Exercises You Should Be Doing: Split Stance Low Cable Row

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If you ask me there are only a handful of things in this world that people seemingly can’t get enough of:

1.  Cowbell

2.  Twilight (I’m still trying to figure this one out).

3. And in the strength and conditioning realm:  horizontal rowing.

The first two are obviously pop culture references (if you haven’t watched it already, I HIGHLY suggest you click on the cowbell link I provided) that I threw in there just because I can. And because I absolutely despise Twilight.

The latter, however, is something that’s a bit more pertinent to today’s discussion and something that – contrary to above – I feel many, many, MANY trainees go out of their way to avoid – which is a shame.

If you look at the overwhelming majority of programs that people follow, it’s hard not to notice that they’re very anterior dominate.  Meaning, they place a premium on the parts of the body that we can see (pecs, abs, biceps) and generally disregard the muscles that actually play a role in performance and optimal posture (glutes, hamstrings, and rest of the backside).  It’s BRO-gramming in its purest form.

Taking it a step further, even if someone is making a concerted effort to be a good little lifter and including more horizontal rowing into their training repertoire, sadly, most absolutely butcher technique and end up causing more harm than good.

Giving a few examples, here’s some old videos of EC when he was like 15 demonstrating the three biggest culprits:

Chin protrusion, forward head posture:

Hip and lumbar extension:

Humeral Extension with Shrug:

I each case I think we can all agree that neither of the above pass the “shit test.”  Put simply: if it looks like shit, it’s probably shit.

Moreover, none are actually working the muscles that the exercise is intended to target, and there’s a bevy of compensation patterns that come to the forefront.

In any case I bet these look vaguely familiar, right?

If you walk into any commercial gym, anywhere, at any time…. and someone is performing a seated row, that’s what you’ll inevitably see.

That notwithstanding, I do love me some rows.  I think they’re invaluable movement for building an impressive physique, and even more importantly, for addressing many of the postural issues that plague our society.

Nothing represents this phenomenon so succinctly more so than Janda’s brilliant Upper Cross Syndrome.

In dissecting the diagram to the right, we can easily see how our daily lives spending copious amounts of hours in front of a computer, as well as our programming mishaps can play into dysfunction.

The pecs, upper traps, and levator (tonus muscles) tend to be overactive and short/stiff; while on the other side of the fence the neck flexors, rhomboids, and serratus anterior (phasic muscles) tend to be weak and inhibited.

While it can be a bit more complicated, the easy solution would be to stop benching three times per week for…..the…..love……of…….god stretch what’s stiff/short and strengthen what’s weak/inhibited.

While I’m not going to go out of my way to address the former, the best course of action would be to perform some dedicated soft tissue work on the pecs, lengthen the tissue, and then “cement” that new length with some non-eye gouging exercise selection.

With respects to exercise selection, today I want to share yet another rowing variation that we utilize quite a bit at Cressey Performance:

Split Stance Low Cable Row

What Does It Do:  What doesn’t it do?  Obviously we’re going to strengthen the upper back (specifically the scapular retractors), which is never a bad thing.  Secondly, would be the anti-flexion component.  By bending over at a 45-degree angle – which you don’t do during a regular standing cable row – the spinal erectors get quite a bit work trying to prevent shear loading.

Third, one gets a fair amount of glute activation in the trailing leg.

Last, and maybe less obvious to some, would be the multi–planar stability in the front (plant) leg, as the hip musculature (glute max, glute med, deep hip rotators) has to resist the torsional forces placed upon the body.

In short, there’s a lot of “stuff” going on during this exercise, which makes it a winner in my book.

Key Coaching Cues:  While I’m all about progressive overload, I’m not overly concerned about being aggressive with this exercise.  I’d rather one not try to be a hero and do this exercise correctly than use too much weight and look like they’re having an epileptic seizure.

To that end:

1.  Tuck the chin and try your best to prevent any forward head posture.

2.  Squeeze the glute of the rear leg.  Like hard. So hard that you tear your shorts.

3. Make sure to keep the shoulder blade depressed (and adducted)….and don’t shrug the weight.

4.  Pull the elbow towards the hip and squeeze for a 1-2 second count with each repetition.

5.  Give somebody a hug.

Try it out today, and let me know what you think!


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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

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