T-bar rows are like the Wheaties of back day: The #1 choice of champions, the only way to start a morning off right, and the 2021 version of finding an 11th-century relic on an archaeological dig.
Get the picture?
T-bars rows are the undisputed “cure” to a weak back, sculpting unbelievably dense muscles from the traps and lats to the rhomboids and rear deltoids.
But most home (and even some authentic) gyms willingly axed their T-bar stations and left dedicated gym rats wondering, “What’s next?”
These nine T-bar row alternatives are the next best thing.
Let’s review what they are, which muscles they target, and how to do ‘em!
Table of Contents
- 1. Pendlay Row
- 2. Seated High Cable Row
- 3. Chest-Supported Dumbbell Row
- 4. Kroc Row
- 5. Bent-Over Barbell Row
- 6. Renegade Row
- 7. Seated Cable Row
- 8. Resistance Band Bent-Over Row
- 9. Inverted Row
1. Pendlay Row
Gary Pendlay’s quest to revive his back muscles triggered a whirlwind of publicity … without his consent. His knack for lowering the bar to the ground during bent-over rows spread like wildfire.
Thus, we have the appropriately-coined Pendlay rows.
These modified barbell rows follow a similar body position to the traditional T-bar row (aside from the gear and minor grip differences, of course).
Pendlays shed a little much-needed TLC onto your struggling lats, traps, rhomboids, rear delts, and biceps. So, kick-off your next back (or pull) day with these bad boys and await the gains!
How to Do Pendlay Rows
- Load a barbell with weight plates, position it on the floor, and stand facing it directly.
- Tighten your abs and bend over at your hips (with a slight bend in the knees) so that your upper body is near-parallel to the floor.
- With an overhand grip, grasp the bar about shoulder-width apart.
- Retract your shoulder blades as you drive your elbows back and the bar toward your belly button.
- Slowly lower the bar to your starting position, with the bar resting on the floor.
Tip: Not ready for those buff guy 45s just yet? Then stack some heavy bumper plates on either side of the bar to prop it higher for the “perfect” full rep.
2. Seated High Cable Row
Seated high cable rows swoop in when gear is limited and gravity betrays you (a hunched-over back becomes the “norm,” often without your knowledge).
This exercise follows the T-bar row form to a “T” and gets the whole posterior crew on-board. It targets the traps, lats, teres, rear deltoid, biceps, and even your brachialis (because why not?).
To achieve the suggested form and smooth, controlled reps, you’ll need a pulley machine with: An attached bench, stirrups (to brace your feet), and a flexible rope attachment.
How to Do Seated High Cable Rows
- Adjust the pulley cable to its ground-level position and attach the flexible rope extension.
- Sit at the edge of the bench, straighten your back, and plant your feet firmly on the floor.
- Grab the ends of the rope with a neutral grip (the ends of the rope should be facing your chest). With your elbows to your side, pull the rope toward your chest.
- Pause when your hands reach just ahead of your armpits.
- Slowly extend your arms until they’re outstretched and at your knees again.
Tip: Don’t use momentum to whip the rope back or lift ungodly weights. Perform controlled reps and squeeze your shoulder blades together before lowering the weight to the starting position.
3. Chest-Supported Dumbbell Row
When you have a barebones home gym stocked with the essentials, chest-supported dumbbell rows become the “poor man’s” T-bar rows.
Once you nuke your ego and settle for 20-pounders (instead of 40+), you’ll notice the benefit almost immediately — constant support and satisfying lat, trap, and rhomboid attention.
Instead of straining your lower back or core to stay completely stiff or awkwardly lurching the weight back to set a PR, you can focus on slow, smooth reps.
All you need are two equal-sized dumbbells and an adjustable incline bench.
How to Do Chest-Supported Dumbbell Rows
- Set an adjustable bench so that it’s at 45° and lie face-down on the bench (position your knees on the seat-back corner to remain balanced).
- Hold one dumbbell in each hand (neutral grip), your palms facing each other, and your arms almost fully extended, hanging downward.
- Keeping your elbows in-line with your sides, pull the dumbbells back toward your chest.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades at the top before lowering.
Tip: These angled dumbbell rows can feel more taxing on your muscles than a cable row (thanks, gravity). Start with a lower weight and perfect your form before joining the big leagues.
4. Kroc Row
Kroc rows are the least conventional T-bar row alternative on this list. So, if cheat reps make your stomach twist or your face cringe, you might want to scroll past this one.
Named after their inventor — bodybuilder Janae Kroczaleski — these absurdly heavy rows with customized dumbbells say, “to hell with good form,” and prioritize pure, brute strength like a chaotic warrior.
These heavy-ass dumbbell rows strengthen the entire back and ignite grip strength that puts farmer’s walks to shame. All it takes is 100+ pound dumbbells (seriously) and a bench.
How to Do Kroc Rows
- Plant one foot on the floor for balance with your arm hanging down. On the opposite side, place your knee and hand on the bench (a similar position to the basic one-arm row).
- With the unplanted arm and your back at a 15° to the floor, grab a heavy dumbbell and hold it at about knee level.
- Pull the dumbbell back straight until it’s nearly in-line with your torso.
- Quickly lower the dumbbell to your starting position.
- Perform for the recommended 20+ reps.
Tip: Of all exercises on this list, this is the only one where form takes the backburner. You won’t use momentum to row 100+ pounds, but reps will be rapid-fire with a pure brute strength focus.
