15 Barbell Row Alternative Exercises – Best Substitute Workouts

15 Barbell Row Alternative Exercises – Best Substitute Workouts

Most coaches would say that the barbell row should be included in almost every workout program, whether you’re aiming to improve your deadlift, lose fat, or build muscle.
I personally agree with that opinion. However, if you wish to reach any of these goals without using barbell rows, there are numerous alternatives out there that can do the job just fine.
This list is the product of both my personal experience and research, so all relevant studies and resources will be linked in this article.


What is the Barbell Row Exercise?

Best barbell-row-exercise-for fitness

The barbell row, also known as the bent-over row, is one of the most used training exercises for people looking to build a strong back.
Most lifters consider the barbell row to be the OG compound movement. In other words, it’s prioritized as a pillar in most programs since it targets so many back muscles all at once.

How to Perform a Barbell Row

how to perform-a-barbell-row - fitness

  • Stand with your mid-foot placed under the bar, a medium stance basically
  • Bend over and grab the bar
  • With your hips kept high, unlock your knees
  • Lift your chest and straighten your back
  • Pull the bar against the lower part of your chest
  • Place the bar back on the floor. Breathe out.
  • Take a big breath in, hold it, then do another rep

Barbell Row Tips

Experiment with head position: check which option works best for you, either packing the neck or looking forward.
Make sure to keep some tone through your abdominals when pulling the bar into your body. This should be done in order to ensure that your spine doesn’t arch excessively in the process.
Don’t be affected by momentum. What I mean by this is that you should keep tight control of the bar throughout the whole rep.
Don’t lock your shoulder blades. Allow them to move on the rib cage.


The Muscles Worked by Barbell Rows

muscles-worked-by-barbell-rows

The bent-over row is a great exercise because it simultaneously works on numerous muscles. It’s perhaps the best exercise for back muscles. Here’s a list of the prime movers and stabilizer muscles worked by barbell rows:
Prime Movers: Rhomboids, Lats, Middle and Lower Traps, and Posterior Deltoid. Other exercises that work these areas include the single-arm french press, the band face pull, and shrugs, be it, dumbbell shrugs or barbell shrugs.
Stabilizer Muscles: Teres Major, Supraspinatus, Infraspinatus, Brachialis, Brachioradialis.


Barbell Row Benefits

 What Is barbell-row-benefits

Building a Strong Back

As I have said before, I personally believe that the barbell row is quite literally the best exercise that you can do if you’re looking to maximize your upper body pulling strength. It quickly adds strength to many crucial muscles in your back, allowing you to lift heavier loads over time.

Building a Big Back

To no one’s surprise, if you’re looking to get wider and thicker back muscles, the barbell row should be your go-to-exercise.

Train Explosiveness

The essence of barbell rows is to pull weights as quickly as possible without losing form. As a result, you’ll find yourself pulling explosively, which will lead to nothing but more strength.

Reinforcing Hip Flexion

This exercise will teach you how to bend at the hips properly. This is quite helpful since bending over in a proper form will greatly improve your hip flexion.

Carrying Over to Other Major Lifts

This is pretty self-explanatory. The stronger you get on the barbell row, the more strength you’ll gain when it comes to performing other major exercises.


Best Barbell Row Alternatives

Single-Arm Dumbbell Row – My Personal Favorite

 Reason Single-Arm Dumbbell Row

Video: How to Perform Single-Arm Dumbbell Rows

Instructions

  • Stand straight while holding a dumbbell in one of your hands with a neutral grip.
  • Slowly hinge forward until your torso is almost in parallel with the floor.
  • Then, drive the elbow of your hand behind your back.
  • Make sure to retract your shoulder blade when doing this.
  • Pull the dumbbell towards your body until your elbow is almost at the midline.
  • Then, slowly lower the dumbbell back to the initial position.
  • Repeat this for a desired number of reps and continuously switch arms, obviously.

Pro Tip

Similar to the barbell row, make sure to keep some tone in your abdominals as you pull the dumbbell back into your body. This needs to be done in order to ensure that you don’t arch your spine in the process.

Suggested Number of Reps

3 sets, 8 reps each.

