Give the t-bar row machine a rest—and craft a stronger, resilient, and well-defined back with these moves.

You gotta row if you want your back to grow — rowing is probably the best way to add thickness and width to the back. T-bar row is among the most popular back exercise that helps you isolate the back muscles without stressing out the spine.

Reasons why you should be looking at the alternatives? Maybe you just don’t have a t-bar machine, or you are tired of the t-bar rows and want to introduce the novelty factor into training.

Unlike other rowing variations, the t-bar row is quite a safer alternative as it does not put your lower back in a compromised position. Plus, there are chest-supported t-bar row machines that make the back training more beginner-friendly.

There are a lot of things you need to know about the t-bar row alternatives and use them to your full advantage. If you are wondering where to find them, do not worry; you are at the right place. We will give you all the necessary details all at one place.

What is T-Bar Row

T-Bar rowing back workout

The T-bar row is a specialized machine (plate loaded) that is fundamentally built on the landmine setup. T-bar row machines are available in different configurations; for this article’s sake, we will mostly talk about the chest-supported version.

T-bar row is a pretty straightforward machine that exhibits the classic rowing movement and allows you to isolate the back. For bodybuilding purposes: t-bar rowing has always been the favored exercise of elite bodybuilders to add volumes to their back training, especially when the whole posterior chain is exhausted after the heavy compound lifts.

Multiple grip options of t-bar row machines allow training the back muscle fibers from different angles and letting you completely annihilate the muscle fibers and bring out the muscle separations.

T-Bar Row Muscles Worked

T-bar row is an excellent auxiliary movement that primarily targets the vast majority of the muscle fibers located at the posterior side of your upper back.

Let’s have a look at the muscles engaged in the t-bar row:

  • Latissimus dorsi
  • Trapezius
  • Posterior deltoids
  • Rhomboids
  • Erector spinae
  • Teres major and minor
  • Biceps

T-bar row machines offer a wide range of grip positioning — primary and secondary movers may be subjective to the grip positioning of the exerciser.

What Makes a Good T-Bar Row Alternative?

T-bar rows are phenomenal, but there can be numerous reasons behind searching for alternatives.

In order to find a perfect alternative, it is essential to find out “what’s so special about the t-bar rows.” When choosing the ideal option, here are the key features you need to look for:

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

In this article, we will mention plenty of t-bar substitutes to choose from.

13 T-Bar Row Alternatives

Let’s have a look at some great options we have. We will discuss the exercises that feature: chest-supported or unsupported, barbell, dumbbell, bodyweight, etc. You can select the exercise as per your personal preferences and equipment availability.

1. Chest-Supported Row

You can call it the closest alternative to the t-bar rows as it offers excellent support to the torso and puts the body at a similar angle.

A chest-supported row can be performed with dumbbells or barbells — we suggest dumbbells as they provide a superior range of motion. Just like the t-bar row, you don’t need to worry about the stress on the lower back, allowing you to pull heavier weights.

Equipment required: Incline bench and pair of heavy dumbbells.


  1. Set an incline bench at an angle of 30 to 45 degrees.
  2. Grab a pair of dumbbells and lie down on the bench with your chest supported against the bench.
  3. Start with arms fully extended towards the floor, keeping them in a neutral position.
  4. Squeeze your shoulder blades and pull your elbows up until the dumbbell reaches the rib cage.
  5. Hold the contraction for a second before you bring the dumbbell back to the starting position.
  6. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Pro tip:

  • With the torso fully supported, strive for a full range of motion.
  • Maintain full control during the eccentric phase.

2. Single-Arm Dumbbell Row

It’s that one exercise that will never go out of style! Even if you have selected another exercise as a t-bar alternative, single-arm dumbbell rows genuinely deserve to be in your back training routine.

The single-arm dumbbell row is a unilateral exercise that trains one side at a time — effectively treating strength imbalances.

Equipment required: Dumbbell and a bench.


  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 toward the ceiling until it reaches your torso.
  6. Lower the dumbbell down while maintaining full control.
  7. Repeat for the recommended number of reps before you switch sides.

Pro tip:

  • Don’t let the torso rotate. Keep it engaged and stable.
  • Actively push the dumbbell away to maximize the stretch.
  • Don’t lose the tension in the eccentric phase.

3. Underhand Barbell Row

The underhand barbell row is a great exercise when you want to emphasize more on the lat development.

Plus, an underhand grip increases bicep activation, thus making the weight feel lighter on the back.

Equipment required: Barbell and weight plates.


