I love doing back weight exersises, especially the Seated Cable Rows with a narrow grip with the stack set at my body weight of 210lbs.

On two occasions I've performed 3 sets of 10 reps and I feel great afterwards. But then I'll be out of commission for a week while my body recovers.

So how do I change this workout? Decrease the number of reps, sets or less weight? I'm afraid of doing less weight to failure and ending up worse.

  • 2
    What is in the rest of the workout? Understanding the context in which you do the cable rows would probably help. Commented May 10, 2012 at 12:48

4 Answers 4


I'm going to answer in a general sense, as the same advice works when you are doing squats, deadlifts, and other exercises. There comes a time where you just can't keep hitting the same exercise and expect to increase the next time you do it. Essentially, you need to vary the weight intensity and volume over time.

Weekly Progression

Both Texas Method (TM) and Madcow have a "volume" day and an "intensity" day. The volume day is where you do the hard work, and intensity day is where you put it to use. You would be doing the exercise twice a week. The sets and reps are written in "sets x reps" notation:

  • Volume day: 5x5 TM is sets across (all the same weight), Madcow is ramping sets (increase 12.5% each set)
  • Intensity day: work up to a heavy set of 1-3 at 5-10lbs more than last max, and add a backoff set of 8

Essentially, on intensity day you are increasing the max you can do. With Madcow, intensity day is always 5-10lbs more than volume day, and your next volume day you do at the weight you used for your last intensity day. With TM, you change the weight on volume day when you feel you need to, but always increase from intensity day to intensity day.

This variation works well when you need a week to get stronger and do more.

Monthly Variation

There are plenty of templates that work here, but the one I like best is the Wendler progression. All percentages are your training max for the cycle. Reps x Percentage notation used. Note: the '+' sign is used for As Many Reps As Possible (AMRAP), saving a rep in the tank when you are done.

  • Warmup across all weeks is 5x40%, 5x50%, and 3x60%
  • Week one: 5x65%, 5x75%, 5+x85%
  • Week two: 3x70%, 3x80%, 3+x90%
  • Week three: 5x75%, 3x85%, 1+x95%

As assistance you would do 5x10 at one of your warmup weights.

This works for just about any exercise, but it was written primarily for large compound movements.

What to Look At

Essentially, the more advanced you get, the more complicated your training will become. Managing recovery will be important, but you really can't go all week without doing anything. While the overall volume of your training will increase, your muscles will have more relative rest than just going at it 3x10 every time.

Also, there are times where you have to do other exercises to increase the one you want. For example, for deadlifts you may have to do deficit deadlifts to improve your strength off the floor or romanian deadlifts to help your lockout strength. Technically speaking, the cable rows are themselves an assistance lift that balances your bench press nicely. They can also be done as Pendlay rows.


Some muscles, particularly the larger ones, take longer to recover, and if you're doing pretty heavy weights, a week sounds about right for recovery time.

I find though that the 3x10 at 10-12RM exercises are a lot harder to recover from than 5x5 at 5-7RM. Heavier weights, roughly the same overall work done, but the next few days I'll feel sore, but I won't have difficulty doing things. Squats in sets of 5 leave me perfectly able to bound up stairs 3 steps at a time, but squats in sets of 10 have me walking awkwardly up stairs 1 step at a time.

  • I've kinda been reading about 5x5 recently. I will try that, thanks.
    – Salsero69
    Commented Jun 29, 2012 at 14:35

Not sure what you mean by "work the back" if that means every muclse from bottom of the waist up to the bottom of the neck, or if you mean "back" as in just the lower back muscles - which are the ones that get really sore or hurt for those who have bad backs, pull their backs, etc.

If you're trying to get the lower back muscles into shape, you don't need 210lbs of cable rows. There are inclined set-ups for back-extensions in most gyms that you can use to work thos elowrr back muscles. Also, if you just lay on the floor with your stomach down, and flex you back (an exercise called supermans) you'll find that even without weight(or a medball carried in the hands) a few good sets of these will seriously activate and work those lower back muscles, to the extent that when you stand up, you'll feel the tightness and be standing straighter.

Back extensions on the floor: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bw9YuQTTc58

Back extensions on the platform: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ph3pddpKzzw


The exact solution is going to depend on several factors, including your other exercises and the type of pain you're getting.

Are you getting DOMS? If you are, then you're probably fine and just need to rest a day and suck it up in the later days. Stretch more, get plenty of water and protein, and get back out there.

Are your muscles spasming/cramping? If so, then you probably want to make sure you stretch more after your workouts and on off days, maybe do some more dynamic stretching, or more warming up, beforehand. You may also want to "deload" and do lower weight for the same number of reps and sets and work back up.

Is it not muscle pain? When you're "out of commission," do you get sharp pain down one of your legs? What does the pain feel like? Where is the source of the pain located? If it falls under the "not muscle pain/DOMS", then you probably want to see a doctor. Lower back pain and sharp pain down a leg is a sign of Sciatica, where the Sciatic nerve gets pinched. Even if it's not Sciatica, if it's not muscle pain, you don't want to injure yourself further. Get checked out and make sure everything is okay.

For any of these, and everyday activities, make sure your posture and form are correct. When standing straight, your spine should make a gentle S-shaped curve. Your skull should sit comfortably on top, your hips in a neutral position at the bottom, your shoulders back some, and your ribcage up and out of your hips. Your shoulders and hips should be parallel to each other and the ground, and your weight distributed evenly between your feet. When working out, make sure your back is as straight as the exercise allows (ie - when doing things like squats or deadlifts, the back shouldn't be rounded - the form should come from bends at the waist/hips, knees, and the other joints involved).

Also, make sure you don't overwork your back. Just like you take rest days between the other muscle groups you work, your back needs rest. Remember, too, that if you're doing compound lifts, you may be working your back, already, so make sure to count them, as well, when determining how much you've done.

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