Why the Seal Row May Be Your Answer for Bigger and Safer Back Gains
One of the best pieces of muscle-building is that you must row to grow. You may have heard this before, but it bears repeating because too many lifters still focus on the mirror muscles. Training the posterior delts, upper back, and lats must be a priority when muscle and strength are your goals. And when isn’t it?
But that’s not enough because it also needs to be done right. A trap some lifers fall into with rows is too much body English. A little body English is OK, but when it’s overdone in the name of too much weight, some of the muscle-building and strength benefits disappear.
Plus, some may avoid rowing when lower back discomfort is an issue, and the solution to both problems is the seal row.
With the seal row, you lie prone on a weight bench and perform a horizontal row, which does two things.
- It takes the stress off your lower back.
- It limits momentum while lifting.
WHAT IS THE SEAL ROW?
You may be wondering why it’s called the seal row. It’s because when you go heavy, your legs flap up and down behind you like a seal. The seal row has you lying prone on a weight bench, your upper body on the bench and the leg off the bench. Then you row the barbell using your upper back, lats, and biceps.
HOW TO DO THE SEAL ROW
- Lie prone on a weight bench with your head down one end and your straight legs down the other.
- Squeeze your glutes to flatten your lower back.
- Grip the barbell with a wide overhand grip, and your elbows flared out.
- Begin rowing toward the bench until your shoulder blades are squeezed together or the barbell touches the weight bench.
- Pause for a moment, then slowly lower until the plates hit the ground. Reset, then repeat.
SEAL ROW MUSCLES TRAINED
The beauty of the seal row is that it takes the lower body and momentum out of the equation to focus on the upper body. Here are the primary muscles worked by the seal row.
- Upper Back: The rhomboids and trapezius assist through the scapula adduction and abduction.
- Lats: Your lats are firing via shoulder extension, especially when rowing the barbell toward the weight bench.
- Posterior Deltoids: Your shoulders assist the lats with shoulder extension.
- Biceps: You get some arm work in as well via elbow flexion as your biceps assist the lats and upper back in the rowing and lowering of the barbell
- Glutes: To stay in a good lifting pattern, your glutes need to be isometrically contracted throughout the movement.
3 SEAL ROW BENEFITS
- Better Form with your Big 3 Lifts: The upper back plays a vital role in keeping a neutral spine when squatting and deadlifting. It keeps the barbell squat from turning into a good morning and keeps it close to you when you deadlift. Plus, keeping the upper back engaged during a bench press ensures a better pressing path for better form.
- Easy on The Low Back: Mostly, seal rows take the stress off the lower back and allow you to focus on the upper back and lats because the bench supports you. The Seal row is an excellent variation if your lower back bothers you with regular bent-over rows.
- More Flex Appeal: You’re in a proper horizontal position to optimally target your lats and middle back muscles hard and heavy. Being prone removes all the momentum to isolate the upper back and lats.
3 COMMON SEAL ROW MISTAKES
To get the best out of the Seal row, avoid these common mistakes, which will take away the benefits of this exercise.
- Pay Attention to Your Setup: The weight bench being parallel and high enough to extend your elbows fully is critical. If you need to use weight plates to elevate the bench, please ensure the bench is adequately secured to them. Ensure there is no side-to-side wobble because falling off the bench is a surefire way to end up in a blooper video.
- Watch Your Elbows: For many row variations, having a 45-degree angle between your elbow and torso is required but not with the Seal row. It’s essential to have your elbows flared out, parallel to the shoulders, to focus on the upper back and shoulders and less on the lats.
- Don’t Move: There is a tendency for your head and chest to come off the bench, and doing so puts the low back into extension. This is a no-no because the beauty of the seal row is to take the lower back out of it. Making this mistake adds momentum and removes the focus from the upper back muscles.
SEAL ROW PROGRAMMING SUGGESTIONS
The seal row is an excellent exercise if you want to add variety to your rows or your lower back is flipping you the bird, and you still want gains. The Seal row is not a technical exercise; almost anybody can do it. The Seal row is for you if you can lie your body facedown comfortably without compensation.
Because generating momentum is difficult, lighten the weight until you nail good technique.
You can use this as your primary row variation on upper body days or as an accessory exercise on lower body days to improve upper back strength for the Big 3 or Olympic lifts. Here are a few general sets and reps suggestions for muscle and strength.
- For Hypertrophy: Perform three to five sets of 8-15 reps.
- For Strength: Do three to five sets of 4 to 6 reps.
- 1A. Seal Row: 10-12 reps
- 1B. Decline Pushup: 15-25 reps
1A. Seal Row: 4 reps
1B. Bench Bird Dog: Ten reps on each side
Top 3 Seal Row Variations
Although it has plenty of upside, the seal row isn’t an exercise everyone can or needs to add to their routine. Some people may be unable to perform it at your gym due to equipment issues. But that doesn’t mean you should miss out on the back-building benefits of the seal row. Three are other alternatives similar in style to the seal row, that will help build your back