5. Bent-Over Barbell Row
Bent-over barbell rows are a staple to any authentic back mass routine (and if T-bars and landmines are like buried treasure to you, these rows are likely your most reliable back-up).
While eerily interchangeable, bent-over rows have one unique focus: Width.
The slightly wider grip better activates the upper and middle back muscles that often suffer serious neglect — the rhomboids, middle traps, and upper lats. A barbell is all you need!
How to Do Bent-Over Barbell Rows
- Load up a barbell on the ground and stand about a foot away while facing it.
- With an overhand grip, back almost parallel to the ground, and knees at a slight bend, grab the bar and then straighten your legs (this is the starting position).
- Keep your back and knees stiff as you bring the bar toward your torso.
- Pause to squeeze your back as the bar taps your belly button.
- Slowly lower the bar back down to knee level to complete the rep.
Tip: Having trouble setting bent-over row PRs? Double-check your form — make sure you’re not locking your knees, rounding your back, or letting your biceps pick up the slack.
6. Renegade Row
Renegade rows are a rookie’s best friend when your home gym is more like a cluttered corner in your living room.
It’ll shift the focus to concepts that rarely qualify for your normal routine: Core balance and full-body stability (like combining a static push-up hold with a back-sculpting phenomenon).
Grab a sturdy dumbbell or kettlebell set to give your lats, traps, abs, rhomboids, and lower back the attention they very much deserve — and rarely receive!
How to Do Renegade Rows
- Place two equal-sized dumbbells on the floor parallel to one another.
- With the dumbbells still on the floor, grab them with a neutral grip as you get into a push-up position (the dumbbells as a brace for your arms).
- Maintain a relatively stiff back as you pull one of the dumbbells toward your chest, keeping your upper arm tight with your torso.
- Squeeze, and then return the dumbbell to the floor.
- Perform on the opposite side.
Tip: Don’t “lean” toward the opposite side to generate artificial momentum. If you can’t hold the push-up position while completing a full rep, select lighter dumbbells.
7. Seated Cable Row
The classic seated cable row will rescue a back routine when the T-bar station goes AWOL.
This low-tension back exercise can help sculpt beefier traps, lats, erector spinae, and even a few rogue arm muscles (while you’re at it).
Waltz on over to your gym’s pulley machine and scope it out — look for a V-bar attachment (a V-shaped bar with two neutral-grip handles), a bench to sit on, and a foot platform (or stirrups).
How to Do Seated Cable Rows
- Adjust the cable machine to belly button height when seated, and attach the V-bar extension to the pulley.
- Brace your feet on the stirrups and grab the bar with a neutral grip and arms extended.
- With a stiff back, slightly bent knees, and elbows near your sides, begin pulling the V-bar toward your torso.
- Pause briefly once you hit your belly, and then squeeze your shoulder blades.
- Slowly return your arms to the extended position.
Tip: Resist the urge to perform cheat reps! If you find yourself leaning forward and then lurching backward to cap out your rep goal, the weight is too heavy (and you’re risking serious injury).
8. Resistance Band Bent-Over Row
Resistance bands are likely the last gear you picture when you think about replacing the T-bar row, let alone adding serious density to your DOA back muscles.
But they’re an anytime/anywhere exercise and provide decent resistance when you can’t hit the gym. Stock up on well-constructed resistance bands — the thicker, the better!
How to Do Resistance Band Bent-Over Rows
- Stand with both feet centered on a resistance band (the left and right slack should be about the equal length) and securely grip the ends with a neutral grip.
- Bend your knees slightly, lean forward so that your chest is almost parallel with the floor, and begin with your arms fully extended below your knees.
- Keeping your elbows alongside your torso, pull the ends toward your sides.
- Pause when your upper arms are near-parallel to your upper-body.
- Slowly lower the bands back to the starting position.
Tip: Resistance bands provide anywhere between 5 and 150 pounds of resistance, but some control depends on your footing. Slightly widen your stance for a more challenging set.
9. Inverted Row
When all else fails (or if you’re still building foundational strength), the inverted row will fill in the gaps. This brutal, bodyweight exercise requires nothing more than a barbell and a sturdy rack.
Be prepared! While inverted rows look quite noob-esque, they’ll deliver a beating to your rear delts, forearms, lats, rhomboids, traps, and nearly every other struggling back muscle.
How to Do Inverted Rows
- Position a barbell on a sturdy power rack until it’s about 3-4’ above the ground (clear the area so that there’s no bench below the bar).
- Grab onto the bar with an overhand grip that’s slightly-wider-than shoulder-width. Position your heels on the floor and stiffen your back (like a reverse push-up).
- With your chest just under the bar, pull your upper body toward the bar.
- Stop when your pecs hit the bar and hold the position for a moment.
- Lower your upper body back to the starting position without sacrificing form.
Tip: Is the inverted row embarrassingly easy for you? Prop your heels on a bench, wear a moderately-weighted vest, or prop weight plates onto your core to revamp these rows.
Any of these T-bar row alternatives can help you spice up back day and detonate lagging gains. But none of them can replace loading on those rusty 45s and cranking out 12 excruciating reps.
Before you stuff your hands in your pockets and defeatedly kick gravel, there’s one final solution to learn about … and it might just work: A non-landmine T-bar row.
- Shove the end of an Olympic bar into the corner of the room.
- Load up the other end with weight plates (just like your standard T-bar).
- Perform T-bar rows as usual.
This DIY version is a little funky and will earn you some perplexing stares from fellow lifters. So you might want to give ‘er a go during non-peak hours or in your private home gym instead.