Lifters and bodybuilders have a saying; if you need your back to grow, you must row! The T bar row is a free-weight back workout that primarily targets the muscles in the posterior side of your upper body. It is frequently incorporated into exercise routines that require impressive hypertrophic muscle growth and neurological adaptations in your back muscles.
T bar row is a compound workout involving multiple muscle groups and two or more joints. The main muscles that T bar rows target include latissimus dorsi, middle trapezius, posterior deltoids, rhomboids,biceps brachii, forearms, erector spinae, hamstrings, glutes, and quadriceps. This workout also incorporates the muscle groups in your legs as either static support stabilizers or accessory dynamic movement stabilizers.
To achieve the muscle-growing potential of T bar rows, it’s essential to use proper form and T bar row machine while performing this exercise. Improper form can result in muscular injury, minimize the stress or load on specific muscle groups, and eventually reduce the hypertrophic growth and neurological adaptations in those areas. Note that T bar rows can also work well with a landmine station or landmine unit.
10 T Bar Row Alternatives
If you don’t have a T bar row machine in your home gym, these workouts hurt your back, or you’re just bored of T bar rows, no problem. You can try various T bar row alternatives. Remember, T bar rows are often considered free weight workouts because it’s your muscle that performs the significant stabilization of the weight load. Therefore, the best T bar row alternatives should be picked based on their similarity to this characteristic.
Here are the ten T bar row alternatives you can try.
1. Seated Cable Row
Cable rows are an ideal hybrid of machine and free weight workouts. The latter has the benefit of targeting the primary and stabilizer muscles. On the other hand, machine workouts allow you to carefully isolate hypertrophy in a specific mover muscle. So, you will get this double benefit when doing seated cable row exercise, particularly if you have a cable machine in your home gym.
Generally, seated cable row is considered the standard machine replacement workout for T bar rows and other row exercises because it activates the same muscle groups as a barbell or dumbbell row. You can perform seated cable rows while standing or seated, although it’s recommended to perform it while seated if you are a beginner. This allows you to focus on proper form when doing cable rows.
Most people find the seated cable row workout much easier on their lower backs, making it an excellent T bar row alternative. If done correctly, seated cable rows are an effective lat builder that’s also lower back-friendly. You can also try seated high cable rows, a common variation of cable workouts.
How to do it
· Carefully attach a close grip handle to the cable machine to mimic the T-bar row movement.
· Then sit on the machine with a slight bend in your knees.
· Lean back about 20 degrees at your hips and keep your arms fully extended.
· Now retract your shoulder blades prior to beginning the row movement. Do this for every repetition.
· While maintaining the position of your hips and back, pull the cable towards your lower ribs and keep your elbows tucked in your sides.
· At the end of the movement, hold for a second and focus on moving slowly through the entire eccentric phase.
2. Pull ups
Pull ups double as cross-training exercise and a T bar row alternative. As a bodyweight exercise, this workout takes the pressure of the erector spinae. This lengthens your spine and reduces pain. If other T bar alternatives cause you back pain, you may want to stick to pull ups.
The pull up is widely considered an advanced workout compared to T bar rows. For starters, it is more challenging than chin up but can be modified or performed on an assisted machine. Remember, there are beginner-friendly pull up options that allow you to work on the basics until you are ready to perform complete pull ups for an extended period.
If you are an advanced athlete, you can challenge your muscles by adding weights with a vest or weight belt. You can also do pull ups one-handed. These pull up variations can help keep your muscles challenged and prevent them from plateauing so that you can build up strength continuously.
Doing a pull up successfully requires more than just from a pull up bar and pulling until the chin is above the bar. Well, think of a complete pull up movement in three phases – start from the bottom, position halfway up, and the top position. Understanding the nuances will help keep your shoulders healthy as you continue to strengthen your back.
How to do it
· Grab on a Pull Up Bar with your palms pronated, about shoulder-width apart.
· Retract your scapula and engage your core.
· Now pull your body upwards to the bar as you push your elbows down to your sides.
· Once your chin is above the bar, come down in a controlled and slow movement.
3. Bent over Barbell Row
Bent over barbell rows are a popular back muscle rowing exercise and probably the most popular T bar row alternative. They are similar to the T bar rows, with the primary difference being the position of your arms when performing the exercise.
Also, bent over barbell rows differ from T bar rows in terms of muscular activation. For instance, T bar rows activate the trapezius muscle group at the top of the shoulders while barbell bent over rows emphasize the rear deltoid head and bicep brachii muscles. This doesn’t mean the barbell bent over rows doesn’t activate the trapezius.
Proper form is all-important with the bent over row. The best way to make sure you don’t get sloppy is to choose the right weights. Slow and controlled movements are more valuable than just jerking up than loading up massive weight and frequently twisting when doing the exercise. If you are a beginner, you may want to start with minimal weight until you can safely load more weights.
