Barbell Bent Over Row Alternative

11 Bent Over Barbell Row Alternatives To Grow Your Back

Bent Over Barbell Rows are one of the best exercises for building a bigger and stronger back. Using a barbell allows you to work heavy and bent rows will challenge your entire back from top to bottom.

However, there may be situations where you need an alternative for Bent Over Barbell Rows.

Maybe you don’t have access to a barbell or maybe you already have too much posterior chain work in your program and need something more ‘low-back friendly’.

Whatever the reason, if you need some Bent Over Barbell Row alternatives, you’re in the right place. I’m going to share with you my 10 favorite substitutions and hopefully, at least one is a good fit for you no matter your equipment or circumstance.

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Alternatives for Bent Over BarbellĀ  Row


Single Arm Dumbbell Row


One Arm Row

The most popular alternative to Barbell Rows is probably the One Arm Row. The Single Arm Dumbbell Row is great if you have dumbbells but no barbell or if you want a rowing movement that allows for more low back support.

Equipment Needed

  • Dumbbells
  • Bench (optional)

A bench is helpful, but not totally necessary. Bracing one arm against the rack or even on your leg can work as well.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Grab a dumbbell and a bench*.
  • Place the dumbbell next to the bench and set yourself up.
  • If rowing with the right arm, place the left knee and left hand on the bench. Keep the right foot flat on the ground.
  • Make sure the back is flat (neutral) to slightly arched.
  • Brace the core and pick the dumbbell up.
  • Row the dumbbell up, keeping the elbow close to the body as the dumbbell raises.
  • Squeeze the back at the top of the rep and then lower the dumbbell down until the arm is fully extended.
  • Repeat for the designated number of reps and then switch sides.
One Arm Rows without a Bench
Just do NOT brace yourself on an actual dumbbell on a rack as they WILL flip off the rack on you.

*One Arm Rows do not have to be done with one knee on a bench. You can keep both feet flat on the ground and lean forward and brace yourself with your off-hand on something sturdy. You can even lean your off forearm on your leg for support if necessary.

Coaching Points

The most common mistake I see athletes make when doing Single Arm Dumbbell Row is not maintaining a flat back. The back should stay engaged and slightly arched – similar to the starting position of a Power Clean. Do not let the back round as this can cause unnecessary stress on the spine.

Also, do not twist and turn while rowing. You’re not starting a lawn mower. If you need to use your whole body to twist and rock the weight up then the dumbbell is too heavy. Lower the weight and maintain proper form.

Finally, make sure to give yourself enough room to ‘spread out’ and get into a good position.

Often times I see athletes place their off-hand too close to their knee on the bench and/or place their grounded foot too close to the bench. This leads to them being too cramped, making it difficult to achieve proper positioning.


Inverted Rows


Inverted Rows are one of the best, and most overlooked, horizontal rows you can do in the weight room. They place zero stress on the low back and can be modified to be good for both beginners and challenging for advanced lifters.

Equipment Needed

  • Barbell*
  • Squat Rack

*I generally do Inverted Rows with a barbell in a rack, but if you have rings they work great as well.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Start by placing a bar on the rack about waist height.
  • The higher the bar is placed, the easier the rows will be. The lower the bar is placed, the harder the rows will be. (Just make sure to leave yourself enough room to fully extend your arms at the bottom of the rep)
  • Set the bar on either the J-Hooks or the Safety Bars
  • Lay down underneath the bar.
  • Grab the bar with an overhand grip, brace the core and make sure your body is fully extended – including your legs.
  • You should be positioned to where when you pull yourself up towards the bar, the bar touches the same spot on the chest as it would for bench press. Slide up or down to adjust accordingly.
  • Now, keeping your body in a straight line, pull your chest up to the bar and lower back down until your arms are fully extended.
  • Repeat until all reps are completed.

Coaching Points

There are two common mistakes that I see all the time when it comes to Inverted Row.

One, athletes I coach love to either pull their face to the bar or even raise their chin up and over the bar like a pull-up. These are both wrong.

You should think of the Inverted Row like a reverse bench press. Keep your head back, chest out and pull your chest directly to the bar. Pull the shoulder blades down and back at the top of the rep and squeeze the back.

The second mistake I see all too often is tired athletes that start to look like they’re doing the worm. They start rocking and rolling their entire body to try to get their chest up to the bar. Don’t do this! Maintain a rigid body posture and continue pulling yourself as high as you can each rep.

Inverted Rows are sometimes referred to as Inverted Pull-ups and/or my personal favorite, Aussie Pull-ups. If you see one of those names in a program or workout, they are most likely referring to the same exercise.


TRX Rows


TRX Rows

TRX Rows, or Ring Rows if you have a set of gym rings, are very similar to Inverted Rows. It’s primarily a bodyweight exercise where you can increase or decrease the difficulty of the exercise by changing the angle in which you work.

