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Take Your Back Gains To The Next Level With The Machine High Row: Tips, Benefits & Workout

 Written by 

Julien Raby

 Last updated on 

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Having a chiseled back, or what many call “wings,” is one of the ultimate goals for almost every fitness community. A strong back gives you presence and will help maintain a proper posture and shoulder health. 

Hundreds of exercises will help you in this quest. In this article, we’ll help you take your back gains to the next level with the machine high row: tips, benefits & workout to push you closer to your goals. 

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Here’s what you’ll learn:

– What is a Machine High Row?

– Muscles Worked

– Technique and tips.

– Mistakes to avoid

– Back builder workout

Get ready to grow some wings, and let’s get to it!

What Is The Machine High Row?

The machine high row is a piece of equipment that mimics the pull-up and lat pulldown movement pattern. There are several types, but most have pins on the sides to add the weight load. Others have a weight stack that can be easily changed. 

These machines have a seat and also tend to have a pad to rest the chest. Those two features allow for more instability which is crucial for muscle growth

Primary Muscles Involved

The high machine row is a compound movement since it targets multiple joints per rep. This is terrific news for your muscle gains because that puts your body under more generalized stress, increasing your hormone release.

Here are some of the primary muscles involved in the machine high row.

Latissimus Dorsi

The lat (latissimus dorsi) is one of the broadest muscles in the body. It runs horizontally from the spine to the arm bone (humerus), and it’s involved in both thoracic and brachial motion.(1)

Some of the main actions in the upper body are done in conjunction with the teres major and pectoralis major (chest muscle). They adduct, medially rotate, and extend the arm at the shoulder joint. (1)


The rhomboids are two muscles: major and minor. Both located in the back between your scapula and spine play a crucial role in retracting, elevating, and rotating the scapula. These are vital functions needed to create a safer and stronger shoulder joint.

Trapezius Muscle

The trapezius has three portions: upper, middle, and lower traps. They are one of the most critical muscles in the back, extending from the base of the skull to the mid portion of the spine. The function of the traps is to stabilize and move the scapula

The upper fibers can elevate the scapula and extend the neck. The middle traps medially retract the scapula, and the lower traps depress and aid the upper fibers in upwardly rotating the scapula (2)


The biceps will likely be recruited in all pulling and rowing exercises since they are the muscles responsible for flexing the elbow and the supination and pronation of the forearm. Two heads form it:

– Long head (caput longum)

– Short head (caput breve) (3)

Combining the high machine row with a couple biceps workout could make serious arms gains if you want to fill those shirts.

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Machine High Row: Setup & Technique

The best way to ensure your back gains stay atop is to set up the machine to help you achieve this. The machine’s high row is as straightforward as it gets. You choose the weight, adjust your seat and pull. 

However, the proper setup is essential to get the most out of it. Before doing the first rep, go through the following.

– Set up your seat and knee pads in such a way that you feel tight and firm.

– Set the handles at a height that makes your lats feel stretched when you sit. This will ensure a proper range of motion.

– Pick a weight that allows you to move efficiently for 8-15 reps.

Once the setup is correct, then we can focus on the technique. The machine will do most of the work, so you only need to pay attention to these three cues:

– Make sure to move through a full range of motion. On the way down, take your elbows as far back as possible, and let the arms and scapulas go up.

– Keep your neck neutral. There’s no need to look up or down since this would create unnecessary neck strain.

– Keep your chest on the pad. The pad is there for a reason, to create stability and isolate the back muscles as much as possible. Getting off the pad when pulling down means you might be compensating with other back muscles; avoid that.

As we mentioned earlier, this piece of gym equipment will do most of the work for you, and as long as you follow these simple cues, you are on track for massive back gains.

Tips For Better Back Gains

Here are a few tips for better back gains with the high machine row.

Control The Tempo

Muscles adapt and grow in relation to the stress applied to them. The more time you go under tension, the more stress you endure, and the more muscle grows over time. Tempo training dictates the speed at which different movement parts are executed.

Start by choosing a manageable weight that allows you to do so. Then try to slow down on your way down, pause at the bottom, then slow down on your way up with minimal rest before starting the next rep.

Work Close To Muscle Failure

It is known that muscles grow when exposed to progressive overload, balanced nutrition, and rest. You must be strategic about getting the most out of your training. Most of the time, and with almost every exercise, you should experience working close to muscle failure.

Muscle failure means reaching the point where the muscle can not contract any more and cannot perform the movement through its full range of motion. In other words, you’ve reached exhaustion.

If you’re a beginner, this tip may not apply since it could harm your joints and muscles. But once you’re an intermediate or advanced lifter taking your muscles close or even getting to failure may be beneficial.

Limit Rest In-Between

The recommended rest time for maximizing hypertrophy is 60 to 90 seconds after each set. Research suggests this is enough time for your muscles to rest without losing the tension from previous working sets. 

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Too much rest may not challenge you and stress muscles enough. Those long resting periods are usually reserved for power and strength training since the central nervous system gets a higher tax performing them. 

Common Mistakes You Should Avoid

The machine high row is a straightforward exercise, with little to miss for perfect execution. However, there are a few mistakes that you should avoid to maximize your muscle gains. 

Moving Too Fast

One of the most critical factors for hypertrophy and muscle training is time under tension (TUT). Moving too fast does the opposite. It keeps you from experiencing that valuable tension, and you might leave muscle gains on the table.

