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7 Cable Row Alternatives… With 3 Bonus Exercises!

One of the most popular back exercises is the cable row, but in a home gym it can be quite tricky – a cable machine is a big and expensive item of equipment, so unless you have a lot of space and a large budget, you’ll need an alternative.

As a personal trainer and weightlifting coach, I like the cable row as an exercise, but there are limitations to them – the main one being the weight. You are limited by the weight stack on the machine and in many cases, a strong guy (or gal) can lift the entire thing. 

So, if you want to build serious muscle and strength you may not just want an alternative to cable rows – you’ll need one!

In this article, I’ll run you through some of my favorite cable row alternatives. I’ll explain why I like each one and how to do them. These have been tried and tested over my couple of decades of coaching, so I know they’re great exercises. They’ll give you all the benefits of cable rows, plus a lot more. They’ll also give you new ideas for your back training.

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Getting specific with the right alternatives…

If you google cable row alternatives, you’ll find a lot of variations of back exercises. At first glance there’s nothing wrong with that, but in all honesty, I think it’s really lazy instruction from the writers – what are the similarities between a seated row machine and a cable machine? Other than body position, not much.

One of the advantages of the cable row is the flexibility of movement afforded by the cable – it’s not fixed in any real fashion, so ideally an alternative allows similar freedom of movement (although this won’t always be possible).

A cable row uses both sides of the body at the same time too, so unilateral exercises are generally out as well. Whilst I’m a HUGE fan of single-side training, it’s not a particularly close replica of the cable row so we’ll leave it to the side for the minute.

The position is fundamental as well – in a cable row you’re sat upright, making the exercise a horizontal pull. To replicate it properly we need to focus on horizontal pulling, so that rules out exercises such as lat pull downs and pull ups/chin ups. It doesn’t matter whether your body is horizontal, vertical or diagonal – the pulling motion should be horizontal.

My job here is to provide you with alternatives to the cable row – not a random selection of back exercises that have no similarity with the original exercise. I hope you’ll understand what I mean…


Cable row alternatives

These exercises share similarities with the cable row – that may be one, two or more, but they’ll certainly mimic the exercise in some fashion. These are all excellent exercises and can be done in a home gym with bog standard equipment.

They’re not complicated, but they’re definitely effective and all have their own nuances. 

Some you’ll already know, in other cases they’ll provide a new challenge or variation, so give them all a go.

1. Landmine row

Landmine rows are great because you are afforded freedom of movement by the bar only being fixed at one end. You can adjust your grip to either a both hands on the bar or you can use a handle attachment, such as a landmine attachment (turning it into a t-bar row).

It’s also a way to add serious weight to the bar.

Equipment needed for landmine rows:

Rogue Fleck Bumper Plates

Rogue Fleck Bumper Plate
Read our best bumper plates guide here

Bumper plates are ideal for a home gym.

They can last a lifetime and allow you to do additional lifts which require you to drop the bar.

Our team has compared over 100 types and the Rogue Fleck plates came out on top.

They are great value, use color allowing you to quickly see how much you’re lifting and the pattern will give your home gym a unique look.

How to do a landmine row:

  • Place a barbell in the landmine attachment
  • When the bar is loaded, stand over it and select your grip (hands on the bar with an attachment)
  • With a straight back, row the bar up towards your chest, squeezing the shoulder blades together throughout
  • At the top of the movement, pause then slowly lower the bar (but don’t let the plates touch the floor)
  • Repeat as many times as required

Landmine rows muscles worked:

  • Upper back
  • Lower back
  • Latissimus Dorsi
  • Biceps

2. Banded row

The banded row is often neglected, mostly because it’s seen as a warm up or an ‘easy’ exercise option. It’s actually not the case at all – with a thick, strong band it offers a serious amount of resistance, but it offers a gradual strength curve where the resistance increases throughout the movement. It’s also very joint-friendly, plus allows flexibility of movement like a cable would.

