Seal row benches are very rare these days and you almost certainly won’t have one in your gym.
But that doesn’t mean you should give up on the seal row (sometimes called prone row).
This is my favorite back exercise of all time and I believe it’s well worth trying to figure out a way to make it work.
I’ve listed 3 creative ways you should be able to get a seal row bench going, so there’s really no excuse not to use this exercise!
If none of those work or you simply aren’t as in love with the seal row as I am, I’ve also listed the 4 absolute best seal row alternatives that will make excellent replacement exercises.
No Seal Row Bench?
You can actually get some decent seal row benches for about $300. They’re fairly affordable and make great additions to any home gym if you’re doing this exercise regularly.
If you only have access to a regular weight bench, here are some of the best setups to try.
Elevate A Decline Bench
The best solution to the seal row bench conundrum is to use a decline bench instead.
Elevate the lower end on a platform or box so that the bench is relatively flat.
You should be able to adjust the decline angle so that you get a relatively flat bench.
The benefit of using this method is that you should only need to use one box to prop the bench up on.
Make sure the bench isn’t moving around too much before you start doing any overly explosive reps!
One of the issues with this method is that decline benches aren’t all that commonplace either, so you might not have access to one.
Elevate a Regular Bench
If you didn’t have access to a decline bench, you should be able to do this one.
Using two plyometric boxes, elevate a regular gym bench and you should be good to go!
If you’re unable to reach the barbell/dumbbells, you should be able to rack them on the front box, otherwise you can throw some weight plates on the floor to elevate the weights enough.
Again, be super careful about the bench shifting around: make sure your bench isn’t on the edge of either box!
Use Your Power Rack
One other creative solution I found was to use an adjustable weight bench with a power rack.
I’m not completely sold on how secure this setup is, so if you’re going to try this, do so at your own risk!
If you’re just not interested in the seal row, let’s take a look at some of my favorite alternatives to use.
#1 Bench Chest Supported Row
Shout out to Kabuki Strength for this recommendation.
This variation involves using an adjustable weight bench as a chest support.
This is the best alternative I’ve found for taller athletes who, when using a regular chest supported row setup, find that the chest padding is too low on their torso.
It’s a lot easier to get the right level of chest support when you do it this way.
When doing this movement, avoid trying to pull the bar upwards to your chest.
Using the cue of ‘trying to put something in your back pocket’ is a great way to ensure you’re using correct form.
#2 Incline Chest Supported Row
Another really easy alternative is to use a bench as a chest supported row.
The same exact cue from the previous exercise works well here.
Think about retracting your scapula and driving backwards more so than directly upwards.
The limitations with this method are that some benches might interfere with the bar path when using a barbell and will almost certainly limit the top end range of motion.
Dumbbells are ideal for this exercise but it’s really tricky to get into position on the bench while holding two heavy dumbbells.
Personally I’m not a fan of this one.
#3 T-Bar Row
The T-bar row is another great replacement exercise for the seal row.
Make sure you’re hinging at the hips and keeping a neutral spine. Your lower back shouldn’t be moving at all.
Your hip angle should stay completely static in order to keep the tension on your upper back and as far off your lower back as possible.
#4 Pendlay Row
As an athlete, the Pendlay row is my favorite of all the seal row alternatives.
With this row variation, you start with the bar on the ground and pull it to your chest.
You should start in an RDL position and remember to keep your hips as static as possible so your upper back is doing almost all of the work.
Because the tension is released at the end of the rep (bar on the floor), this exercise is going to require less of your lower back which is really nice.
You can do this movement either explosively, focusing mainly on the concentric movement (pull upwards) or you can do it slow and controlled, while squeezing at the top.
I prefer doing Pendlay rows exactly how I like to do my seal rows: explosive and aggressive!
Why Seal Rows Are Superior
The one thing that differentiates the seal row from all of these alternatives is its unique ability to isolate the upper back.
When you’re lying prone on a bench, there’s zero tension on your lower back which is ideal for several reasons…
Firstly, you’re generally able to do more reps because you’re not fatiguing your lower back which tires out much quicker than your upper back.
It also makes it a great exercise to do the day before or after you squat.
Heavy squats are super taxing on your lower back and virtually every bent over row variation will fatigue your lower back a ton.
By training your back using the seal row, you can save your lower back strength for where it’s needed: in the squat rack!
If you’re interested in possibly getting a seal row bench for your gym, make sure you check out my comparison of the best seal row benches in 2023.