Equipment Needed

  • TRX Strap
  • Squat Rack (or something else sturdy that can be used as an anchor)

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Start by setting up a TRX Strap on a sturdy anchor point.
  • The higher the handles are placed, the easier the rows will be. The lower the handles are placed, the harder the rows will be. (Just make sure to leave yourself enough room to fully extend your arms at the bottom of the rep)
  • Lay down underneath the handles.
  • Grab the handles, brace the core and make sure your body is fully extended – including your legs.
  • You should be positioned to where when you pull yourself up towards the handles, your hands end up beside the top of the stomach, bottom of the chest. Slide up or down to adjust accordingly.
  • Now, keeping your body in a straight line, pull your chest up to the bar and lower back down until your arms are fully extended.
  • Repeat until all reps are completed.

Coaching Points

There are two common mistakes that I see all the time when it comes to TRX Rows (basically the same as Inverted Row).

One, athletes I coach love to either try to pull their faces to the handles or even raise their chin up and over the handles like a pull-up. These are both wrong. You should think of the TRX Row as a reverse bench press. Keep your head back, chest out and pull your chest directly to the bar. Pull the shoulder blades down and back at the top of the rep and squeeze the back.

The second mistake I see all too often is tired athletes that start to look like they’re doing the worm. They start rocking and rolling their entire body to try to get their chest up to the handles. Don’t do this! Maintain a rigid body posture and continue pulling yourself as high as you can each rep.


Hex Bar Rows


If you have a Hex Bar (or Trap Bar as they are also called) and you’re not already doing Hex Bar Rows then you are missing out. Simply stand inside your hex bar, grab the handles and row exactly the same as you would for a Barbell Row.

The same thing that makes a hex bar great for Trap Bar Deadlifts also makes them great for rows. Because the weight on the bar sits back closer to your midline it will take a little of the stress off the low back as compared to a Barbell Row.

Plus, just a simple change of equipment can add some much-needed variety to a workout program.

Pro Tip: Hex Bars can vary quite a bit in weight. Take that into consideration when planning how much to load onto the bar for rows.


Landmine Row


Landmine Rows

Landmine Rows are another great Barbell Row alternative.

First, don’t blow past this option because you don’t have a landmine attachment. You can make a landmine attachment yourself pretty easily with nothing more than a tennis ball.

Equipment Needed

  • Barbell
  • Weight Plates
  • Landmine Attachment

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Setup your landmine attachment.
  • Load the open end of the barbell with the desired amount of plates.
  • Grab the barbell toward the plate side using your hands or a cable attachment.
  • Use a shoulder-width stance, bend the knees, braced core and flat back.
  • Pull the plates up off the floor and begin rowing by pulling the bar toward you.
  • Most often you will be able to row until the weight plates touch your chest.
  • Control the eccentric portion of the lift back to arms extended and repeat.

Coaching Points

Using a cable attachment for Landmine Rows has its pro and cons. It makes the setup more comfortable and convenient to row, but if you place metal straight on your barbell it can scratch it up. Keep that in mind if you’re planning on using one.


Hammer Machine Iso Rows


Ah, the Seated Hammer Row machine. I have zero machines in my garage gym, but the one machine I would buy if I ever find one at a decent price is a Hammer Iso Row Machine. It is hands down my favorite.

Equipment Needed

  • Hammer Strength Iso Row Machine
  • Weight Plates

How To

  • Start by either standing or seated* with your chest against the support pad.
  • Reach forward, grab the handles and then brace your core and set your posture.
  • Row the handles toward your chest, quickly pause at full contraction and then slowly lower back to arm’s length.
  • Repeat until all reps are completed.

Coaching Points

If doing rows seated, adjust the seat to the proper height so your chest is against the pad and you can row comfortably. For taller lifters, you can also do Hammer Seated Rows standing as well. Lower the seat out of the way and find a comfortable position for your feet to stand.

The rowing motion shouldn’t change whether standing or seated.

By far the biggest mistake I see with Hammer Rows is athletes I coach think that because there is a pad to support their chest, they don’t need to have good posture. This is wrong. You should still have the same posture – back and core engaged – as you would if you didn’t have a pad supporting you.


Chest Supported Rows


Keeping the chest supported takes almost all of the strain off the low back and allows the lifter to focus solely on the row. This would be one of my first suggestions for someone who wants a Barbell Row alternative if low back strain is an issue.

Equipment Needed

  • Adjustable Bench
  • Dumbbells

How To

  • Set up an adjustable bench at a 45-degree angle.
  • Lay on your stomach with your head hanging just above the edge of the bench.
  • Grab a dumbbell in each hand and set up with a good posture – core and lats engaged and shoulders neutral.
  • Row the dumbbells toward the top of the stomach and squeeze the back at the top of the rep.
  • Finally, lower the dumbbells back to the starting position and repeat until all reps are completed.

Coaching Points

Make sure to maintain good posture through Chest Supported Rows. Often I see athletes who allow their shoulders to slouch forward and drape over the edges of the bench.


