High Row Machine Alternative

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTPublished: November 14, 2022

The machine high row is a popular back exercise found in many fitness clubs. However, not every gym has this machine. And there may be times when you need an alternative exercise.

This article includes 11 effective high row machine alternatives. So you can replicate this exercise no matter what equipment you have!

High Row Machine Alternative

What Is a Machine High Row?

A high row machine is a piece of back exercise equipment commonly found in larger commercial gyms. And you could think of this exercise as a cross between a pulldown and row movement.

The equipment consists of an adjustable seat with a chest pad. And there are two overhead handles on the end of lever arms connected to weights.

You start the exercises with your arms extended in front and above you. Then you pull your elbows down and back to work your back muscles.

Check out my video demonstration to see how to do a machine high row.

Types of High Row Machines

Generally, the two types of high row machines differ by type of resistance. Specifically, there are weight stack and plate-loaded varieties.

Weight Stack High Row Machine

In the video above, you see a high row machine where the lever arms connect to weight stacks on each side via belts. This type of high row machine is most common in modern gyms like Planet Fitness and is usually the Hammer Strength brand.

Plate-Loaded High Row Machine

Another type of high row machine uses traditional weight plates for resistance. And this type is more often found in older bodybuilding or powerlifting gyms.

While the resistance methods differ, the movement path and muscles worked are the same for both high row machines.

High Row Machine Muscles Worked

The primary muscles worked in the machine high row are the latissimus dorsi or lats. But it also works the rhomboids, teres major, and teres minor of the upper back.

In addition, the high row exercise involves the lower traps to some extent. And the biceps are used as secondary muscles due to the arm flexion as you pull.

Essentially, this exercise targets all of the muscle groups used during pulldown and row exercises. But it doesn’t isolate a particular muscle group quite as well.

How to Replicate the High Row Machine

Finding a suitable alternative to the high row machine requires a similar movement pattern that activates the same muscles.

As I mentioned, the high row pulling angle is between a vertical pulldown and a horizontal row. So you should pull at the same angle in any alternative exercises.

In addition, look for exercises using a pronated (overhand) or neutral grip. And your hands should be near the sides of your chest in the contracted part of the range of motion.

Finally, your arms should be roughly 45 degrees from your sides at the bottom of the movement.

Machine High Row Alternative Checklist:
  • Pulling angle between a row and lat pulldown.
  • Overhand or natural grip.
  • Hands pull towards the chest.
  • Upper arms closer to body at bottom of movement.
High Row Machine Alternative Pulling Angle
High Row Machine Alternative Hand Position
High Row Machine Alternative Arm Position

11 High Row Machine Alternative Exercises

Next, let’s jump into some of the best high row machine alternative exercises. I’ve divided the list based on the equipment used, so you can easily find an exercise that works with your gym setup.

High Row Machine Alternative on Cables

The easiest way to replicate the high row machine is with the cable apparatus. One reason is that you can adjust your body position and the pulley height to simulate the pulling angle.

1. Kneeling Cable High Row

The kneeling cable high row involves setting the pulley to a higher angle. Then you kneel in front of the cable and pull the handle down and back toward your upper chest.

For this variation, you can use a variety of handle attachments, including a bar, rope, dual handle, or single handle.

High Row Machine Alternative - Kneeling Cable High Row

2. Single Cable High Row

You can also do the cable high row in a standing position using the single-handle attachment. For this variation, adjust the pulley to one of the highest positions.

Next, grab the handle in one hand and step back, so the cable is under tension. In the starting position, your arm is extended in front and at or above head level.

Then pull your elbow down and back, so the handle ends up near your chest. With the single cable variation, you can also add a twisting motion.

High Row Machine Alternative - Standing Single Cable Row

3. Seated Cable High Row

The seated cable high row is like the kneeling version, which increases stability. In addition, the lower position works better for taller people.

You can do this exercise with a single cable, but it also works well on dual cable machines. Some gyms even have a dedicated cable machine for this exercise.

