9 Best Barbell Row Alternatives For Back & Core Workouts

best barbell row alternatives

The barbell row, or the bent-over row if you want to sound fancy, is the go-to pulling exercise for a back workout. Chances are, you've not just seen it but rocked it yourself. This compound move is the real deal, zeroing in on your upper and lower back and throwing in some bicep action to supercharge that pull.

Yet, a major drawback emerges – the muscle might of your lower back can throw a wrench in the gears, particularly after hitting squats or deadlifts earlier in the workout. I know for a fact that many powerlifters, as well as cross-fitters, are always looking for barbell row alternatives – which is exactly what's on the menu today. I'm gonna provide you with the 9 best barbell row alternative exercises that I hit whenever I feel like I need a change in my back and core workout.

PS: I've also added videos to each exercise so that you can easily mimic it. Enjoy!

1. Dumbell Row

How to Perfect Your Dumbbell Row | Form Check | Men's Health

The dumbbell row, a twin of the barbell row and a personal favourite of mine. The name hints at the key difference, but the perks might not be crystal clear. Sure, it hits the same muscle crew as its barbell counterpart, but here's the plot twist – it ropes in the core and shoulders for a stabilization party.

Opting for dumbbells over a barbell throws in an extra balance challenge, upping the ante on overall stability for your back, core, and shoulders. The motion stays true to its barbell sibling, but the beauty here lies in the equal opportunity training for both sides of your body. Say goodbye to muscle imbalances – this is all about stability and balance. But you're gonna have to get used to it.

While the barbell might flex its muscles for heavier lifts, don't underestimate the power of the dumbbell for cranking out higher reps and fueling that muscle hypertrophy.

So, how do you nail the Dumbbell Row?

  1. Grab a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Bend those knees a tad and hinge at your hips.
  3. Lock in that position and roll your shoulder blades down and back.
  4. Keep that back flat as you yank both dumbbells up toward your torso.
  5. Bring 'em back down for the full range of motion – rinse and repeat.

2. Chest-Supported T-Bar Row

How to: Chest Supported T Bar Row

If keeping that spine in check during your typical rowing sessions feels like a battle, let me introduce you to the game-changer – the chest-supported T-bar row. This bad boy not only lends a helping pad to carry your weight but also lets you go all-in on back training without your lower back throwing in the towel prematurely.

Here's the drill: the chest-supported T-bar row usually rocks two sets of handles. Your weapon of choice depends on the muscle battleground you're aiming for.

For a lat-centric showdown, grab the neutral grip handles (yeah, the ones where your palms face each other) and keep those elbows snug to your torso as you row.

Now, if you're on a mission to conquer the upper back and rear deltoids, adjust that pad a smidge higher on the chest, adopt a wider grip, and let those elbows flare out to the side as you row.

Pro tip: The neutral grip, lat-focused row is your ticket to Shoulder-Friendlyville.

Here's the play-by-play:

  1. Plant yourself so the pad's upper edge meets the lower part of your chest.
  2. Clench those handles, lift the T-bar off the pin, and straighten those arms.
  3. Starting position? Arms locked and loaded.
  4. Yank those handles toward your torso, revelling in the sweet sensation of your shoulder blades coming together.
  5. Pause at the summit, then gracefully lower the handles, keeping the reins on the descent.

And while a hint of stretch at the bottom is fair game, don't go slack on the shoulder joint. Keep that tension alive for a healthy shoulder and upper back dose.

3. Seated Cable Row

How To Do A Seated Cable Row

Another great alternative is the seated cable row – a muscle-pumping maneuver that mirrors the barbell row but adds a cable pulley machine to the mix.

Seated and strapped into this beast, you're gifted with a stability boost, letting those stabilizer muscles off the hook a bit. The result? A more targeted exercise on your back muscles.

This exercise isn't playing favourites – it's a crowd-pleaser for lifters of all stripes. Adjust the weight dial to dial up or down the intensity, and you're in business.

Despite its compound nature, the seated cable row has a soft spot for the latissimus dorsi muscles, giving you that broader back. Plus, it's a backstage pass to ramping up your pulling prowess, whether you're eyeing Olympic weightlifting or powerlifting domination.

Here is how it works

  1. Take a perch on a bench in front of the cable machine and snatch that handle.
  2. Back straight, and pull those shoulder blades back, creating a pinch-worthy masterpiece. Arms? Fully extended – that's your starting pose.
  3. Hold that fort as you pull the handle straight to your sternum, all while keeping that core locked and loaded.
  4. Ease those arms back to the launch position – rinse, repeat, and revel in the back gains.

4. Single Arm Dumbell Row

Single Arm Dumbbell Row


Engaging in unilateral exercises is crucial for achieving symmetrical strength and muscle development throughout your body.

While the barbell is effective for building overall strength and muscle mass, an imbalance between your body's sides may restrict your lifting capacity.

A remedy lies in incorporating the single-arm dumbbell row into your routine. Executed on a bench for enhanced stability, this exercise exposes and addresses any strength disparities between your arms. Isolating one side at a time demands increased balance and stability, contributing to a more comprehensive strength enhancement.

To perform the Single-Arm Dumbbell Row:

  1. Position the same hand and knee on a bench, with the opposite foot planted on the floor for stability.
  2. Grasp a dumbbell in your free hand, ensuring your arm is fully extended.
  3. Maintain a flat back and tight core as you pull the weight towards your ribcage.
  4. Keep your shoulders squared throughout the entire movement.
  5. At the peak of the motion, squeeze your shoulder blades, then gradually lower the weight back to the starting position.