Resistance Band Rows


Resistance Band Row

Band Rows aren’t going to replace Barbell Rows for developing strength, but they can work great in a pinch if you’re traveling. Even if you don’t have something sturdy you can attach the resistance band to, you can always wrap them around your feet if need be.

Equipment Needed

  • Resistance Band

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Find a secure anchor point for your resistance band. Ideally, I would suggest a squat rack, but it could also be a sturdy piece of furniture or even a door handle.
  • Stand* facing the anchor point, with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold the resistance band with an overhand grip**, with your hands shoulder-width apart.
  • Engage your core and keep your back straight as you pull the resistance band towards your chest, bending your elbows and squeezing your shoulder blades together.
  • Slowly straighten your arms, returning to the starting position.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Coaching Points

*Resistance Band Rows can also be done seated as well. It doesn’t really change anything for the row itself but will alter the amount the core is involved in the movement.

**Can also be done with more of a neutral grip with the palms facing each other. This grip actually makes it easier to keep your elbows close to your body.

Avoid rounding your back or hunching your shoulders as you perform the exercise.


Seated Cable Row


Seated Cable Rows

If you have access to a seated cable machine, Seated Cable Rows can work as a solid Bent Over Row replacement. For the Seated Cable Row, you’ll need one of the close-grip attachments. If you don’t have a close grip attachment, use a tight underhand grip on the straight bar

Equipment Needed

  • Cable Pulley Machine

How To

  • Begin by setting up a cable machine with the desired weight. Adjust the seat of the machine so that it is at a comfortable height for you to sit on.
  • Sit on the bench and plant your feet firmly on the ground (or foot plate). Grasp the handle attached to the cable with an overhand grip, making sure that your arms are extended straight in front of you.
  • Engage your back muscles and pull the handle towards your body, bringing your elbows back as far as you can. Keep your chest up and your back straight throughout the movement.
  • Hold the contracted position for a moment, then slowly return to the starting position.
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps. Make sure to breathe evenly and keep good form throughout the exercise.
  • When you are finished, carefully release the weight back onto the stack and return the handle to its starting position*.

Coaching Points

*Don’t be the person that just lets go of the handle at the end of your set and allows the weight stack to just come crashing down. It just tears up the machine.

Keep your core braced and maintain a static upright posture. Don’t confuse Seated Cable Row with a rowing machine. You shouldn’t be rocking back and forth through the movement.


T-Bar Rows


If you have access to a T-Bar Row machine, T-Bar Rows might actually be the closest alternative to the Barbell Row out of any of the Barbell Row alternatives listed above. You’ll end up in the same body position but most machines (but not all) will also provide chest support.

Equipment Needed

  • T-Bar Row Machine

How To

  • Set yourself up on the T-Bar Row Machine*
  • Feet should be flat on the platform and the chest supported on the pad.
  • Grab the handles, brace the core and unrack the bar.
  • Make sure your posture is good and then row the bar toward your chest.
  • Lower back down under control and repeat until all reps are complete.
  • Once all reps are down, re-rack the bar into its rack.

Coaching Points

*Exactly how you set yourself up will vary dependent upon the machine. Not all T-Bar Row Machines are exactly the same.

By far the biggest mistake I see with T-Bar Rows is athletes I coach think that because there is a pad to support their chest, they don’t need to have good posture. This is wrong. You should still have the same posture – back and core engaged – as you would if you didn’t have a pad supporting you.

Don’t have a T-Bar Row machine? Here are some of my favorite T-Bar Row alternatives.


Chin-Ups


The last exercise on the list isn’t a horizontal row like Bent Over Barbell Row, but it’s too good of an exercise to leave off. When in doubt, subbing Chin-Ups for pretty much any back exercise is never a bad idea.

Equipment Needed

  • Pull Up Bar (Either as part of a rack or a wall-mounted bar)
  • Weight belt (For weighted variations)

Step-by-Step Instruction

  • Approach the pull-up bar and grab the bar with a supinated grip (palms facing toward you).
  • Use a bench to get to the bar if it is too high.
  • Squeeze the bar and engage the core muscles and do not cross your legs.
  • Engage the upper back and pull up until your chin is over the bar.
  • Pause for 1 second with your chin over the bar.
  • Slowly lower yourself back to the starting position.
  • Repeat until all reps are completed.

Coaching Points

Take your time and master the chin-up. The benefits of doing sound chin-ups will pay dividends for your shoulder health and the potential to maximize your upper body strength.

I would highly recommend this movement to any lifter or athlete. It provides all the benefits of an upper-body pulling movement with little to no risk.

Final Thoughts

I love Barbell Bent Over Rows as a back building exercise, but sometimes Barbell Rows are just not an option.

Whether you’re lacking proper equipment or are just looking for a different movement to add some variety to your program, I hope at least one of these Barbell Row alternatives I’ve listed here is a good fit for you and your workout routine.

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