One of the most time-saving exercises for your back is the T-bar row. Often, you would have noticed that this is the most crowded section of your gymnasium where the T-bar rowing machine is situated. This is because t-bar rows target a majority of muscles on your back and your arms, making it a very comprehensive exercise.
However, if you are stuck at home or simply don’t have this machine around you, you can always perform alternate exercises that target the same muscles as T-bar rows. But if you are wondering how to get started, then we have it fixed for you.
After consulting various fitness experts, we have curated and listed the best t-bar row alternatives that you can perform at home or in the gym. If you are looking to build a more muscular back, do not give this article a miss.
What are the benefits of performing T Bar Rows?
The T Bar rows is a compound exercise that includes all the major muscles of your body. Not only that, but it is also easy to perform out of all the other back exercises and helps in building a broad back as well.
So, before we jump onto the alternatives of T Bar rows, let us see the various benefits of performing a T-Bar Row that makes it one of the favourites during back exercises.
The primary muscle that T bar rows target is the latissimus dorsi. To locate this easily, it is the lower both sides of our back.
Along with this, it also targets the Teres major: the upper sides of the back, the Teres minor (situated below your deltoid muscles) and the spine.
The T bar rows also target the posterior deltoids while pulling the bar towards yourself, the pectoralis major, that is present in the lower corner regions of your chest and the brachialis, present at the biceps.
If you go to see, the muscle groups are targetted right from the back, shoulders to the biceps.
To maintain the exercise’s posture, you need to engage your core, hamstrings, and glutes for balance.
The abdomen area has to be slightly less than 45 degrees at an angle, and you can have an optional cushioned support to maintain your posture and not stress the back further.
Easier to perform than barbell rows
For beginners, T Bar rows are relatively easy to perform.
Bodybuilders and athletes who have been working out for ages know there are several variations and grips for performing a barbell row. But, understanding which grip works for which muscle group at the back can be tricky. T Bar rows not only help you get the grip right but also helps in positioning your spine.
Moreover, you need to lift the barbell right off the floor during barbell rows, which is not the case in T bar rows. It is attached to a machine and is easy to lift without worrying too much about the form going wrong.
Different Variations Available
There are two types of T-Bar row machines available. One is the free-standing type, and the other is chest supported type.
You need to engage your core tight in the free-standing type and support yourself adequately with your hamstrings and legs to perform the exercise.
In the chest supported type, the core gets additional support to hold your body in the 45-degree angular position. It does not stress out your core and lower back as much.
Both the variations target the primary back muscles irrespective of whichever one you perform. It all depends upon your expertise ultimately.
Less strain on the back
If you have had a previous injury on the lower back, or if your back is simply feeling sore, then you can always opt for T bar rows. It will work on the primary back muscles irrespective but is less strenuous to perform than barbell rows.
A good suggestion would be to master both the barbell and the t-bar variations for overall muscle engagement. The barbells increase your strength and are much better for the core, making it a very effective compound exercise.
But, if your primary focus for the day is back, you can opt for t-bar rows.
If you perform back exercises two days a week, perform the barbell variation at the start of the week and the t-bar variation sometime else over the week. If you engage in a mixed body workout, you can consider performing T-bar rows for targeted action at the lat muscles.
8 -Bar Row Alternative Exercises for a Strong and Thick Back
It would be foolish to miss out on t-bar rows while working on your back. But, if the machine is not at your dispense, we have you covered.
Here is a list of the 8 best alternatives you can consider to build a strong back without the t-bar machine:
Dumbbell Bent Over Rows
Dumbbell bent over rows are known to be an age-old exercise for the back. While most people prefer doing it with a barbell, you can also use a pair of dumbbells to perform this exercise. In fact, a dumbbell in each hand also increases your arm and grip strength.
Secondly, you can rotate the dumbbell a bit for a compound muscle effect, which is impossible with a barbell.
Bent over row is a very easy alternative to T bar rows that works on your posture and improves your core strength. It also helps in sculpting your mid, upper and lower back. The primary muscles that work here are the latissimus, rhomboids, trapezius, spine and biceps.
If you can manage bent over rows easily, it also becomes easy for you to perform pull-ups and lat pull downs. It is also suitable for curing back-related problems.
