Build Your Back Like Never Before

Seal Row Variations for a Freaky Upper Back

The seal row challenges you with a full range of motion and prevents cheating. Get horizontal and your upper back and lats will explode.

Get Horizontal to Build Your Back

Do the seal row to build your upper back and lats like never before. This lift will minimize lower back strain and prevent you from using momentum to cheat.

You get a pure horizontal angle to blast your mid back and lats. This is rare. Most of the time, lifters do bent-over rows with varying degrees of an upright torso. This is fine, but it shortens the distance a weight must travel. Good for the ego but not so much for upper-back development. While it’s not bad to use a slightly angled torso, if that’s the only position you’re in while rowing, you’re missing out on some upper-back gains.

Here are some primary and accessory variations of the seal row and a few other bonuses that take advantage of the same high-bench prone position.

Primary Seal Row Variations

1. Barbell

Grab the bar with a shoulder-width, overhand grip and pull towards your high abdomen. Keep your neck neutral and lower body tensed. Pull with your shoulders first, then drive your elbows behind you. Pull the bar against the bench for an extra isometric advantage and contract your upper back and lats hard.

2. Snatch Grip

Use a wide grip and pull the bar to your sternum or mid-chest. This will be a huge challenge for your upper back. If you need lifting straps, use them.

3. Underhand

Use a supinated, palms-up grip and pull the bar to your mid or lower abdomen. You’ll feel this more so in your lats and biceps.

4. Dumbbell

Use a neutral grip on the dumbbells and visualize driving your elbows to the ceiling. Dumbbells allow for a greater range of motion and contraction at the top since you can pull the weights without getting stopped by the bench. You can also use kettlebells, trap bars, and Swiss bars.

Accessory Seal Row Variations

5. Dumbbell Face-Pull

Use an overhand grip and pull the weights high to the chest or neck level. This will hammer your upper back. Lighten up the weight for higher reps. This is a great option if you don’t have access to a cable stack. If you can’t hold the contraction for at least a second, the weight’s probably too heavy.

6. Dumbbell to Hip

Instead of driving your elbows behind you, think about pulling your fists to your hips. These are like a hybrid between a row and a straight-arm pulldown. They’ll give you an intense contraction in the lats.

7. Barbell to Hip

Think of these as the extreme finished position of a pullover. Focus on pulling toward your beltline. In the finished position, your arms should not be fully straight or bent. If possible, drive the bar hard against the bench to intensify the contraction in your lats.

8. Dumbbell Accentuated Negative

Using a neutral grip, drive your elbows back so that your forearms are perpendicular to the floor in the finished position. From here, visualize pushing the weights towards your feet and straightening your arms as you slowly lower back to the starting position. The extended lever and increased time under tension during the negative portion is a potent stimulus for back development.

Bonus Variations

9. Prone Dumbbell Shoulder Extension

One of the functions of the lats is to extend your shoulder or bring your arm behind your torso. For upper-body mobility, it’s important to maintain this range of motion. With your arms straight and hands neutral, raise the dumbbells behind you in a sweeping semi-circular fashion and flex your lats hard. You’ll feel this in your triceps as well.

10. Prone Dumbbell Rear Delt Raise

It’s common for lifters to do rear delt raises either chest-supported against an inclined bench or leaned forward at the hips while sitting at the end of a bench. Doing shoulder raises with your torso parallel to the floor will hammer your rear delts.

Sets and Reps

  • You can load the primary seal row variations heavier with as low as 5 reps or decrease the weight and do them for moderate and higher reps.
  • Accessory seal row variations are best used with moderate weights in medium-high rep brackets, like 12 to 25.

“Wait, This Lift Isn’t New!”

Correct. Although it’s existed for some time, the seal row is becoming more commonplace. Specific benches for them now exist, and some physical testing protocols for the Norwegian military even use them.

The move itself has gone by a few names, including bench pulls and bench rows. In Bill Pearl’s classic glossary of strength, Keys to the Inner Universe, they were known as lying high-bench lat pull-ups.

Naming confusion aside, if you can access or set up a tall bench, they should be a staple in your upper-body training.




  1. Kinakin K. (2009). Optimal muscle training. Human Kinetics.
  2. Kirknes J. & Aandstad A. (2016). New physical fitness tests and employment standards in the Norwegian Armed Forces.
  3. Pearl B (1982). Keys to the inner universe. L.R. Perry Jr. (Ed.). Bill Pearl Enterprises Incorporated.

Always see the England rugby players do these but never been able to do them at a gym as there is no bench that’s raised enough (also I have long arms which makes that worse).

Would love one of those raised benches at the gym though, but bet it would be too short for me still.

I love seal rows and will be buying a specialty bench soon!


Seated Hammer Strength horizontal row would be a good alternative to some of these. Torso is straight and the low back is out of the equation.


I prop my flat bench on DIY pulling blocks to get the additional height for Seal Rows. I have short arms so that helps here.

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I’m in total agreement. Someone I had a few “let me show you how” sessions with started his weightlifting journey with no instruction. Seemed to be winging it with glossy mag instructions.
First thing I did had him get a notebook.
Thankfully he new the value of back work and wasn’t a mirror lifter. His row form was horrid. Well, just like 80% of lifters. Heaving momentum, quickly drop the torso to have the bar touch and bang rep after rep.
I got him on the seated row. Told him that if he didn’t feel his chest getting pulled into the pad, he wasn’t doing it right. Easier with beginners than the “I been liftin’ fer years” guys. You know the type. Using the same exercises, the same load, the same reps for years. No visible change.

Flat bench and using chain extensions with lat bar/whatever accessory grip you choose would effectively mimic same thing without building an entirely different piece of equipment or balancing a bench on something rigged. At least that’s what I’ve been doing for years. I’m 6’ 6” and I modify a lot of movements that would look stupid in the gym and less so at home.
I’m writing this solely from a safety perspective. Like everything else with this article.

That hold at the end of a pull is so important. So is the isometric part.

Literally the 50th time I’ve read this on T-Nation and I’ve forgotten it 49 times. I’m lazy.

Hopefully I don’t forget again.


My gym has one of these machines:

This think will kick your ass haha. First time I tried it I put like 3 45 lb plates on it, thinking it would be a warm up lol. I think I got 8 reps for my warm up for 10 rep sets.

This thing mimics a seal row fairly well. The weight moves on an arc, which is different, but the arc is set so that the center of gravity of the weight being lifted moves close to perpendicular to the angle of the pad.

The not being able to put much weight on it is a bonus IMO. I used to love the machines that I could do many plates on. They built the ego. Now I prefer the ones I need the least amount of weight on.


You can stack a standard bench on bumper plates.

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They are generally super expensive. I stack a standard comp bench on top of bumper plates and it gets the job done without the need for a new bench (obviously not applicable if all you have is metal plates). What was worth the expense for me was buying Rogue’s dedicated seal row bar, which has a 7 inch drop in the middle, allowing for full range of motion.

It’s been a minute since I’ve drooled over one online. Your comment about price made me scoff. I went to google to come back and show you you were wrong.

Fuck dude. When did they double in price :joy:. It’s literally the most simple thing ever

Really wish my gym had one of these.

Haha, my gym would probably ban me if I were to do that. As soon as there’s more than one person squatting or deadlifting it’s pretty much a waiting game to use the plates.

I’m happy with my chest-supported rows, I don’t feel that I’m missing out on anything with them. Inverted rows are MASSIVELY underrated also and probably have a lot of the same benefits as seal rows (mostly due to angle).