How Many Seated Rows Should I Do Based On My Fitness Goals?

There are a variety of different ways to perform seated rows in terms of the weights used (such as a seated row weight machine, cable machine seated rows, and resistance band seated rows).

While each seated row exercise has its pros and cons, all seated rows are great exercises to strengthen your rhomboids, traps, lats, and posterior deltoids.

As such, I frequently recommend performing seated rows in back workouts for athletes of all ability levels and training goals. That said, it’s important to choose the reps, sets, loads, and forms of seated rows that best serve the individual’s needs and goals.

So, when programming your workouts, you may wonder, how many seated rows should I do to build muscle? And, what is the best load for seated row workouts for strength vs hypertrophy?

In this strength training guide, we will discuss how to do seated rows, the benefits of seated rows vs bent-over rows, and ultimately answer your question, how many seated rows should I do based on my fitness level and training goals?

Let’s dive in! 

A person doing seated rows.

How Do You Do Seated Rows?

Before we discuss how many seated rows you should do per day or per workout depending on your fitness goals and fitness level, let’s review how to perform the seated rows exercise.

As mentioned, you can perform seated rows in several different ways.

I personally recommend using a cable machine or (resistance bands for home workouts) because you have to control the movement path yourself, making the cable machine seated row more of a functional training exercise than the weight machine row.

This is not to say that weight machine seated rows don’t have their benefits. You can generally lift more weight because the fixed path of the weight machine eliminates the need to provide as much internal scapular stability.

Here are the steps for how to do seated rows with a cable machine:

How To Perform Cable Machine Seated Rows

  1. Sit upright at the cable machine or seated cable row station with one handle in each hand. Make sure that your back is straight and your sternum is pressed up against the chest pad. Place your feet on the footrests to help brace your body.
  2. Keep your core tight and your shoulders back and down away from your ears.
  3. Pull back on the handles until your hands are shoulder-width apart. If you want to specifically target the rhomboids, you want to use a slightly angled path1Fennell, J., Phadke, C. P., Mochizuki, G., Ismail, F., & Boulias, C. (2016). Shoulder Retractor Strengthening Exercise to Minimize Rhomboid Muscle Activity and Subacromial Impingement. Physiotherapy Canada68(1), 24–28. https://doi.org/10.3138/ptc.2014-83 of motion that mimics the direction of the muscle fibers in the rhomboids (which is roughly 45 degrees sweeping down from the upper vertebrae down and out towards the scapulae.) 
  4. Retract your shoulder blades back, and row the cables to each side of your rib cage. 
  5. At the end position, the handles should be roughly aligned with your torso or as far back as you can pull. Squeeze your shoulder blades together as much as possible as if trying to hold a pencil between them. 
  6. Pause and squeeze this end position, flexing the muscles in your upper back and shoulders for 2 to 3 seconds.
  7. Slowly extend your arms and protract your shoulder blades to return the cables to the starting position. Use control so that you resist the pull of the weight stack and challenge your muscles through the eccentric portion of the exercise.

Seated rows on the seated row machine are even easier to perform.

Essentially, you will follow the same steps, but you do not have to worry about stabilizing the cables as much because the weight machine dictates the path of motion based on the mechanics of the machine and how the handles are pulled.

No matter how you perform seated row exercises, make sure to keep your back upright, your head neutral and facing forward, and your core muscles tight.

Do not slouch and do not allow your shoulders to creep up towards your ears.

It is also important to really think about maximizing the range of motion of your scapula as you perform seated rows. You should feel your scapulae (shoulder blades) protract and spread away from each other as your arms are fully extended out in front of you.

Then, as you pull back to perform the seated row exercise, retract your scapulae and squeeze them together as tightly as possible at the end range of motion.

Here, make sure that your sternum is still pressed up against the machine and that you are not leaning back and using momentum or other back muscles to help you complete the lift.

Remember to control the return of the handles as you extend your arms back out away from your body.

The slower you can go on this portion of the exercise, the better, as studies suggest that the eccentric portion (the lengthening contraction) of an exercise elicits the greatest stimulus for building muscle and increasing strength.

These seated row form tips will help you maximize the strengthening benefits for the muscles worked by seated rows and will ensure that your posture is supporting your spine properly.

Are Seated Rows Good for Back Workouts?

Compared to barbell rows and bent-over dumbbell rows, the seated row exercise provides greater scapular stability.

