- Begin with an elevated flat bench/surface that is, ideally, slightly more narrow than shoulder-width. This should be tall enough to allow your arms to hang without contacting the floor.
- With a DB in each hand, position yourself prone on the bench. Your thighs can be up as well or you can choose a more modified approach with the edge of the surface pressed into your hip crease with feet down on the floor creating stability. Note that this step can be somewhat awkward and cumbersome so be careful if using heavy loads.
- Allow the DBs to pull your arms down and your shoulder blades apart (protracted). The abdomen, chest and forehead should be in contact with the bench. This will be the start position.
- Without moving your torso, shoulder or head, initiate the movement by pulling/rowing the DBs towards the upper abdomen. This execution should have components of scapular retraction, shoulder extension, and elbow flexion.
- Allow the wrists/grip to orient to the most comfortable position and don't try to force protraction or neutrality. This will generally promote a subtle abduction of the shoulder through the row (but NOT an intentional flaring of the elbows).
- The arc of the row is crucially important. Try to pull towards the path of least resistance and in the plane that feels most natural. This will coax you into the correct intent which is to target the mid back versus the lats. Continue to pull until full scapular retraction is achieved without moving the head, shoulders or torso.
- Once shoulder extension has reached its terminal point, control the reversal into the eccentric. It's a good cue to think about controlling the descent with your shoulder blades (going from retraction to protraction) versus focusing on elbow extension.
- At the bottom of the ROM, reach and fully extend to lengthen the mid/low traps and rhomboids. Try to pause here for a count or two before shifting into the next rep.
- Poor Shoulder Mobility
- Breast Augmentation
-Seated Neutral Low Cable Rows
- TRX Inverted Rows
- Incline Chest Supported DB Rows
- Chest Supported Neutral Machine Rows
- Chest Supported Tbar Rows
- Bent Over DB Rows
- Barbell Seal Rows
- Swiss Bar Seal Rows
- Bent Over Tbar Rows
- Chest Supported Neutral Cable High Rows
-5-10 sets per week
- 2-5 sets per session
-8-20 rep range
Applicable Intensity Techniques:
- Load Drop Sets
- Supersets (Utilizing the DB Seal Row as a precursor movement to overload the mid-to-end range in a superset followed by an isolation movement to allow for focus on the shortened range; i.e. a cable or machine variant)
For some reason, DB Seal Rows are incredibly under-appreciated and under-utilized.
My initial suspicion is that it is due mostly to the difficulty in set-up, but then I look around and see people taking 30 minutes to configure a contraption to specifically target the lateral aspect of their clavicular pec fibers while only nasal breathing when it's 80º outside and Mercury is in retrograde...
And then an epiphany came; Most people just don't want to do hard shit that makes them feel weak.
It's much easier to convince ourselves that the endless quest for the "perfect" exercise will eventually bear fruit and make up for all the time spent on that merry-go-round, but the reality is that actually SEEKING those exercises and variations that humble you will have a much greater long-term ROI. It's just not nearly as fun, motivating or Instagrammable.
Tangent aside, the DB Seal Rows are a perfect case study for this exact phenomenon because they're:
a) difficult to load heavy
c) don't provide immediate feedback via mind-muscle connection
Similar to the fate of most other free-weight horizontal row variations, the DB Seal Row has recently been phased out of popular programming in favor of idealized resistance curves and hyper-specificity. Machines and cables have become the clear incumbent modality when it comes to back training in a way that has enabled an air of elitism over anything that "falls short" of these rewritten prerequisites.
Luckily, we can use a little pragmatism in our evaluation of an exercise's efficacy and use-cases. And while the DB Seal Row is not going to be the golden ticket for back development, it definitely has a place for those who are willing to side-step their egos.
One of the biggest deficiencies that is intrinsic to the DB Seal Row (and most free weight horizontal rows) is the difficulty in effectively stimulating the lats. Yes, you can definitely attempt to manipulate arm path, tempo, scapular movement, and even the intention within the execution, but the actual anatomy of the lats shows us that we will just need more in order to get full stimulation. But THAT IS OK! We don't expect or need any one movement to be the end-all-be-all. We program multiple variations for the same muscle group precisely to make up for these assumed shortfalls. So the work-around is as simple as understanding what our intents are with using certain exercises and building our program around this base.
DB Seal Rows= Mid Back (and to a lesser extent, Rear Delts). Find other movements to meet volume thresholds for the lats.
From here, we should confront head-on the tired criticism of "I can't feel it working." After the initial eye-roll, my response to this is "It doesn't matter. As long as you're executing the movement properly with a full ROM, it's working as intended." Some movements completely lose their utility if there is no perception of tension accompanying them. If you're performing a Preacher Curl and can't feel your biceps working, that's a problem. If you can't feel your glutes contracting while straining through a max set of Sumo Deadlifts, fear not because I can guarantee they are still working hard. In our present situation, DB Seal Rows fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum...The mind-muscle connection is a very poor indicator of effectiveness BUT we will still be able to concentrate our efforts towards the main goal (scapular retraction).
Due to this goal along with the strictness built into the Seal Row, we're going to be forced to eat a big slice of humble pie. Whereas under normal circumstances, we can load up Barbell Bent Over Rows and pump them out Yates-style. Or we can grab the obviously-too-big DB and bust out some Single Arm Power Rows (though most people can hardly call these a "row" but I digress). The combination of perfectly parallel torso angle, lack of assistance from ancillary muscle groups, and general anatomical weakness of the mid/low traps means that the loads we're capable of handling are going to get slashed drastically. Don't try to fight it. Instead, embrace it and take advantage of the low-hanging gains.
DB Seal Rows really find their niche serving the posturally-impaired, lower-cross syndrome demographic. Everyone of us can use better functioning scapular retractors to pull our shoulders out of internal rotation and our thoracic spine out of kyphosis. Just about everyone of us (at least the old people) have dealt with low back discomfort so having the chest support creates a safe environment to train hard and get stronger. Some of us need to create more developmental balance between the mid back and lats. Despite the admitted shortcomings, it is these areas in which the DB Seal Rows can really shine.
Primary Use Case:
- Hypertrophy of Mid/Low Traps, Rhomboids, and Rear Delts
- Training around Low Back injury