Seal rows, the best of pull exercises for a solid back?

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 pull exercise for your back. A great exercise. If you have a few minutes to spare to read this article, I am sure you won’t regret it.

This exercise is not very popular because commercial gyms don’t bother investing in equipment which is not very well known! It is a shame, because seal rows are great and arguably one of the best exercises for your back! Don’t worry, if your gym does not have it, I will suggest a few alternative ways to perform it. 

To complete a seal row, lie face-down on a bench with a barbell under the bench. Then perform a normal row movement, similar to bent over rows but this time you are laying down.

seal row is a great exercise for your back

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 back to be cracked from top to bottom. We are here to destroy and grow that back through hard but rewarding work!

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. This is the holy grail of back exercises for injured people. This is one of the few exercise which you will be able to perform if you have injured your lower back or legs, for example.

prevent injuries with seal rows

If you were told deadlifts are an indispensable exercise to do for your back, it’s not true. 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. Bent over rows have done us all… and it is easy to cheat with bad form, too. In the long run, they will lead to an injury if you can’t maintain proper form.

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.

Great range of motion

The range of motion 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. Your neck is not in the most comfortable position either and there is a lot of tension. Here you don’t have to worry about that and you can use the full range of motion to absolutely hammer your lats with perfect focus.

targeting your lats with seal rows

Different angles

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 go lower, you will target your lats. Grip width is also very interesting. The wider you have your hands, the more tension you will put on your external lats. If you go narrower, there will be more tension on the internal section of your lats. Seal rows are a great alternative to many back pull exercises.

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, this is normal. 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 don’t have much strength in them. In this situation, you simply have to get bigger as a whole and trust the process.

Do your back exercises the right way and be patient.

Here is the thing, even if you do not have big, strong lats as a beginner, seal rows are really safe and do not allow you to cheat. They’re a great isolation exercise which might help you to target them.

So if you are in this situation… try them out!

When to use seal rows?

Whenever! 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).

Instead of trying to do too many exercises, just focus on that one great exercise and do more sets. Get some heavy lifting at the start and do more hypertrophy sets at the end. If you can’t do seal rows because your gym does not have a bench, here is what you can do!

Seal row variations

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:

seal row with boxes

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:

seal row with plates

How to do seal rows?

Like all back exercises, you must retract your shoulder blades and puff out your chest.

retracting shoulder blades and chest out on rows for back

Your elbows must be kept in close if you really want to target your lats. If you want to target more your upper back, you will then have to have your elbows going out a bit more. Your grip width also matters. If you take a wider grip you will be in a better position to target your upper back whilst with a narrow grip, you will target your lats better.

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 deadlifts.

Deadlift: 5×5

Seal rows: 6×10-15

Upright rows: 4×10-15

If you have lower back pain, here is what you can do:

Pull-ups: 4×6-8

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 upright rows while laying down to prevent from lower back pain.

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