A profound number of people experience lower back pain while performing the back day staple — a bent-over row. Luckily, plenty of alternatives are available to target the same muscle groups while dodging the pain or discomfort.

The bent-over row is a popular back-building exercise that secures a place in almost every strength training program. Whether you are a strength athlete, bodybuilder, or fitness novice, bent-over row ranks among the top exercises when the mission is to build a thick, strong, and muscular back. 

However, bent-over row has some significant downsides: 

  • It puts the lower back (lumbar spine) under significant stress, primarily when performed with improper form or excessive weight. 
  • Many people find it challenging to maintain a neutral spine, particularly those with a weak core, tight hamstrings, and lousy posture (internal rotation of shoulders). 
  • It’s a bilateral movement, making you prone to strength/muscle imbalances. 

With that said, most lifters start to feel discomfort as they start to lift heavier weights. 

Luckily, plenty of substitutes are available to replace the bent-over row. These substitutes not only target similar muscle groups but also provides comfort to the back. 

We’ve put together the top 10 bent-over row alternatives below! But before we delve deep into the alternatives, it’s essential to understand a few basics. If you already know the exercise’s basics, you are welcome to jump directly to the list of best alternatives. 

What is Bent-Over Row?

The Bent-over row is a free-weight compound exercise that targets multiple muscle groups. It involves hinging forward at the hips and bending over to a 90-degree angle while holding a barbell or dumbbell with both hands. The exercise is performed by rowing the weight towards your chest and slowly lowering the weight back down.

The bent-over row is a closed kinetic chain movement that strengthens the whole posterior chain, including the latissimus dorsi, trapezius, posterior delts, rhomboids, teres major, teres minor, infraspinatus, glutes, hamstrings, and calves. Furthermore, it also targets the core, biceps, brachialis, and brachioradialis.  

Know the Reason Behind the Pain   

We are not here to demonize any exercise, and bluntly replacing them with a safer alternative is not always the best way to deal with the situation. Replacing the exercise might help you dodge the pain, but it doesnt address the underlying issue.  

Working on the potential weak links is essential, even if you choose to skip a particular exercise.

Here is how to discover the root cause:  

  1. Check your form: The form is the first thing you need to fix. Ensure that you maintain a neutral spine and that the core is engaged. If you find it challenging to maintain the proper posture, ensure you work on the hamstrings, calves, and hip mobility. 
  2. Reduce the weight: Does reducing the weight help alleviate the pressure on your lower back? That means the heavier weight is messing up with the form.
    Work on the core and lower back strength until they are strong enough to withstand the stress.   
  3. Warm-up: No movement is inherently bad; it’s the unprepared muscles that cause the majority of problems. Use dynamic mobility drills to ensure that your back, hamstrings, and glutes are prepared for the exercise. 
  4. Avoid overtraining: To gain quick results, many novice lifters end up overtraining their muscles, making them more susceptible to injury. Ensure that you follow the appropriate training protocol that is designed specifically for your fitness goals. 
  5. Seek medical advice: If the pain persists, it’s best to seek medical advice to rule out any underlying conditions.

Muscles Worked by the Bent-Over Barbell Row

Let’s have a look at the full breakdown of muscles engaged in a bent-over row: 

Latissimus Dorsi 

It is one of the largest muscles in the body and runs through the mid-spine to the upper arm bone. It is the same muscle responsible for the v-taper look. The lats are involved in various upper body movements, including shoulder extension, adduction, and scapular retraction, as well as trunk rotation and pulling activities. 

Mid Trapezius and Rhomboid 

These muscles are located in the upper back, primarily responsible for shoulder blades’ retraction, protraction, and stabilization. You should emphasize these muscles more if you want to develop a cobra back. 

Spinal Erectors 

It is a group of long muscles that runs through the sacrum to the neck, responsible for torso extension, rotation, and lateral flexion. 

During bent-over rows, spinal erectors play a crucial role in maintaining proper posture and providing stability to the spinal columns. 


A hamstring is a group of muscles located at the back part of your thigh. It plays a supportive role by stabilizing the hip joint and helping to maintain proper posture and balance during the movement.

Biceps Brachii

The bent-over row is a compound movement with a substantial amount of bicep, brachialis, and brachioradialis engagement. These muscles help in flexing the arm at the elbow joint.  

Posterior Delt

It is the back side of your shoulders that is primarily responsible for shoulder extension, external rotation, and horizontal abduction. 

What Makes a Great Bent-Over Row Alternative? 

The bent-over row is an iconic back exercise with a proven track record of adding strength and thickness to the back. However, it’s also known to cause lower back pain to many lifters. Knowing what makes an excellent bent-over row alternative will help you replace it with the right exercise.  

Here are a few things you need to consider: 

  • An exercise that targets the whole upper back and lats.
  • Prevents excessive stress on the spine.
  • Allows progressive overload.

In this article, we will talk about plenty of t-bar substitutes. 

10 Bent-Over Row Alternatives

Let’s have a look at some viable bent-over row alternatives. 

