post T-Bar Row Alternative (Level Up Your Back Exercise)

T-Bar Row Alternative (Level Up Your Back Exercise)

Connor Sellers
Published by Connor Sellers | Senior Coach
Last updated: December 28, 2023
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As a personal trainer, I consistently incorporate the T-bar row into my clients' back workout routine.

Some T-bar row options are worth considering due to limited equipment availability or a desire to diversify exercises and training variables to target muscles from various angles.

After extensive research over several weeks, I have compiled a list of the best T-bar row alternatives to supplement your workout routine.

These exercises focus on similar muscle groups, offer various grip options, and allow progressive overload.

Quick Summary

  • The most effective substitutes for T-bar rows, are exercises like the bent-over barbell row, single-arm dumbbell row, and seated cable row.
  • These alternatives are designed to target similar muscle groups as T-bar rows, enhancing upper body strength and core stability.
  • Research indicates that exercises targeting multiple muscles, like T-bar rows, increase oxygen consumption and hormonal responses, contributing to lean muscle mass and reduced body fat​​.
  • Personally, I find the variety of T-bar row alternatives beneficial for diversifying workouts and avoiding muscle adaptation, leading to improved overall fitness and strength.

Top 8 T-Bar Row Substitutes

A person doing T-bar workouts at the gym

1. Single-Arm Dumbbell Row

How to do this exercise:

  1. Grab a dumbbell and stand on the side of a weight bench set it’s fully flat position.
  2. Place your left knee on the weight bench and rest your left arm on its surface.
  3. Hold the dumbbell with your palms facing inwards. Keep your head up and back in a neutral position by pulling in your belly button and squeezing your shoulder blades together.
  4. Pull the weight towards your lower chest while keeping the line of the movement as straight as possible.
  5. Pause for three seconds once you've brought the dumbbell as far as possible toward your chest.
  6. Slowly lower the dumbbell back to its initial position, ensuring you keep control.
  7. Repeat until you complete three to four repetitions of eight to twelve reps.

2. Bent-Over Barbell Row

A person doing bent over barbell rows at the gym

This is one of my personal favorites for a comprehensive back workout.

How to do this exercise:

  1. Approach the barbell and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Bend over and grab the barbell slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  3. Maintain a forty-five to sixty-five-degree angle, knees slightly bent.
  4. Pull the barbell towards your hips while maintaining a neutral spine.
  5. Lower the barbell to go back to the starting position.
  6. Repeat until you complete three to four repetitions of eight to twelve reps.

“Make sure that your back is flat and the core is engaged throughout the entire sequence. If you feel that you can't keep the back flat, decrease the weight, and try again.”

- Malia Frey, Certified Health Coach

3. Seated Cable Row

How to do this exercise:

  1. Sit down on the low pulley row machine with a V-bar and place your feet on the front platform, ensuring your knees are slightly bent.
  2. Lean over as you keep your back neutral and grasp the handles with your arms extended.
  3. Retract the handles towards your torso, ensuring that your chest stays lifted and your elbows remain close to your body.
  4. Pause while squeezing your back muscles for a second before slowly going back to the starting position.
  5. Repeat until you complete three to four repetitions of eight to twelve reps.

Read More: Seated Cable Row Alternatives

4. Pull-Ups

A person doing pull-ups at the gym

How to do this exercise:

  1. Stand underneath a quality pull-up bar.
  2. Have your hands just slightly wider than shoulder width.
  3. Bring your feet together and grip the bar with your palms facing forward and your thumb locking your fingers into place. Keep your chin up, squeeze your glutes, and engage your core throughout the movement.
  4. Lean back and raise your body until the bar reaches your chest level.
  5. Lower your body back to the initial position in a slow, controlled manner.
  6. Repeat until you complete three to four repetitions of eight to twelve reps.

“You will get the most out of doing a full extension of the arms at the bottom and bringing your chin to bar level at the top. If you have built enough strength for this full range of motion, don't cheat yourself and just do partial raises.”

- Elizabeth Quinn, Exercise Physiologist

5. Inverted Rows

A person doing inverted row workouts at the gym

Many of my clients say it's great for developing back strength.

How to do this exercise:

  1. Lie on the ground beneath a preferred Smith bar machine to adjust your height. Find an optimal position where you can comfortably grasp the barbell with a full arm's length width but without hitting the ground on the way down and not having to reach too far to grab the barbell.
  2. Grasp the barbell slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  3. Drive your body up until you touch your chest to the barbell.
  4. Come all the way down to return to the starting position.
  5. Repeat until you complete three to four repetitions of eight to twelve reps. Put the bar higher to make this exercise easier or lower it to make it harder.

6. Barbell Deadlifts

I incorporate barbell deadlifts in the workout routine of my clients who want to work on their overall strength.

