Rowing movements are crucial for beginners or advanced lifters. They help you to develop your back and a strong physique. Both barbell rows and T-bar rows are useful exercises, but it isn't easy to know which is best for you.

You don't want to waste time on the wrong workout, so in this guide, I'll give you the full breakdown of T-bar row vs barbell row so you can choose which is best for you.  

If you watch people performing T-bar rows and barbell bent over rows, you may assume they target the same muscles and do the same thing. 

Both exercises are similar, but there are some differences, and you should choose the movement that supports your individual goals.  

Here are some of the key differences explained: 

1. Muscle Activation 

If you’re looking to develop your strength and grow muscle mass, you need to understand which muscles are being engaged.

Both exercises primarily engage your lats, trapezius, posterior deltoid, rhomboids, and also engage your biceps, spinae erector, hamstrings, and core [1]. However, the extent that they are activated is quite different depending on which exercise you perform.  

T-bar rows are designed to isolate your back and require more energy from the primary muscle groups. Barbell bent over rows need energy from the primary muscle groups, but engage the secondary muscle groups more thoroughly. 

This means you'll get a better full-body exercise from the bent over barbell row, but greater activation of the back muscles from the T bar row.  

  • For Lower & Middle Back
    If your goal is to develop a strong lower and middle back, then you are better off with the T-bar row. This will help you build a thick, deep back because it activates all the muscles across your upper, middle, and lower back. A bent over barbell row will benefit your middle and lower back, but there's also a greater risk of straining your lower back because of the movement.  
  • For Biceps
    There aren't many back exercises that don't engage your biceps, and both of these rows will activate them. However, bent over barbell rows require more effort from your forearms and biceps to stabilize and bar, so you'll see more significant benefits from this exercise. If you want to develop strong arms while building your back, you should perform bent over barbell rows. 

2. Complexity 

The complexity of an exercise will determine what level of lifter should be performing it. Neither T-bar rows nor barbell rows are particularly complicated to perform, but T-bar rows are simpler. 

This is mainly because the barbell is in a fixed position, so the movement is much more controlled. In comparison, the barbell bent over row has a lot more freedom, and you, therefore, need to stabilize and control the bar yourself.  

The T-bar row is better suited for beginners because there's minimal risk of strain or injury. The bent over barbell row requires a greater level of strength from the user to perform it, so it's better suited to intermediate or advanced lifters.  

man exercising on t-bar row machine in gym

3. Equipment Needed 

For a barbell row, you just need a barbell and nothing else. For a T-bar row, you'll need a V-bar handle, barbell, and some way to anchor it. It's, therefore, a bit more complicated to set up at home because if it's not appropriately anchored, you won't get the right form, and it could be dangerous.

However, many commercial gyms will already have a T-bar row set up, so it might not be an issue unless you work out in a home gym. 

Bent over barbell rows are definitely simpler and need less equipment. This makes them easier to perform at home or in the gym, and best for those with limited fitness equipment to hand.  

4. Posterior Chain Strength Development 

Your posterior chain is basically your lower back, and it's an area that is trained by both of these exercises.

Barbell bent over rows require a greater base level of posterior chain strength than T-bar rows, and it can limit how much you can handle. This, in turn, will impact how much you can lift and the benefits you'll get from the exercise.  

T-bar rows are easier to perform because the weight is directly beneath you. This makes it easier on your lower back and a more effective exercise for developing your posterior chain strength.  

man doing bent over barbell rows

5. Range Of Motion (ROM) 

Range of motion can impact muscle growth, and the larger the ROM, the longer the period of time your muscles will be activated. The T-bar row has a smaller ROM because you're only lifting it up to your chest and back down.

With a bent over barbell row, you have a bigger ROM because your elbows will go up past your torso. This means that bent over barbell rows can be harder to perform but should improve your overall flexibility.

6. Versatility 

There's only one real option with a T-bar row, and the movement is very controlled by the equipment. There are many more options with bent over barbell rows, and you can change between different grips to mix up the routine.

This helps to engage a broader range of muscles and helps to shock the body, so you don't get too used to one movement.  

Bent over barbell rows offer greater flexibility which is useful for more advanced lifters who want to change up their routine from time to time.  

Related Article - Best Push Up Bar Workouts

T-Bar Row Overview

Man Doing T-Bar Row Exercise In The Gym

T-bar row involves lifting a bar that has one end anchored to the ground.

This means it has a fixed path and helps to isolate your latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, trapezius, and posterior deltoids [2]. All of these are crucial in building a broad, strong back.  

T-bar rows are also easier to perform because the movement and technique are more controlled. This makes them more straightforward and often means that you can load extra weight onto the bar to challenge yourself.  

How To Perform T-Bar Rows

T-Bar Row Benefits

T-bar rows are known for helping you to create lean muscle across your upper, lower, and middle back. This is largely because they isolate the back muscles and even though they are a compound exercise, they are much more targeted than a barbell row.

They are great for beginners because it's difficult to get the form wrong, and it's very unlikely you'll strain or injure yourself. They are also useful for some more advanced lifters because they encourage hypertrophy across your back.  

