6 Best Horizontal Pulling Exercises to Build Back/Lats

Back 8 min Read

Written by

Keith Hansen


Horizontal pulling exercises are always known as rows.

It doesn’t matter if you’re using a dumbbell, kettlebell, barbell, cables, or a machine.

Rows are rows.

And below are the 6 best horizontal pulling exercises.

Why You Must Pull Horizontally

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Pulling horizontally, that is pulling weight toward your chest in the same path as a bench press, does wonders for your body.

It hits the biceps, lats, rear delts, lower traps, rhomboids, teres major & minor, and other a lot of other muscles through the mid-back.

Horizontal pulling is critical not only for the development of those muscles but also for supporting your other compound lifts like the squat and deadlift.

These muscles are critical for good posture and balance the horizontal pushing muscles. Horizontal pulling exercises are always best done in the moderate-high rep ranges with a focus on the eccentric portion of the lift. In pulling exercises, the eccentric portion is when your hands are moving away from your body.

1. Chest-Supported Dumbbell Rows

This exercise is the best upper back builder out there.

Grab an incline bench, a pair of dumbbells, and another bench or box.

Set the incline to 30 degrees, place the bench or box under the headrest of the bench and place your dumbbells on it.

Straddle the bench with your chest and your legs long behind you.

Grab the dumbbells and let your arms hang as low as possible.

Pull the dumbbells up to your hips in a backward arc and slightly lift your chest off the bench at the end of the motion.

2. Single Arm Cable Rows

These can be done on the normal seated cable row at your gym, but I like it better using an incline bench.

The setup is similar to the chest-supported dumbbell rows. The key difference is that these are done one arm at a time using a cable.

The bench provides a point for you to brace with one arm while letting the working arm stretch to max ROM.

Start the exercise with the handle as far forward as possible.

Set your shoulder then pull the handle towards your body. Be sure to keep your shoulder down & back throughout this portion of the lift.

Your body should twist just a little away from the handle to ensure you are squeezing the muscles of the back completely.

Be sure to practice a very large range of motion by letting your hand travel as far forward as possible until you get a deep stretch through your lat.

3. Standing Dumbbell Rows

I used to teach these on a bench until I realized how well they work the core when standing.

These are done one hand at a time so grab a dumbbell and find a wall, squat rack, or other solid upright to brace yourself against.

Place your left arm on the upright about waist height then slide your right foot back. Hinge until your torso is close to parallel.

With the dumbbell in your right hand and your shoulder far away from your ear begin the motion by setting the shoulder.

Now pull the dumbbell up so it touches your hip bone.

This exercise provides a lot of rotational forces on the core so expect sore obliques.

Just like the single-arm cable rows, practice a very large range of motion by letting the dumbbell go low to the ground and encouraging a deep lat stretch.

4. Bent Over Barbell Rows

Barbell rows will be the heaviest back exercise you do.

The main reason is that it is a two-handed exercise with a limited range of motion when compared to single-arm exercises.

A big range of motions is good for growing muscles.

Using big weights is good for tuning the nervous system.

Remember that you need to both grow the muscle, and improve your ability to recruit that muscle, to develop your maximal strength. You can read more about the science of muscle growth in the article below.

What is Sarcoplasmic & Myofibrillar Muscle Hypertrophy?

5. TRX Rows

TRX rows are a great bodyweight exercise.

The beauty of these is that you can adjust the difficulty by changing the angle of your body.

It is key to keep your body in a rigid plank and put the shoulders through a large range of motion.

The more upright you stand when doing this exercise the easier it will be.

Increase difficulty by bringing yourself closer to parallel with the ground.

TRX rows are a great finishing exercise because you can quickly adjust the difficulty while using up the last of your energy for the day.

6. Low Row Machine

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If you’re in a commercial gym like Planet Fitness you probably have access to a low row machine.

It’s a great substitute for single-arm cable rows and my go-to back exercise when at the commercial gym.

Space in SST gyms is limited, but if there was a single-use machine I was going to use precious space on, it would be the Hammer Strength Low Row machine. It is that good. It was actually voted the best Hammer Strength machine in 2022 by the strength training community.

You can do both arms at once but I highly recommend doing one arm at a time to maximize your ROM.

The low row machine is great for all the reasons as other single-arm back exercises. You can put the back muscles through an enormous range of motion, and this ensures you develop the biggest, strongest back possible.

Not sure where to get started with strength Training?

You’re in luck. There is an entire guide for getting started with strength training that gets you set up with everything necessary for a beginner.

How to Get Started With Strength Training

Need a program?

Check out the Seriously Strong Beginner Program. It’s the perfect program to get you started with strength training.

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Keith Hansen

Keith was an All-State wrestler in high school and in 2007 hung up his singlet to attend Florida State University to pursue a B.S. in business management. He wasn't sure what industry he wanted to be involved in at the time, but soon realized after graduating in 2011 that fitness was the ever-constant activity in his life. Keith began studying to become a personal trainer and in 2013 earned the National Strength and Conditioning Association's Personal Trainer certification. After a short stint as a big box gym trainer he realized he wanted to bring something different to Tallahassee. Keith competes in Powerlifting, Olympic Weightlifting, and Crossfit.