11 Barbell Row Alternatives (Best Bent Over Row Substitutes)

A thick, muscular back is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your body. Not only does it help decrease the risk of injury, but it creates a stable platform that’ll help all of your other lifts.

The barbell row is a fantastic upper body movement to develop the back. However, sometimes it’s not possible to perform this exercise. In this guide, you’ll discover 11 of the best barbell row alternative exercises, their benefits, and how to do them.

If you’re struggling to perform barbell rows due to not having the room or equipment in your home garage gym, there are many barbell row alternative exercises you can do.

Each alternative is effective at developing muscle and strength in your upper body. The list below details the best alternatives to barbell row and how to do them.

1. T-Bar Row 

The t-bar row is one of the most popular alternatives to barbell row. It’s similar to the barbell row in the sense that you can lift heavy weight, placing a significant load on the lats.

Many people argue the barbell row is more effective for overall back development; however, I feel the t-bar row gives one hell of a lat focused pump.  

Related Article - Effective T-Bar Row Alternative Exercises

Garage Gym Pro Tip: Use smaller plates such as 25lbs, rather than the 45lb plates. This helps increase your range of motion, giving you more lat activation.  

How to do it: 

  • Place your feet hip-width with a slight bend in the knees. 
  • Take hold of the t-bar handles with an overhand grip. Hinge from the hips, so your body is 45-degrees to the floor. 
  • Slowly lift the weight towards your body while keeping your elbows in. 
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together and hold.  
  • Slowly return to the beginning of the movement and repeat. 
t bar row

2.  Single-Arm Dumbbell Row 

The single-arm row is one of the most effective exercises for developing muscle in the lats. It’s classed as an isolation movement so that you can focus your efforts entirely on the back muscles.

As it’s an iso-lateral movement, your core needs to work extra hard to stabilize your body, leading to greater core strength and improved balance. A benefit to this barbell row alternative is it doesn’t place much stress on the lower back, whereas the barbell row puts a lot of stress on the back muscles.

Related Article - 8 Cheap Adjustable Dumbbells

How to do it: 

  • Set a bench to a flat position.  
  • Choose a dumbbell and place it on the floor at the side of the bench. 
  • Place your left arm and left leg on the bench keeping your body in a straight position horizontally.  
  • Lift the dumbbell off the floor. 
  • Retract the shoulder blades, pull the dumbbell up to your mid-section, and slowly lower.  
  • Complete your set and repeat on the opposite arm.  
Single-Arm Dumbbell Row

3. Chest-Supported Incline Dumbbell row 

Many of the exercises on this list remove some of the stress on your lower back. However, they still require erector spinae activation in order to maintain a straight (neutral) spine.

This alternative to barbell row removes the stress on the lower back entirely due to the supported nature of the movement.

I’ve found the exercise to have massive lat activation due to the dumbbells allowing you to move through a huge range of motion.

Learn More - Barbell Vs Dumbbell Rows

How to do it: 

  • Set a bench to 45-degrees and select a set of dumbbells.  
  • Grab the dumbbells with both hands and place your chest against the bench press.  
  • Let your arms hang and create tension in your shoulder blades.  
  • Draw the arms up towards the bench, squeezing the lats together.  
  • Slowly lower the dumbbells and repeat.  
Chest-Supported Incline Dumbbell Row

4. TRX or Strap Rows

The TRX is one of the most versatile pieces of equipment you can have in your home gym. One of the best exercises you can perform is the TRX strap row.

It’s an excellent alternative to the barbell row as it massively engages the lats, biceps, and forearms without placing stress on the lower back. As the movement is bodyweight, you can adjust the angle of your body to increase or decrease the difficulty with ease.

Suspension training is one of the best ways to use your own bodyweight to build muscle.

Read More - Best Suspension Trainers For Garage Gyms

How to do it: 

  • Set a TRX, so the handles are in-line with your stomach.  
  • Take hold of the handles with each hand.  
  • Lean back slowly and straighten the arms and body.  
  • Create tension in the shoulder blades, drawing them back and down.  
  • Pull your chest up towards your hands while squeezing your shoulder blades together.  
  • Lower your body slowly and repeat.  
TRX Strap Row

5. Standing Band Row 

This substitute for bent-over barbell row is a personal favorite of mine. It can be performed almost anywhere, all you need is a door or solid frame to attach the band to, and you’re good to go.