  1. Hold the bar with a supinated grip.
  2. Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  3. Hinge forward to bring your torso almost parallel to the ground.
  4. Maintain a strong core and straight spine.
  5. Pull the barbell towards your lower abdomen — while keeping your elbows close to the torso.
  6. Lower the barbell down while maintaining full control.
  7. Repeat for the recommended number of reps.

Pro tip:

  • Squeeze the contraction for a second before you lower the weight down.
  • Maintain a strong torso throughout the movement.

4. Inverted Row

Inverted row is a bodyweight row that will improve the upper back thickness and strength. It’s an excellent alternative to the t-bar row as it targets the same muscle groups without stressing out the lower back.

Inverted rows are a highly underrated but surprisingly effective back-building exercise. Inverted rows are best performed on the smith machine or power racks, as those machines allow you to alter the bar height easily.

Equipment required: Bodyweight.


  1. Set the barbell around your waist height.
  2. Position yourself underneath the bar facing toward the ceiling.
  3. Grab the barbell with a pronated grip at shoulder-width apart.
  4. Lift the butt up and contract the abs to fully extend the whole body.
  5. Pull yourself up towards the bar until your chest touches the bar.
  6. Hold the contraction for a second before descending yourself into starting position.

Pro tip:

  • You can change the intensity level by increasing or decreasing the bar height.
  • Do not hurry; pause at the top and bottom of the movement for the best results.
  • A narrow grip will target the mid and lower traps.

5. Yates Row

As the name suggests, this rowing variation derived its name from legendary bodybuilder and six-time Mr. Olympia winner Dorian Yates himself.

Yates row is a great back builder and emphasizes more on upper back development. Unlike traditional bent-over rows, the Yates row allows the lifter to stay more upright, thus relieving pressure on the back and allowing them to pull heavier weights.

Equipment required: Power rack, barbell, and weight plates.


  1. Stand with feet at hip-width apart and grab the barbell with a supinated grip.
  2. Stand tall and strong while keeping the core braced.
  3. Keep the chest up, and pull your shoulder blades back and down.
  4. Slightly hinge forward by pushing your hips back, bringing your torso about 45 degrees to the floor.
  5. Pull your elbows up to bring the barbell towards the belly button.
  6. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Pro tip:

  • Keep your core braced throughout the movement.

6. Pendlay Row

Unlike traditional barbell rows, Pendlay row starts from the ground. You bring the torso parallel to the floor, pull the weight up, and then rest the bar back on the floor.

With Pendlay rows, we will be working on the explosive force. You pull the barbell off the floor for every rep and concentrate on developing concentric strength.

Equipment required: Barbell and weight plates.


  1. Stand in front of the loaded barbell with your feet at hip-width apart.
  2. Hinge forward to bring the torso parallel to the floor.
  3. Grab the bar with a pronated grip. Keeping your back straight and core tight.
  4. Pull the weight up towards your lower chest.
  5. Lower the bar on the ground.
  6. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Pro tip:

  • You may need to work on your hamstring mobility to get into the perfect position.

7. Seated Close-Grip Row

It’s a beginner-friendly alternative to the t-bar row. Seated close-grip is easy to learn and does not stresses out the posterior chain.

This version perfectly adds volume to the back routine and allows you to focus on the muscle pump.

Equipment required: Seated row machine.


  1. Attach the close grip handle to the machine and set the desired weight.
  2. Grab the handles with a close grip and get into a seated position 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 you let the handles return to starting position.
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Pro tip:

  • Focus on establishing a mind-muscle connection.
  • Two seconds hold for every contraction.

8. Standing Cable Rows

Those who don’t have a seated row machine can reap the same benefits while in a standing position.

Equipment required: Cable machine.


  1. Set the cable at just below your chest height and attach a close grip handle to the pully.
  2. Grab the handle with a firm grip and step back to get both arms fully extended
  3. Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart, chest up, core braced, and scapula retracted.
  4. Pull the handle towards your torso, and hold the contraction for a second.
  5. Extend both arms to get into starting position.
  6. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Pro tip:

  • Try different pulley positioning to check what works best for you.
  • Maintain a slight bend in your knees for better balance.

9. Suspension Trainer Row

TRX or gymnastic rings are the best examples of the suspension trainer. The suspension trainer row can be a perfect t-bar alternative for someone who prefers to train with minimum equipment.

Suspension trainers are easy to set up and offer many workout variations with a single piece of equipment. The instability element of the suspension trainer row enhances muscle activation and control.

Equipment required: TRX or gymnastic rings.


