The Best T Bar Row Alternatives For Wherever You Are

Jeff Baldelli
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What’s so Good About the T Bar Row?

When it comes to back workouts, nothing is more important than the T bar row. This simple, yet versatile back exercise is something even the most newbie home gym jizzie can do. Yet, it is hard enough to be challenging for those who are more experienced as well. It is also extremely effective!

The History of the T-bar Row

The backstory of the T bar row begins with the classic Arnold Press. I’ve written an entire guide on the Arnold Press which you can find here: Arnold Press guide. In that guide, I also explain why the Arnold Press is so good at building the back. In a nutshell, it hits your entire back hard, including your lats, middle back, and rear deltoids. It also allows you to load up a lot of weight, which is important for strength training.

Because of the Arnold Press “success,” it inspired another exercise that was essentially the same thing. Rather than loading up a barbell for the exercise, a bar was mounted to a post attached to the floor with a T-shaped arm. This allowed the user to sit in a more comfortable position than the one provided by the Arnold Press. This is because the bar was “hugging” the lifter the whole time, rather than being outside of their body.

T Bar Row Alternatives

T-bar rows are a compound resistance exercise for the back and arms that you can do at home, in the gym, or anywhere. You can do them as a power exercise (bracing), or you can do them as a hypertrophy exercise (smooth and relaxed).

It is normal for some people to feel pain in their elbows if they have not warmed up before exercise, if they have had previous elbow injuries, or if they have any condition that is increasing their likelihood of elbow tendonitis.

People with previous elbow tendonitis have a much higher chance of re-injuring their elbow with this exercise. It is always best to visit your doctor or orthopedic clinician before beginning any exercise program, and if you feel any pain to stop.

Resistance Band Bent Over Row

When most people start a resistance band routine, they will skip a lot of movements because they are assumed to be too challenging. This is true even for one of the most effective bench exercises for your back, the bent over barbell row.

A T Bar row machine or similiar piece of equipment will help you develop a strong row but it should not be the only type of row you do.

Resistance bands are great because they are easy to transport and can be used just about anywhere.

The bent over row with a resistance band is an exercise to be done with a shorter band.

Stand on a bench to get some elevation while keeping your feet at shoulder width. Hold the resistance band with the left hand and keep the elbow of the left arm by your side. Pull the resistance band up toward your chest by contracting your lat muscles. At the top of the movement squeeze your shoulder blades. Lower the resistance band and then repeat.

The Bent over tension band row is a great alternative for the T Bar row.

Blast your biceps, lats, and shoulders with a bent over tension band row today.

Inverted Rows

The T bar row is a great back exercise that is used to isolate the upper back muscles. However, if you are at home and unable to get to the gym, you can still do inverted rows. Pullup bars can be found at most home gym stores such as Dick’s Sporting Goods and through various online suppliers.

To do inverted rows, you simply hang off the pullup bar or other bar and row your body up and down. It’s basically the same as a T bar row, except that it’s flipped upside down.

The inverted row is a great upper body exercise as it targets the back, traps, and shoulders. The inverted row is considered a pulling shoulder exercise meaning that it works the back shoulders as opposed to the triceps.

Rayner Rowing Machine

For most people who can’t get to the gym, they can usually find an exercise bike, or at the very least a treadmill. One great exercise to do with both of these pieces of exercise equipment is the Rayner Rowing Machine. The advantage of this exercise is that it only requires a piece of exercise equipment.

Pull-Ups

There are some debates that will probably never end. One of those debates is the one about pull ups and T-bar rows. The argument is whether doing a pull up or a T-bar row. And both have their merits.

The closest thing you can do to a pull up that is better than a T-bar row is a cluster set of a number of different types of pull ups. Cluster sets require you to rest for a minute or more between each rep. Still, for a baseline, T-bar rows are better than pull ups.

So here are some different ways to alternate among pull ups and T-bar rows if you are in a place or situation where they are not an option.

{1}. Have a heavy workout all day but work in the room at the end of your workout. Do a bit of cardio and then a T-bar row workout.
{2}. Do the same thing the above does but work T-bar rows into your cardio program. Do a set of T-bar rows and then work your cardio for about 10 minutes or so.
{3}. Work in some other exercises into your two routines, like dips, planks, or even the push up versions of the exercises.
{4}. The obvious alternative that seems like it wouldn’t work as well can work extremely well. This is to join a fitness center and use their equipment.

Deadlifts

Your deadlifting will be taking a back seat for a while as you work on your rows and chin-ups. Your back isn’t made to be hunched over with your shoulders rounded forward. That posture is what causes back discomfort and pain, not deadlifts themselves.

If you want to deadlift safely, you need to work on your strength and mobility in a better position. The rows and chin-ups will give you both, and they also will improve your shoulders.

The first alternative exercise is going to be the bent over T bar row. This where you’re on the ball a bit and you can lift more weight. You work those back muscles and are even able to hit the traps a bit.

The second exercise is the assisted pull-up machine. This is a great alternative because you’re holding the bar in the right manner. If this machine isn’t available to you, do a standard pull-up. When you grip the bar, have your thumbs wrapped around it, and pull your shoulder blades back.

Next exercise will be a standing barbell T bar row. This one is harder than some of the other ones. Work your way up to this one, don’t try it out unless you’re already doing regular rows.

Chest Supported Rows

This movement is performed seated, and uses the handles of the cable machine. All you have to do is sit up straight, grab the handles, and pull them towards your chest. You can either keep your chest flat against the bench or lean forward a bit to feel the difference in the exercise.

Grip determines the width of your grip, which affects the degree to which your lats are worked. Using a close grip creates a better muscle stretch.

Sled Pulls

This is a fun exercise that you can do almost anywhere. Basically, you grab a heavy object, either in a weighted sled or tied to a line with a heavy bag, and pull it as far as you can.

You can apply this to your gym workouts if you have access to a sled.

You may not have access to a sled, however, in which case, you can apply this to any type of weighted workout.

For example, you can use a weighted sled as a substitute for a barbell with the same weight as you would normally use.

When you can’t drag a sled around, you can do backward rows while lying on a bench against the wall, back rows with a barbell or Smith machine by standing further away than you would normally, or just grab an Olympic barbell without weights.

When doing the backward row, do not bend your knees. Your legs should be straight and stationary.

All of the T bar rows in the gym, the barbell rows or back rows, are then done by standing further away from the bench than you typically would, with your body closer to parallel to the ground, and pulling the barbell toward your body.

For all of these, make sure to increase the weight that you use since you don’t have the sled to push or pull with.

Cable Rows

Cable Row is a great exercise for your back, pulling muscles and upper arms. A lot of gyms don’t have a T Bar Row machine, so if you are at a gym and want to do this exercise, you have two options. The first option is to do “seated cable rows”, which are simply a set of machine with a cable that runs from the weight stack to the seat so that when you pull back, you’re actually pulling the weight. The other option is to use a chest supported row machine, which may or may not be an option in your gym. Whatever machine you choose, they both work perfectly well. The seated row machine will place you in an upright position, while the chest supported row machine will have you in a laying back position.

Kroc Rows

Space required: minimum

This is a bit tricky, so pay attention. Start by sitting on the floor with your weight resting on your knees. Grab the dumbbell from the ground. Your upper body should be in a straight line, shoulders back, core engaged. Hold the weight in your right hand and extend your left hand behind you on the floor for stability. Now row the weight up to the chest, squeezing the back muscles as you pull. Then extend the arm back to the floor.

Rest for a moment, and repeat.

If you want to engage more muscles, you can put the weight in the crook of your arm.