August 21, 2021 9 min read

If you are lucky, then you have a T-bar row machine at your gym. Also known as the landmine row, t-bar rows are one of the most beneficial rowing exercises.

However, if you are like many other people, you don't have a t-bar at your disposal. While this is unfortunate, there are plenty of t-bar row alternative exercises that you can do!

These exercises target the same muscles the t-bar row, including the:

  1. Latissimus dorsi (the lats)
  2. Rhomboids
  3. Trapezius (the traps)
  4. Deltoids (the delts)
  5. Abdominals and core

Even better, some of these alternative exercises target even more muscle groups than the T-bar row!No T-bar? No problem! Here are our top ten best t-bar row alternative exercises:

1. Barbell Bent-Over Rows

First off, bent-over barbell rows are perhaps the most popular t-bar alternative. Not only that, but they are also probably the most popular back muscle rowing exercise! 

 Man Doing Heavy Weight Exercise For Back

What makes barbell bent-over rows so popular?

Here are some of the top reasons:

It makes sense why barbell rows are so popular and why we think you should add them to your workout routine!Here is how to do barbell rows with proper form:

  1. Place a weighted barbell on the floor in front of you. Step up to the bar and stand with the middle of your feet underneath the bar. Spread your feet out to shoulder-width.
  1. Hinge forward from your hips so that your upper body comes close to parallel with the floor. Your hips should go backward, and your knees should slightly bend. Be sure to keep your back neutral - no arching!  
  1. Get into starting position by reaching down and grabbing the bar with an overhand grip outside of your legs. When you are ready, exhale and pull your elbows backward to row the barbell towards your abdomen. Squeeze your shoulder blades to draw your elbows back. 
  1. Hold the barbell near your abdomen for one to two seconds, then release your shoulder squeeze and return to starting position. Instead of dropping the barbell back on the floor, hover it right above the floor in order to keep some tension in your back muscles.

2. Dumbbell Bent-Over Row

Why would we have dumbbell rows on this list when we already have barbell rows? Simple! While barbell and dumbbell rows are the same movement, the two types of equipment have different benefits.

Dumbbells promote:

  • Muscular endurance
  • Stabilizer muscle growth
  • Muscle building

These benefits are different from those of barbells. Therefore, we highly suggest doing both barbell and dumbbell bent-over rows! If you don't have dumbbells, you can also use kettlebells.

Here is how to do the dumbbell bent-over row with proper form:

  1. Grab two dumbbells and hold one in each hand. Dead hang your arms so that the dumbbells fall near your pelvis. 
  1. Hinge forward from your hips so that your upper body comes close to parallel with the floor. Send your hips backward and slightly bend your knees. Now, the dumbbells should hang near your shins. 
  1. Keeping your back straight, exhale and pull your elbows back so that the dumbbells come near your lower abdomen. Make sure to draw each dumbbell back with equal force! 
  1. Squeeze your back muscles at the top of the movement, then slowly release the dumbbells back by your shins. 

3. Single-Arm Dumbbell Row

The single-arm dumbbell row has all the same benefits as the conventional dumbbell row. However, it allows you to isolate your back into two halves. That way, you can focus on smaller parts of your back at a time rather than the entire muscle group at once. This technique helps you maximize muscle growth! Here is how to do the single-arm dumbbell row with proper form:

  1. Grab one dumbbell and hold it in your right hand. Let your right arm dead hang so that your elbow locks straight. Rest your left knee on a flat bench and stand up tall.
  1. Hinge forward from your hips so that your left hand rests on the flat bench. Your left hand should be directly underneath your left shoulder. Make sure that you keep your back flat - no hunching or arching!
  1. When you're ready, exhale and pull your right elbow straight back to row the dumbbell by your ribcage. Get the full range of motion by squeezing your right shoulder blade back as far as you can.
  1. Hold at the top of the movement for one to two seconds, then slowly release your right arm back to a dead hang.

