Are Seal Rows Effective?

November 30, 2022 0 Comments

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In this article I will be answering the question “are seal rows effective?”. Seal rows are a fantastic strict rowing variation that hits the lats and upper back really well.

This exercise is brutal and will cause you a lot of upper back soreness the first few times that you try it. In my article I will examine the effectiveness of the seal row. 

Are Seal Rows Effective?

Seal rows are an incredibly effective exercise that will strengthen your upper back and increase the thickness of your upper back considerably.

Unlike other rowing variations where you can cheat and use some body english, the seal row forces you to use very strict form. As such it is a very tough exercise and you will be handling less weight than other rows.

You can do the seal row using a dedicated seal row machine. More commonly, a seal row can be performed by elevating up a flat bench using bumper plates or boxes. You would lie face down on the bench with your legs straight behind you and row the barbell into the bench from here.

Seal rows are a great assistance exercise for the deadlift. They will also work your lats better than pretty much any exercise. Pete Rubish, the well known powerlifter, even goes as far as to say that seal rows are superior to pull ups for lat development.

Eliminate Lower Back And Leg Involvement

One of the huge advantages of the seal row is that they eliminate the involvement of the legs and lower back.

With lots of other rowing variations you can cheat. I have even discussed in the past how cheat barbell rows can be very effective as well. You can handle heavier poundages and get very good results. 

With T bar rows you can also cheat. Some people cheat by keeping their upper backs almost vertical throughout the range of motion. Others jerk the weight up.

With a seal row, you have no real means of cheating. It is arguably the best test of real rowing strength. People who can seal row lots of weight will have very good back development and muscular upper backs. 

>> Are T Bar Rows Better Than Barbell Rows? 

Great Lat Activation

Another cool feature of the seal row is the degree of lat activation that you can achieve on this exercise.

Many people have lagging lats and could do with building them up. The lats play a significant role on the deadlift, when you initiate the pull from the floor you have to keep the bar very close to you. This is where having strong lats is important.

Bigger lats also make your back look a lot more impressive and contribute well to the overall V-taper. It is a common misconception that the lats can only be worked via vertical pulling movements such as pulldowns and pull ups.

This is not true, the seal rows works the lats very heavily. This could be due to the fact that there is no cheating on this motion and your lats are recruited a lot more heavily as a result.

Pete Rubish’s Views On The Seal Rows

Pete Rubish is well known as an elite powerlifter and has deadlifted over 900lbs in the gym in the past. I have been fortunate enough to interview him on my site! 

>> Check Out My Interview With Pete Rubish

Pete is a huge fan of seal rows and he does them regularly in his own training. According to him the seal row is a great deadlift assistance exercise and is superior for lat development when compared to the pull up.

Pete considers the seal row to be the best overall upper back movement. He echoes the points that I have raised already in this article. That is that this exercise doesn’t allow for cheating and so is very strict.

Seal rows force you to use just your pulling muscles and it isolates the upper and mid back really well. In addition you will improve your grip if you perform heavy seal rows without the assistance of straps.

Seal Row Bench Or Machine

Generally it is only in hardcore gyms or specialised bodybuilding gyms where you will find a seal row machine. It is a rare piece of apparatus on the whole. If your gym has a seal row bench or seal row machine, you should definitely take advantage of it.

If you don’t have access to either then it is not a problem. You can set up the seal row by raising a flat bench on blocks or bumper plates. It is also possible to perform seal rows by raising up one side of a decline bench.

It isn’t ideal but it works perfectly fine as a makeshift solution. In this way, you can still have access to this powerful exercise without the need for fancy equipment. 

In my case, there is a seal row machine that I have access to in the hardcore gym I train at. I don’t use this machine as I find it very awkward, when you are racking the weight at the end of your set you have to twist your body.

This is the only reason why I don’t like this seal row machine in my gym. It is potentially injurious when trying to rack heavy weights at the end of your set. Other gyms have seal row machines that are superior where you don’t have to twist your body at the end of the set.  
seal row bench

Final Thoughts

Are seal rows effective? The answer is a resounding yes. They are one of the best upper back exercises that you can possibly do and will also develop your lats really well.

Seal rows carryover a lot to the deadlift and will ensure that your back is a lot stronger and more muscular. The movement forces you to utilise strict form and takes away all the cheating that is commonly seen with many other rowing variations.

Please let me know if you have used the seal row before in your training – leave a comment below. 

As always, stay safe and enjoy your training!

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