  1. Fasten the suspension trainer to the high position and set the height to just above your waist level.
  2. Grab the handles with a neutral grip and lean back with the body fully extended.
  3. You can position your feet as per your comfort level.
  4. Pinch the shoulder blades together and keep the chest up.
  5. Bend the elbows and pull yourself towards the handles.
  6. Hold the contraction for a second before you get back into starting position with arms fully extended.
  7. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Pro tip:

  • Follow a slow tempo for the best results.

10. Resistance Band Bent-Over Row

The unavailability of weights should not stop you from developing a well-defined back.

Resistance bands come in different sizes and strengths; you can choose a band that suits your strength levels. Resistance bands are also great for rehabilitation purposes.

One can expect to see decent strength and size gains with this exercise.

Equipment required: Resistance band. 


  1. Place a resistance band on the floor and stand on it with the middle of your feet.
  2. Hold the sides of the bands with both hands with a neutral grip.
  3. Slightly bend your knees and hinge forward to get the torso almost parallel to the ground.
  4. Start with arms fully extended towards the ground. Make sure you feel some band resistance even in starting position.
  5. Pull your elbows back to bring the hands close to the torso.
  6. Extend the hands to get into starting position. Repeat.

Pro tip:

  • Focus on squeezing the contraction and mind-muscle connection.

11. Seal Row

Make your mid-back, rear delts, traps, rhomboid, and lats scream for mercy with the seal row! It is a chest-supported rowing variation that allows perfect horizontal pulls.

What makes seal row so special is its lower back friendliness which allows going heavy while training.

Equipment required: High bench and dumbbells.


  1. Lie down on the straight bench with your face facing the floor.
  2. Grab a pair of dumbbells with a neutral grip.
  3. Retract your shoulder blades and pull the dumbbells up.
  4. Return to the full extension/starting position.
  5. Repeat for the desired reps.

Pro tip:

  • You can increase the bench height by putting few weight plates underneath.
  • Try drop sets if you want to destroy your back completely.

12. ISO-Lateral Row

ISO-lateral row machine is a perfect substitute for the t-bar rows. These machines also allow unilateral back training making them a great addition to your workout.

Equipment required: ISO-lateral row machine.


  1. Load the machine with the appropriate weight.
  2. Get seated, keeping your chest firmly against the chest pad.
  3. Brace your core and shoulder blades retracted.
  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.

Pro tip:

  • Pause at the starting point of movement.

13. Pull-Ups

Whether you love or hate them, you simply can’t ignore the benefits of bodyweight pull-ups. Biomechanics of pull-ups might not look similar to the t-bar rows, but they both strengthen the upper back and lats without stressing the lower back.

Equipment required: Pull-up bar.


  1. Grab the bar with the pronated grip, keeping your hands shoulder-width apart.
  2. Lift your legs off the ground while keeping the core tight.
  3. Retract your shoulder blades down and pull yourself up until your chin reaches above the bar.
  4. Hold the contraction for a second before you descend into a starting position.

Pro tip:

  • Don’t worry if you can’t do a pull-up; use pull-up bands to assist you with the lift.
  • Opt for slow eccentric movement for the lat development.


Do you count the bar in T-bar row?

No! T-bar rows are not meant to set the PR. T-bar row is an auxiliary movement, meaning, t-bar is used as a supplemental exercise to add volume to the back training. If you want to track your progress, you can calculate the sum of weight plates as a base value.

Does t-bar row work upper back?

The degree of upper back activation highly depends on the grip variation. Using a wide overhand grip will help you target the upper portion of your back, including the posterior delt, rhomboid, and traps.  Using a neutral close grip targets the lats more. 

How to do a t-bar row without a machine?

Find an empty corner and wedge one end of the barbell in the corner, and load the other hand to perform the t-bar row. 

If you are afraid that the barbell might damage the corner, then you can cut down a tennis ball at the center and slide it onto the end of your barbell.

Can I do t-bar row instead of a barbell row?

Yes, of course. Both exercises fundamentally target the same muscle groups. However, choosing the most suitable exercise depends on the training goals and fitness levels.

While barbell row is a classic back-building exercise, it also puts substantial stress on the lower back. T-bar row on the other hand is a lower-back-friendly exercise that can deliver the same results.

Wrapping Up

T-bar row is an iconic back exercise that has been an essential part of the back training routine since the golden era of bodybuilding but doing a single exercise for a very long period might make your body adapt to the movement, and someday hit a plateau.

Bringing variety into the training routine is a practical strategy to stimulate consistent muscle growth. You can use these 13 exercises to make advancements in your back training.