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4 T-Bar Row Alternatives at Home for Back Mass

T-bar rows are an excellent exercise, but what if you don’t have a T-bar machine in your home gym? Is it possible to replicate the movement and the mechanics of the exercise successfully? 

Thankfully, the answer is a resounding yes!

The T-bar row is one of the easiest exercises to replicate in your home gym. I don’t have a T-bar row in my gym. But there are a lot of excellent work-arounds that I use in my own training and with my personal training clients. 

In this article I’ll explain the T-bar row and how I replicate it in my own gym, using basic equipment that will be available to a lot of home gym users. 

As I always do in these kinds of articles, I’ll use my nearly 20 years in the industry to give you like-for-like T-bar row alternatives. These replicate the movement patterns and target the same muscles.

Employ these exercises in your workout and you won’t bother with a T-bar row again!

The T-Bar row in more detail

I love T-bar rows. I think they’re one of the most effective back exercises around, because it allows you to isolate the muscles of the back and work with really good form. 

The T-bar row is a very simple machine, usually plate-loaded and comes with a variety of grip options.

This includes overhand, underhand and neutral.

There’s also a chest support (with a pad that the lifter leans on, so their weight is supported). Some T-bar rows don’t have this pad, so the bar is lifted between the lifter’s legs, with them self-supporting their torso through the lift.

For bodybuilding purposes, I think the chest-supported version is better because it removes any core engagement and allows the lifter to focus purely on engaging the muscles of the back. For general training, I like it without the chest support because of the more overall muscle and core engagement. 

It’s a classic row movement, so the target muscles are the back and biceps. The simple movement pattern and the multiple grip options mean it’s an easy exercise to use alternatives for. 

T-bar row movement pattern

The T-bar row is a crossover exercise in the sense that it requires the chest to be angled upwards. When the chest is supported, this diagonal position provides excellent activation of the latissimus dorsi and at the same time takes a lot of the stress out of the lower back.  This means it’s a perfect exercise for those who have suffered lumbar spine issues. 

If you don’t have the chest support…

It’s still an excellent exercise because it engages the core as well as the back and hip extensor muscles. 

It also means that when we are seeking for T-bar row alternatives, we can’t just select any old pulling exercise, because a purely horizontal pull (seated row, cable row) or a purely vertical pull (lat pulldown, pull up, chin up) doesn’t recruit the target muscles in the same way.

Instead, we’ll focus on alternatives that require the back to remain in an angled upright position. 

T-bar row alternatives

I’m going to provide a few different options here, but I’ll mix them between chest-supported and unsupported, so you’ve got options for both. Each of the options will mimic the T-bar row as closely as possible.

1. Chest supported dumbbell row

This is the easiest and arguably closest replica of the chest-supported T-bar row. You can adjust the bench as high or low as required, which allows you to find the perfect angle for you. It also offsets the lower back, meaning if you’ve had a problematic back in the past you can still work around the issues.

Finally, you have the ability to adjust your grip using the dumbbells – you can lift with an overhand, underhand or neutral grip. The research shows the muscle activation doesn’t change that much with them, but it can help with wrist or elbow injuries.

Equipment needed for chest supported dumbbell rows:

How to do chest supported dumbbell rows:

  1. Set the bench to medium incline (around 45 degrees)
  2. Lie chest-down on the bench and grab the dumbbells from the floor
  3. Initiate the movement by pulling the elbows back and squeezing the shoulder blades together
  4. Slowly lower the dumbbells down, but don’t go so far that the shoulders slump forward
  5. Repeat as many times as required.

Chest supported dumbbell rows muscles worked:

  • All muscles of the upper back
  • Biceps
  • Hip extensors

2. Barbell bent over row

The barbell bent over row is a go-to of back exercises for many people. It is as old as the hills and it’s still around for good reason – it’s safe and effective. It’s a much tougher exercise than the chest-supported row because you have to engage the core and lower back more, to maintain a straight back. A word of caution though – if you’ve had lower back issues, this may not be the exercise for you.

You can adjust the width of the grip along the bar or the orientation of the grip (overhand or underhand). Of course the final variable is the weight, so you can adjust that as heavy or light as you like, as long as you maintain good form.