  • Chest-Supported Machine Row
  • Chest-Supported T-Bar Row
  • Single-Arm Dumbbell Row
  • Inverted Rows
  • Incline Barbell Row
  • Power Rack Row
  • Seated Cable Row
  • Seal Row
  • Renegade Row
  • Resistance Band Row

1. Chest-Supported Machine Row

Chest-supported machine row allows you to train the same muscle groups without risking lower back injury. 

The chest-supported machine row is a machine-based exercise where the chest is supported on a padded surface — offering great support to the core and spine. 

Additionally, machine-based exercises offer great control over the weight and allow the lifter to pursue a greater range of motion. 

Equipment Needed

  • Iso row machine

Step-by-Step Instruction

  1. Load the machine with the appropriate weight.
  2. Get seated, keeping your chest firmly against the chest pad.
  3. Brace your core and retract the shoulder blades.
  4. Pull the handles towards the torso. Keeping the elbows close to the body.
  5. Hold the contraction for a second before slowly returning the handles to starting position.
  6. Repeat for the desired number of reps.


  • It improves the quality of the workout and allows you to focus on the target muscles. 
  • Reduces the chances of injury or pain. 
  • Machine-based exercises are beginner-friendly. 

2. Chest-Supported T-Bar Row

T-bar is one of the few machine-based exercises that were popular in the 1980s and doesn’t seem to lose its popularity even in the modern era of bodybuilding. 

The T-bar row is an excellent alternative to the bent-over row as it targets the same muscle groups with multiple gripping options. 

T-bar machines come in different varieties — chest supported is best if you want to avoid stress on the lower back. 

Equipment Needed

  • T-bar or landmine attachment
  • Weight plates

Step-by-Step Instruction

  1. Load the appropriate weight on the bar. 
  2. Lean towards the chest pad, so that the entire sternum is pressed against the pad.
  3. Plant your feet on the footplate and reach the handles with an overhand grip. 
  4. Hoist the T-bar off the pin and bring it toward your midline.
  5. Retract your shoulder blades and drive the elbows back to pull the handles towards your chest.
  6. Slowly allow the bar to get back into starting position by fully extending your hands.  
  7. Repeat for the desired number of reps. 



  • Training with T-bar is relatively easier than free weights. 
  • It’s a cost-effective alternative to machines. 
  • T-bar allows a variety of gripping options. 
  • It relieves the stress from the lumbar spine. 
  • The achy motion of bars offers optimum lat stretch. 

3. Single-Arm Dumbbell Row

The single-arm dumbbell row is a unilateral exercise that helps you individually train the easy side. No matter how good your form is, one side is usually stronger than the other, which is why I always suggest my clients bet more on unilateral moves.  

Equipment Needed

  • A dumbbell
  • Stable surface

Step-by-Step Instruction

  1. Grab a dumbbell with your right hand and hold it in a neutral position. 
  2. Hinge forward and keep your left hand on a bench or rack. So that your torso gets almost parallel to the ground.  
  3. Start with keeping the right hand fully extended towards the ground.
  4. Keep your core tight and back straight.
  5. Pull your right shoulder blade back and pull the dumbbell up until it reaches your torso. 
  6. Lower the dumbbell down while maintaining complete control. 
  7. Repeat for the recommended number of reps before you switch sides. 


  • Because one arm is rested on a stable surface, there is always added support to the spine. 
  • Single-arm dumbbell row corrects strength and muscle imbalances. 
  • Unilateral movements boost the core stability by working on the anti-rotational force. 

4. Inverted Rows

Inverter rows may not look like a bent-over row alternative, but they are the closest alternative to the exercise. The only difference is you are pulling yourself up instead of pulling the barbell…  

Anyone experiencing lower back pain should try this remarkable variation, as it totally eliminates the pressure off the lumbar spine.  

Inverted rows are best performed on the smith machine, as it allows you to change the height of the barbell respective to your height. One can also use suspension trainers (TRX, gymnast rings) for the inverted rows.  

Equipment Needed

  • Smith machine

Step-by-Step Instruction

  1. Adjust the barbell height to around the waist height. 
  2. Get under the bar so that the bar is just above the chest. 
  3. Grab the bar with an overhand grip at shoulder-width apart.
  4. Squeeze your glutes, engage your core, and extend your hips to get the body in a straight line. 
  5. Bend your elbows and pull yourself up until the bar touches your chest. 
  6. Lower yourself into the starting position and repeat. 


  • It helps you train your back without straining the lower back. 
  • It’s easy on joints. 
  • It is a beginner-friendly alternative. 

5. Incline Barbell Row

For those who loved the bent-over row from the bottom of their hear and do not want to replace it — an incline barbell row can be the closest alternative. 

The incline barbell row is a training variation that is performed by lying face down on the incline bench and grabbing the barbell with a pronated grip. 

Equipment Needed

  • Incline bench
  • Barbell 
  • Weight plates

Step-by-Step Instruction

  1. Set up the bench at a 30-40 degree incline. 
  2. Position yourself on the bench with your chest against the bench. 
  3. Grab the barbell with a pronated grip, with hands shoulder-width apart.  
  4. Start with hands fully extended and hanging freely towards the ground. 
  5. Keep the core braced, scapula retracted, and your feet flat on the ground.
  6. Pull the barbell towards your chest while keeping the elbows close to your torso. 
  7. Squeeze the contraction for a movement before returning to starting position. 
  8. Repeat for the desired reps. 


