A workout session is no fun when you’re not getting your desired results. It’s also disappointing if you keep putting in a lot of effort but notice little to no changes.
In such a situation, you could search for other great exercise options.
It’s also possible you’ve decided to change your exercise routine for different reasons, such as injuries from previous workout sessions, unusual difficulty in execution, expensive acquisition and maintenance of exercise equipment, or just plain old boredom.
Believe it or not, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to switch things up a little, even with your fitness training.
If you’re a fan of high-row machine exercises, but for some reason, you’re looking to explore some alternative options, then buckle up and sit tight. We’ve compiled a list of great machine high-row alternatives.
The whole point of exercising is to build your body’s capacity to handle day-to-day challenges. So depending on your line of work or your personal fitness goals, you can choose specific exercises to include in your routine besides regular aerobics.
About 40% of people who visit the gym do so to build an exceptional back. Back pain affects many people, and bad posture can lead to muscular imbalances and weakness, leading to back pain.
Your back has about 40 muscles; some require different techniques or approaches to build them. Typically, these back muscles are paired. They perform various functions and move on to other plains.
There are various equipment and techniques for building back muscles. Knowing and correctly doing the proper exercise is essential for achieving your desired results.
Something as small as widening your hand grip or switching it slightly during weightlifting can completely alter the muscle you are targeting.
Machine row exercises are a great way to work on your posture. They strengthen your upper back muscles without causing unnecessary strain to your lower back muscles. They also improve your arm muscles and increase your arms, shoulders, and back mobility.
You will need high machine rows to build your back muscles effectively, tone your abs, improve mobility in the upper body parts, build upper body strength, and improve your posture.
Unfortunately, some commercial gyms do not have machine high-row equipment, so you need alternatives.
We compiled our list of alternative high-row exercises to ensure you remain on track with your fitness goals, so keep up with us regardless of your situation.
Analyzing How Machine High Rows Work
Machine high rows are among the most famous gym equipment in any gym or fitness center. Built using a lever system, they have suspended high lever arms with an overhead reach.
These plate-loaded arms should gradually pull in and out or up and down.
Whatever the case, you must pull these arms toward your body, and you will face a lot of resistance. The muscles in your arms and back contract as you pull the machine handles towards you. Consistently performing this exercise leads to more robust muscles.
Many bodybuilders and professional wrestlers use high-row machines because they are a quick way to acquire those strong arm muscles and intimidating figures people hope to see in those fields.
Reverse Pec Deck
A pec deck is a fitness machine built to strengthen the chest muscles. It isolates the pectoral muscles that link the chest with your shoulder and upper arm bones.
The reverse pec deck is just as good, focusing on the back and shoulder muscles. A bent-over row is a good option if you have no access to a pec deck machine and want to make your upper back muscles more substantial.
To do this without a machine, you need a barbell or dumbbell.
Qualities Of A Good Machine High Row Alternative Exercise
Good alternatives for the high machine row exercise should target the same muscles as those targeted by the machine high row. These alternatives should also closely replicate the same motor pattern of the machine high row.
Now that you know what to look for when selecting a substitute for a high-row machine let’s see the possible options.
Machine High Row Alternative Exercises
If you do not have access to a machine high row, there are specific alternatives you can consider.
These alternatives will give you results similar to regular machine high-row exercises.
To select a suitable option, you first need to consider some factors.
Rather, what equipment do you have access to? Next, how tasking is this alternative and is there any risk of injuries, among other factors?
Whatever technique you decide to practice and the intensity with which you practice it is crucial in the rapid growth of your back muscles, irrespective of the alternative you employ.
8 Exercises You Can Do Instead Of The Upright Row
1. Seated cable row
The seated cable row exercise is an excellent substitute for the machine high row. One good reason for this is the cable machine.
The cable row machine provides you with a more fantastic range of movement, allowing you to choose the angle that best offers the best contraction for your back. This machine helps you build and train all the muscles of the back.
Another good part of the cable row is the variety of handles they have that you can switch between exercises. The handles allow you to place your hands in the position (either using an overhand grip or an underhand grip) that is most comfortable for you.
One major disadvantage of the seated cable row is the seating condition. Many people perform the cable row sitting on the floor, which is a disadvantage compared to the machine high row.
The machine’s high row has leg support that keeps you anchored to the seat and so you pull a good amount of the weight.
The cable rows on the other side have you anchored to the ground with your body weight alone. Therefore, you won’t pull much weight when raised off the ground.
How to do the seated cable row:
- Seat on the floor directly in front of the cable machine.
- Fix your hand on the cable and position yourself properly. Ensure that the pull line between you and the thread is about 45 degrees, not straight.
- Bend your elbows and pull the handle towards your lower abdomen, keeping your elbows pointed back behind you.
