Seal rows, the king of pull exercises for back?
This article will take you 6 minutes to read. Feel free to leave your questions in the comment section, they will be answered!
What are seal rows?
Seal rows are a popular, great pull exercise for your back.
I’m going to spend this article taking you through why I love the seal row – and you should too. If you have a few minutes to spare to read this article, I am sure you won’t regret it.
Are you familiar with the seal row? It’s not surprising if not.
The seal row is a rowing movement where you use a barbell or pair of dumbbells in a lying, chest-supported position. It’s a movement that allows you to really isolate the rowing movement while using a barbell or two, single-hand implements like Dumbbells and kettlebells.
This exercise is not very popular because commercial gyms don’t bother investing in equipment for it. The seal row has a unique setup position and it’s expensive to buy single-use equipment.
It is a shame, because seal rows are great: arguably one of the best exercises for your back! Fortunately, you don’t need this specific seal row bench to get them done – you just need to get a bit creative.
I’ll take you through what a seal row is and how you can perform them with different types of equipment.
It’s just like when you go to the physiotherapist and lay down on your stomach…except here, you are not just chilling and waiting for your massage. You’re just in a position where your pulling muscles are the only thing that can – or should – move.
Why are seal rows awesome?
Low risk of injury
Seal rows are an awesome pull exercise because they offer a way to build a strong back with thick lats with a significantly reduced risk of injury.
You’re not holding the weight on your lower back, like you might in a bent-over row. This helps take stress off of the back and makes the seal row possible for people with all types of injuries or lower-body disability.
This is the holy grail of back exercises for injured people. This is one of the few exercises which you will be able to perform if you have injured your lower back or legs, for example.
If you were told deadlifts are an indispensable exercise to do for your back, it’s not true. They’re great, but not essential.
You can grow your back with other exercises, such as seal rows! Seal rows put you in a position where it is highly unlikely you will hurt your back. Your neck also stays in a neutral position which is more comfortable – as long as you’re not compromising your posture during the lift.
I know too many people who have caught injuries during bent-over rows, either because of the stress on the lower back or because they were grinding out a rep and pulled a muscle in their neck.
In the long run, they will lead to an injury if you can’t maintain proper form – but seal rows make bad form harder. With seal rows, there simply aren’t many ways to cheat!
You are fixed in the correct position like when you sit down for lateral raises. There is not much you can do to cheat and if you do so, it is not going to be that dangerous. What might happen is just your legs will lift as you go for your last reps, which we want to avoid but shouldn’t cause injury.
Great range of motion
The range of motion in a seal row is amazing.
With bent over rows, you are more limited. As you go lower, you always have to focus on your abs and stabilise using you core, and the angle of the weight is more forwards relative to your back. It involves more bicep, and is easier to cheat.
Barbell rows also put your neck is not in an uncomfortable position when looking forwards and there is a lot of tension. You don’t have to worry about that with the seal row – you can use the full range of motion to absolutely hammer your lats with perfect focus.
The lying position ensures you’re working the appropriate grip and all horizontal pulling, rather than the half-and-half angle of a usual bent-over row. This means width in the lats, especially.
You can also target most parts of your back. If you decide to do rows with the bar higher, in line with where your chest is, you will put the focus on your rear shoulders and traps. If you use a narrower grip, it will also help with scapular retraction and building thickness.
If you go lower and wider you will target your lats. The wider you have your hands, the more tension you will put on your lats. Seal rows are a great alternative to many back pull exercises because they’re so simple and they’re versatile enough to hit any muscle.
Seals rows could be a good lat pull down alternative, for example, if you are getting tired of always doing the same back exercises.
Seal rows are awesome for beginners
If you struggle as a beginner to engage your lats. That is totally normal. The process of feeling your muscle and muscle connection takes practice.
You can only really feel your lats working once they are growing and developing. When you can’t feel them at the first, it is simply because you probably haven’t even built a base yet In this situation, just get bigger and stronger overall and stay patient.
However, seal rows are great for speeding up this process. They really force you to focus on proper upper back engagement since you can’t cheat them. They’re a great training tool to help yourself feel the lats so that you can make great gains with them and start to expand that feeling and awareness into your other exercises.
So if you are looking for width, but can’t seem to activate your lats, try them out!
When to use seal rows?
Whenever! You know what will really help you to improve?
You know what will really help you to improve? Make seal rows one of your specialised exercises!
10 sets, BOOM!
5×5 and then 5×8-12 (for example, if you are intermediate to advanced). This can really help blow up your upper back development with a mixture of weight and reps, perfect for building a huge back naturally.
Instead of trying to do too many exercises, just focus on a few great exercises and do more sets. Get some heavy lifting at the start and do more hypertrophy sets at the end – a good way to build strength and muscle.
Seal row variations
If you can’t do seal rows because your gym does not have a bench, here is what you can do.If there is no seal row bench, you can find this type of bench in your gym which hasn’t got that thick support under it and elevate it with boxes, as shown below:
That can be done with a barbell or dumbbells as shown in the picture. The idea is just to give yourself some clearance so that you can lower the bar to arms’ length, with enough space to let your shoulders slide forwards.That can be done with a barbell or dumbbells as shown in the picture.
If you don’t have these boxes you can also find plates in your gym and add as many as required to raise the bench to the correct height:If you don’t have these boxes you can also find plates in your gym and add as many as required to raise the bench to the correct height:
Seal rows can be a bit difficult to set up for but they’re a great option. Obviously, you don’t want to be that guy in the gym, but you can get a lot of return if you’re willing to get creative.
How to do seal rows?
Like all back exercises, you must retract your shoulder blades and puff out your chest.
Like all back exercises, you must retract your shoulder blades and puff out your chest. Your core and torso position should stay the same throughout – all the focus is on the arms and upper back, squeezing the shoulder blades back and down, together. Your elbows must be kept in close if you really want to target your internal back muscles. If you want to target more your lats, you will then have to have your elbows going out a bit more.
Example of an efficient back workout with seal rows included:
If you like to mix strength and volume following the principles explained in “How many reps to build muscle” or the “Powerbuilding guide”, you can start your back session with a compound movement like deadlift:
Seal rows: 6×10-15
Upright rows: 4×10-15
If you have lower back pain, here is what you can do:
Seal rows: 6×10-15
Lying cable upright rows: 4×10-15
Pull-ups should not hurt your lower back and they are a great exercise. You could take a wide pronated grip to work on your external lats.
You could then follow this with seal rows with a closer grip to work more on your mid-back and thickness, for example.
Then, finish with some traps by doing cables upright rows while laying down to prevent from lower back pain.
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