Some of the bent over row variations include reverse grip bent over row, dumbbell bent over row, dumbbell incline row, pendlay row, bent over flye, one-arm barbell row, and one-arm dumbbell row.
How to do it
· Take a Barbell and stand with your feet hip width apart.
· Hold the bar with a pronated grip, slightly wider than shoulder width.
· Pick up the bar such that you’re standing upright.
· Bend your knees slightly so that you safely lower your torso or upper body.
· Carefully drop until you reach a 45-degree angle or below while keeping your hands straight.
· Engage your core and then pull the bar up to your belly button by driving your elbows up.
· Allow the bar to come down slowly and in a controlled movement.
· Perform the number of desired sets and reps.
4. Resistance Band Bent Over Row
Generally, resistance bands are most likely the last gear you picture whenever you think about T bar row alternatives, let alone adding a higher intensity level to your daily back muscle workouts. However, a resistance band bent over row is an anytime or anywhere exercise that offers decent resistance whenever you cannot hit the gym.
The resistance band bent over row is a perfect addition to different types of home workout regimes or home gyms. It is also an excellent T bar row alternative even for beginners because it’s easy to use resistance bands, the only thing you need to perform this exercise. This is why many athletes and bodybuilders stock up on well-constructed resistance bands for exercise.
A resistance band bent over row is excellent for increasing your back strength, flexibility, and stamina without being a high-impact workout. Whether you are just getting started out on your strength training or you work out daily, this T bar row alternative will easily fit into nearly any fitness program.
It’s important to mention that resistance bands often provide about five to 150 pounds of resistance. However, control will depend on your footing. Therefore, you may want to widen your stance slightly for a more challenging resistance band bent over row set.
How to do it
· Stand with your feet centered on a Resistance Band and securely grip the band’s ends with a natural grip.
· With your knees bent slightly, lean forward until your chest is almost parallel with the ground. Ensure your arms are extended below the knees.
· Pull the band’s ends towards your sides while keeping your elbows alongside your torso too.
· Once your upper arms are almost parallel to your upper body, pause for a few seconds.
· Lower the bands back slowly to your starting position.
5. Chest Supported Dumbbell Row
The chest supported dumbbell rows are an excellent T bar alternative because it saves your core stabilizers and erectors from extra exertion. This enables you to target your back muscle groups to a greater extent, just like you would with T bar rows.
Generally, the chest supported dumbbell rows are not taxing on your posterior chain, making this exercise the best T bar row alternative for powerlifters. It’s also great for Olympic lifters who are deep in competition preparation and plan to save their erector muscle group for the primary lifts, not accessory movements.
For a chest supported dumbbell row, you will get the direct back muscles activation by simply pulling the dumbbells towards your hip (diagonally). Because you will be lying flat on a bench, you won’t have the ability to cheat the reps. Depending on the specific angle of your inclination, the chest supported row is likely to target a varying set of back muscles.
Individuals who wish to target lats more can set the incline to a slightly lower angle and keep their elbows tucked during the row. If you intend to target your upper body or upper back muscles more, be sure to set the incline higher and flare your elbows during the row. Remember, you need a set of dumbbells and an adjustable bench to perform this exercise.
How to do it
· Set your Adjustable Bench at an angle of 45 degrees.
· Hold a dumbbell on each hand, sit on the bench, and lay your chest on the bench pad.
· Now brace by pushing both feet into the floor
· Let the dumbbells sink beneath your head, allowing your arms to extend fully and stretch your back.
· Pull your elbows while pushing your chest into the bench pad.
· Let the dumbbells drop back in a slow, controlled motion.
6. Single Arm Dumbbell Row
The single arm dumbbell rows are an excellent addition to your dumbbell workout. They target your lower back, upper back, shoulders, hips, biceps and improve your core stability. Note that five different joint actions happen when performing this compound exercise, making it one of the best T bar row alternative exercises that you can add to your circuit training routine.
During a single arm row, the primary muscle group targeted is the lats. The exercise also involves other muscles in your arms, shoulders, and entire back. By focusing on one arm, you can successfully isolate your lats and lift the weight higher than a lifter using the classic barbell. Similarly, placing the freehand on your thigh or a stable surface gives you the ability to lift more weight.
Remember, the primary goal of this one arm dumbbell row is to help you reach the highest possible range of motion instead of lifting more or heavier weights. As mentioned earlier, keeping the freehand supported gives you support to stabilize your upper body and spine. It also helps you to focus on slow, controlled movements.
How to do it
· Set up your bench and bring over one dumbbell.
· Place one knee and hand on the bench.
· Create a slightly arched back and grab the dumbbell with the other hand.
· While keeping your shoulders level, pull that dumbbell into your core.
· Now lower the dumbbell in a controlled, smooth movement to the original position.
· Switch arms.