How to do this exercise:

  1. Place your feet underneath the barbell and align it over your shoelaces.
  2. Widen your stance to about hip-width apart with your toes facing forward. Squeeze your glutes, contract your core, and lift your chest to avoid back injury.
  3. Bend down by pushing your hips back to grab the barbell.
  4. Drive your knees out against your arms, activate your lats, and lift the bar until it reaches your knees while pushing your hips forward.
  5. Repeat until you complete three to four repetitions of eight to twelve reps.

“With a light weight, you can do repetitions in which you lower the bar to your shin or even floor and then straighten again without releasing your grip on the bar. This is not truly a deadlift repetition. It is better to practice a full lift, lower to the floor, and start again from a standing position.”

- Paul Rogers, Personal Trainer

7. Renegade Row

A couple doing renegade rows at the gym

How to perform this exercise:

  1. Grasp a pair of dumbbells and get in a push-up position, ensuring your shoulders are stabilized.
  2. Position your feet with a slightly wider-than-shoulder-width stance.
  3. Pull the dumbbell in your right hand to the sides of your hip, keeping your elbow close to your body.
  4. Return the weight to the starting position.
  5. Repeat the identical steps on the left side, pulling the dumbbell towards the side of your hip.
  6. Continue alternating sides, maintaining control throughout the exercise until you complete three to four sets of eight to twelve repetitions.

8. TRX Row

How to do this exercise:

  1. Grasp the TRX handles and position yourself on an incline, lying back.
  2. Walk your feet forward until you are directly beneath the TRX handles.
  3. Lift your body by pulling yourself up, keeping your elbows close to your sides, and engaging your lats.
  4. Lower your body back down to the initial position.
  5. Repeat this movement for three to four sets, performing eight to twelve repetitions per set.

“If your shoulders roll forward or collapse upward at any point during the row, pulling them out of alignment with your ears, you may need to reconsider your form. Be sure to engage your shoulder stabilizers and upper back. This is particularly true when your arms are fully extended and your body is closest to the ground.”

- Laura Williams, Fitness Expert

What Are the Benefits of T-Bar Rows?

A person with good upper body muscles

The benefits of T-bar rows are increased strength, enhanced posture and core strength, and improved physical appearance and mental health.

Most benefits also extend to the exercises mentioned above that can serve as alternatives to T-bar rows.

  • Increased muscle mass - Exercises targeting multiple muscles have been proven to result in higher oxygen consumption rates and induce favorable acute hormonal responses. These factors directly contribute to increased lean muscle mass and decreased body fat [1].
  • Improved strength and posture - Since the lats are the largest muscle in the upper body, strengthening them provides stability during movements involving the arms and torso and promotes spinal stability [2].
  • Improved pulling strength - You can add your favorite home gym resistance band to amplify tension throughout the entire range of motion. This increased resistance allows more challenging training, resulting in more pulling strength.
  • Versatility in the grip - The T-bar row machine allows for different grips, enabling you to target other muscles and increase the intensity of the exercise. You can use an overhand grip, an underhand grip, a wide grip, and a neutral grip.
  • Improved mental health - According to a study in the American College of Sports Medicine, resistance training is proven to prevent cognitive abilities and reduce fatigue, anxiety, and depression [3].
  • Safe to use - The angle and positioning of the bar make it more convenient to assume the correct position while reducing stress and strain on the lower back, even when handling heavier weights. According to a PubMed study, the inverted row also protects the lower back from strain [4].
  • Rehabilitation benefits - T-bar can help with posture improvement by strengthening the back muscles, muscle rebuilding by rebuilding strength in the back muscles, and enhancing mobility by increasing shoulder and upper back mobility.

FAQs

What Are T-Bar Rows Good For?

T-bar rows are good for targeting the back and biceps (to a lesser extent). The neutral grip option allows for increased loading compared to overhand or underhand grips. Additionally, during the exercise, you will experience an isometric contraction in your glutes and hamstrings, further engaging those muscle groups.

What Muscles Do the T-Bar Row Work?

The T-bar row works the muscles within the back (lats, rhomboids, and traps). It also works your abdominal muscles, glutes, hamstrings, biceps, and triceps. Although your legs primarily serve a supportive role, they still benefit from the exercise and contribute to their overall strengthening.

Is T-Bar Row Better than Barbell Row?

No, the T-bar row isn’t better than the barbell row. Both exercises are effective for strengthening your back muscles, and the choice between them depends on your personal preferences. For example, if you aim to increase thickness and depth in your upper back, the T-bar row is likely the better choice due to its close grip and reduced range of motion.


References:

  1. https://paulogentil.com/pdf/Fundamentals%20of%20Resistance%20Training%20Progression%20and%20Exercise%20Prescription.pdf
  2. https://www.verywellfit.com/how-to-do-a-barbell-high-row-techniques-benefits-variations-5081750
  3. https://journals.lww.com/acsm-csmr/fulltext/2012/07000/resistancetrainingismedicineeffectsof.13.aspx
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19197209/
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