Band Ben Over Row – Resistance The Easier Alternative

Video: How to Perform Resistance Band Bent Over Rows

Instructions

  • Place a resistance band on the floor, then stand on it with the middle of your feet about hip-width apart.
  • With a neutral grip, hold each side of the resistance band with each of your hands. You don’t necessarily have to hold the handles. You can just directly hold the band since that usually offers you more resistance.
  • Slightly bend your knees and straighten your back so that your body forms a neutral line from head to hips.
  • Fully extend your arms towards the floor.
  • Pull the bands towards your rib cage or hips with your elbows skimming your sides.
  • Once you’re at the peak of the movement, hold and squeeze before returning to the initial position.
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Pro Tip

Resistance Band Bent Over Rows is a great way to warm-up for numerous exercises, namely, a biceps workout, for example.

Suggested Number of Reps

4 or 5 sets of 12 to 15 reps.

Pendlay Row

 What Is Pendlay Row

Video: How to Perform Pendlay Rows

Instructions

  • Stand about shoulder-width apart with the middle of your foot directly placed under the bar, similar to a deadlift setup.
  • Bend over, grab the bar with a medium grip, and set your torso in parallel with the floor.
  • Hinge your hips back, contracting your back muscles in the process, then lift your barbell towards your chest.
  • Hold for two seconds with your shoulder blades squeezing together.
  • Lower the bar back to the floor.
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Pro Tip

Some lifters slowly stand more upright once they reach their 5th or 6th rep of this exercise. This is a pretty normal occurrence since some people tend to use momentum to lift weights.
However, you shouldn’t use momentum to lift upwards. Instead, choose a manageable weight and make sure to always keep your back parallel to the ground.
I insist on this since it’ll reduce not only the risk of injury but also maximize your gains.

Suggested Number of Reps

3 or 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps.

Incline Bench Two Arm Dumbbell Row

 Reason Behind Incline Bench Two Arm Dumbbell Row

Video: How to Perform Incline Bench Two Arm Dumbbell Row

Instructions

  • Set a bench at 45 degrees.
  • Using a pronated grip, grab a dumbbell in each hand.
  • Begin by driving your elbows behind your body while retracting your shoulder blades.
  • Pull the dumbbells towards your body until your elbows are at the midline, then slowly lower them back to the initial position.
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Pro Tip

As is the case with almost every exercise here, make sure to keep some tone through your abs while performing this exercise to ensure that you don’t arch excessively, which will hurt your spine.

Suggested Number of Reps

3 or 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps.

Meadows Row

 What Is Meadows Row

 Video: How to Perform Meadows Rows

Instructions

  • Place a barbell in a landmine attachment or wedge it into the corner of a wall.
  • Hinge forward with a staggered stance and, using a pronated (overhand) grip, grasp the barbell.
  • Start by driving the elbow behind your body while retracting the shoulder blade.
  • Pull the barbell towards your hip until the elbow is just past the midline, then slowly lower the barbell back to the initial position.
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps on both arms.

Pro Tip

If you feel like your biceps are being overused while your back is underactive, consider implementing a false grip.

Suggested Number of Reps

4 or 5 sets of 8 to 12 reps.

T-Bar Row

 Reason For T-Bar Row

Video: How to Perform T-Bar Rows

Instructions

Stand up straight with the bar placed directly between your legs.
Using a v-grip, handle and place the bar directly on the notch of the v.
Hinge forward until your torso is almost parallel with the ground, then start by, you guessed it! Driving the elbows behind your body while retracting the shoulder blades.
Pull the bar towards your body until the places touch your chest, then slowly lower it back to the initial position.
Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Pro Tip

Ensure that you don’t arch excessively through your spine by keeping some tone in your abdominals as you pull the bar back into your body.

Suggested Number of Reps

3 or 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps.

Inverted Row

 Benefits Of Inverted Row

Video: How to Perform Inverted Rows

Instructions

  • Grab a flat bench and place it lengthways in front of a smith machine.
  • Adjust the height of the smith machine bar so that it’s 4ft off the floor.
  • Heels on the bench and hands grasping the smith machine bar with a shoulder-width grip.
  • Straighten your body out.
  • Pull your upper body up to the bar while making sure to keep your body straight.
  • Pause, and then slowly lower yourself back to the initial position.
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Pro Tip

Make sure to keep your body straight throughout the whole exercise.