  • It lets you maintain the correct posture throughout the movement. 
  • It allows you to lift heavier with added support to the torso. 
  • Increased lat and upper back activation.  
  • Prevents cheat reps.

6. Power Rack Row

As the name suggests, the power rack row is performed using a barbell and a power rack. Strength athletes and advanced lifters usually incorporate power rack row to develop monstrous pulling strength. 

The barbell is kept in an elevated position to help the lifter focus on the concentric flexion without being worried about the eccentric phase.   

Equipment Needed

  • Power rack with safety pins
  • Barbell
  • Weight plates

Step-by-Step Instruction

  1. Set up the barbell in the power rack at a height that is comfortable for you.
  2. Load the bar with the appropriate weight, stand facing the power rack, and your feet are shoulder-width apart.
  3. Bend your knees slightly and hinge forward to grab the bar with a pronated grip. 
  4. Brace your core, retract the shoulder blades, and keep your spine straight.
  5. Exhale as you pull the bar toward your chest. Keep your elbows close to your sides.
  6. Lower the barbell down to the starting position.
  7. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.


  • Enhance explosiveness. 

7. Seated Cable Row

Seated cable row is among the most popular cable-based rowing exercise that strengthens horizontal pulls. Furthermore, it also offers a range of gripping variations to bring variety to the training. 

Seater cable row is a low-impact exercise, making it a beginner-friendly rowing exercise that doesnt put extreme pressure on the lower back. 

Equipment Needed

Seater row machine or cable station

Step-by-Step Instruction

  1. Attach the close grip handle to the machine and set the desired weight. 
  2. Grab the handles with a close grip and get seated with your feet resting on the footpad. 
  3. Keep the neutral spine, shoulders retracted back, and knees slightly bent. 
  4. Pull the handle towards your torso, and squeeze the contraction for a second before slowly returning to starting position. 
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps. 


  • The seated row is easy to learn. 
  • A great exercise to add volume to the back training. 

8. Seal Row

Out of all the rowing movements, seal row is one of my favorites. Seal row is a strict horizontal pull variation performed on a straight elevated bench.

Seal rows bring your body perfectly parallel to the floor, making it an excellent exercise to work on the thickness of the back. 

Equipment Needed

  • Elevated bench
  • Barbell
  • Weight plates

Step-by-Step Instruction

  1. Lie flat on the bench with your face towards the floor. 
  2. Grab the bar with an overhand grip. With arms fully extended. 
  3. Retract your shoulders back and pull the bar straight up towards your chest. 
  4. Lower the bar back down to the starting position. 
  5. Repeat for the desired reps. 



  • Helps you develop incredible horizontal pulling strength. 
  • Prevents cheat reps. 
  • Enhances scapular strength. 

9. Renegade Row

A compound movement that will help you work on total body strength and stability. 

Renegade row is a fusion of two excellent movements, ‘plank’ and ‘dumbbell rows.’ This exercise will improve core stability while enhancing back strength unilaterally.  

Equipment Needed

  • Pair of dumbbells

Step-by-Step Instruction

  1. Begin in a push-up position with your hands gripping a pair of dumbbells, positioned slightly wider than shoulder-width.
  2. Maintaining a straight body position, row one dumbbell up to your side, keeping your elbow close to your body.
  3. Lower the dumbbell back to the starting position and repeat the motion with the other arm.
  4. Continue alternating between arms for the desired number of repetitions.


  • Core strength and stability.
  • Unilateral strength and balance. 
  • Scapular stability and control. 
  • Full body strength and coordination. 

10. Resistance Band Row

If all the above exercises are too challenging for you, then you should probably try the resistance band row. Resistance band is a versatile tool that allows you to strength train anywhere. Resistance bands enable simple and cost-effective strength training solutions, whether at home or on vacation. 

Instead of counting reps, row till failure. 

Equipment Needed

  • Resistance band

Step-by-Step Instruction

  1. Sit on a floor with legs fully extended in front of you and back upright.
  2. Loop the resistance band around your feet and grab the handles with your arms fully extended in front.  
  3. Keep the core braced and the spine neutral. 
  4. Retract your shoulder blades and pull the handles to the sides. 
  5. Hold the contraction for a movement before returning to starting position. 


  • Resistance bands are excellent workout partners when you are training at home. 
  • It’s easy to learn and very cost-effective. 

Wrapping Up

The bent-over row is an incredible back builder, but that doesnt mean you need to do it at the cost of your lumbar spine health. The exercise we discussed in the article not only matches the benefits of bent-over rows but also surpasses them in many verticals. 

Whichever bent-over row alternative you choose to perform, it’s crucial to learn the proper form before you go heavy. Furthermore, most of the exercise we discussed in this article takes the pressure off the lower back and prevents its strengthening. Therefore, we expect you to add lower-back-specific strengthening exercises into the routine.