius.

3. Core and More

Seated Cable Rows don’t just stop at the back; they bring your core and spine into the mix.

Think of it as a full-body chat, making sure your middle is as engaged as your upper half.

It’s like getting a two-for-one deal on muscle work.

4. Keep It Simple or Step It Up

Lat Pulldowns are the chill friend who keeps things simple—just pull down and feel strong.

But Seated Cable Rows?

They’re the friend who pushes you to do more, engage more joints, and think about your posture.

Both are great, depending on what you’re up for that day.


RELATED:>>> Barbell Rows VS Dumbbell Rows



An Experimental Study: Muscle Activation in Lat Pulldown and Seated Cable Rows Exercises

This study dives into the fascinating world of muscle activation, specifically focusing on the latissimus dorsi, biceps brachii, and the middle trapezius/rhomboids.

The goal?

To unravel how these muscles fire up during four different but common back and arm exercises: wide grip pulldown, reverse grip pulldown, seated row with retracted scapula, and seated row with a non-retracted scapula

RESULTS: Variations in exercise techniques have been found to produce small changes in the myoelectric activity of the primary muscles, with the wide-grip pulldown and seated row showing the highest activation ratio of latissimus dorsi to biceps.

Additionally, the researchers found that the highest levels of myoelectric activity in the middle trapezius/rhomboid muscle group occurred during seated row exercise.

However, actively retracting the scapula did not have any significant impact on the activity of the middle trapezius/rhomboid. >> (Variations in muscle activation in traditional lat exercises) <<



Impact on Latissimus Dorsi Muscles

When it comes to giving your back that “can’t miss it” V-shape,

Lat Pulldowns and Seated Cable Rows are your secret weapons.

Both exercises are champions at engaging the latissimus dorsi—that massive muscle spanning your mid to lower back, crucial for that winged look.

But how do they work this muscle?

That’s where things get interesting.

Lat Pulldowns: Center Stage for Your Lats

Think of Lat Pulldowns as the spotlight performance for your lats.

Pulling the bar down in front of you, you’re engaging the latissimus dorsi in a way that’s all about bringing those elbows down and back, squeezing every bit of effort from the muscle.

It’s a straightforward move with your lats stealing the show.

Seated Cable Rows: A Team Effort

Now, enter Seated Cable Rows, where the lats still play a leading role, but it’s more of an ensemble cast.

Pulling the weight towards you, your lats work together with the muscles in your back and shoulders, making it a collaborative effort.

It’s like your back’s own teamwork exercise.

What’s cool is that you can tweak both exercises to hit the lats differently.

Playing around with grip width or how much you lean back can turn the volume up or down on lat engagement.


The Role of Rhomboids & Spinal Muscles in Lat Pulldowns and Seated Cable Rows

Seated Cable Rows: The Core’s Spotlight

Dive into a session of Seated Cable Rows, and you’re not just pulling weight; you’re engaging in a full-blown conversation with the core muscles of your back.

The rhomboids and spinal muscles?

They’re front and center, thanks to the scapular retraction that’s part and parcel of this horizontal pull.

Don’t overlook the posture check—keeping a solid form ensures our engagement stays focused, avoiding any detours with the trunk and hips.

Lat Pulldowns: The Upper Back’s Big Moment

Moving on to Lat Pulldowns, this exercise shifts the focus to a vertical pulling motion, shining a light on the upper back, especially the latissimus dorsi.

In this scenario, while the rhomboids and spinal muscles contribute, they do so from the sidelines, not capturing as much of the limelight as they enjoy in rowing movements.

Trapezius Time

In the world of Lat Pulldowns, it’s all about the upper and middle traps stepping up during that scapular depression phase.

Think of it as them doing the heavy lifting to get that bar down.

Flip about the script to Seated Cable Rows, and now the middle and lower traps are the stars of the show, working hard during scapular retraction.

Deltoids and Rotator Cuff Muscles: The Behind-the-Scenes Crew

Seated Cable Rows have your rear delts working overtime, more so than in Lat Pulldowns.

These muscles help pull the weight towards your body, making them key players in the rowing game.

Meanwhile, your rotator cuff muscles are always on call, their involvement tweaking with each exercise based on your arm’s position and the exercise type.

But when it comes to Seated Cable Rows, they’re more directly in on the action, especially during that crucial pull phase.

Biceps: The Flex Force

Whether you’re pulling down or rowing back, your biceps are there, playing their part in the ensemble of muscles that make these moves happen.

In Lat Pulldowns, they’re the opening act, getting the movement started with that initial lift. Shift to Seated Cable Rows, and they’re in it for the long haul, heavily involved in the pull-through.

