If you want some alternative exercises to replace the T-bar row, ones you can do with dumbbells, a barbell, a cable machine or gymnastic rings, this page will show you what to do.
Here are the 7 best T-bar row alternatives:
- Bent-Over Barbell Row
- Single-Arm Dumbbell Row
- Chest-Supported Dumbbell Row
- Inverted Row
- Seated Cable Row
- Landmine Row
- Meadows Row
T-Bar Row: Muscles Worked
The T-bar row is a compound exercise that works a number of different muscles at the same time, the main ones being:
- Latissimus dorsi
- Posterior deltoids
- Elbow flexors (biceps, brachialis and brachioradialis)
The T-Bar Row: How It’s Done
There are several variations of the T-bar row, which include:
- Chest-Supported T-Bar Row
- Neutral Grip T-Bar Row
- Wide Grip T-Bar Row
While you’re still targeting the same muscles, adjusting your hand position will shift the emphasis from one set of muscles to the other.
With the chest-supported T-bar row, the weight of your body is supported on the machine.
As a result, the muscles surrounding your spine don’t have to support the weight of your upper body, meaning that lower back fatigue is less of an issue.
When the T-bar row is done with a neutral grip, meaning that your palms face each other, and the elbows stay closer to the torso, latissimus dorsi (AKA the lats) is more heavily involved.
Using a wider overhand grip and flaring the elbows out to the side, on the other hand, is more of a challenge for your upper back and posterior deltoids.
An effective workout routine will include both lat-focused and upper-back focused rowing movements.
T-Bar Row Alternatives
Bent-Over Barbell Row
First up is the bent-over barbell row. This is an ideal substitute for the T-bar row if you want to train at home, and all you have is a barbell and some plates.
Like the T-bar row, the bent-over row targets mainly your back and biceps.
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However, you can shift the emphasis from one muscle group to another depending on how you do the exercise.
A more lat-focused bent-over row involves keeping the barbell closer to your legs, rowing towards your belly button, tucking your elbows in, and using a relatively narrow grip. This type of row is often done with an underhand, or reverse grip.
On the other hand, if you want to focus more on the muscles in the upper back and rear delts, use a wider grip, bring the elbows out to the side rather than tucking them in, and row the bar closer to the upper region of the stomach, nearer the chest.
- Stand with your feet flat on the floor, roughly shoulder width apart.
- Bend forward at the waist while pushing your hips back, adopting a hinged position.
- Keep your knees slightly bent throughout the exercise, and maintain a slight arch in your lower back.
- Your upper body should be positioned at an angle slightly above horizontal to the floor.
- Take hold of the barbell with an overhand grip, with your hands a little wider than shoulder width apart.
- In the starting position, your arms should be fully extended, with the barbell off the floor.
- Pull the bar towards your rib cage, feeling your shoulder blades squeeze together as you lift the bar.
- Pause briefly at the top, then lower the bar under control back to the starting position, just below the level of the knees.
Single-Arm Dumbbell Row
If you find that the bent-over barbell row causes fatigue in your lower back, try the single-arm dumbbell row.
It’s one of the most effective substitutes for the T-bar row, particularly the chest-supported T-bar row, because your weight is supported on the bench.
As a result, you won’t end up having to terminate a set because of fatigue in the spinal erectors, which can sometimes happen with the bent-over barbell row.
Because you’re hitting one side of the body at a time, the single-arm dumbbell row can also help to eliminate any strength imbalance that might exist between your left and right side.
- Put a dumbbell on the floor at one end of a bench.
- Put your right knee on the bench, then lean forward and put your right hand on the bench to support your body weight.
- Reach down, grab the dumbbell and hold it just off the floor.
- In the starting position, your palms should be facing your torso, rather than forward or back.
- Leading with your elbow, pull the dumbbell up and slightly back.
- The dumbbell should move in a slight arc, rather than straight up and straight down.
- Keep your torso roughly parallel to the floor. Your lower body and trunk should remain relatively still as you lift the dumbbell.
- Pause briefly at the top of the movement, then lower the dumbbell under control to the starting position.
Chest-Supported Dumbbell Row
If you’ve got an incline bench, you can also do chest-supported dumbbell rows using both arms at the same time. All your weight is supported by the bench, so lower back fatigue isn’t an issue.
- Grab a pair of dumbbells and lie face down on the bench.
- Hold the dumbbells directly below your shoulders with your palms facing each other.
- Leading with your elbows, pull the dumbbells up and slightly back.
- Focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together at the top.
- Lower the dumbbells until your arms are straight.