- Hold the cable and squeeze your back muscles in this position for a couple of seconds.
- Return the weight to the start position slowly but ensure that you do not straighten your arms.
- Keep your arms bent and repeat the movement immediately to keep the tension constant on the latissimus muscle.
2. Cable Face Pulls
The cable face pull is a great workout that targets the deltoids, rhomboids, and biceps. This exercise is an excellent alternative to the machine high row exercise, although some specificity may be lost since a barbell is not employed.
With face pulls, the aim is to improve mobility and strengthen your shoulder blades. It’s an excellent way to maintain muscle balance, especially if you’ve been doing many chest exercises.
Failure to do the face pulls correctly could be risky and result in injury. Be sure to follow the steps provided for an effective and safe result.
How to do the cable face pull:
- Get a cable machine and clip the rope to the carabiner.
- Hold the rope with a neutral grip, with your palms facing each other.
- Ensure that your chest is up and your shoulders are down.
- Then, pull the ropes towards your ears.
- When you get to the top, squeeze your shoulder blades together hard.
- You can then return the cable to the start point under your control.
3. Barbell High Pull
Another excellent alternative for the machine high row is the barbell high pull. The techniques are similar, using the same muscle group as the machine high row. However, one main difference is the help the lower body provides.
Usually, the legs have no support in driving the barbell upwards in the upright row. The exercise is performed in the barbell high pull by intentionally incorporating the hip drive from the legs. This movement helps propel the barbell upwards, ensuring that the upright row muscles finish the task.
How to do the barbell high pull:
- Hold the barbell and the bar with your regular upright-row grip.
- Push your hips and allow the bar to slide down your thighs.
- Forcefully stand back up by driving your hips forward before the bar reaches the top of your knees.
- Pull your elbows up and back as they travel up to your hips.
- Put the bar back to the starting position under control.
4. Dumbbell YTW
The dumbbell YTW is another substitute for machine high rows. It works mainly on the rear deltoids and trapezius, predominantly the middle and lower trapezius. This is due to the amount of arm abduction and retraction of the shoulder blades.
How to do the dumbbell YTW:
- Incline a bench to about 45 degrees.
- Get a pair of light dumbbells.
- Put your chest on the bench with your chin above the top.
- Ensure that your feet are in contact with the ground.
- Raise your arms upwards and outwards, making a Y-shape.
- Return your arms to the starting position.
- Raise your arms directly to your side, making a T-shape.
- Return your arms to the starting position.
- Put your upper arms at an angle of 90 degrees to your body.
- Next, rotate your arms upwards, making a W-shape.
- These steps that form the three letters, YTW, are counted as one rep.
5. TRX YTW
This is a good body weight alternative to the upright row.
This exercise is more accessible when the lifter is in a vertical position than when the lifter is more horizontal.
This exercise works on the muscle groups active in the upright row, so it is a suitable replacement for the vertical row.
How to do the TRX YTW:
- Get a TRX strap.
- Hold the handles and straighten your arms with your hands in a neutral position.
- Place your feet in front of you while maintaining tension on the straps.
- Keep your arms straight, then raise them upwards and outwards to make a Y-shape.
- Bring your arms towards your sides, forming a T-shape.
- Raise your elbows so that your arms are 90 degrees, and rotate your hands upwards to form a W-shape.
6. Single-Arm Dumbbell Power Snatch
The single-arm dumbbell power snatch resembles the upright row’s movement pattern, making it a better alternative exercise.
You perform this exercise with one arm at a time, which involves a similar movement pattern as the upright row.
The arm is pulled up and back while the scapula drifts up to complete the pull. The single-arm dumbbell power snatch allows more muscle groups than the upright row during the exercise.
The legs are more involved, which provides the needed momentum to snatch the dumbbell from the ground to an overhead position. For this reason, the dumbbell power snatch may be more tiring than the upright row.
This exercise is unilateral, i.e., you can only use one arm at a time, so you should start with your non-dominant arm. This workout will help you devote more time to your weaker side since you’ll be more rested at the start of the exercise than when done with one side.
How to do the single-arm dumbbell power snatch:
- Hold the single dumbbell and put it on the floor with the handle pointing horizontally.
- Set your feet on any dumbbell side, making it about your hip width.
- Squat to enable you to hold the dumbbell with one hand.
- Then, forcefully push the floor away to begin to stand up.
- When the dumbbell gets to the height of the hip, pull your elbow up and back.
- Put your arm under the dumbbell as it goes up to your shoulder.
- You can repeat the exercise several times.
7. Dumbbell Lateral Raise
Like the upright row, the dumbbell lateral raise is a free-weight exercise. It works primarily on the lateral deltoids.
