Looking to build a bigger, wider back? Or maybe you just love the T-Bar row and want an effective T-Bar row alternative that you can do anywhere?
You’re in luck, as this guide covers the best T-Bar row alternative exercises that you can do at home and wherever you are - whether you are off travelling and or on vacation.
These exercises require little, or even no, equipment at all.
So, for those of you who are also thinking about canceling your gym membership, these back exercises might be that extra push that are you are looking for.
The T-Bar row is a back exercise that hits the major back muscles. It is similar to the bent over row, but with more emphasis on the inner back muscles, namely the rhomboids and traps, using more of a tucked-elbows movement.
Thing is, most of us don’t have a barbell and weight plates at home (landmine rows, anyone?), let alone a T-Bar row machine.
So, we have gone and rounded up the most effective T-Bar row alternatives that you can do anywhere.
What Does the T-Bar Row Work? (T Bar Row Benefits)
The T-Bar row is a pulling exercise performed standing with a T-Bar row machine. It involves pulling weight into the midriff, targeting the major muscles of the back through a retraction of the shoulder blades.
As a compound pulling exercise, often performed with heavy weights, the T-Bar row is an effective exercise for building back muscle and increasing raw pulling strength. It can also improve core stability and overall balance.
Similar to most back exercises, T-Bar rows offer benefits that can transfer to everyday life. These include improved posture, core support, and reduced risk of developing lower back pain.
T-Bar Row Muscles Worked
T-Bar rows train the major muscles of the back through resistance, making it one of the most important back exercises for strength and muscle growth.
Muscles worked with T-Bar rows include:
- latissimus dorsi (lats)
- trapezius (traps
- posterior deltoids (rear delts)
- abdominal muscles
- hamstrings and glutes
Despite working all the major back muscles, the T-bar row puts a greater focus on the rhomboids and traps. This is ideal for building a thicker, more “3D” back, as opposed to a wider “cobra-shaped” back. Of course, for an impressive back, it’s important to train for both!
How to T Bar Row (Correct T Bar Form)
The T-bar is one common exercise seen in the gym that is often performed wrong, especially by beginners. This is because it requires correct positioning of the feet, knees, and hips, in addition to correct pulling technique.
Making sure to practice correct form when performing any exercise is important for a number of reasons, two of which include exercise effectiveness and reducing the risk of injury.
How to T Bar Row with Correct Form:
- Keep feet at hip width
- Bend knees slightly
- Position hips at 45 degrees
- Engage core muscles for stability
- Depress and retract shoulders (and shoulder blades/scapulae)
- Keep elbows tucked (no flared elbows)
- Maintain a slightly arched lower back
Best T Bar Row Alternatives
Not all of us have a gym membership, let alone a T-bar row machine at home!
Thankfully, we can replicate the movement of the T-bar row and hit the same muscles for an effective back workout that can be done anywhere - no matter whether you are at home, travelling, or on vacation.
In our list of the best T-bar row alternatives, we have included home back exercises, calisthenics exercises (bodyweight exercises), and exercises that make use of portable (and affordable) workout equipment.
We run through the benefits of each exercise, the muscles worked, and how to do each exercise, so you can build back muscle at home and start increasing your pulling strength today!
So, without further ado, let’s dive in.
Bent Over Dumbbell Row
The bent over dumbbell row is one of the most popular back exercises due to the fact that it is simple and versatile. It works the same muscles as the T-bar row - including the lats, rhomboids, and traps - and can be performed standing or resting on a bench.
What makes the bent over dumbbell row such a common back exercise is that it is ideal for beginners, who can pick up any dumbbell weight and jump right in. And for those without dumbbells, the resistance can be easily replicated with bottles or even bricks.
How to Do a Bent Over Dumbbell Row
To do a bent over dumbbell row, the form is near enough identical to the form used in a T-bar row. Plant your feet at hip width, bend your knees slightly, and pull your shoulders back and down. You should be bending over slightly, with your chest protracted.
From this position, pull the dumbbells either side of your obliques. Keep your elbows tucked and retract your shoulder blades to contract your back muscles. Lower and straighten your arms, controlling the dumbbell as it comes down, to complete one rep.
One Arm Bent Over Dumbbell Row
The one arm bent over dumbbell row is ideal for beginners, correcting muscle imbalance, and anyone who simply prefers to isolate one side when doing resistance training. Typically, this variation of the bent over dumbbell row is performed leaning on a gym bench.
Of course, the gym bench can be replaced with any low surface, such as a chair, stool, or coffee table. Similarly, we can switch the dumbbell for a heavy bottle or brick. Just make sure you have a good grip on whatever you are using!