What you need: A pair of dumbbells (weight can differ based on your lifting capacity)
How to do:
- Imagine having a barbell in hand, and in the same way, move the weights forward.
- Bend your knees slightly, and hold the dumbbells in the prone position, knuckles facing down.
- Push your hips behind and bend from your lower back, mimicking the position of a deadlift.
- Here, you need to maintain an angle through your abdomen region, slightly lesser than 45 degrees.
- Push your shoulder blades down and protract them.
- Pull the weight back up and retract your shoulder muscles, squeezing and holding for a second or two.
- Make sure to keep your spine neutral while performing the exercise.
- Repeat the movement for a specified number of repetitions.
If you don’t have a pair of dumbbells, then the best option would be to invest in a few pairs of minimum weight. You can also use anything heavy at home and get started, like a filled water bottle. You can follow the same steps with a resistance band or a barbell.
Hold the barbell in a prone position if you want a broad back. But, if you want to majorly focus on the spine, lat muscles and the trapezius, then you can also consider the supine position.
Hold the barbell around shoulder-width apart and retract the shoulder muscles, pulling the barbell towards your abdomen (naval).
With resistance bands, there is increased tension due to the continuous stretch. This continuity can work wonders on your back muscles.
Bent Over Close Grip Cable Rows
The bent-over close grip cable row requires you to have a cable machine. If you do not find a T-bar machine for most gymnasiums, then the cable machine acts as a great substitute.
It allows you to perform several variations for the back. The best part is that a cable machine is a part of almost every gym. You can also perform this variation using resistance bands.
The bent-over close grip rows primarily work on the lattisimus dorsi and the teres major muscles of your back. It is a variation that engages your lat muscles and shoulders together. Both the muscles work hand in hand; the lat muscles help expand and contract the shoulder muscles.
The bent-over cable variation helps you maintain a good posture, prevents back sprains and tightens your core. Therefore, this variation is a must-have if you perform a back workout any day of the week.
What you need: A V-bar for gripping with a cable/smith machine having adjustable weights, or resistance bands if performing at home.
How to Do:
- Fix the weight on the cable smith machine and fix the V-bar below.
- Then, grab hold of the V-bar and stand with your shoulders contracted.
- Make sure to maintain a one-hand distance from the smith machine while maintaining the position.
- Now, bend forward from the hip and push your hip back. Maintain a 45-degree angle approximately through the abdomen muscles.
- Pull the V-bar towards your chest, contracting your latissimus muscles. Then release the weight and relax the muscles.
- Maintain a neutral position through the spine and keep your core engaged throughout the exercise.
- Repeat the movement for a set number of repetitions or as guided by your trainer.
- Make sure to maintain the tension while not extending your arms entirely. A slight bend is better to maintain muscle tension.
- For best results and ultimate contraction, pull fast and release slowly while performing this variation for the back.
- You can also perform this exercise with a resistance band. Just make sure to have a close, narrow grip and squeeze the lat muscles when you pull back for optimal effect.
Chest Supported Dumbbell Rows
Chest Supported Dumbell rows are also known as incline dumbbell rows. This is because you make use of a bench in an incline position.
For gyms that do not have a t-bar rowing machine or for households with minimum equipment, this variation can be quite a lifesaver as it works the same muscles as that of a t-bar row.
The chest supported dumbbell rows is a very comprehensive and engaging exercise. It contracts and uses your shoulders while also working on your back posture. Again, this variation primarily works on the teres major and the lattisimus dorsi muscles.
This variation also helps in building more muscular arms while improving your grip. The best part is you can perform this variation with a pair of dumbbells or even a bar with weights.
What you need: An adjustable bench, a pair of dumbbells weighing as per your lifting capacity.
How to Do:
- Adjust a bench to a 35-degree angle.
- Lay down on the bench in the prone position; your chest should lay on the headrest of the bench.
- Make sure to lean forward well. Your neck and face should be parallel to the floor, and your chin should be above the bench level.
- Now, grab the dumbbells, and extend your arms towards the ground. Suspend them slightly forward for maximum range while performing the exercise.
- Pull the dumbbells with shoulders contracted towards your chest. Your elbows should not be protruding outwards.
