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11 Best Alternatives For T Bar Row Machine Exercises

alternatives for t bar row

If you’re a big fan of the t-bar row for building bigger and stronger back muscles, but you’d like some alternative exercises then keep reading.  

The t-bar row is a free-weight exercise that involves stabilizing your torso while pulling a loaded bar towards your upper body.  

One of the biggest benefits of the t-bar row is that it’s easy and safe to achieve progressive overload, and with proper form it’s going to isolate most of your back muscles leading to a thicker and wider back.  


Recommended Reading – Discover 6 Gorilla Row Muscles Worked In A Back Day Workout


It can be performed using a barbell loaded into a landmine attachment or on a dedicated t-bar row machine.  

However, if you don’t have access to these, we’re going to recommend some alternatives for t bar row exercise that are just as effective for developing a bigger bac.

What Muscles Does The T-Bar Row Work?

The t-bar row exercise works for most muscle groups across your back with particular emphasis on your latissimus dorsi and erector spinae.  

How you stand will determine how much emphasis you place on certain muscles. 

If your torso is almost parallel to the ground, then the t-bar row will mainly recruit your lats and mid-back muscles.  

developed back muscles

However, if you adopt more of an upright stance, then tension will shift more to the upper back and traps.  

So, if you want to address any strength imbalances or increase muscle mass to certain parts of your back, altering your starting position can help you do this as it’s such a versatile exercise.

11 Best Alternatives For T Bar Row Exercises

Let’s jump into some of the best t-bar row alternatives that you can do to fire up the major muscles of the back.  

As your back comprises of many different muscles which have different functions and insertion points it makes sense to incorporate some of these rowing variations into your back workout routine for best results. 

The bent-over barbell row is an excellent t bar row alternative and can be performed using either an overhand or underhand grip.  

If using an overhand grip this will lead to more activation of your erector spinae and rhomboids.  

bent over barbell row

On the other hand, an underhand barbell row will work more of your lats.  

By altering hand positions and adopting either a wide grip or narrow grip this will also work the back muscles a little differently.  

The Pendlay row is a little similar to the traditional barbell row but with a stricter technique needed to pull it off.  

Popularized by Glenn Pendlay, an Olympic lifting coach, it was originally meant to develop explosive power for Olympic athletes.  

However, it’s an awesome alternative to the t-bar row as it’s going to work the muscles of your back, as well as your triceps long head and rear delts.  

The inverted row is another great alternative to the t-bar row.  

It’s a bodyweight exercise that targets more of the mid and upper back muscles and is a great option for beginners and females.  

You’ll likely notice quick gains to begin with but as your back muscles get stronger you’ll benefit more from weight-bearing exercises which will stop any muscle plateaus.  

You could also use this movement as a back finisher for when the muscles have been fatigued with other, more challenging back exercises.  

Single-arm dumbbell rows are a unilateral exercise allowing you to work each side of your back at a time making it a good choice to fix any muscle discrepancies between the right and left sides of your body.  

single arm dumbbell row

It’s also a good beginner exercise before moving over to something that requires more stability, like the barbell row.  

When doing this exercise it’s important to keep your weight distributed between both legs and maintain a neutral spine and neck with your shoulder blades squeezed together.  

The Gorilla row is a great muscle building exercise that’s going to activate pretty much all of your upper back muscles as well as your biceps and posterior deltoids using just a pair of kettlebells.  

It’s a unilateral exercise that has a similar movement pattern to renegade rows with the main difference being the position of your lower body.  

When doing the Gorilla row you hinge forward at the hips instead of extending your legs out behind you.  

This keeps tension on your low back to a minimum so if you do have lower back issues, this could be a good option for you.  

If you really want to fire up your lats then renegade rows are the way to go.  

Aside from activating your mid-back muscles, this effective exercise will also work your glutes and improve shoulder and core stability.  

It’s a single arm row movement and when done with correct form is a great alternative to the t bar row as it works so many muscles.  

Set up is super easy and all you need are a pair of dumbbells.  

The seal row is a movement done with your body in a prone position elevated on a bench.  

For best results you’ll ideally want to do it on a prone row bench as this will give you the freedom for a much greater range of motion when compared to a regular weight bench.  

