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8 Bent Over Row Alternatives to Hit the Lats

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The bent over row has been a mainstay of bodybuilding workouts to develop back thickness for decades.

As a certified personal trainer, I’ve been using it to help my guys develop that rugged thickness to the lats that is so impressive. 

But the bent over row isn’t for everybody. 

People with lower back issues, a lack of shoulder mobility or weak gripping power will struggle to get the most from this exercise. Fortunately, there are some effective bent over row alternative exercises that overcome those limitations.

In this article, I’m going to show you 8 effective bent over row alternatives to thicken the lats. They will provide the same benefits of doing the bent over row without the potential drawbacks and compromising upper body position. 

As a former gym owner and certified personal trainer I’ve been programming each of these moves with everyone from novice weightlifters to competitive bodybuilders, with great results.

Why the Bent Over Row May be a Problem

While the bent over row is an effective builder of back mass and density, it is not for everybody. The bent over position of this exercise puts a lot of pressure on your lower back muscles. When you’re pulling a substantial amount of weight, this can result in ongoing back pain. 

If you are a person who suffers from lower back trouble, you may want to avoid this exercise. 

People who lack shoulder mobility will also struggle to get a full range of motion on this exercise. 

In my experience, most people who end up having lower back problems from the bent over row have been doing the exercise improperly. Here’s a quick rundown on the key form points for the bent over row:

  • Place the loaded bar on the floor.
  • Grab the bar just outside shoulder width.
  • Hinge at the hips and knees to bend to a 45 degree angle.
  • Engage and contract the key neutralizer muscles: the erector spinae (lower back), glutes, hamstrings, abs, and adductors.
  • As you lift the bar from the ground, pinch your shoulder blades together slightly.
  • Maintaining the 45-degree torso position and a neutral spine, pull the bar toward your hips. 
  • Lower under control.

Muscles Worked in the Bent Over Row

Bent over row muscles used

The bent over row will primarily work your lats. This muscle originates on the lower two thirds of the spine, as well as the lower third and fourth ribs and the bottom of the scapula.

All of these fibers run up to the armpit to connect to the humerus, or upper arm bone. 

The muscle fibers of the lats run diagonally from the armpit down toward the lower back and hip. That is the direction of movement that a good lat exercise will follow. 

Secondary muscles worked on the barbell row are the trapezius, rhomboids, rear delts, teres minor and infraspinatus. 

The exercise engages your shoulder joint and also involves scapular retraction. While you’re doing the movement, a number of neutralizing muscles hold your body in place.

Simply put… it hits your whole back.

Research shows that it can put more stress on your back than other exercises.

Why I’ve Chosen These Bent Over Row Alternatives

There are tons of bent over row alternative articles available online. A lot of them, however, don’t really provide like-for-like alternatives. Instead they simply throw together a bunch of back exercises, many of which have no relation to the bent over row at all.

At Strong Home Gym we value your time – and intelligence – too much to do that. That’s why I’ve taken the time and effort to carefully select alternative exercises that actually follow the same movement pattern as the original.

When it comes to the bent over row, a suitable alternative must pull the arms horizontally, so that the elbows end up behind the body. That rules out things like pull ups and chin ups.

Your body can be in any position but the direction of pull must simulate that rowing action. 

The bent over row is also a bilateral exercise. That means that you’re working both sides of the body at the same time. So, a like-for-like alternative will also be bilateral. 

I’m personally a big fan of unilateral exercises, but it would not be right to include one as an alternative for a bilateral movement.

After all, our job is not just to fill a page with content but to give you real information that you can use in your home gym.

Equipment Needed for the Bent Over Row Alternative Exercises

The seven bent over row alternatives that I’m about to cover can be done in your home gym with minimal equipment. To perform them, you will need…

Bent Over Row Alternatives

Bent over row alternative infographic

1. Single Arm Dumbbell Row

Equipment needed for the single arm dumbbell row

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Adjustable Dumbbells

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Classic
Read our best adjustable dumbbell guide here

These are the dumbbells we recommend for ‘most people’.

We have spent over 50 hours of research and compared over 100 dumbbells. Adjustable dumbbells make sense for most home gyms as they save space.