Many lifters lift the dumbbells slightly higher than shoulder height during the training.
This slight increase in the distance of the dumbbell causes a small elevation of the scapular, emphasizing the upper trapezius.
How to do the dumbbell lateral raise:
- Stand tall with the two dumbbells hanging passively at your sides.
- Lift the dumbbells up and out to your sides with your arms almost straight.
- When the dumbbells are a little above your shoulder height, stop lifting.
- Then, gradually lower the dumbbells.
8. Band Lateral Raise
The lateral band raise is an isolating exercise. It isolates the lateral deltoids; therefore, it is an excellent replacement for the upright row. This exercise helps you work your lateral deltoids by lifting against the band’s tension anchored to the floor.
Due to the isolating nature of this workout, the upper trapezius has less work to do since the shoulder blades don’t elevate at the top.
How to raise the band lateral:
- Hold a thin resistance band.
- Then step on the band with your right foot with the band in your left hand.
- With a wide stance, stagger your left foot backwards.
- With your fist near your left thigh and a straight arm, raise your hand directly to the side.
- When you reach your shoulder height, stop, then lower it controllably.
What Makes A Good Hammer Strength Row Alternative
Bent Over Rows
This alternative exercise is an excellent choice if you’re looking for diversity in your fitness routine. You can get this done using your barbell.
- Once you load the barbell on the floor, ensure your feet are comfortable inches apart and firmly planted, with the barbell midfoot.
- Then bend over and carefully lift it to your hip level, keeping your feet hip-width apart.
- Next, hook your hips, gently move your upper arm to 45 degrees, and bring the barbell down until it’s right beneath your kneecap.
- Tighten your core, and keep the shoulders down and backwards.
- Raise the barbell until it is between your navel and beneath the sternum.
- Ensure you pull your elbows back and squeeze the shoulders as the barbell is lifted.
- Gradually bring it down below your knees.
- Do this for 8 to 10 reps for 2 to 3 sets to obtain the desired results.
Chest Supported Rows
Chest Supported rows are another excellent way to target your back muscles, particularly your lats. You can get it done using a dumbbell. It also removes any chance of you weightlifting on impulse.
Lay flat on a bench with your legs stretched out, then lift your dumbbell while squeezing your shoulder blades. Make sure your chest is not raised from the bench in the process.
Resistance bands are one of the most affordable fitness tools you should have. They offer excellent resistance and give effective results without weight excess load. Not to mention how easy it is to move one around or pack them up while going on a trip.
If you’re hoping to avoid injuries or do a simple workout at home, you should seriously consider the banded row.
First, secure your band to any firmly positioned equipment at home. Next, let the band be slightly above your stomach. Then grab the band with both hands, keeping it stretched out. Finally, pull it to your chest, pointing your elbows back behind you.
Other great options we have explained above include
- Single-arm Dumbbell Row
- Seated Cable Row
Frequently Asked Questions
What Muscles Does Machine High Row Work?
The machine row, or the hammer strength high row as referred to by some, typically targets the muscles and joints in your back, shoulder blades, and elbows.
It also targets the latissimus dorsi, which relates to the muscles in your body’s sides, middle and lower back.
Other targeted muscles include the trapezius, the rhomboids, the biceps, and the teres, major and minor.
The trapezius muscle is responsible for movement around the head, neck, shoulders, arms, and torso. It is located just beneath the neck, covering the shoulders and extending to the middle of the back.
The rhomboid major and minor muscles work hand in hand to ensure stability and movement around the upper limb, shoulders, and scapula. They are located in the upper back and, jointly with other muscles above, form the outer layer of the back muscles.
The Teres major and minor are around the scapula and aid movement around your shoulders. Then the biceps are part of the muscles responsible for bending your elbow and rotation of the forearm.
How to Do a Seated Row Without a Machine
You can do seated rows perfectly. All you need is a tight band or cable and some guidance to get the proper position, and you can perform the exercises effectively. Check out our step-by-step guide above to do seated cable rows correctly.
The best alternatives for the machine high row exercises can produce similar motion patterns and target the relevant muscles: the deltoids, trapezius, rhomboids, and biceps.
Your choice of an alternative depends on the available equipment and the extent of specificity you need your machine high row exercise to be.
And just like the machine high row alternatives, there are alternatives for inverted rows if you want a similar result as inverted row exercises.
If you found this article resourceful, check out our other exercise-related content on Expert Fitness.org.
Nathan Lloyd, MSc
LICENSED PERSONAL TRAINER
I’m a personal trainer, based in Boulder, Colorado.
I service clients physically in the Boulder area, mainly in the ONE Boulder Fitness Gym, but am also available for online consulting and coaching.
If you’re interested in my personal coaching programs, please contact me via the contact page.