The movement feels similar to a bent-over row but without any stress on the lower back. This is due to the upright position required to perform the movement.

Sometimes, this movement can feel far easier than the barbell row if you need to increase the difficulty, increase the band thickness, or double up the band.

How to do it: 

  • Select a resistance band and loop it around a solid frame, post, door handle, etc.  
  • Hold the opposite end of the resistance band and step backward to create tension in the band.  
  • While standing upright, brace your core and draw your shoulder blades back.  
  • Pull the band towards your body, bending your elbows.  
  • Return to the beginning in a controlled manner.  
Standing Band Row

6. Half-Kneeling High Band Row 

This unilateral movement is a rather unique barbell row alternative exercise. Its unilateral nature ensures you don’t develop any muscular imbalances and increases your core’s activation.

The slightly higher placement of the resistance band works your lats from a different angle and targets the lats precisely.

I’ve found this movement to be somewhat challenging, especially when I place it at the end of my workout. I also noticed it helps with lower lat recruitment to develop a thicker back.

See Also - Best Resistance Bands For Home Gyms

How to do it: 

  • Loop a resistance band around a frame at roughly shoulder height.  
  • Hold the band with one hand. 
  • Step backward, creating tension in the band.  
  • Kneel on the floor (in a lunge-like position).  
  • Pull the band down towards your lower stomach and hold.  
  • Slowly head back to the start and complete your reps.  
  • Swap arms and repeat. 
Half-Kneeling High Band Row

7. Reverse Grip Row With Barbell 

The reverse grip barbell row is a brilliant barbell bent-over row alternative. By changing the hand position on the barbell, you increase the activation of your biceps and shift the focus to your lower lats.  

If you want to develop thickness in your lats, this is one of the best exercises around to do the job. 

Also Check Out - Barbells Vs Kettlebells

How to do it: 

  • Stand in front of a barbell with a hip-width stance.  
  • Place your hands on the bar using an underhand grip (reverse grip).  
  • Pick the barbell up using the “deadlift” form.  
  • Hinge from your hips while maintaining a straight back. 
  • Brace your core and draw your shoulder blades back while lifting the barbell towards your chest.  
  • Slowly complete the negative part of the movement. 
  • Repeat.  
Reverse Grip Row With Barbell

8. Seated Cable Row 

Seated cable rows look incredibly similar to the barbell row movement, with one exception, you’re sitting upright rather than being in a bent-over position.

Like the barbell row, the seated cable row recruits the lats and biceps to move the weight. This increases your upper body strength while helping to develop more back muscle.

This barbell row substitute for bent-over rows is more lower-back friendly but still requires you to maintain a neutral spine to prevent injuries.

How to do it: 

  • Sit at a cable machine and select a suitable weight.  
  • Grab the handles with both hands and create tension in the cable.  
  • Sit up tall with a straight back and draw your shoulder blades back and down to create tension.
  • Draw the elbows back and bring the handles towards your chest.  
  • Slowly return to the beginning and finish your set.  
seated cable row

9.  Lying Bench Seal Rows 

The seal row is a supported barbell row alternative meaning it doesn’t activate any of the lower back muscles or require the spine for support. This makes it an ideal movement for anybody suffering from a lower back injury.

Using dumbbells during this movement helps increase the range of motion and improves muscular imbalances.

This movement is tougher than you might think; don’t overload the weight, to begin with. Instead, focus on developing a perfect movement pattern first.

Read Also - Best Adjustable Weight Benches

How to do it: 

  • Place a flat bench onto two elevated steps.  
  • Put two dumbbells on the floor under the bench.  
  • Lie on your stomach on the bench.  
  • Pick up the dumbbells and retract the scapula (shoulder blades). 
  • Lift the dumbbells towards the bench and squeeze your lats at the top of the movement.  
  • Slowly return them towards the ground.  
  • Repeat the movement until you’ve completed your set.  
Lying Bench Seal Rows

10. Seated Band Row 

If you don't have much room in your home gym or you're traveling, this alternative to barbell row is an excellent choice for you. By using resistance bands, the movement has a different strength curve from the barbell bent-over row.