A T-bar row won’t engage as many muscles as a barbell row does, but you should be able to perform them easily and get the form right every time. 

The only downside is that you need a well-anchored barbell. There are some ways to do this from home, but commercial gyms tend to have the proper equipment.  

Who should do the t-bar row?

The T-Bar row is fantastic for gym-goers looking to add some serious mass to their frame.

The movement allows you to overload your upper back muscles with A LOT of weight, which will stimulate your muscles to grow. 

This back exercise is also suitable if you've suffered shoulder pain, as the T-Bar row uses a neutral grip which is generally more "shoulder friendly" as it places less strain on your shoulder joints. The neutral grip position also provides you with maximal grip strength, allowing you to add more weight to the bar. 

Lastly, if you workout at home and don't have a spotter, you'll be glad to know that the T-Bar row is safe to perform alone. If the barbell is too heavy and you can't finish the last rep, you simply drop the weight and you're fine... No need for a spotter.

However, if you can't perform this exercise, you can try doing T-bar row substitutes that target the same muscles.

Pros And Cons Of T-Bar Rows


  • Safer exercise 
  • Greater isolation 
  • Able to lift more 
  • Easier to perform 


  • Requires anchoring 
  • Less flexibility 
  • Fewer full body benefits 

Barbell Bent Over Row Overview

Man Doing A Barbell Bent Over Row Exercise

The barbell row is considered a true compound exercise because it engages several muscle groups in one motion. This includes all the same back muscles as a T-bar row but also your hamstrings, erectors, and core.

All you'll need to perform a barbell bent over row is a barbell, so it's one you can perform at home or in a commercial gym.  

While the movement of the row is similar to the T-bar row, the focus is slightly different. Barbell bent over rows will help you increase the width of your back, making you look larger, but will have less of an impact on your lower back 

The barbell bent over row is also more challenging. It requires more significant control over the weight and your spine needs to be kept still throughout the movement.

You'll also use your hips, core, and other smaller muscle groups to stabilize the movement, so you'll need a greater base level of strength before performing it. This means you’ll probably have to lift less than you would with a T-bar row.  

How To Perform Barbell Bent Over Row

Barbell Bent Over Row Benefits

Barbell bent over rows are an excellent way to build your functional strength and develop a thick upper back. Who doesn't want that?

Some of the other benefits include:

Back Stability

As you're working your body in a bent over position, your back and core has to work incredibly hard to keep your body stable. This improves your core and spine strength, which carries over to regular every day life. If you want a stronger back, the barbell bent over row is for you.

Improves Hip Hinge

Performing the barbell bent over row improves your ability to hip hinge. This movement will help you be more stable in this position, which will help you in the gym during other lifts such as the deadlift. 

Overloads Your Lats

The barbell bent over row is one of the best exercises for overloading your lats with a large amount of weight. 

By doing so, you'll provide your lats, rhomboids, traps, and biceps with the stimulus they need to grow. 

It's A Compound Exercise

By performing the barbell bent over row, you'll be working more than one muscle group, giving you a lot of bang for your buck. 

Who Should Do Barbell Bent Over Row?

The barbell bent over row is excellent for anybody looking to add some mass to their upper body. It'll help you develop a thick V shaped back (which we're all after), and will even help you grow your biceps.

However, I've found that barbell bent over rows are best suited for intermediate or advanced lifters who already have some experience and are less likely to strain or injure themselves with improper form. In that case, I suggest you try barbell row alternative exercises.  

But, if you've mastered the hip hinge position, feel free to try this movement out; I'm sure you'll LOVE it. 

Pros And Cons Of Barbell Bent Over Rows


  • More muscle activation 
  • Greater variation of exercises 
  • Benefits your core and posture 
  • Less specialist equipment needed 


  • More fatiguing as you engage more muscles 
  • More challenging to perform 

Common Row Exercise Questions Answered

Is the T bar row dangerous? 

No, the T bar row is actually safer than most other rowing movements because the weight is directly below your center of gravity. This gives you the most control and limits any risk of improper form.

Can you do T bar row without a handle? 

The T-bar row is usually done with a neutral grip on a V handle, but you can use a variety of attachments to perform the exercise. However, it's generally not advisable to perform it without a handle attachment. 

Are barbell rows better than pull ups? 

Pull ups are a full-body exercise that will help you build lean muscle and develop your functional strength. Barbell rows offer many of the same benefits but allow you to focus the effort on your back. Pull ups are probably more beneficial but harder to perform, and many people use barbell rows to build up their strength until they can do a full pull up. 

How do you progress at bent over row? 

Keep the weight light at first and focus on form. Once you have the movement down, you should look to increase the weight week on week to build your strength. Incorporating a range of back exercises into your workout routine will also help you make progress with your bent over row. 


T bar rows and barbell bent over rows target many of the same areas, but there are a few key differences.

If you're a beginner, we would recommend T bar rows, but if you're more advanced, you may benefit from bent over barbell rows instead.

Hopefully, this guide has explained everything you need to know, and you have a better idea about which exercise is best for you. 




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.