You can do the inverted row with a suspension trainer, gymnastic rings, Smith machine or barbell secured in a power rack.
Research comparing various back exercises shows that the inverted row hits many of the same back muscles as well as the barbell row, but with less load on the spine.
The inverted row can be made easier or more difficult by altering the position of your feet.
Moving your feet away from the anchor point so that your body is in a more upright position makes the exercise easier. To make the exercise harder, move under the anchor point so that your upper body is closer to the floor.
You can also add resistance by wearing a weighted vest, which increases the amount of weight you have to lift with each rep.
- Position the handles at roughly waist height. The lower the handles, the harder the exercise is.
- Grab the handles and position yourself so that your arms are straight, with your body in a straight line.
- Pull yourself up towards the handles, keeping your body in a straight line the whole time.
- In the top position, your hands should be roughly level with your chest. Don’t pull up towards your neck, or down towards your hips.
- Lower yourself under control back to the starting position.
Seated Cable Row
If you’ve got a cable machine at your gym, you can also use the seated cable row as an alternative exercise to the T-bar row.
- Take hold of the handle and push your body back with your feet.
- In the starting position, your arms should be extended, knees slightly bent and your torso inclined back slightly so your shoulders are positioned slightly behind your hips.
- Pull the handle into your abdomen, arching your back slightly as you pull your shoulders back and slightly down.
- Avoid letting your elbows rise as you pull the handle into your stomach. Your elbows should go down ever so slightly as you bring your shoulder blades together.
- Hold the contraction briefly, then allow your arms to straighten as you return the handle to the starting position.
- Allow a little forward movement of your torso as you straighten your arms, rather than trying to keep the upper body perfectly still. However, don’t lean too far forward and allow your back to round.
The landmine row is very similar to the T-bar row, in the sense that one end of the bar is anchored in place, while you row the other end of the bar towards your torso.
While you can use a V-handle (normally found on a seated cable row machine) to do landmine rows, you can also pick up a landmine row handle attachment.
The multi-grip landmine row handle allows you to use different grips and hand positions, just like you would with a regular T-bar row.
- Secure one end of a barbell to a landmine attachment.
- Attach a V-handle or multi-grip handle to the other end of the barbell.
- Face away from the landmine attachment and straddle the bar.
- Bend forward at the waist, and grab the handle with both hands.
- In the starting position, your torso should be slightly above horizontal, with a slight arch in your lower back and your arms fully extended.
- Pull the barbell towards your torso, pause briefly at the top of the movement, then lower the barbell under control to the starting position.
Named after bodybuilder John Meadows, who popularized the exercise, the Meadows row is a modified version of a single-arm dumbbell row, done with a barbell rather than a dumbbell.
- Stand in a staggered stance, with your right foot roughly in line with the barbell.
- Lean forward and grab the end of the barbell with your left hand.
- Rest your right arm on the front leg to support your body weight.
- Pull the barbell up towards your torso, leading with your elbow. Avoid using large diameter plates, as this has the effect of reducing the range of motion.
- Rather than keeping your elbow close to your body or flared out to the side, it should be somewhere in between.
- Keep your torso roughly parallel to the floor. Your lower body and trunk should remain relatively still throughout the movement.
- Lower the barbell under control to the point where you feel a slight stretch in your lats.
- Repeat for the desired number of reps, then repeat the process on the other side.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you do T-bar rows at home?
The cheapest and easiest way to do T-bar rows at home is to use a barbell wedged into the corner of a room or squat rack, and hook a V-handle under the bar. If you want to take things a step further (and avoid damaging the walls), get a landmine row attachment and multi-grip row handle.
Should you go heavy on T-bar rows?
That depends a lot on your goals. Most research shows similar levels of hypertrophy with both heavy and light weights as long as you train hard and push yourself. So if it’s more muscle that you’re after, both heavy and light weights will get the job done.
Strength, on the other, is best developed with heavy weights and lower reps. If it’s a stronger back that you’re after, then by all means go heavy.
Are T-bar rows better than barbell rows?
A T-bar row isn’t necessarily better than the barbell row, they’re just different exercises with different strengths and weaknesses.
The chest-supported T-bar row is a better choice than the barbell row if you have any lower back issues, or if fatigue in erector spinae (a group of muscles in your lower back) during the barbell row causes you to terminate a set before your upper back muscles have been trained effectively.
However, if you want to strengthen erector spinae, or you’re doing a barbell row variation like the Pendlay row as an assistance exercise for the deadlift, the barbell row is the better choice.
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