And don’t forget, the grip you choose can switch up how much your biceps are flexing in each exercise.

Generally, those vertical pulls in Lat Pulldowns are going to light up your biceps a bit more than the horizontal heave-hos of Seated Cable Rows




The Lat Pulldown primarily engages the latissimus dorsi, while the Seated Cable Row, along with the lats, primarily engages the core muscles of the back, such as the rhomboids and spinal muscles.

The trapezius is more involved in Seated Cable Rows than in Lat Pulldowns, as the movement requires greater scapular retraction.

In both exercises, the rotator cuff muscles are involved, but to a different extent depending on the phase of the movement.

The biceps play a supporting role in both exercises but are more directly involved in Seated Cable Rows during the pulling movement.



Common Mistakes in Lat Pulldowns and Seated Cable Rows

Diving into Lat Pulldowns and Seated Cable Rows, it’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and accidentally let form slip through the cracks.

But, hey, we’re all about keeping it real and safe, so let’s chat about the oopsies that can happen and how to steer clear of them.

First up, posture.

It’s like the golden rule of working out, yet it’s easy to forget when you’re in the zone.

Leaning too much into it like you’re sharing a secret with the machine or kicking back as if it owes you money?

Both are no-gos.

They put your spine in the hot seat and dial down the back muscle activation you’re here for.

Then there’s the temptation to pile on the weights, aiming for glory.

But here’s the thing: if your form’s all over the place because that weight’s too heavy, you’re not doing your muscles any favors.

You’re inviting the wrong muscles to join in and setting yourself up for possible injuries.

Got your arms and shoulders doing the heavy lifting?

It’s time for a little chat.

This workout is a love letter to your back, so let’s not make it a third wheel.

Focusing on pulling with your back muscles keeps the effectiveness up and the risk of injury down.

And elbows, oh, those elbows.

They should be moving but think smooth and controlled, not like they’re trying to flag down a cab.

Excessive flailing can stress out your muscles and joints, which is the opposite of what we’re going for.

How to avoid these common workout faux pas?

Nail that core and spine posture like you’re the star of a posture tutorial. Pick a weight that lets you stay true to your form—this isn’t the time for ego-lifting.

Breathe like you’ve got all the oxygen in the world, and keep your workout balanced.

Think of your training program as a Spotify playlist: you want a good mix of everything.

And finally, remember the mechanics of the move—pulling vertically or horizontally should feel as natural as swiping right on your favorite workout app.


Which exercise to choose to develop the back: Lat Pulldowns or Seated Cable Rows?

For those aiming to strengthen their back, the choice often comes down to Lat Pulldowns versus Seated Cable Rows.

Both pack a punch for crafting that dream back, but they bring their unique flair to the fight.

Lat Pulldowns serve as the multitool for back strengthening—adaptable, easy to use, and suitable for gym enthusiasts at any level.

They zoom in on your lats and biceps, offering a range of variations to keep things spicy.

Think of it as the go-to for those not quite ready to face the pull-up bar or looking for a solid alternative.

Simple, straightforward, and with a little less need for that dancer-like coordination, Lat Pulldowns are your reliable back-day buddy.

Then, striding in with a bit more swagger, are Seated Cable Rows.

This exercise asks a bit more from you, like core stability and a knack for coordination, as it works not just the lats but calls in the trapezius and rhomboids for a more comprehensive back bonanza.

So, Which to Choose?

If you’re all about laying down a solid foundation with a focus on simplicity and targeting those key lat muscles, Lat Pulldowns will not steer you wrong.

They’re your steady, go-to move for building up back strength and mass, especially if you’re just starting or looking to mix things up without too much complexity.

But, if you’re game for a challenge and ready to engage your back muscles along with your core, dive into the world of Seated Cable Rows.

It’s a bit like leveling up in your workout game, offering a richer, more nuanced way to build that back and enhance overall upper body strength.

In the end, why not both?

Mixing Lat Pulldowns and Seated Cable Rows into your routine gives your back the best of both worlds—straightforward strength work with Lat Pulldowns and the added depth and challenge of Seated Cable Rows.


How to include LAT pulldowns & Seated Cable Rows in a back training program

If you’re itching to give your back the royal treatment, weaving Lat Pulldowns and Seated Cable Rows into your workout tapestry is a genius move.

Here’s a two-day plan that’s sure to add layers of strength and definition to your back.

