What do you get when you cross a utility bench, two plyo boxes, two hand grips, a dumbbell, and a 200-pound man lying on top of everything stacked together? You get the dumbbell seal row, an exercise that looks mad challenging—and also, for the uninitiated, just mad.
Former bodybuilder and Thor bod look-alike Julian Michael Smith showed off the move in a recent Instagram video. Smith had been trying to find a better way to perform a seal row—an exercise that requires you to lay facedown on a bench, holding the weight beneath you to help eliminate any momentum and really isolate your pulling muscles. Even better, the position on the bench takes the lower back out of the equation entirely and forces your neck into a neutral position, two common postural mistakes in other row variations that can hurt your gains (and your back).
Smith wanted to perform the row while also being able to spread the grips apart, so he grabbed two cable machine handles and clipped them to a dumbbell with carabiners.
When you’re doing seal rows, you need plenty of room to work. Most benches aren’t going to be tall enough to give you the range of motion you’ll need for the bottom of the movement, so you’ll need to add some height. Smith accomplishes this by stacking either side of the bench on two plyo boxes. Needless to say, you’ll want to make sure everything’s secure before climbing on if you want to try this yourself. (Smith also positions his dumbbell contraption on top of another weight in order to make sure he’s not straining trying to pick it up; once he lifts his dumbbell, he lets the other roll away.)
To pull off the seal row, Smith recommends that you focus on rowing the weight up toward the lower part of your ribs, then shifting down toward the front of your chest during the eccentric (lowering) portion of the movement. If you really want to maximize your back’s involvement, Smith suggests really focusing on what exactly is doing the rowing: “A great way to achieve a better mind muscle connection during back movements is to imagine pulling back with your elbows, not with your hands. Although your hands are holding the weight, your elbows should be driving the movement.”
Don’t expect to be putting up as much weight as Smith, though. So long as you’re pulling with proper form, the positioning of the dumbbell seal row is helping to build up your back.