4. Inverted Rows

Inverted rows are a bodyweight t-bar alternative exercise. While bodyweight exercises might seem ineffective for muscle growth, they can actually be equally effective as heavy weightlifting!Not only are bodyweight exercises beneficial for muscle growth, but they have several other benefits, including:

  • Reducing the risk of injury by improving posture
  • Strengthening core stabilizer muscles (erector spinae, transversus abdominis, etc.)
  • Taking pressure off the joints

If you don't have a smith machine, you can also do inverted rows with a TRX! Also, you can do them with an underhand grip if you want to target your biceps.

Here is how to do the inverted row with proper form:

  1. Lay flat on your back underneath the bar of a smith machine. Your upper chest should be directly underneath the bar. Reach up to grab the bar with an overhand grip. Your arms should extend straight. If they are not straight, adjust the height of the bar.  
  1. When you are ready, exhale, squeeze your shoulder blades together, and pull your chest up to the bar while keeping your heels planted on the floor. Make sure to keep your body straight as you pull yourself up. 
  1. Hold your chest just underneath the bar for one to two seconds, then slowly drop back to starting position. Instead of going back to laying flat, keep a slight bend in your elbows to hover above the floor.

5. Seated Cable Row

If you have a cable machine at your gym, then you must try the seated cable row!  Cable exercises are the perfect hybrid of free weight and machine exercises. Free weight exercises have the benefit of targeting both primary mover and stabilizer muscles.  On the other hand, machine exercises allow you to isolate hypertrophy in a specific primary mover muscle.  Moreover, you get this double benefit when doing the seated cable row exercise!

Here is how to do the seated cable row with proper form:

  1. Get into starting position by sitting on the seat of the cable machine and grabbing the row handle with both hands. Keep your back straight while holding the row handle with fully extended arms. 
  1. When you are ready, exhale, pinch your shoulder blades together, and draw your elbows back to pull the handle towards your abdomen.   
  1. Squeeze your shoulders to get the full extension of the cable, then slowly release back to starting position.

6. Resistance Band Bent-Over Row

Are you a home workout kind of person? If so, then the resistance band bent-over row is perfect for you! Resistance bands are an often underestimated piece of workout equipment.  At first glance, they don't necessarily look like the kind of equipment that would help you build muscle mass. 

However, as long as you pick one with high tension, you can get just as good a workout as you would with free weights! Even better, but you can do resistance band exercises from anywhere.  Your home gym, hotel room, or even office all work!  Don't have any resistance bands?  You can buy an affordable set off of Amazon for less than your monthly phone bill.

Here is how to do the resistance band row with proper form:

  1. Grab one end of a looped resistance band in each of your hands.  Stand on top of the middle of the resistance band with both of your feet.  Keeping your feet on the resistance band, spread them hip-width apart.
  1. Get into starting position by hinging forward from your hips so that your upper body angles down between 30 and 45 degrees.  Send your hips backward and slightly bend your knees.  Face the palms of your hands towards one another.  By now, there should be mild tension in the resistance band.
  1. When you are ready, exhale, engage your back muscles, and draw your elbows straight back to pull the resistance band by your ribcage.  The force of the resistance band should make it challenging for you to draw your elbows back!
  1. Squeeze your muscles to hold the resistance band by your ribcage for one to two seconds. Then, slowly release back to starting position.

7. Pendlay Row

Pendlay rows are an alternative to the bent-over barbell row.  They are almost the exact same exercise, with the exception of one tiny detail. Instead of hovering the bar above the floor between repetitions, you drop it flat on the floor.  This strategy helps you build stronger upper back muscles.  Instead of targeting your entire back, it isolates your upper back.