Day 1:

  • Lat Pulldowns: Kick things off with 3 sets of 8-12 reps. Think of it as the warm-up band for the main event, setting the stage with a moderate weight.
  • Seated Cable Rows: Follow up with another 3 sets of 8-12 reps. By now, you’re in the groove, and your back’s starting to sing.
  • T-Bar Rows: Time to amp up the volume with 3 sets of 8-12 reps, pushing from moderate to heavy weights. Feel the burn; it’s your back getting stronger.
  • Reverse Flyes: Lighten the load but not the effort with 3 sets of 10-15 reps. It’s all about finesse, and sculpting those intricate details in your muscles.
  • Pull-Ups: End Day 1 with a grand finale—3 sets to failure. If pull-ups feel like reaching for the stars, get a spotter to help you grasp them.

Day 2:

  • Seated Cable Rows & Lat Pulldowns: Start with these two classics again, 3 sets of 8-12 reps each, but switch up the order for a fresh vibe.
  • One-Arm Dumbbell Rows: Dive into 3 sets of 8-12 reps with a weight that challenges you. It’s like a solo that spotlights each side of your back.
  • Bent-Over Barbell Rows: Keep the energy high with 3 sets of 8-12 reps. This is where moderate to heavy weight meets raw back power.
  • Deadlifts: Close Day 2 with the grand finale—3 sets of 8-12 reps of deadlifts. It’s the full-body encore that leaves your back screaming for more.


Seated Cable Rows: Do They Mimic the Motion of Rowing?

Here, it’s all about pulling that weight towards you, working those back and bicep muscles hard, just like when you’re out there rowing against the current.

But, let’s not forget, actual rowing throws your legs into the mix too, making it a full-body affair.

While Seated Cable Rows focus on strengthening your upper body, they’re excellent for those aiming to enhance their rowing performance.

Additionally, they serve well for boosting strength in sports where upper body power plays a crucial role.

It’s like giving your rowing or athletic performance a secret weapon, one pull at a time.


Which Exercise is Easier for Beginners?

For beginners seeking a straightforward entry into back exercises, Lat Pulldowns are ideal.

Think of them as the friendly neighborhood exercise—straightforward, easy to get the hang of, and perfect for building that initial strength and confidence.

Since they focus more on a vertical pull, there’s less of a dance between different movements, making it ideal for beginners to focus on form without getting overwhelmed.

On the flip side, Seated Cable Rows ask a bit more from you right from the start.

They’re like the next level in a video game, where you need to coordinate your shoulders and scapula while engaging your core, adding a bit more spice to the workout.

It’s the exercise you turn to when you’re ready to challenge your body a bit more and bring some core stability into the mix.

Regardless of where you start, the golden rule is to keep it light at first.

It’s all about learning the ropes (or cables, in this case), focusing on nailing that form, and gradually building up your strength without putting undue stress on your muscles or posture.



Both Lat Pulldown and Seated Cable Row engage the latissimus dorsi muscles, albeit with distinct activation patterns.

Lat Pulldown mainly works the latissimus dorsi muscle but also involves the middle trapezius and rhomboid muscles.

The close-grip variant of this exercise places more emphasis on the biceps and central muscles of the back, while the wide-grip variation predominantly targets the latissimus dorsi

The Seated Cable Row involves the latissimus dorsi to a lesser extent than the Lat Pulldown.

However, the narrow grip emphasizes the biceps and central muscles of the back, while the wide grip engages the latissimus dorsi more.

Choosing between the two will largely depend on your goals and physical condition.

Despite this, neither should be left out of a well-rounded back workout routine.



What exercise should I do first?

Some coaches suggest starting with Lat Pulldowns as it is a relatively simple exercise to perform and can help prepare the muscles of the back for more intense exercises like Seated Cable Rows. In any case, it is important to vary the order of exercises to avoid overloading the same muscles and ensure complete and balanced training.

Can I do Deadlifts together with Lat Pulldowns and Seated Cable Rows?

Yes, you can do Deadlifts together with Lat Pulldowns and Seated Cable Rows, as long as your workout program is well-structured to avoid overloading the muscles of the back.

How many times a week should I train my back?

The frequency with which you should train your back depends on your training needs and level of experience. Generally, it is recommended to train the back at least two times a week, giving sufficient time for the muscles to recover between training sessions.

Are lat pulldowns the best alternative for people with back pain?

For those who have back pain, it is important to consult a doctor or physiotherapist before starting any training program. Exercises like Lat Pulldowns are undoubtedly great exercises for strengthening the muscles of the back and reducing the risk of injuries. However, they must be done correctly and with an adequate load.

Can I do Pull-ups, Lat Pull-downs, and Bent-over Rows on the same day?

The most challenging and complex exercises, such as Pull-ups and Bent-over Rows, are usually placed at the beginning of the workout when strength and energy are at their highest, while less demanding exercises, such as Lat Pulldowns, may be placed later in the workout. However, the order of exercises may vary depending on the training program.


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