The Nüobell dumbbells go all the way to 80lbs per hand. This means they are much more versatile than most 50lbs adjustable dumbbells. You can use these for heavy shrugs, squats and bench press etc.

The main reason they are the top pick is because of their shape. They actually feel like real dumbbells and are not awkward to lift like some others.

How to do the single arm dumbbell row:

  • Put a dumbbell on the floor alongside a weight bench that is set to a flat incline.
  • Stand side on to the bench and place your inside knee on it. Put your left hand on the bench also to support your body.
  • Reach down to grab the dumbbell with your right hand.
  • Maintaining a neutral spine, engage your core and retract your shoulder blades. Flare your lats to fully extend them in this bottom position.
  • Pull the dumbbell to your hip bone. Squeeze the lat to contract it in this top position.
  • Lower under control and repeat. 
  • Perform all your reps on one side and then repeat on the other.

Single arm dumbbell row muscles worked:

  • Lats
  • Rhomboids
  • Trapezius
  • Rear deltoids

2. Chest Supported Dumbbell Row

Equipment needed for the chest supported dumbbell row:

  • Adjustable bench
  • Dumbbells

How to do the chest supported dumbbell row:

  • Set an adjustable bench to a 45-degree angle.
  • Place a pair of dumbbells at the head of the bench.
  • Lie face down on the bench so that your arms are directly above the dumbbells. 
  • Plant your feet firmly on the floor, push your lower back into the bench and reach down to grab the dumbbells with a neutral grip (palms facing each other).
  • Flare the lats as you pinch the shoulder blades slightly together. Now pull the dumbbells up to touch the bench at about the level of your hips.
  • Tightly squeeze the lats in this position then lower under control to the start position. 

Chest supported dumbbell row muscles worked:

  • Lats
  • Rhomboids
  • Trapezius
  • Rear deltoids

3. Standing Band Row

Equipment needed for the standing band row:

  • Resistance band

TRX Pro4

Read our best suspension trainers guide here

This is the suspension trainer that we recommend for ‘most people’.

We have spent compared over 50 of them and ran them against our criteria.

It’s robust, very high quality, easy to adjust and pack away.

The main reason it gets our top spot is because of its versatility. The adjustable feet straps and rubber handles allow you to do more movements than other trainers that don’t have these features.

How to do the standing band row:

  • Attach a loop resistance band to a secure upright at the level of your midsection.
  • Grab the ends of the band in both hands and step back to create tension in the band when with your arms extended.
  • Maintaining a neutral spine position, flare your lats and pinch your shoulder blades slightly together. Depress your shoulders and engage your core.
  • Row the band into your ribcage. Hold the contracted end position for a second and then slowly return to the start position. 
  • To make the exercise more challenging, step further away from the band anchor point. 

Standing band row muscles worked:

  • Lats
  • Rhomboids
  • Trapezius
  • Rear deltoids

4. Lying Bench Seal Row

Equipment needed for the lying bench seal row:

REP AB-3000 Bench

REP AB-3000 Weight Bench
Read our best weight bench guide here

This is the weight bench we recommend for ‘most people’.

We compared over 70 benches against 12 criteria. This is our highest-ranked flat, incline & decline (FID) bench.

Some adjustable benches can be a bit wobbly when on the incline. But the AB-3000 is very sturdy.

With a height 18mm it’s comparable to benches that cost twice as much.

How to do the lying bench seal row:

  • Place some 2 x 4 timber under a flat bench to lift it an extra few inches from the floor. Make sure that the bench is still sitting securely.
  • Position a loaded barbell under the bench.
  • Lie facedown on the bench and reach down to grab the bar with an overhand grip. 
  • Retract your scapula and flare out your lats, pushing the lower back into the bench.
  • Row the bar up to touch the bottom of the bench. Hold the top position for a second as you squeeze the lats.
  • Lower under control and repeat.

