10 T-Bar Row Alternatives To Build a Strong Back


T-Bar Row Alternatives

T-Bar Rows are one of the best exercises for building a bigger and stronger back. Using a T-Bar Row Machine allows you to work heavy while keeping your torso supported, alleviating strain off of the low back.

However, there may be situations where you need an alternative for T-Bar Rows.

The most obvious of which is that you don’t have access to a T-Bar Row Machine. However, maybe you just want to change up your workout a bit.

Whatever the reason, if you need some T-Bar 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 T-Bar Row


Barbell Bent Over Row


Barbell Bent Over Rows

Equipment Needed

Step-by-Step Instruction

  • Approach the barbell and take a shoulder-width stance. Your shins should be almost touching the barbell.
  • Hinge at the waist and bend the knee until you can grab the barbell. Use a pronated grip (Knuckles facing the floor). I will talk later about the supinated grip (palms up) in this movement.
  • Always keep a flat back, and a neutral spine, and keep your eyes focused slightly down about 1 foot in front of you.
  • Take a deep breath, brace the abdomen, and pull the bar in until it makes contact right about the belly button.
  • Pause for about 1 second. Squeeze the shoulder blades and lock in the rep.
  • Slowly return the barbell back to the starting position (weights about 1-2 inches off the ground).

Coaching Points

The initial setup and stance for Barbell Bent Over Rows should be specific to the lifter’s deadlifting and/or Olympic lifting goals. Having identical setups and grips will be great for the lifts to carry over to the compound movements.


Dumbbell One Arm Row


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.

Equipment Needed

  • Dumbbells
  • Bench (optional)

A bench is helpful, but not totally necessary. Bracing one arm against the rack (as pictured above) 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 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 my athletes make when doing One Arm Rows 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.


Inverted Rows


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

Athletes I coach love to either pull their faces 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 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.


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.

If you take a TRX strap with you on road trips, this should be your go-to alternate for Barbell Bent Rows. (If you don’t already have a TRX Strap, you can pick one up from Amazon here.)


Landmine Row


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.

You can sit or stand, have your chest supported and row ridiculously heavy weight. What’s not to love? If you have access to one of these machines (or a regular T-Row machine works well too) they can serve as an excellent sub for Barbell Bent Rows.


Chest Supported Rows


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 while doing Chest Supported Rows. Oftentimes I see athletes who allow their shoulders to slouch forward and drape over the edges of the bench.


Close Grip Lat Pulldowns


Equipment Needed

  • Lat Pulldown Machine or Lat Pulldown Rack Attachment

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Depending on the machine or attachment that you’re using the setup may be a bit different.
  • Regardless of the setup, try to position your torso predominantly upright with a very slight lean back.
  • Grab the bar* just outside shoulder width grip with an overhand grip.
  • Now, pull the bar down to your chest, squeezing the lats hard at the bottom.
  • After a quick pause at the bottom of the rep, slowly bring the bar back up to the starting position.
  • Repeat for the designated number of reps.

Coaching Points

*This is assuming you’re using a standard long Lat Pulldown Bar. If you’re using a different attachment, this is going to vary.

Stay in control of the weight. By far the most common mistake I see lifters make is using way too much weight and rocking and swinging all over the place to try to get the weight to move.


Renegade Rows


Renegade Rows

Equipment Needed

  • Dumbbells

Instructions

  • Grab one dumbbell in each hand and assume a pushup position with feet about shoulder width apart.
  • Make sure the core is braced and row one dumbbell up.
  • Lower the dumbbell under control and return to the starting pushup position.
  • Alternate rowing each arm until all reps are completed.

Coaching Points

Try to limit rotating the torso as much as possible when doing Renegade Rows. It’s natural to want to open the torso toward the side of the arm you’re rowing with – try to fight against this and stay as square as possible.

The wider your feet, the easier it is to stay balanced while you perform the movement. Try to keep feet about shoulder-width apart.


Chin-Ups


Equipment Needed

  • Pull Up Bar (Either as part of a rack or a wall-mounted bar)

Optional Equipment

  • Weight belt (For weighted variations)
  • For modification purposes:
  • Resistance Band (To assist in completing the pull-up or doing more repetitions with full range of motion).
  • Partner (To assist in getting your chin over the bar)

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

By far the biggest mistake I see in the Chin-up is lifters not using a full range of motion. Hang all the way down and maintain great tension through the shoulders and abdomen (DO NOT JUST HANG IN THE BOTTOM). Pull all the way up and do not whip your head so that your chin barely makes it over the bar.

Final Thoughts

I love T-Bar Rows as an exercise to develop a big, strong back, but sometimes T-Bar Rows just aren’t 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 alternatives I’ve listed here is a good fit for you.

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Ryan Horton

Horton Barbell was created by Ryan Horton who has served as a Sports Performance Coach for almost 20 years. My mission is to create a training resource to help as many coaches and athletes as possible maximize athletic potential.

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