- Hold the contracted position for about a second or two and then release to fully extend your arms back in the starting position.
For this exercise, too, you can use resistance bands, kettlebells or even an Olympic bar as long as you follow the correct steps. The best we would suggest is dumbbells for improved arm strength.
We suggest performing this variation on a non-slippery surface or have shoes with a proper grip to not slip while reclining on the bench.
Pendlay row is a movement that is very similar to the bent-over barbell rows. However, it works on slightly different muscles, and the posture for this variation may also differ. Here, you need to lift the weight from ground level.
Therefore, for people with back-related problems, you may not want to try this variation out. Secondly, it is highly beneficial for people who are into cross-functional training and helps in better performance when it comes to other back exercises.
Pendlay rows help in increasing your back strength and explosiveness. For those seeking to have a solid and broad back with good lower back strength, Pendlay Rows are perfect for them. It helps in improving the muscles engaged in pulling and increases muscle hypertrophy. Increased muscle hypertrophy helps in cross-functional training like snatches, pull-ups, cleans, etc.
What you need: A set of weighted plates (depends on your capacity) and a barbell or Olympic bar.
How to do:
- Grab a barbell/Olympic bar with plates.
- You need to hold the bar wide; shoulder width is advisable.
- Hold it in a prone position, knuckles facing down.
- Now, retract your shoulder muscles, core and neck parallel to the ground.
- Maintain a neutral position on your lower back.
- Lift the bar from ground level till the end of your ribcage.
- Your elbows should be at a narrow stance, not protruding outwards
- Slowly release and extend your arms back to the start position.
- For optimum results, the movement should be slow release and quick pull
If you are using plates, you will find it easier to use rubber plates that bounce back easily, giving you a limit to bend and lift back up. Simply put, it eases your range of movement.
You can also perform this with support inside a squat cage, wherein the lifting would be easier, considering you have a better base to lift from.
If you want to build some massive back strength, then Kroc rows are the best variation. It improves your arm strength and does not pressurise your lower back as much. This is a single-arm exercise, but you can perform a good number of reps along with lifting heavy.
Kroc rows allow you to lift heavy as you have support with one hand, and the lower back is not stressed. Additionally, several back muscles work in Kroc Rows, making it a compound exercise that helps build muscle size and strength.
The Kroc Rows works primarily on your lattisimus dorsi, trapezius, deltoid muscles, infraspinatus, rhomboideus major, teres major and minor muscles, as well as the levator scapulae. It majorly helps regulate your spine, develops a thick back, and extends your deltoids and shoulder joints.
What you need: A single heavy dumbbell and stable support.
How to do:
- Take a dumbbell in one hand and use the other hand as support. You can use any stable object around you as support like furniture, a table, dumbbell rack, bench, etc.
- Keep your legs shoulder-width apart and place one leg in front of the other.
- Keep your abdomen at a 15-degree angle from the floor. Your shoulders should be at a higher position than your hips.
- Stabilise your core and keep it tight, and lift the dumbbell towards the side of your abdomen.
- Contract your upper back muscles and retract your shoulders
- Hold the contracted and pulled up position for a minute.
- Then release and lower the weight back to the start position.
- Pull quickly and release slowly for best results.
No. of sets and repetitions: You can perform three sets with a maximum of 8-10 repetitions if you lift heavy for this variation.
Use a belt for the back and wrist straps to avoid injuries while performing this variation. If not performed correctly, there are high chances that you can strain your back and neck.
Seated Cable Rows
Seated cable rows is a machine found in almost every gymnasium. Then again, there are variations to this exercise, too, and it can be performed with a resistance band at home. Just make sure to have a V-bar or resistance bands with handles at home, and you are good to go.
It majorly targets the back muscles while also working your forearms. You need to face the cable machine and remain seated in a 90-degree position while squeezing your back muscles.
The primary back muscles involved in this variation is the lattisimus dorsi. Since it also works on your arms, the biceps and triceps are the stabilisers for pulling in this exercise.
The best part is, this variation is extremely comfortable, less tiresome, and can be done when your back feels sore or if you have lower back pain.
You need: Cable machine, V bar or resistance bands with a gripper handle if you perform at home.