Suggested Number of Reps

3 or 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps.

Gorilla Row

Video: How to Perform Gorilla Rows

Instructions

  • Stand and hold dumbbells at your hips while keeping your shoulder blades tight.
  • Alternatively, you can use kettlebells for this exercise.
  • Push your butt back and hinge forward until your back is at a 45-degree angle.
  • Perform six bent-over rows while keeping your core tight and looking at the ground.
  • Lower the weights to the ground, then slightly widen your feet and tighten your core and glutes. Hold this position.
  • Row the right weight upwards while pressing the other one into the ground. Switch and repeat.
  • Do six reps per side. While doing so, rotate your torso as much as possible.
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Pro Tip

If you only have one kettlebell, then alternating sides when doing this exercise might be a great idea.

 Suggested Number of Reps

3 or 4 sets of 6 reps

Double Arm Sled Row

What Is Double Arm Sled Row

Video: How to Perform Double Arm Sled Rows

  Instructions

Load the desired weight onto the sled, then attach two handles using a nylon strap.
Setup in a solid athletic position with your hips and knees flexed. Your arms need to be extended when holding the handles.
Row the handles towards your torso.
Take a few steps back until your tension on the handles recovers.
Repeat for the desired number of reps.

 Pro Tip

Since sled pushes and drags don’t have an eccentric component to them, they can be very beneficial during rehab, for example. This is because they won’t exert any excessive load on your joints.

 Suggested Number of Reps

4 sets of 10 to 12 reps

  TRX Row

Benefits of TRX-ROW

Video: How to Perform TRX Rows

 Instructions

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, facing the TRX anchor. Hold each cable with each hand.
Lean backward with your palms in a pronated state.
Slowly move your hands up over your head so that your body is in the shape of the letter “Y”.
Keep your hands up for 2 seconds before returning to the initial position.
Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Pro Tip

TRX rows are an excellent exercise to do before moving into long and intense training sessions. It makes for a great addition to your weekly training program since it promotes both strength and mobility.

Suggested Number of Reps

3 sets of 8 to 12 reps

 Seated Cable Row

What Is  Seated Cable Row

Video: How to Perform Seated Cable Rows

Instructions

The seated cable row can be performed using numerous grips or hand positions. I personally recommend that you start with a neutral grip and go experimenting from there.
While sitting down on the bench, make sure that your knees are bent a bit and not in a locked-out position.
Extend your arms out and keep your head straight with your chest puffed out.
Slowly bring the cable towards your midsection. Make sure that you keep a strong posture in the process and have your elbows tucked in.
Slowly return to the initial position.
Repeat for the desired number of reps.

 Pro Tip

The seated cable row is quite a safe exercise, and it allows you to add more weight the better you get at it. However, you need to keep in mind that implementing the correct technique every time is crucial to not get any unnecessary injuries.

Suggested Number of Reps

3 sets of 8 to 12 reps

Reverse Grip Row

 What Is Reverse Grip Row

Video: How to Perform Reverse Grip Rows

Instructions

  • Using an underhand grip, grab the bar and set yourself up as if you’re going to perform a traditional bent-over row.
  • Both your hands and feet need to be shoulder-width apart for this exercise to work.
  • Bend over until you’re at a 45 degrees angle with both your arms hanging down.
  • Slowly pull the bar toward your midsection while making sure to engage your core throughout this workout and to keep your back straight.
  • Slowly lower the bar.
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Pro Tip

Keep your core engaged throughout this whole exercise to prevent any chronic back or neck pain or, even worse, injury.

Suggested Number of Reps

3 sets of 8 to 12 reps

ISO-Lateral Row

 Benefits ISO-Lateral-Row

Video: How to Perform ISO-Lateral Rows

Instructions

  • Properly set your seat height first in a way that the chest pad should align with the center of your chest.
  • Make sure that there is enough distance between the chest pad and the handles.
  • Reaching and grabbing the handles should require you to stretch.
  • Pull the handles all the way back towards your body while keeping your chest against the pad.
  • Elbows should go straight behind you, and your shoulder blades should come together.
  • Hold this position and squeeze for a second or two before returning to the initial position.
  • Make sure to not let the weight plates touch at the end of the movement.
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Pro Tip

If the ISO-lateral machine that you are using comes with adjustable handles, hold them at a 45-degree angle so that the exercise hits your lower lats hard.