This means that you can focus more on strengthening your back muscles (especially the traps and rhomboids)2Harris, S., Ruffin, E., Brewer, W., & Ortiz, A. (2017). MUSCLE ACTIVATION PATTERNS DURING SUSPENSION TRAINING EXERCISES. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy12(1), 42–52. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28217415/ and overloading with heavier weights rather than needing to stabilize the shoulders as much.

This isn’t to say that the types of row exercises that require more scapular stability are not also important to include in your back workouts, but if you are looking to increase muscle size, you will also want to do heavy resistance training.

Rather than using a seated row weight machine, performing the exercise on a cable pulley machine or a functional trainer will allow you to use two separate handles so that you can fully contract each rhomboid muscle and not allow one side of your back to overpower the weaker side and take on the brunt of the workload.

A person doing seated rows.

How Many Seated Rows Should I Do Based On My Fitness Goals?

Generally, programming seated row workouts are similar to recommendations for other strength training exercises.

When structuring a strength training workout, the number of reps of an exercise that you do is only one part of the programming of the exercise into the workout.

The other components of training volume to consider are the number of sets and the weight that you are lifting, also known as the load.

Your primary training goal ultimately affects how many seated rows you should do as well as how much weight you should use for seated row workouts.3Schoenfeld, B. J., Grgic, J., Van Every, D. W., & Plotkin, D. L. (2021). Loading Recommendations for Muscle Strength, Hypertrophy, and Local Endurance: A Re-Examination of the Repetition Continuum. Sports9(2), 32. https://doi.org/10.3390/sports9020032

‌The following table provides recommendations for how many reps to do and how much weight to lift for different strength training goals based on the average guidelines from the American Council on Exercise (ACE)4How Many Reps Should You Be Doing? (n.d.). Www.acefitness.org. https://www.acefitness.org/resources/everyone/blog/5867/how-many-reps-should-you-be-doing/ and the National Strength and Conditioning Association.5Wurth, J., & Hewit, J. (2012). The National Strength and Conditioning Association’s (NSCA) BASICS OF STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING MANUAL. https://www.nsca.com/contentassets/116c55d64e1343d2b264e05aaf158a91/basics_of_strength_and_conditioning_manual.pdf

Training GoalSetsRepsRest PeriodIntensity
General Fitness1-3 12-15 30 to 90 secondsVaries on exercise and ability level
Muscular Endurance3-4 >15 Up to 30 seconds<67% of 1RM
Hypertrophy (building muscle mass)3-6 8-12 30 to 90 seconds67% to 85% of 1RM
Muscle strength4-6 3-62 to 5 minutes>85% of 1RM
Power3-51-52 to 5 minutes85%–100% of 1RM 
A person doing seated rows.

How Many Seated Rows Should I Do To See Good Results?

Using the recommendations above along with experience, here are some suggestions for how many seated rows to do: 

How Many Seated Rows Should I Do As A Beginner?

A good starting place for beginners is two sets of 10 reps. Build up to three sets. Once you can do 10 to 12 reps, you can increase the weight.6Iversen, V. M., Norum, M., Schoenfeld, B. J., & Fimland, M. S. (2021). No Time to Lift? Designing Time-Efficient Training Programs for Strength and Hypertrophy: A Narrative Review. Sports Medicine51(10). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-021-01490-1

How Many Seated Rows Should I Do To Increase Strength?

If your goal is to increase strength with seated rows, use a weight that corresponds to at least 85% of your 1RM, or a weight that you could manage for just 4 to 6 reps with proper form.

Aim for 4 to 6 sets with at least 90 seconds of rest in between sets.7de Salles, B. F., Simão, R., Miranda, F., Novaes, J. da S., Lemos, A., & Willardson, J. M. (2009). Rest interval between sets in strength training. Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.Z.)39(9), 765–777.

A person doing seated rows.

How Many Seated Rows Should I Do To Build Muscle?

If you are doing seated rows to build muscle, the guidelines for hypertrophy are 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps.8Schoenfeld, B. J., Contreras, B., Krieger, J., Grgic, J., Delcastillo, K., Belliard, R., & Alto, A. (2018). Resistance Training Volume Enhances Muscle Hypertrophy. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise51(1), 1. https://doi.org/10.1249/mss.0000000000001764

Use enough weight that you can manage all of your reps but that you feel fatigued by the last 1-2 reps of every set.

How Many Seated Rows Should I Do For Muscular Endurance?

To increase muscular endurance with seated rows, perform at least three sets of at least 15 reps with no more than 60 seconds of rest in between each set.

If you are mostly interested in how many seated rows to do to build muscle, check out our muscle-building guide here.

A weight machine.

References

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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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