7. Kroc Rows
Kroc rows might not be for one and all, but if you want to pack on major muscle, these exercises may be right for you. A Kroc row is a variation of the basic dumbbell row but heavier. They are often done in conjunction with pendlay rows, particularly if you need the ultimate killer back workout.
Adding Kroc rows to your workout routine can be beneficial in a different way. This is advanced that helps build strength in your back and grip, which will, in turn, benefit your deadlifts tremendously. Also, it targets different muscle groups such as the back muscles, rear deltoids, obliques, and even biceps. If you choose to do Kroc rows without the wrist straps, you will get a great workout on your forearms compared to T bar rows.
How to do it
· Get a dumbbell and bring it over to a bench or some type of support to rest your hand.
· Place one hand on the bench or whatever you intend to use for support.
· Alter your standing position such that the leg on the side of your lifting hand is forward and the other leg is a step or two back.
· Now lean over such that your back is relatively flat at about a 45-degree angle.
· Grab your dumbbell and bring it up to your rib cage.
· Drop the dumbbell slowly in a controlled movement to its starting position.
· Perform the desired number of reps.
8. Pendlay Row
Pendlay rows are one of the excellent T bar row alternative exercises for most powerlifters. This exercise targets the exact opposite group of muscles targeted by the bench press, allowing for more excellent stability when performing a heavy press.
Unlike traditional barbell rows, the pendlay rows begin from the ground. This workout involves forceful pulls on your lower chest or upper abdomen, which is beneficial for increasing the power of your back muscles. That’s the same spot where you often touch the barbell for the bench press. When done correctly, pendlay rows target other muscles such as core stabilizers and erectors. This promotes muscle thickness and density, which strengthens you to perform compound exercises better.
Since this workout is great for improving your power output, you can program it at lower reps and high intensity. For instance, you can safely do three to six sets of four to six reps to generate significant power and strength gains.
How to do it
· Unlike a traditional barbell row, your starting position of the bar is on the floor.
· Now stand with your feet hip width apart, and pick up the load facing down.
· Rotate your shoulder blades externally while maintaining a chest forward position to maintain postural stability.
· Since the bar’s starting position is on the floor, you’ll get into this starting position by sitting back further until your upper body is almost parallel to the floor and your chest is in line with your feet.
· From this position, sweep your elbows back while pulling the bar towards your lower chest or upper abdomen.
· Now lower the load into a full elbow extension and rest it on the floor.
9. Inverted Rows
Inverted Rows are one of the less challenging T bar row alternative exercises because they are done with your bodyweight only. Indeed, this is a flexible exercise that varies in difficulty because you stand upright or perpendicular to the ground when performing it.
When you are perpendicular to the ground, inverted rows are going to be much more challenging, which is much better for more advanced powerlifters. When you stand upright, this exercise is going to be easier. This is good for beginner bodybuilders or lifters.
You can make an inverted row even more challenging by modifying your grip. Simply wrap a towel on each side of the loaded bar to make your grip mimic more of a rope. This will allow you to successfully target your back muscles to a greater extent by increasing your range of motion when performing this workout. You can also do either an underhand or overhand grip to make this exercise target the back muscles differently.
How to do it
· Place a barbell in j cups, a bit longer than your arm’s length from the floor.
· To alter the difficulty of an inverted row workout, you can position the barbell higher or lower than the rack.
· Maintain a supine position (face up) when performing inverted rows.
· Maintain an overhand grip on the loaded bar within your palms placed similar to you would on a bench press.
· Keep your spine rigid, and then pull your upper abdomen towards the bar until you make contact.
· Guide yourself away from the bar during the lowering movement until your elbows reach full extension.
10. Renegade Rows
Renegade rows are a challenging compound rowing exercise that strengthens nearly every muscle in your upper body. It also targets the core muscles as you struggle to hold the elevated position when lifting dumbbells. Indeed, these exercises effectively highlight any imbalances in your upper body strength. You will notice if the movement is harder on one side than the other despite using dumbbells of the same weight.
Remember, renegade rows aren’t intended to estimate your strength. If you use too heavy dumbbells, you will lose your form and twist or jerk all over the place. Even with lighter dumbbells, this exercise will still test your limits if you nail the proper form and slow down throughout the workout.
How to do it
· Grab a pair of kettlebells or dumbbells. You need weights with a flat side to rest on as a round dumbbell can easily roll.
· Get into the press-up position while holding a dumbbell in each hand.
· Brace your body and raise one dumbbell while supporting yourself on the other dumbbell.
· Row the dumbbell upward until your arm is slightly higher than your upper body.
· Then lower it slowly back to the ground.
· You can perform sets of eight to ten reps on one arm then switch to the other arm.
Good T bar row alternative exercises usually target the back muscles and place minimal loading on your lumbar spine. The specific exercises as alternatives for T bar rows you choose will depend on the workout equipment in your gym and the extent to which you want to load your posterior chain muscles. Therefore, carefully choose exercises that match your fitness goals and can help you make great progress in your bodybuilding journey.