The band is easier at the beginning of the movement and becomes more difficult as you pull the band closer to your body. The movement makes an excellent finisher for the end of your workout.

Learn More - How Long Do Resistance Bands Last?

How to do it: 

  • Loop a band around your feet (placing your feet in the middle).  
  • Hold both sides of the band using a neutral grip.  
  • Draw the shoulder blades back and down, creating scapular tension.  
  • Pull the elbows backwards, bringing your hands towards your chest.  
  • Hold for a second and return to the start.  
  • Repeat the movement.  
Seated Band Row

11.  Inverted Row 

This inverted barbell row alternative is a great bodyweight movement that doesn’t require much equipment.

It’s a similar movement to the TRX row; however, rather than using handles, you pull yourself up towards a barbell which is usually resting on a squat rack.

I’m a massive fan of this movement as it requires plenty of core activation and is an easy movement to perform in most gyms. It’s also useful as a stepping stone to pull-ups.

How to do it: 

  • Secure a barbell on a squat rack or power rack frame.  
  • Hold onto the barbell with an overhand shoulder-width grip.  
  • Straighten your arms and place yourself at a 45-degree angle (lower if this is too easy). 
  • While keeping your body straight, lift yourself towards the barbell until your chest touches it.  
  • Slowly return to the start and repeat.  
Inverted Row

Benefits Of Substitute Exercises Over Barbell Rows 

Adding the barbell row or any of its substitutes to your workout has significant benefits that your body will thank you for.

Not only is the movement a fantastic exercise to conquer, but it helps develop impressive strength in your upper body. This is mainly because you can load the barbell with heavy weight, and as it’s a compound movement, it hits multiple muscles at once. It also has strength carryover to other lifts such as the deadlift.  

Another significant benefit to the barbell row and its alternatives is that they help improve your body’s hip hinge mechanics. A powerful hip hinge is helpful for many sports such as football, basketball, wrestling, and many more.


What Muscles Do Alternative Barbell Row Exercises Work?

Latissimus Dorsi

The lats are heavily recruited during all the alternative barbell row exercises mentioned in this guide. They’re the biggest muscle in the upper body, so you must work them effectively.

Middle Trapezius and Rhomboids

The middle traps and rhomboids help retract your shoulder blades, creating shoulder stability. You’ll develop a thicker upper back and improved posture by building both of these muscles.

Posterior Deltoids

Even though the barbell row and its alternatives are primarily back exercises, they involve the shoulders, and the posterior deltoid is the most active during these movements.

Biceps Brachii

The biceps are a secondary muscle group worked during these barbell row alternatives. The bicep controls the elbow flexion required to draw the barbell, dumbbell, or any weight up toward your chest.

Erector Spinae

If you’re bending over during an exercise, the spinal muscles will be working overtime to help stabilize your body. The erector spinae contract statically or iso-metrically to keep your body in a neutral position.

Core

The core is often the name given to all of the muscles in your mid-section, and these include your abs, obliques, and transverse abdominis. Bracing your core during these alternative barbell row exercises helps you maintain a straight spine throughout the movement.

Glutes & Hamstrings

Even though the barbell bent-over row alternatives are upper body exercises, they do engage your legs. They help maintain any bent-over position you have during these alternatives.


Frequently Asked Barbell Row Alternative Questions

Are rows or pull ups better?

Both of these exercises are equally great. Pull ups target the lats using a vertical pulling motion. On the other hand, rows target your back using a horizontal pulling motion. I recommend adding both to your workout routine for maximum results.

Do I need to do rows if I do deadlifts?

Deadlifts work to stimulate the whole body with great emphasis on the posterior chain. Rows stimulate the upper and middle back. In my opinion, both of these exercises can be done together or on different days of your workout split.

Is barbell row enough for back?

While barbell rows are excellent for building a massive back, they're not the only exercise out there as you've seen from my list above. Barbell rows alone can help you gain muscle in your back, but I would recommend adding in some of the alternatives above to maintain progressive growth.


Conclusion

The barbell row is one of the staple back builders in many gym-goers workout programs. It’s an excellent upper back developer, building muscle and strength.  

However, sometimes it’s impossible to perform the movement due to not having the room, no equipment, or injury.

Luckily, there are many alternatives to barbell row that can be performed instead of the barbell row. Add them to your workout and take your back development to the next level.