Lying bench seal row muscles worked:

  • Lats
  • Rhomboids
  • Trapezius
  • Rear deltoids

5. Seated Band Row

Equipment needed for the seated band row:

How to do the seated band row:

  • Sit on the floor with your legs outstretched, feet together, and a loop band placed around your midfeet.
  • Hold the band end in both hands, about eight inches apart, with your palms down.
  • Maintain an upright torso with a neutral spine position. Draw your shoulder blades back and down and flare your lats. Tighten your core and engage your quads.
  • From a straight arm position, row the band in toward your hips. Contract the lats in this position and hold for a second.
  • Return to the start position under control, being sure not to round your back,

Seated band row muscles worked:

  • Lats
  • Rhomboids
  • Trapezius
  • Rear deltoids

Is this exercise not challenging enough? Check out our cable row alternatives to help strengthen your upper back muscles.

6. Inverted Row

Equipment needed for the seated band row:

Rogue Ohio Cerakote Bar

Rogue Ohio Bar Cerakote
Read our best Olympic barbell guide here

This is the bar that we recommend for ‘most people’.

We have spent over 120 hours of research and tested over 100 barbells.

It is affordable but comes with some high specs. The Rogue Work Hardening and 190k PSI tensile strength mean the bar will last a lifetime in a home gym.

It is a multi-purpose bar with a 28.5mm diameter shaft and composite bushings in the sleeves. This means it’s balanced for heavy slow bench presses but you can also perform snatches and fast overhead lifts.

How to do the inverted row:

  • Position an unloaded barbell on supports so that it is sitting horizontally about four feet from the floor. Make sure that the supports are solid and the bar is secure. 
  • Lie face up on the floor so that your shoulders are directly below the bar.
  • Reach up to grab the bar a little wider than shoulder width apart with an overhand grip.
  • In this position, your torso should be at around a 45-degree angle.
  • Depress your shoulder blades and flare your lats. Keeping your spine neutral, your core and quads engaged, pull yourself up to the bar to touch your chest to it.
  • Lower under control and repeat. 

Inverted row muscles worked:

  • Lats
  • Rhomboids
  • Trapezius
  • Rear deltoids

7. Half Kneeling High Band Row

Equipment needed for the seated band row:

How to do the seated band row:

  • Attach a resistance loop band to a secure upright at around shoulder level.
  • Grab the band end with your right hand and take a step back to breathe band tension.
  • Drop down onto your right knee and place your left hand on the left knee for support.
  • Stretch out your right arm to get a full stretch in the lat muscles.
  • Pull the band down toward your hip with the goal of touching your elbow to your hip.
  • Strongly contract the lat in the end position and hold for a second. 
  • Slowly return to the start position, maintaining control in the band throughout. 

Seated band row muscles worked:

  • Lats
  • Rhomboids
  • Trapezius
  • Rear deltoids

8. TRX Row

Equipment needed for the seated band row:

  • TRX strap system or similar

How to do the seated band row:

  • Attach your strap system to a secure overhead upright. The handles should be hanging at your waist level. 
  • Grab the handles with an overhand grip. Keep your feet together and engage your core with a neutral spine. 
  • Lean back until your body is at a 45-degree angle to the floor.
  • Extend your arms to full extension, flaring out the lats and pulling their shoulder down.
  • Pull your chest toward the handles as you squeeze your shoulder blades together.
  • Hold the top position for a second and then lower under control to the start position.

Seated band row muscles worked:

  • Lats
  • Rhomboids
  • Trapezius
  • Rear deltoids

Bent Over Row Alternatives – the Bottom Line

If you don’t suffer from lower back issues and don’t have impaired shoulder mobility, I recommend doing the bent over row as your main exercise for lat thickness. It is an excellent exercise that will allow you to move a lot of weight and develop some serious back density.

However, if you do find that the standard barbell bent over row causes problems for you, any of the seven bent over row alternatives will provide a good substitute. 

In terms of effectiveness, I’d say the chest-supported dumbbell row is the best. It provides maximum lower back support while also allowing for an excellent range of motion. Working with dumbbells also allows you to achieve more balanced development between the two sides of the back.

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Steve is a certified personal trainer, current home gym owner, former gym owner, and copywriter. He joined his first gym at age 15 and, five years later, he was managing his own studio. In 1987, he became the first personal fitness trainer in New Zealand.

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