Equipment needed for barbell bent over rows:

How to do barbell bent over rows:

  1. Load the barbell and bring it close to your shins. Assuming your grip (overhand or underhand), stand up with the bar and lean forward slightly
  2. Keep the shoulders braced (not slouched) and the back straight, ready to lift
  3. Initiate the movement by pulling the elbows back and squeezing the shoulder blades together
  4. Slowly lower the barbell down, but don’t go so far that the shoulders slump forward
  5. Repeat as many times as required.

Barbell bent over rows muscles worked:

  • All muscles of the upper back
  • Biceps
  • Core
  • Glutes
  • Hip extensors

This is one of the main exercises in our popular beginner weightlifing routine.

3. T-bar landmine row

An excellent alternative to the T-bar row is the T-bar landmine row. A landmine attachment is a cheap and easy addition to a home gym – it’s a barbell sleeve that fits either onto a rig or can be attached to an anchor plate. It allows for a lot of exercise versatility and is a fantastic addition to a home gym. 

With a landmine and a T-bar handle you can almost perfectly replicate the machine-based T-bar row for a fraction of the cost. It’s a perfect solution to the issue and better still, the equipment is truly multi-function, so has lots of other uses beyond rows.

Equipment needed for T-bar landmine rows:

How to do T-bar landmine rows:

  1. Place the barbell into the sleeve and load up with required weight. 
  2. Stand over the bar, with it running between your legs. Put the T-bar attachment into place
  3. Assuming your grip (overhand, underhand or neutral), lean forward slightly and lift the bar off the floor
  4. Keep the shoulders braced (not slouched) and the back straight
  5. Initiate the movement by pulling the elbows back and squeezing the shoulder blades together
  6. Slowly lower the barbell down, but don’t go so far that the shoulders slump forward
  7. Repeat as many times as required.

T-bar landmine rows muscles worked:

  • All muscles of the upper back
  • Biceps
  • Core
  • Glutes
  • Hip extensors

4. TRX Rows

The TRX rows are a perfect T-bar row alternative because they combine a number of functional and practical advantages. They’re very easy to set up (all you need is a TRX and a hanging spot), they’re very easy to adjust in terms of difficulty and they’re also suitable for rehab type exercises because they don’t engage the lower back at all.

The functional benefit of the TRX row is the instability element. Research has shown that the instability provided by the TRX increases muscle activation compared to stable-surface training.

Equipment needed for TRX rows:

How to do TRX rows:

  1. Secure the TRX in place safely
  2. Hold the handles and lean back – the steeper the angle, the tougher the exercise will be 
  3. Assuming your grip (overhand, underhand or neutral), lean backwards (just keep a tight grip!) 
  4. Keep the shoulders braced (not rounded forwards) and the back straight
  5. Initiate the row by pulling the elbows back and squeezing the shoulder blades together
  6. Once your torso reaches the handles, slowly lower yourself back to the start position, not allowing your shoulders to round
  7. Repeat as many times as required.

TRX rows muscles worked:

  • All muscles of the upper back
  • Biceps
  • Core

Check out our pull up alternatives for more safe ways to improve your back and biceps.

T-bar row alternatives – the bottom line

I’m a big fan of the T-bar row, because it serves a couple of major purposes.

  1. It is an excellent exercise for developing the upper back.
  2. It also allows people who have had a troublesome lower back a chance to train their back safely. 

The other good news is that it’s a very easy exercise to replicate effectively. The alternatives I’ve suggested in this article can be achieved with standard equipment you’ll find in most home gyms. They’re also the exact same movement pattern so you don’t miss out on any of the benefits. 

You can learn more about the equipment we recommend to build a home gym here.

Put these T-bar row alternative exercises into your programme and you’ll see the benefits immediately, without the need to drop a few hundred bucks on a T-bar row machine. If you’re looking for more exercises to develop a bigger back then check out our lat pulldown alternative article here.

by Steve Hoyles
Hi! My name is Steve Hoyles. I’m a personal trainer, gym owner and fitness copywriter. Since graduating with my Sports Science degree in 2004 I’ve worked in the fitness industry, helping thousands of people reach their health and fitness goals. My writing has been read by millions of people in over 200 countries.

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