Suggested Number of Reps

3 or 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps.

Narrow Grip Pull Down

 What Is Narrow-Grip-Pull-Down

Video: How to Perform Narrow Grip Pull Downs

Instructions

  • Attach the narrow grip handle to the lats pull-down machine.
  • Sit on the machine and push your chest out without extending your lower back.
  • Engage through your lats, then pull the handle down to just above chest-level.
  • Hold it for a second or two with your elbows tucked in.
  • Slowly return to the initial position, allowing your arms to extend slowly but fully.
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Pro Tip

Let your shoulder internally rotate and shrug slightly. This will obviously be reversed, and your shoulder blade will depress once you pull with the arm.

Suggested Number of Reps

3 or 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps

High Inverted Row

 What Is High-Inverted-Row

Video: How to Perform High Inverted Rows

Instructions

  • A common variation of the inverted row, the high inverted row, is initiated by lowering the bar on the smith machine and positioning yourself under it.
  • Grasp the bar with your arms at shoulder-width.
  • Your feet should be out in front of you so that your upper chest is under the bar.
  • Pull yourself up as far as you can while keeping your body straight. The bar should come to around neck height.
  • Pause, then slowly lower yourself back to the initial position.

Pro Tip

Once at the top of the movement, pause and squeeze your shoulder blades together.

Suggested Number of Reps

3 or 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps.


Common Questions About Barbell Row Exercises Answered

 What Is the Biggest Benefit of Barbell Rows Exercise?

Regardless of your level of fitness, whether you’re a beginner or a veteran, the barbell is a great exercise to build up back strength for one.

What Can I Use Instead of Barbell Rows?

Any of the alternatives that I’ve just mentioned above.

How Many Barbell Row Sets and Reps Should I Do?

I’d suggest that you go with 3 or 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps. If you’ve already gotten used to this exercise, then using a higher range of reps (10 to 15) is a good idea as well.

Which Is Better, T-Bar Row or Barbell Row?

In practice, both these exercises exert enough tension on your legs, core, and lower back.
If you want to quickly increase the width of your back, then holding the bar wider is the go-to solution since it causes greater activation through your latissimus dorsi.
A narrower grip, however, like that of the T-bar row forces you to keep your elbow tucked closer into your sides. This will squeeze your muscles more, especially at the height of the exercise, and as a result, it’ll improve your back thickness.

Are Barbell Rows Dangerous?

Almost every exercise out there is dangerous if done incorrectly, but some exercises have a higher risk than others, including the barbell row.
The barbell row is up there on the list of risky exercises mainly because your torso isn’t supported while your lower back is put through a lot of tension.
Once the weight hits you, you’ll have a hard time trying to keep your lower back in a safe position, and if, god forbid, you fail to do so, you risk receiving a horrible lower-back injury.
I suppose this sounds scary. Worry not, however, as there are safer alternatives to this. For one, using a one-arm dumbbell row with the unactive hand braced on an incline bench. This exercise is just one of many safer alternatives to barbell rows.

 Which Grip is Best for Bent Over Row?

When performing a bent-over row, your hands can either be in a pronated position with your palms facing down or a supinated one (palms facing up).
A supinated grip will cause your biceps to be more involved in the exercise, allowing you to hold the bar at a narrower angle and to lift heavier weights.
A pronated grip, on the other hand, will make your rhomboids and lats work harder. It’ll also allow you to use a wider angle which will place more emphasis on the lats and help develop your back muscles properly.

References:

  1. https://www.t-nation.com/training/no-to-squats-and-barbell-rowing
  2. https://builtwithscience.com/how-to-do-barbell-rows/
  3. https://www.livestrong.com/article/419006-barbell-rows-vs-t-bar/
  4. https://www.menshealth.com/fitness/a26286138/barbell-rows-exercise/

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