The barbell row is a fantastic upper body movement to develop the back. However, sometimes it’s not possible to perform this exercise. 

Whether you don't have the equipment, can't perform the movement because of an injury, or simply want to switch things up, I can help.

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 (Best Bent Over Row Alternative)

man doing t bar row exercise at the gym

The t-bar row is one of the most popular alternatives to the 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.  

If you can't perform this exercise, there are t-bar row alternatives that'll work the same muscles used to perform the traditional t-bar row.


  • Allows you to overload the lats.
  • Develops core stability.
  • Increases upper back strength and size.

How to do it: 

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

Tips From A Trainer!

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

2. Single-Arm Dumbbell Row 

Woman Doing Single-Arm Dumbbell Row Exercise At The Gym

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.

My clients love this barbell row substitute as it's not as complex and they can perform it while I'm not there. 


  • Works each arm separately.
  • Great for most ability levels.
  • Develops the lats.

How to do it: 

  1. Set a bench to a flat position.
  2. Choose a dumbbell and place it on the floor at the side of the bench.
  3. Place your left arm and left leg on the bench keeping your body in a straight position horizontally.
  4. Lift the dumbbell off the floor.
  5. Retract the shoulder blades, pull the dumbbell up to your mid-section, and slowly lower to the starting position. 
  6. Complete your set and repeat on the opposite arm.

Tips From A Trainer!

  • Focus on achieving a full range of movement over the amount of weight you're lifting. Trust me, you're lats will thank you for it. 

3. Chest-Supported Incline Dumbbell row 

Man Doing Chest-Supported Incline Dumbbell Row Exercise

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.

This makes it ideal if you suffer from lower back pain and need to perform exercises that place less strain on your back.

I’ve found the exercise to have massive lat activation due to the dumbbells allowing you to move through a huge range of motion. So if you're like me and want HUGE lats, this is a brilliant barbell row substitute.


  • Minimal core strength required.
  • Uses a large range of motion.

How to do it: 

  1. Set a bench to 45-degrees and select a set of dumbbells.
  2. Grab the dumbbells with both hands and place your chest against the bench press.
  3. Let your arms hang and create tension in your shoulder blades.
  4. Draw the arms up towards the bench, squeezing the lats together.
  5. Slowly lower the dumbbells and repeat.

Tips From A Trainer!

  • Superset this exercise with incline bench spider curls. It'll give your biceps and forearms a killer pump. I always feel like Pop-eye after this superset. 

4. TRX or Strap Rows

Woman Doing TRX Strap Row

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.

I've often used my TRX in hotel rooms while I'm on the go, but you can literally use them anywhere so long as you've got a solid anchor point. 

If a TRX trainer isn't available, it might be beneficial to explore some of the best TRX alternatives out there, allowing you to continue your suspension training effectively.


  • Uses your body weight.
  • Suitable for all abilities.
  • You can take the TRX almost anywhere.

How to do it: 

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

Tips From A Trainer!

  • You can adjust the difficulty of this exercise by changing the angle of your body to the floor. The closer you are to the floor, the harder it is. The more upright you are, the easier the exercise is.

5. Standing Band Row 

Woman And Man Performing Standing Band Row Exercise

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. I've even performed this movement in my local park on a hot day.

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.

Add this barbell row substitute to your workout, you won't regret it.


  • You can do them anywhere. 
  • Minimal equipment needed.
  • Suitable for all ability levels.

How to do it: 

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

Tips From A Trainer!

  • 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. 

6. Half-Kneeling High Band Row 

Man Doing Half-Kneeling High Band Row Exercise

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 (it's a fairly common problem I see often in beginners).

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

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, which is something we all want, right?


  • Irons out muscular imbalances.
  • You can do them almost anywhere. 
  • Minimal space and equipment needed.

How to do it: 

  1. Loop a resistance band around a frame at roughly shoulder height.
  2. Hold the band with one hand.
  3. Step backward, creating tension in the band.
  4. Kneel on the floor (in a lunge-like position).
  5. Pull the band down towards your lower stomach and hold.
  6. Slowly head back to the starting position and complete your set.
  7. Swap arms and repeat.

Tips From A Trainer!

  • Keep your body square to the anchor point. You don't want to be twisting from the hips during this movement.  

7. Reverse Grip Row With Barbell (Barbell Bent Over Row Alternative)

Man Doing 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. 