Here is how to do the pendlay row with proper form:

  1. Place a weighted barbell on the floor in front of you. Step up to the bar and stand with the middle of your feet underneath the bar. Spread your feet out to shoulder-width.
  1. Hinge forward from your hips so that your upper body comes close to parallel with the floor. Your hips should go backward, and your knees should slightly bend. Be sure to keep your back neutral - no arching! 
  1. Get into starting position by reaching down and grab the bar with an overhand grip outside of your legs. When you are ready, exhale and pull your elbows backward to row the barbell towards your abdomen. Squeeze your shoulder blades back to draw your elbows back.
  1. Hold the barbell near your abdomen for one to two seconds, then release your shoulder squeeze and drop the barbell all the way back to the floor.  Make sure that the bar touches the floor before you move on to the next rep!

8. Lateral Pulldowns

Lateral pulldowns are a great exercise for cross-training your lat muscles.  They target the whole of your lats, including the hard-to-reach lower lats.  The stronger your lat muscles become, the easier all of the other rowing exercises become! 

Here is how to do lat pulldowns with proper form:

  1. Sit on the seat of the cable machine and plant your feet flat on the floor.  Reach up to grab the pulldown bar with an overhand grip.  If needed, adjust the height of the bar so that your arms lock to almost straight.
  1. When you are ready, exhale, draw your shoulder blades down and back, and pull the bar underneath your chin to get the full range of motion.  Lead the downward pull with your elbows and avoid leaning backward. 
  1. Squeeze your lats to hold the bar under your chin for one to two seconds.  Then, slowly release the squeeze and allow the bar to straighten your arms.

9. Deadlifts

You may be asking yourself why deadlifts are included on this list, since they are technically not a rowing exercise.  However, deadlifts simulate the same pulling movement required for t-bar rows and target many of the same muscles

Deadlifts have countless benefits, including:

  • Stimulating muscle growth
  • Building muscle power
  • Targeting all of the muscles in your posterior chain

We love deadlifts so much that we might have put them on this list even if they weren't a T-bar alternative! Here is how to do deadlifts with proper form:

  1. Place your weighted barbell on the floor in front of you.  Approach the bar and stand with the bar over the middle of your feet spread to shoulder-width.
  1. Hinge your upper body forward between a 30 and 45-degree angle.  Bend your knees slightly and send your hips backward.  Grip the bar with an overhand grip and your arms inside your legs. Make sure that your back is neutral and your core is engaged! This is your starting position.
  1. When you are ready, exhale and power your hips forward to come up to standing while holding the bar.  Squeeze your back muscles, hamstrings, glutes, and all the muscles in your posterior chain to hold in standing position. 
  1. Hold at the top for one to two seconds, then slowly release the barbell back to starting position, and repeat!

10. Pull-Ups

Last but not least, pull-ups double as a t-bar row alternative and cross-training exercise.  Also, if you have lower back pain, then we highly recommend doing pull-ups!

Athlete muscular fitness male model pulling up on horizontal bar in a gym

As a bodyweight exercise, they take pressure off of your erector spinae.  With less pressure, your spine lengthens and pain reduces.  If any of the other t-bar alternatives cause you back pain, then stick to pull-ups! 

Here is how to do pull-ups with proper form:

  1. Stand underneath a pull-up bar, then jump up and grab it with an overhand grip.  Dead hang with your arms and spread them to slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.  If your feet still touch the ground, tuck your feet in by your glutes. 
  1. When you are ready, exhale and draw your shoulder blades down and back to pull yourself over the bar.  Lead the downward pull with your elbows and keep your wrists stacked over them.
  1. Squeeze your muscles to hold your chin over the bar for one to two seconds, then release and drop back to a dead hang.

Final Thoughts

Regardless of who you are or what your fitness goals are, we highly suggest trying these t-bar row alternatives! The t-bar row is an excellent compound exercise. Just because you don't have a t-bar doesn't mean you can't get the same benefits from other rowing exercises!

No t-bar, no problem! Don't miss out on these fantastic back exercises to get your best back ever. No t-bar required!

Bonus tip: The shoulders are a supplementary muscle in many back exercises. Therefore, you can improve your performance in each of these t-bar alternatives by strengthening your shoulder muscles! With that said, give our top shoulder exercises a try!​​​​


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