How to Do:
- Sit on a platform with your legs at a 90-degree angle from the floor.
- Make sure to maintain adequate distance from the cable row machine or when you would be pulling the band and releasing it.
- When your arms extend enough, that is the adequate distance you need to maintain.
- Now, pull the handle with the weight towards your lower abdomen. Squeeze your shoulder blades together while targetting the middle and upper back.
- Your chest needs to be out, back straight.
- Slowly release the handle to the starting position and flex the back muscles.
- Repeat this movement for a given number of sets and repetitions.
You can build some good intensity with this variation by hitting drop sets. Alternatively, you can attach a resistance band at home and mimic the same movements. Make sure to pull fast and release slowly for maximum impact.
Renegade rows is a very challenging exercise. You cannot lift very heavy with this variation, but it works almost like a T-bar row. In fact, it is a blend of body weight and weight training exercise, which makes it difficult.
Maintaining a proper posture and core balance is extremely important to get this variation right. Additionally, it is a total time-saver, so it can be involved in cross-functional training as well.
The teres major and the minor muscles are the primary muscles involved. Alongside, it works on your chest, shoulder, triceps as well as biceps. This variation also engages and stimulates your deltoid muscles. Since you are almost maintaining a single-arm plank position, it engages your core and increases stability.
What you need: A pair of dumbbells (lightweight preferred)
How to do:
- Take up a push up position quickly. Your palms below your shoulders and your legs are slightly wider than shoulder-width.
- Take a dumbbell on each side, and support your palms by holding the dumbbells.
- Now, lift one dumbbell at a time on each side while balancing and maintaining a single-arm plank.
- Row and squeeze at the back, then return to the start position.
- Repeat this for the other arm. Perform alternatively for each arm.
- You can do a minimum number of repetitions for starters and increase gradually.
No. of sets and repetitions:
Perform three sets with 8-12 repetitions in each set. Focus on getting the form right before you jump onto performing higher repetitions with increased weight.
If you find it difficult to perform on a push-up position, take a knee push up position and then perform in a similar manner.
Narrow Grip Pull Downs
Narrow grip pulldowns are also considered a compound movement. It involves the working of the shoulders, the lower mid-back, the lattisimus dorsi, and the arms, targetting your biceps. These can be performed in a cable smith machine, on a lat pulldown machine by using a V-bar, or a resistance band.
This variation helps you build a good posture along with increasing the intensity of your lat muscles. Here, you can squeeze your lats with maximum efficiency due to the narrow grip which is not reasonably possible with a wide lat pulldown grip.
What you need: A lat pulldown machine or a cable machine with a V-bar. You can also use a resistance band with a firm gripper.
How to Do:
- Sit on a lat pulldown the bench, or if at home, sit in a kneeling position.
- Grab hold of the handle by extending your arms and shoulders. You must hold it in a prone position, knuckles facing up.
- Lean back slightly and fix your core tightly.
- Adjust your shoulder blades, retracting them slightly backward.
- Pull the V-bar or handles down to touch your chest.
- Pause for a second or two and squeeze your lats.
- Now slowly release the bar or handle to return to the starting position.
- Repeat this movement for a set number of repetitions.
While engaging your shoulders, make sure they are not lifting the entire weight for you. Do not bend or round your back. You can play around with the number of sets and reps or even get a wider grip for a stronger and larger back.
How Many Sets and Repetitions for Each variation?
For optimum results, you can perform three sets of each variation. Each set must consist of 12-15 repetitions. Increase the weights gradually once you feel comfortable with a set of weights.
While increasing weights, you can compromise on the number of repetitions. If you are looking to build strength, you may want to go heavy; else, increased repetitions are also an excellent way to move ahead.
Most fitness enthusiasts would claim that one of their favourite exercises is the T-bar row. The compound activity ensures that your entire back muscles are worked. But, if the t-bar row machine is not available at your dispense, you can still choose to build a healthy and strong back with our t bar row alternatives mentioned above.
With step by step guides and the benefits listed, you can work on specific muscle groups based on your requirements. Alongside, we have also suggested some pro tips that you can consider for enhanced performance.
Read our article above and tell us if it helped you build a more robust and thicker back through the comments section below.