How to Do a One Arm Bent Over Dumbbell Row
To do a one arm bent over dumbbell row, rest a knee and your free arm (same side) on a bench, palm flat. Pull your shoulders back and stick out your chest, with a slightly arched back. Pull the dumbbell up to your side, squeeze your back muscles, then lower for one rep.
With your arm and leg placed on the bench, the exercise is made easier by removing some of the stability needed to perform the exercise standing. Holding just one dumbbell, it is also easier to focus on your form, as well as control and slow down the exercise.
Bent Over Resistance Band Row
If you do not have dumbbells, you can perform bent over (and seated) rows with a resistance band. Resistance bands are cheap and super portable (perfect for folding and throwing in your travel bag), coming in different thicknesses that represent their resistance.
The benefits of bent over resistance band rows is that you can simply grab a different part of the band to increase or decrease the band’s tension (resistance). For bent over rows in particular, you can anchor the band under your feet, or secure it using a door frame anchor.
How to Do a Bent Over Resistance Band Row
To do a bent over resistance band row, first secure your resistance band underneath your feet (stand on it) or use a resistance band anchor to fasten it beneath a closed door. Bend over, arch your back slightly (protracted chest, retracted shoulders), and bend your knees.
Grab each end of the band in each hand, then pull the band either side of your stomach, making sure to maintain tucked elbows. Your shoulder blades should retract, providing a good contraction of your lats, rhomboids, and traps. Release for one rep.
One Arm Bent Over Resistance Band Row
The one arm bent over resistance band row replicates the one arm dumbbell row, more accessible to beginners with the ability to isolate one side and focus on form, control, and tempo. It is also used to correct muscle imbalance.
Again, the resistance band allows you to adjust the tension, depending on where you grab the band. What’s more, resistance bands act differently from dumbbells in that the elasticity is constantly fighting against you. This forces your muscles to work even at the peak of the rep.
How to Do a One Arm Bent Over Resistance Band Row
To do a one arm bent over resistance band row, lower a knee and an extended arm onto a low, stable surface. In this case, you can secure the resistance band underneath the furthest leg of the bench, table, or chair.
Assume correct form: shoulders pulled back and depressed, chest out, and lower back slightly arched. Maintaining this posture, pull the resistance band and bring your elbow back as far as possible, while making sure to keep your arm close to your body.
Resistance Band T Bar Row
We can also replicate the T-bar row itself by using resistance bands. As mentioned above, the T-bar row is similar to the bent over dumbbell row, with the main difference being that T-bar rows involve further tucking elbows for a greater contraction of the inner back muscles.
This is the reason that you can do T-bar rows anywhere! Resistance bands are the most portable workout equipment that you can buy, which you can fold, slam in a bag, and attach in door frames - or underneath your feet - for exercising your back anytime, anywhere.
How to Do a Resistance Band T Bar Row
To do a T-bar row with resistance band, you have to anchor the band in a way that replicates the resistance of the original T-bar row. This might sound tricky, but you can do this by fastening the band underneath a closed door using a resistance band anchor.
Position yourself a step or two away from the door, bend your knees slightly, lean forwards, and grab two sides of the band. Remember to lower your shoulders and protract your chest. Keeping your elbows tucked, pull the band either side of you in a classic rowing movement.
Australian Pull Up (Inverted Row)
Australian pull ups, similar to inverted rows, are a bodyweight pulling exercise that can be done anywhere. While the common way to do the exercise is with a low bar, you can replace this and replicate the movement and range of motion with two chairs or a secure table edge.
Australian pull ups are an effective way to build back strength, often used as a method to gain strength for regular pull ups. This makes them perfect as a T-bar row alternative exercise, targeting the lats, rhomboids, traps, biceps, and upper forearms all in one go.
How to Do Australian Pull Ups
To do an Australian pull up, find a low bar or table surface that you can pull yourself up to safely. Position yourself underneath it, with either your knees bent and feet flat on the floor (easier version) or your legs extended (harder version).
With a pronated grip (knuckles up), pull yourself up so that your chest touches, or gets close to, the bar or table edge. Lower for one rep. Throughout this exercise, it’s also important to maintain good pulling form, including depressed shoulders and a protracted chest.
Narrow Grip Australian Pull Ups
Narrow grip Australian pull ups are the same as narrow grip pull ups, but performed with the feet on the floor. In this case, we are closely mimicking the pulling motion of the T-bar row, in which the hands are close together, with elbows tucked all throughout the movement.
In fact, where you place your hands during any pulling exercise greatly affects the muscles you hit. This also goes for the grip used, whether that is pronated or supinated. By using a narrow grip, you can effectively target your inner back in the same way as a T-bar row.
How to Do Narrow Grip Australian Pull Ups
To do a narrow grip Australian pull up, position yourself underneath a bar or secure table edge. Depending on your ability, fully extend your legs or bend your knees to make the exercise easier. For a narrow grip, position your hands in line with your chest.