To avoid this, start using tempo training in your workouts. This simple trick will make those muscles burn in no time!

Non-Challenging Weight

What doesn’t challenge you won’t make you stronger. Simple as that. For your muscles to grow, they need to experience the right amount of stress which can only be done with challenging and heavy loads. 

If you’re a beginner, starting with low to moderate weights is understandable. However, once your body has adjusted to that stimulus, you must increase the weight stack. For example, your first set should feel challenging initially, while the last set should be very close to muscle failure. 

This will ensure you’re putting your muscles and joints under the right amount of stress.

Too Much Weight

As always, balance is imperative. Like very low eights won’t challenge you, too much weight could be detrimental if your technique is not sound.

Heavy weights are necessary for your muscles to grow and adapt, but choosing such a load you cannot handle could increase the risk of injury nobody wants. 

Incorrect Seat Adjustment

An underrated factor of muscle gain is stability. It’s almost impossible for a muscle to exert maximal power while experiencing instability. In the case of the machine high row, adjusting the seat to keep you from moving will do wonders for your goals. 

Aim to have the leg pads of the seat as tight as possible without feeling too much discomfort or sensation of hurt. Once your legs are stable, you’ll immediately feel how stronger and more efficient your pulling gets.

Machine High Row Alternatives

The machine high row is a fantastic pulling exercise in your training routine. However, only some have access to it. Even if you go to a globo gym, some of them may not have that machine. For that reason, having practical row machine alternatives can keep you on track for massive back gains.

Lat Pulldown

The lat pulldown is one of the most performed back exercises in the fitness world. Perhaps one of the first movements beginners learn how to do when starting their journey. It’s simple, effective, and accessible. 

This cable machine uses a pulley system with a cable that can attach different handles and bars to it. A straight bar with curved ends is the most widely used. Firstly, set up the seat height and knee pad to increase stability. 

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Grab the bar with an overhand grip (knuckles up) and bring the bar down to your chest without overly hyperextending your spine. Control the upward movement and go up until your elbows are locked at the top.

Pick a challenging but manageable weight that allows for 10-15 reps without losing proper form. You can always try different grips like the underhand grip or even a different bar attachment to biased multiple muscles each time. 


Pull-ups are the king of all upper-body pulling exercises. Some people find them hard (especially women), while others can’t live without them. 

The pull-up is a compound movement that uses the vertical pull to work the lats, teres major, and biceps. It requires considerable strength from the starting position to lift your body weight.

If you’re unable to perform a full strict pull-up, you can modify it using bands or a spotter to assist you.

Lower the bar to a point where your feet are touching the ground, allowing you to remove that weight and make the exercise more achievable.

Dumbbell Rows 

Dumbbell rows are another incredible alternative exercise to the high machine row. They’re among the most accessible row variations since you only need a dumbbell (kettlebell) or two. 

Compared to the previous alternatives, dumbbell rows have a different movement angle, so they are horizontal pulls. 

There are many ways you could perform this movement, such as the following examples:

Single Arm Dumbbell Row

– Dumbbell Bent Over Row

– Chest Supported Dumbbell Row

Gorilla Dumbbell Row

– Dumbbell Plank Row 

All these row exercises are valid options to include in your workout program. They’ll surely increase your muscle mass, and the different types of movements will keep your body guessing for what’s to come.

Back Workout For Mass Gain

Now that you know the machine high row, some of its alternatives, and most of the muscles recruited, it’s time to put it all to use. Next, you’ll find a simple workout you can follow today or the next time you hit the gym. 

The workout should be easy to follow, but if you’re a beginner, adjust the load to meet your current fitness level. Remember, safety should always be your priority. Let’s work!

A1) High Machine Row

A2) Chest Supported Dumbbell Row

A3) Inverted Row

3-4 sets, 8-15 reps, moderate-heavy weight. 90 seconds rest between sets.

B1) Pull Ups

B2) Lat Pulldown 

B3) Barbell Bent Over Row

2-3 sets, 8-12 reps, light to moderate weight. 90s rest.

Those six exercises should give you a complete back workout. It has a mix of machines, barbells, and dumbbells. Please make the necessary adjustments to squeeze them all into one session and get ready for the back gains.


What Does Machine High Row Work?

The machine high row works the lats (latissimus dorsi), traps, and rear deltoids. It’s an incredibly effective exercise for developing a stronger and more muscular back. The stability helps maintain the tension throughout the range of motion, which is necessary for hypertrophy. 

Is High Row Better Than Low Row?

High row is not necessarily better than low row, they are different, and both should be included in your training program. The low row focuses more on the lower parts of your back, upper traps, biceps, and rear deltoids. The high row will target your lats and low traps more, though. If you had to choose between one or the other, know there are more alternatives to the high row than the low one.

What Is An Alternative To Machine High Row?

The lat pulldown and the pull-ups are an excellent alternative to the machine high row. The lat pulldown also utilizes a machine, but in this case, it’s more accessible and standard among regular gyms. Pull-ups are the obvious choice if you don’t have access to any gym; even if you do, you should do them anyway. Both movements work the same movement pattern and will take your gains far!


Julien Raby is the owner of BoxLife. He owns a bachelor in literature and a certificate in marketing from Concordia. He's Crossfit Level 1 certified and has been involved in Crossfit since 2010. In 2023 he finally made it to Crossfit Open Quarterfinals for the first time. LinkedIn Instagram Facebook

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