High Row Machine Alternative - Dual Cable

High Row Machine Alternative on Lat Pulldown/Row Station

The lat pulldown or low row stations are other options for high row machine alternative exercises.

4. Lat Pulldown (Lean Back)

Generally, I teach people not to lean back too much during a lat pulldown exercise because it makes it more of a row hybrid and generates momentum.

However, we are trying to replicate that high row movement in this case. And a slight backward lean creates an angle very close to the high row machine.

Additionally, you can eliminate momentum by initiating the movement with your lats instead of leaning back first. So it is a good high row machine alternative if you use strict form.

Tip: 3 Common Lat Pulldown Mistakes & How to Correct Them

5. Dual Pulley Lat Pulldown

Some gyms also have a lat pulldown station with two pulleys. And this enables you to use two single-handle attachments instead of a bar.

Moreover, the dual pulley lat pulldown allows each arm to work independently, which is more like the high row machine.

6. Low Pulley Row (Lean Forward)

You can also re-create the high row movement by leaning forward while doing rows on the low pulley station. Then pull the handle higher up on your chest as you row.

As you can see in the image below, the forward lean changes the arm angle, making the movement path and muscle activation more like a machine high row.

High Row Machine Alternative - Low Pulley Row Forward Lean

Other High Row Machine Alternatives

Finally, you can do a handful of high row exercises without machines. All you need for these exercises are straps, bands, free weights, or your own body weight!

7. TRX/Ring High Row

TRW bands or rings are an inexpensive alternative to many machine exercises, including the high row. To replicate the high row using bands, start by anchoring the fixed end above head level.

Then grab one handle in each hand, plant your feet, and lean back while keeping your body straight. At the start of the exercise, your body should be 45-60 degrees and your arms extended in front of you.

Then pull your elbows back until your hands are close to the sides of your chest.

High Row Machine Alternative - TRX High Row

8. Resistance Band High Row

The resistance band high row involves a similar setup as the TRX bands or rings. Except for this time, the bands move instead of your body.

First, attach one end of the resistance bands to a fixed object above head level. Then grab one handle in each hand and step back while extending your arms in front of you.

From this starting position, pull down and back until your hands reach the sides of your chest.

Resistance Band High Row Machine Alternative

9. Pendlay Row

The Pendlay row is an exercise popularized by Olympic weightlifting coach Glenn Pendlay. And it’s basically a barbell row where you keep your back parallel to the floor and pull towards your sternum.

Again, this forward lean changes the arm angle and pulling motion, which makes it more like a high row.

Comparison: Pendlay Row vs Bent Over Barbell Row

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10. Inverted Row

The inverted row can be done with a squat rack barbell or a Smith machine. Either way, you set the bar anywhere between 3 to 5 feet off the floor.

Then hang from the bar with your hands about shoulder-width apart and your legs straight with your weight supported on your heels. From here, pull your chest up to the bar with a rowing motion.

The higher the bar, the less resistance you feel, and vice versa. In addition, a higher bar replicates a high row, while a lower bar replicates a low row.

Inverted Row High Row Machine Alternative

11. Rocky Pullup

A Rocky pull-up is like a regular pull-up, except you lean back and pull your chest towards the bar. As with the lat pulldown, the backward lean changes the pulling angle to resemble the high row machine.

However, you must use strict form during this exercise as well. This is not a body-swinging kipping pull-up that you see in CrossFit workouts!

Rocky Pull Up High Row Machine Alternative

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More Back Exercises

Now you can include several high row machine alternatives in your next back workout. But make sure you use a variety of other movements to work the upper and lower lats equally.

Here are my other top articles related to back stretches, exercises, and workouts.

Best Lat Stretches for Overhead Mobility

Machine Low Row Variations & Alternatives

19 Unique Cable Back Exercises

Dumbbell Lat Exercises to Beef Up Your Back

Posterior Deltoid Exercises for 3D Shoulders

At Home Resistance Band Back Exercises

Lower Lat Exercises for a Beastly Back

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By |November 14, 2022|Workouts|0 Comments
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