Over the past year I've become a HUGE fan of this barbell row substitute. One of the main reasons is that I love the pump I get during each set. There's nothing like walking out of the gym feeling like I won't fit through the door. 


  • Allows you to overload your lats.
  • It's a compound exercise.
  • Uses a large range of motion.

How to do it: 

  1. Stand in front of a barbell with a hip-width stance.
  2. Place your hands on the bar using an underhand grip (reverse grip).
  3. Pick the barbell up using the “deadlift” form.
  4. Hinge from your hips while maintaining a straight back.
  5. Brace your core and draw your shoulder blades back while lifting the barbell towards your chest.
  6. Slowly complete the negative part of the movement and return to the starting position. 
  7. Repeat.

Tips From A Trainer!

  • If you want to make this barbell row substitute tougher, add a 2-3 second pause at the top of each rep. While you're paused, squeeze your lats together as hard as you can. It's an absolute killer. 

Also Check Out - Barbells Vs Kettlebells

8. Seated Cable Row 

woman doing seated cable rows

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.

I use this exercise with my new clients as it helps them develop upper back strength without them needing to perform complex movements like the barbell row. 

If you don't have access to a cable machine, you might want to try out seated cable row alternatives that target similar muscles.


  • Less strain on the lower back.
  • Develops a thick upper back.
  • Great for all abilities.

How to do it: 

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

Tips From A Trainer!

  • Try using different handles for this barbell row substitute. Using a variety of handles will allow you to hit your lats from multiple angles, which will aid development. 

9. Lying Bench Seal Rows 

Man Doing Lying Bench Seal Rows At The Gym

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.

However, I must add that this barbell row substitute requires quite a lot of equipment (such as two boxes/steps, a barbell, plates, and plenty of space). If you don't mind standing out a little in the gym, then this movement is ideal. 


  • Uses a large range of motion.
  • Great for people with lower back pain.

How to do it: 

  1. Place a flat bench onto two elevated steps.
  2. Put two dumbbells on the floor under the bench.
  3. Lie on your stomach on the bench.
  4. Pick up the dumbbells and retract the scapula (shoulder blades).
  5. Lift the dumbbells towards the bench and squeeze your lats at the top of the movement.
  6. Slowly return them towards the ground.
  7. Repeat the movement until you’ve completed your set.

Tips From A Trainer!

  • Consider only performing this exercise when your gym is quiet. I say this as it can be frustrating when somebody sets up for seal rows in the middle of the gym during peak times. And usually in my experience, the person never puts the equipment away... don't be that person. 

10. Seated Band Row 

Woman Doing Seated Band Row Exercise

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.

If you're like me and are always on the go, the seated banded row is perfect. You can do it almost anywhere whether it's hotel rooms, parks, your office... you name it, you can probably do them there.


  • You can do them anywhere. 
  • Minimal equipment needed.

How to do it: 

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

Tips From A Trainer!

  • If you want to increase your range of motion, attach your resistance band to a solid anchor point and sit further away from the band. This will allow you to stretch your lats fully during each rep. 

11. Inverted Row 

Man Doing Inverted Rows

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 and my clients love it... well, I suppose it's more of a love/hate relationship for my clients.

If you don’t have inverted row equipment in your home gym, you can check out inverted row alternative exercises.


  • Brilliant stepping stone to pull-ups.
  • Uses body weight.
  • Suitable for all ability levels.

How to do it: 

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

Tips From A Trainer!

  • If you want to adjust the difficulty of this movement follow this rule: The more upright you are, the easier it is, the lower to the floor you are, the harder it becomes.  

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.[1]

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.[2]

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.[3]


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 Questions

Are rows or pull ups better?

Neither rows or pull ups are better. 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?

Yes, you should still do rows if you deadlift. Deadlifts 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?

Yes, barbell rows are enough for your back.  But, I would recommend adding in other upper back exercises such as the seated row, inverted row, and others to your workout to hit your back from multiple angles. 


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.  

But, if you can't perform the movement, there are many other options for you such as the reverse grip barbell row, inverted row, seal row, and more.

Read through the list above and choose 2-3 to add to your workout and take your back development to the next level. 





Lee Kirwin

Lee Kirwin

Lee has worked in the fitness industry for over 15 years. He's trained hundreds of clients and knows his way around the gym, including what you need for your garage gym. When he's not testing products, he loves weightlifting, Ju Jitsu, writing, and gaming.