Equipment needed for banded rows:

How to do a banded row:

  • Loop the band around your anchor point – a squat rack or even a loaded barbell will work
  • Hold the band with the grip of your choice
  • With a straight back, pull the band (and hands) towards your chest, squeezing the shoulder blades together throughout
  • When your hands reach your torso, pause then slowly extend the arms back out
  • Repeat as many times as required

Banded rows muscles worked:

  • Upper back
  • Latissimus Dorsi
  • Biceps

REP PR-4000 Power Rack

REP-PR-4000 Power Rack
Read our best squat rack guide here

Looking for an affordable yet high quality power rack?

Look no further!

After comparing over 100 types of squat racks the PR-4000 came out on top.

You can add any attachment to it (including cables, dip bars and plate holders). You can even add additional uprights to back to make it even more of a beast!

The 1 inch westside hole spacing means you can position the spotter arms to the ideal height when you bench press. So you can safely drop the bar and have a full range of motion when you lift.

And the 3×3″ 11 gauge steel make this the best value rack we could find.

3. Chest supported dumbbell row

This is much more like a classic row, but the reason I added it in here is because it’s a horizontal row pattern that allows you to lift a lot of weight. There’s no need for the lower back to support a heavy weight either, because the bench takes care of that for you. The ability to move freely and adjust grip are also benefits of the exercise. 

Equipment needed for chest supported dumbbell rows:

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Adjustable Dumbbells

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Classic
Read our best adjustable dumbbell guide here

These are the dumbbells we recommend for ‘most people’.

We have spent over 50 hours of research and compared over 100 dumbbells. Adjustable dumbbells make sense for most home gyms as they save space.

The Nüobell dumbbells go all the way to 80lbs per hand. This means they are much more versatile than most 50lbs adjustable dumbbells. You can use these for heavy shrugs, squats and bench press etc.

The main reason they are the top pick is because of their shape. They actually feel like real dumbbells and are not awkward to lift like some others.

How to do chest supported dumbbell rows:

  • Set the bench to an incline and lie chest down – you should be able to reach dumbbells placed on the floor
  • Hold the dumbbells with the grip of your choice – overhand, underhand or neutral
  • Pull the dumbbells up towards your chest, squeezing the shoulder blades together at the top
  • At the top of the movement pause then slowly lower the dumbbells, but don’t let them touch the floor
  • Repeat as many times as required

Chest supported dumbbell rows muscles worked:

  • Upper back
  • Latissimus Dorsi
  • Biceps

4. Bent over barbell row

This is the classic horizontal row exercise and has been a staple of training programmes for years. It’s a way to not only train the back, but it also activates the glutes and lower back as it requires them to work in order to keep the torso stable whilst lifting a heavy weight. There are only two grip options – overhand and underhand, but there is a lot of freedom of movement from the fact that a barbell isn’t attached to anything.

Equipment needed for bent over barbell rows:

Rogue Ohio Cerakote Bar

Rogue Ohio Bar Cerakote
Read our best Olympic barbell guide here

This is the bar that we recommend for ‘most people’.

We have spent over 120 hours of research and tested over 100 barbells.

It is affordable but comes with some high specs. The Rogue Work Hardening and 190k PSI tensile strength mean the bar will last a lifetime in a home gym.

It is a multi-purpose bar with a 28.5mm diameter shaft and composite bushings in the sleeves. This means it’s balanced for heavy slow bench presses but you can also perform snatches and fast overhead lifts.

How to do bent over barbell rows:

  • Hold the barbell with the grip of your choice – overhand or underhand
  • Set your body position – straight, stiff back. Chest pointing towards the floor, perhaps with a slight incline, slight knee bend
  • Pull the barbell up towards your chest, squeezing the shoulder blades together at the top
  • At the top of the movement pause then slowly lower the barbell, but don’t let it touch the floor
  • Repeat as many times as required

Bent over barbell rows muscles worked:

  • Upper back
  • Latissimus Dorsi
  • Biceps
  • Glutes
  • Lower back

5. Bent over kettlebell row

I consider this a cross between the dumbbell rows and the bent over barbell rows – there’s a single-limb element to the lift, but at the same time there is no chest support, so it’s a hybrid of the two. I like the flexibility of movements of the kettlebells, plus the variety of grip options. It’s a fantastic exercise and replicates the cable row well.