Just like regular Australian pull ups, or inverted rows, make sure to keep your shoulders pulled back and down (retracted shoulder blades). If you do the exercise with straight legs, engage your core with each rep to keep your hips elevated and your body straight.
One Arm Australian Pull Ups
One arm Australian pull ups are a back exercise that, once again, isolates one side of the major back muscles. However, this exercise is typically used to build raw strength and muscle, as opposed to improve form or correct muscle imbalance in the back.
This is because the one arm Australian pull up can be quite demanding (especially for beginners), meant to build strength, control, and technique for feats such as the one arm pull up. At the same time, it is a great way to target the lats, rhomboids, and abdominal muscles.
How to Do One Arm Australian Pull Ups
To do a one arm Australian pull up, make sure to have first built a good amount of back strength using the above exercises. The Australian pull up is part technique, so the exercise does also require you to have built good foundational core strength, plus bicep strength.
Position yourself underneath a low bar or table edge. Gripping with one hand, engage your core to maintain a level body position. From here, pull your free shoulder to the bar, bending your elbow to contract one side of your back, before lowering yourself in a controlled fashion.
Pull ups are often considered the king of all back exercises, which makes them more than worthy as an effective T-bar row alternative. In fact, pull ups - which are essentially a bodyweight version of the lat pulldown - target every muscle in your back, plus more.
Pull ups can be done anywhere, only requiring somewhere safe to hang. While they can be different for beginners, pull ups can be made easier with the use of resistance bands, secured under the feet to help with the concentric (pulling) phase of the exercise.
How to Do Pull Ups
To do a pull up, position yourself directly underneath a secure pull up bar. Grip the bar with a pronated grip, shoulder width apart, then retract your shoulder blades and pull yourself with the intention of bringing your chest to the bar. Keep your elbows tucked.
At the peak of the contraction, your chest should be pushed out, with your shoulders fully retracted to activate all the muscles of the back. From here, keep your forearm locked as you lower yourself back into a controlled dead hang position.
Narrow Grip Pull Ups
As we touched upon earlier, we can target different areas of the back in any pulling exercise by simply adjusting our grip. This includes wide grip, narrow grip, as well as pronated and supinated grips.
The narrow grip pull up, in this case, is going to put a greater focus on the inner back - rhomboids and traps - as opposed to the lats. Just like the T-bar row, this is effective for building a bigger, thicker “3D” back, rather than just a wide back.
How to Do Narrow Grip Pull Ups
To do a narrow grip pull up, get yourself into a dead hang position, gripping the bar with your hands in line with your chest (inside your shoulders). Pull your chest to the bar as usual, making sure to tuck your elbows and bring them back as far as possible for the contraction.
For any type of pull up, it’s important to engage your core throughout the exercise. This will prevent swinging on the bar (bad form), as well as allow you to control the negative (eccentric) phase of the exercise for increased effectiveness.
Tuck Front Lever Row
The front lever, a static hold performed by gymnasts and calisthenics athletes, is a challenging back exercise that is widely considered to be a feat of strength. It involves holding the body in a horizontal position while hanging from a bar with straight arms.
Essentially, the front lever is a straight arm lat pulldown, but performed in the air using bodyweight. And while it is a static exercise, it can also be a dynamic move (similar to bodyweight rows) with reduced difficulty by simply tucking the legs into the body.
How to Do a Tuck Front Lever Row
Think of the tuck front lever row as a bodyweight row but with your feet off the floor and your knees tucked. Position yourself underneath a low bar, then bring your legs in as you pull your body off the floor. Your arms should be straight (no bend) with your knees tucked.
From here (tuck front lever hold), pull your entire body up to the bar in a similar fashion as any rowing exercise. This will engage your lats, rhomboids, traps, and posterior delts, in addition to your core, which you will need to fully activate to keep your hips elevated.
If you want to build a bigger back, specifically your rhomboids and traps, for a 3D look that will turn heads, one of the best exercises that you can do is the popular T-bar row. Unfortunately, not all of us have a gym membership or a T-bar rowing machine at home.
The good news is that we can replicate the T-bar row and effectively target the inner back muscles with a handful of exercises that can be done anywhere with little, or no, gym equipment. These can include water bottles, chairs, table edges, and our own bodyweight!
We have listed all the best T-bar row alternatives above - all of which are sure to fire up your lats, rhomboids, traps, and rear delts with just a few sets and reps. We have also included the best form for every pulling exercise, in addition to benefits and muscles worked. And don't rule out a good pulley system that you can do pulling exercises on at home.
So, make sure to give these a go for your next back day to be one step close to achieving a bigger, thicker back!