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How to Do Vertical Row Exercise

How to Use Vertical Row Machine

A vertical row is a machine generally present in many gyms for back muscle training. This exercise in its possible variations is often present in many bodybuilding training routines aimed at developing this district.

What is the Vertical Row?

It tends to be considered a movement for the ” center back ” of horizontal pulling (therefore involving mainly scapular adductors and posterior deltoid, but we will see that this depends).

Considered by the “Bro” culture as one of the exercises that are done for the famous ” thickness ” of the back, in reality, this view is very simplistic and far from the real world: the back is composed of different muscles on which you can place more or less emphasis by the various exercises, but between them, there will always be a more or less marked synergy of work.

The feeling of working in a more central area of ​​the back or more external/lateral in the various exercises or variants of the same arises from the plane of movement on which you perform the exercise due to the greater involvement of some muscles than others, but it is always a synergy.

Muscles Involved In The Vertical Row

To understand what it is for, you need to know which joints we move mainly during this exercise:

  • shoulder (which includes collarbone, humerus, and scapula)
  • elbow

It is a movement that, based on various tricks and possible variants, works on the following muscles – obviously, there are others, for example, the biceps, but the target ones that tend to be targeted mainly are listed:

  • Trapezius (particularly medial portion), which brings the shoulder blades closer together (scapular adduction)
  • Rhomboids, which bring the shoulder blades closer together (adduction), bring them upwards (scapular elevation) making them rotate caudally (downwards)
  • Posterior deltoids, which bring the arm posterior to you (extension of the humerus) and rotate it outward (external rotation of the humerus)
  • The great dorsal, which brings the arm closer to the body (humerus adduction), bring the arm posterior to you (extension of the humerus), rotates the arm internally (intra-rotation humerus)

Vertical Row Execution

The exercise is carried out in a sitting position with the chest resting on the padded support cushion and mainly involves:

  • Departure with the humerus in flexion of about 90 ° (based on the grip and variant performed), i.e. the arm is stretched forward about shoulder height and the center of the back relaxed.
  • Adduction of the shoulder blades (approaching each other) keeping them well positioned in the pull (without elevating them, we must not bring the shoulders towards the ears by lifting them upwards, but opening the chest while keeping the shoulders down), can help to activate better the fact of slightly arch your back at the end of the pull while remaining with your chest resting on the support.
  • Full extension of the humerus (by pulling we bring the arm towards the back) and flexion of the humerus at about 90 ° in the pull (the arm bends, depending on the variant chosen).
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Common Mistakes In The Vertical Row

Common Mistakes In The Vertical Row

What not to do in general to perform this exercise at its best? The most frequent errors are:

  • Pull without moving the shoulder blades (while shooting I do not open with the chest, but remain in the starting position, doing a lot of work with the arms and little with the back).
  • Pull correctly and open well with the chest by bringing the shoulder blades together, but compensating with a push back by detaching the chest from the support (I shoot correctly, and almost at the end of the movement I throw myself back, often done when the load raised is beyond our capacity, but we want to close the repetitions anyway, making a mistake).
  • Correctly pull with the movement of the shoulder blades during the concentric phase (of pulling), but in the eccentric phase do not allow the shoulder blades to move away from each other, but hold them as we always wanted to keep the chest open (this does not allow an appropriate lengthening of the scapular muscles involved).
  • Holding the seat too high or too low and therefore unable to maintain the correct lines of movement.
  • Do half repetitions and do not allow a correct and complete movement of the shoulder blades and shoulders.

The Posterior Delts?

If you use a wide grip you stimulate the posterior deltoid more, this is because the extension movement of the humerus (the pulling and the movement of the arm) will take place more in the transverse plane, as you can see in the figure below.

If the target is the scapular and posterior deltoid adductors, the advice is to keep the forearm parallel to the ground during the pull.

Grip Wider Than Shoulders With Neutral Or Prone Grip

The movement involves a partial flexion of the elbow (up to about 90 °) associated with the extension of the humerus (the pull) which takes place more on the transverse plane with greater involvement of the posterior deltoid, which, however, is not elongated in the starting phase at most.

Neutral Or Shoulder-width Prone Grip

The movement becomes an extension of the humerus mainly in the sagittal plane with greater involvement of the great dorsal, middle trapezius, rhomboid, and partially posterior deltoids.

Tight Grip Tighter Than Shoulders

A tight grip means a tighter grip of the neutral shoulders (palms facing each other). Also in this case the movement becomes an extension of the humerus mainly on the sagittal plane, therefore with greater involvement of the great dorsal and posterior deltoid (partial), but less involvement of the adductor scapular muscles, since the grip is very tight we will hardly be able to adduct the shoulder blades well (bring the shoulder blades closer) at the end of the concentric phase (when we are at the top).