Equipment needed for bent over kettlebell rows:

  • 2 kettlebells

How to do bent over kettlebell rows:

  • Hold the kettlebells with the grip of your choice – overhand, underhand or neutral
  • Set your body position – straight, stiff back. Chest pointing towards the floor, perhaps with a slight incline, slight knee bend
  • Pull the kettlebells up towards your chest, squeezing the shoulder blades together at the top
  • At the top of the movement pause then slowly lower the kettlebells, but don’t let them touch the floor
  • Repeat as many times as required

Bent over kettlebell rows muscles worked:

  • Upper back
  • Latissimus Dorsi
  • Biceps
  • Glutes
  • Lower back

6. TRX Row

Another excellent cable row alternative – this one is more than just a home gym option, because a TRX can be taken anywhere with you, giving you excellent portability. It’s like a cable row in the sense that it’s a horizontal pull, but it’s also flexible in terms of movement (only anchored at one end) and easy to adjust for different levels of difficulty. All grip options are available too.

Equipment needed for TRX rows:

  • TRX
  • Anchor point

How to do a TRX row:

  • Secure your TRX at the anchor point – just make sure you have room to perform the exercise though!
  • Hold the handles with the grip of your choice
  • Secure your feet (or at least make sure they’re not going to slip!)
  • With a straight back, slowly lower yourself away from the handles until your arms are straight
  • Maintaining the straight back, pull yourself back up to the handles, squeezing the shoulder blades together throughout
  • When your torso reaches the handles, pause then slowly lower yourself away from the handles by straightening your arms
  • Repeat as many times as required

TRX rows muscles worked:

  • Upper back
  • Latissimus Dorsi
  • Biceps

TRX Pro4

TRX PRO4
Read our best suspension trainers guide here

This is the suspension trainer that we recommend for ‘most people’.

We have spent compared over 50 of them and ran them against our criteria.

It’s robust, very high quality, easy to adjust and pack away.

The main reason it gets our top spot is because of its versatility. The adjustable feet straps and rubber handles allow you to do more movements than other trainers that don’t have these features.

7. Single ring row

The single ring row is a variation I find interesting because it forces the forearms to work slightly harder than usual – it also changes the back activation in that you row with a close grip. In some senses it’s like an upright row, but with a horizontal pulling pattern. I like the freedom of movement that the ring provides and the opportunity to lift with either an underhand (as in the video) or overhand grip.

Equipment needed for single ring rows:

How to do a single ring row:

  • Secure your ring at the anchor point – just make sure you have room to perform the exercise though!
  • Hold the ring with the grip of your choice
  • Secure your feet (or at least make sure they’re not going to slip!)
  • With a straight back, slowly lower yourself away from the ring until your arms are straight
  • Maintaining the straight back, pull yourself back up to the ring, squeezing the shoulder blades together throughout
  • When your torso reaches the ring, pause then slowly lower yourself away from the ring by straightening your arms
  • Repeat as many times as required

Single ring rows muscles worked:

  • Upper back
  • Latissimus Dorsi
  • Biceps

Bonus variations

These are exercises that didn’t quite make the first batch because they don’t quite mimic the cable row as well as the first 7, but they’re still excellent back exercises in their own right. Again, they’re exercises that can be performed in most home gyms without the need for much equipment. 

1. Gorilla row

The gorilla row is a real favorite of mine and features heavily in my training and that of the programmes I write. I like the exercise for a number of reasons… it’s single limb, it’s a variation on a row, you can lift big weights, it’s functional and useful in both low and high rep workouts. Overall, a fantastic back exercise.