Seal-Row

As your entire body, including your feet, is not in contact with the floor, this eliminates any chance of cheating as you won’t be able to use any momentum.  

The seal row is going to work your mid back muscles, especially the lats.  

The Helms Row is a bilateral dumbbell rowing exercise that is performed with your upper chest supported on the end of a bench.  

It’s one of the lesser-known rowing exercises but despite that, a great way of working your lats.  

If you find yourself using a lot of leg drive when performing standard barbell rows, the Helms row would be a great alternative.  

This is because your upper is chest is pinned therefore limiting any momentum from the legs.  

The seated cable row is great for working the muscles of the middle and upper back including the lats, rhomboids and traps.  

You can position your elbows at different angles from your body but by holding them out wider will give you the most upper back engagement.  

Seated Cable Row

You’ll need to perform this exercise on a cable machine although you can elicit similar results when using a chest-supported t-bar row and keeping your elbows out wide.  

The incline prone y raise exercise is perfect for working the muscles of your lower traps.  

Often this part of the trapezius can get overlooked in favor of other exercises, but by increasing strength here you can improve your posture and shoulder stability.  

You can perform it as either a body-weight exercise, using a pair of lightweight dumbbells or even a resistance band.  

Pull ups are a challenging compound exercise that’s mainly going to work the muscles of your upper back; specifically, the lats helping you to build a wider back.  

When targeting this region of the back, the lats typically respond better to vertical pulling exercises such as the lat pulldown.  

back pull up

Pull ups are a great free weight alternative to the t bar row with little equipment required.  

So, if you can’t get access to a t-bar machine but do have some pull-up bars, give this one a go as a substitute.  

Sample Back Workout Without The T-Bar Row

As the back is such a big group of muscles to get an efficient back workout it’s important to include a variety of different exercises for complete muscle activation.  

Keep the weight load light to moderate (with the exception of pull ups which are determined by your own bodyweight).  

Set your own pace, use control, and pause at the top of every rep for maximum muscle contraction.  

  • Barbell Bent Over Rows – for the whole back.  3 sets of 8 to 12 reps.  
  • Pull-Ups – for the upper back and lats.  2 sets of 10 to 15 reps.  
  • Cable Rows – for the mid-back muscles.  3 sets of 10 to 15 reps.  
  • Incline Prone Y Raise – for the lower traps. 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps 

Common T-Bar Row Mistakes

Let’s look at some common mistakes when doing the t-bar row that could be sabotaging your back growth.  

If you perform the t-bar row with your knees locked out this will very likely impact your technique.  

By keeping your knees slightly bent, this will help you to keep your back into thoracic extension so that it’s slightly arched backward.  

This reduces stress on your lumbar spine minimizing the risk of injury.  

It’s common to see people keeping their head up when performing a t-bar row exercise.  

However, this is going to put a lot of tension on the neck and upper back muscles.  

When performing any rowing motion it’s important to maintain a neutral head and spine to prevent injury.  

So instead of looking up, you should be looking down toward the floor.  

If you feel too much engagement of your biceps as you pull the weight towards your torso you may not be retracting your shoulder blades enough.  

For proper activation of your back muscles, you should be squeezing your shoulder blades together at the top of every repetition.  

This will ensure tension remains on your back and not your biceps! 

The t-bar row is meant to primarily work the muscles of your middle back and lats and to do so effectively, your torso needs to be bending forward until it’s just above parallel to the ground.  

If your torso remains more upright, this reduces tension on these muscles and places more of the weight load on your upper back muscles.  

We’re not referring to heavy weights here but rather the size of the plates.  

A 45lb plate will have a larger diameter than a 20lb plate.  

If you load large plates onto the end of the barbell, it’s going to reach your torso a bit quicker than a smaller plate.  

To allow for a greater range of motion, stick with smaller plates and just add more of them.  

Wrapping Up

Incorporating a variety of alternative exercises with the traditional T-Bar Row not only adds diversity to your workout routine but also ensures a comprehensive development of your back muscles. 

By including movements like single-arm dumbbell rows, seated cable rows, and inverted rows, you’ll engage different muscle groups, promote balanced strength, and reduce the risk of overuse injuries

Remember, a well-rounded approach to back training not only enhances your physique but also contributes to functional strength and overall fitness. 

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