Reverse Shoulder Width Grip (Supine)

This variant, if performed bilaterally, can help some subjects to “open” correctly by introducing the shoulder blades (bringing them closer together) in the final part of the movement. The muscles involved are no different from the prone grip variant with the same grip width.

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If the purpose is to involve the biceps more, I do not recommend it, as they work in any case not completely due to the fact that the flexion movement of the elbow is still incomplete; in addition to this, good mobility is needed, vice versa joint stresses will increase.

Executive Variants Of Vertical Row

High Vertical Row

For this variant you can make the same considerations made regarding the “wide neutral or wide prone grip”, the advice is to keep the elbows slightly lower than the shoulders as an extension of the humerus associated with a high abduction ( moving the arm away from the torso) increases the compressive forces within the joint and this is not good, particularly if you already have shoulder discomfort.

Bilateral Or Single Low Vertical Row

Generally performed on the “low row” machine, here the movement becomes an extension of the humerus mainly on the sagittal plane with predominantly (but partial) involvement of the great dorsal.

This is because the shoulder starts from a flexion position of less than 90 °, the arm is less horizontal to the ground, therefore the great dorsal intervenes for fewer degrees of movement, as well as not starting from a position of full elongation.

In addition, the involvement of the middle trapezius and rhomboids (if we move the scapula correctly) and partially posterior deltoids.

In this variant, it is easy (especially for subjects with difficulty in perceiving scapular movements) that there are compensations by raising the shoulders towards the ears (with greater involvement of the upper trapezius) which then negatively affect the correct execution and muscle stimulation.

Variants Of Vertical Row

You can perform this exercise with free weights and without a machine we can reproduce it in two ways, with a barbell or with dumbbells, changing the work plan according to the target of our exercise. It is advisable to place a bench on two rises so that it is very high by placing the barbell under it (to form a cross with it). Variants:

  • Work the center back and the rear delts more (in this case a barbell is better): lie down on your stomach and grab the barbell with a grip equal to the “shoulder width” of the vertical row, making the necessary adjustments of the same according to the feeling. You start with the shoulder blades abducted (therefore without keeping them close and contracted at the beginning of the movement, but relax the center back) without forcing, so the bench must be positioned high enough, the positioning is similar to the seal row, but the movement is different and more controlled.
  • Work the great dorsal more: we can use dumbbells or barbells: the movement is performed with the elbows closer to the torso, while shooting thinks of going towards the buttocks with the dumbbells or the barbell, to focus on extending the humerus, more than on elbow flexion.

Vertical Row Or Rowing With Handlebar?

You can perform the vertical row:

  • working more on the great dorsal, bending the armless and working with the elbows closer to the torso;
  • work more on the rhomboids, rear delts, and biceps if, on the contrary, you bend your arm more during the pull and/or keep the elbows further away from the torso to involve the rear delts more.
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These two points are valid in the rowing machine with handlebars, but if the target is the center of the back / rear deltoids, it is advisable to use the vertical row with a prone or neutral grip, shoulder-width (or a little more) with the machine (especially if similar to the one in the figure below. ) or the variant with a barbell on a raised bench seen above. In both cases, working bilaterally (with both arms together).

Conversely, if the target is the grand dorsal you can also perform the rowing with unilateral handlebars because you are able to start with the shoulder more flexed and therefore to have more degrees of movement – which is also possible by positioning yourself on the vertical row in particular ways based on a how it is done, but they are principles that can be implemented by people with good training experience.

Vertical Row Or Pulley?

The plane on which the movement to the vertical row takes place is similar if the machine is like the one in the figure above, but the pulley can often have some disadvantages:

  • the thick cable is located lower: this easily causes the correct setting to be lost and the shoulders to rise by decreasing the work on the center back, as well as reducing the starting flexion degrees of the humerus by reducing the work on the great dorsal (the arm is less parallel to the ground at the start).
  • people with retracted hamstrings (hamstrings): will struggle to perform the low pulley, so in this case, a vertical row or variant on a raised bench is better to ensure that they work correctly.
  • rep range was chosen: if you want to do many repetitions (in general = or> 15) or on the contrary work at medium-low repetitions (5-6) with heavy loads, it may make sense to choose the variant on the raised bench or the vertical row. This way you don’t risk ending the series early or losing the technique due to the fatigue of other stabilizing muscles that allow you to keep the torso erect and still in the pulley.


In conclusion, make sure to always:

  • analyze the target muscles that you want to work the most (remembering that it is a simplification),
  • the subject in question (mobility, injuries, training experience, rep range, preferences, availability of various equipment in the weight room …),
  • the context of the programming in which we insert the exercise.

So then you will be able over time to create customized strategies and protocols with the right synergy that will lead to improvement over time.

To train your back correctly you must be well aware of the scapular movements and control them perfectly, if this is not possible it is on this in the first place that you have to work.

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