Equipment needed for gorilla rows:

  • 2 kettlebells

How to do gorilla rows:

  • Hold the kettlebells with the grip of your choice – overhand, underhand or neutral, but ensure the kettlebells are on the floor – you shouldn’t be ‘taking’ the weight of them
  • Set your body position – straight, stiff back. Chest pointing towards the floor, perhaps with a slight incline, slight knee bend
  • Pull one of the kettlebells up towards your chest, squeezing the shoulder blade in at the top
  • At the top of the movement pause then slowly lower the kettlebell, but don’t let it touch the floor
  • Repeat the same movement on the opposite side, alternating for as many reps as required

Gorilla rows muscles worked:

  • Upper back
  • Latissimus Dorsi
  • Biceps
  • Glutes
  • Lower back
  • Core

2. Single arm row

Single arm rows are very effective because they force each side to work independently. They require shoulder and trunk stability to maintain good torso position throughout the lift too. With the single arm row you can lift some serious weight – it’s a staple exercise of the Chinese Olympic weightlifting team and give they’re arguably the best in the world, that’s a good enough endorsement for me!

Equipment needed for single arm rows:

How to do an single arm row:

  • Place a hand and knee on a bench, with the other leg on the floor for stability.
  • Hold the dumbbell in the free hand, with your arm straight down. 
  • Pull the dumbbell up to the rib cage, bending the elbow behind you as you do.
  • Once the dumbbell is at rib height, pause and lower to the start position.

Looking to improve your shoulders? Check out our article on shoulder exercises to help you achieve that goal.

REP AB-3000 Bench

REP AB-3000 Weight Bench
Read our best weight bench guide here

This is the weight bench we recommend for ‘most people’.

We compared over 70 benches against 12 criteria. This is our highest-ranked flat, incline & decline (FID) bench.

Some adjustable benches can be a bit wobbly when on the incline. But the AB-3000 is very sturdy.

With a height 18mm it’s comparable to benches that cost twice as much.

3. Inverted row

Inverted rows are a great way to train grip, scapular retraction, core and spinal stability in one go. It’s a simple set up, doesn’t need much in the way of technique and has a lot of additional bicep and shoulder training benefits. Inverted rows are deceptively tough as well!

Equipment needed for inverted towel rows:

  • Towel(s) (two will do)
  • Anchor point

How to do an inverted towel row:

  • Secure your towels – over a barbell is a perfect spot
  • Secure your feet (or at least make sure they’re not going to slip!)
  • With a straight back, slowly lower yourself away from the bar until your arms are straight
  • Maintaining the straight back, pull yourself back up to the bar, squeezing the shoulder blades together throughout
  • When your torso reaches the bar, pause then slowly lower yourself away from the bar by straightening your arms
  • Repeat as many times as required

Inverted rows muscles worked:

  • Upper back
  • Latissimus Dorsi
  • Biceps
  • Forearms

Cable row alternatives – the bottom line

Whilst I’m a fan of cable rows, they’re not without their limitations, both in a strength and athleticism fashion. They’re also not the easiest exercise to program in a home gym – you need to throw some serious cash at a cable station and you need plenty of room to boot.

By using these cable row alternatives though, you can get all of the benefits of the exercise (and more) without having to spend serious money that you could use in other ways.

Check out our lat pulldown alternatives if you’d like to see more exercises for your lats and back.

Want to Improve Your Own Home Gym?

Check out our guide on how to build a home gym for any budget.

Our team of fitness experts has spent thousands of hours testing and researching equipment. It’s all compiled in one place with the essential items your gym needs to see results.

Photo of author
Hi! My name is Steve Hoyles. I’m a personal trainer, gym owner and fitness copywriter. Since graduating with my Sports Science degree in 2004 I’ve worked in the fitness industry, helping thousands of people reach their health and fitness goals. My writing has been read by millions of people in over 200 countries.

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