5. Chest-Supported Incline Bench Row

Incline Dumbbell Row

Maximize your workout routine with chest-supported dumbbell rows, a dynamic exercise that efficiently targets your back muscles. This variation, performed on an incline bench, offers the advantage of engaging both arms simultaneously while providing crucial support to prevent lower back fatigue.

Incorporating chest-supported dumbbell rows into your routine not only intensifies your back training but also provides a secure platform to enhance your overall strength. It also hits the biceps beautifully.

Here's how you do it:

  1. Equip Yourself: Begin by grabbing a pair of dumbbells suitable for your strength level.
  2. Assume the Position: Lie face down on the incline bench, ensuring that all your weight is fully supported by the bench. This positioning eliminates concerns about lower back fatigue, allowing you to focus solely on maximizing your upper body engagement.
  3. Optimal Grip: Hold the dumbbells directly below your shoulders, adopting a palms-facing-each-other orientation. This grip ensures a stable and controlled movement throughout the exercise.
  4. Execute the Movement: Initiate the row by leading with your elbows, pulling the dumbbells upward and slightly backward. Concentrate on contracting your shoulder blades together at the pinnacle of the movement, emphasizing the engagement of your back muscles.
  5. Controlled Descent: Lower the dumbbells back down gradually until your arms are fully extended. This controlled descent enhances the effectiveness of the exercise and minimizes unnecessary strain on your muscles.

6. Gorilla Row

The Kettlebell Gorilla Row

While achieving gorilla-level strength may be a stretch, incorporating the gorilla row into your routine can undoubtedly foster some strength development in both your upper and lower back. This exercise places you in a hip-hinged position akin to a deadlift, effectively cultivating strength, control, and endurance throughout your legs.

Similar to the barbell row, the gorilla row targets the same muscle groups, with the added benefit of intensified core and spine stability work. What sets this exercise apart, aside from the unique position, is the incorporation of alternating dumbbells in each hand. As one arm executes a row, the other engages in a pressing motion against the weight on the floor. This alternating movement not only enhances core stability but also promotes shoulder mobility.

Here's how you execute:

  1. Equip Yourself: Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in a neutral grip on each side.
  2. Assume the Position: Bend your knees slightly more than you would for a traditional barbell row, hinging at your hips until the weights make contact with the ground.
  3. Maintain Form: Keep a neutral spine as you row one arm upward, engaging the targeted muscles.
  4. Balanced Engagement: Simultaneously, the other arm should stay extended, pressing the weight into the ground. This dual-action movement ensures a comprehensive workout for your upper body.
  5. Repeat the Sequence: Lower the lifted weight with control and repeat the process on the other side, creating a fluid and dynamic exercise routine.

7. Landmine Row

Landmine Row with Handle - OPEX Exercise Library


The landmine row, just like the T-bar row, employs a fixed anchor point for one end of the barbell while allowing you to row the opposite end towards your torso, delivering a robust upper body workout.

Incorporating the landmine row into your workout routine adds diversity to your upper body training while offering a different engagement angle than traditional rowing exercises. Enhance your strength and muscle development with this effective variation that targets key muscle groups in your back and arms.

Here is how you pull out this one:

  1. Prepare the Setup: Secure one end of a barbell to a landmine attachment, establishing a stable anchor point.
  2. Choose Your Grip: Affix a V-handle or multi-grip handle to the free end of the barbell, providing versatility in your grip for an effective workout.
  3. Position Yourself: Stand facing away from the landmine attachment, straddling the barbell for a solid foundation.
  4. Initiate the Movement: Bend forward at the waist and firmly grasp the handle with both hands. In the starting position, your torso should be slightly above horizontal, featuring a slight arch in the lower back, and your arms fully extended.
  5. Execute the Row: Pull the barbell towards your torso, engaging your back muscles. Pause briefly at the top of the movement to maximize muscle contraction.
  6. Controlled Descent: Lower the barbell under control to return to the starting position. Maintain proper form throughout the movement for optimal effectiveness.

8. Inverted Row

I love adding bodyweight exercises to my routine, as they are super accessible and I can always add a weight west for more resistance. This exercise requires only a stable apparatus and your own body weight, making it a versatile alternative that mirrors the mechanics of the barbell row but with a focus on pulling your body up rather than lifting external weights.

The inverted row engages comparable muscle groups in the upper body, including the glutes, hamstrings, and core, contributing to overall stabilization. Holding onto the bar during this exercise targets these muscle groups and enhances grip strength, potentially benefiting other pulling exercises in your routine. Its adaptability makes it suitable for individuals at various fitness levels, from beginners to advanced lifters. Adjusting the angle of your body allows you to tailor the intensity to your specific ability.

Here's how you do it:

  1. Find Your Setup: Position yourself on a stable bar, situated close enough to the ground that you can adjust your body angle while keeping your arms fully extended.
  2. Secure Your Grip: Grab the bar with an overhand grip and position your body beneath it at the chosen angle.
  3. Maintain Form: Keep your body in a straight line by engaging your core and squeezing your glutes throughout the movement.
  4. Execute the Row: Pull yourself up towards the bar, focusing on engaging the targeted muscle groups. Ensure a controlled descent as you lower yourself back down.

9. Resistance Band Row

Resistance Band Exercise: Bent Over Rows


The resistance band row is a workout that doesn't require traditional weights but delivers effective results whether you're at the gym or in the comfort of your home.

This exercise, utilizing the benefits of resistance bands, offers a viable alternative to conventional strength training, producing comparable strength gains that contribute to improved overall performance in both gym workouts and daily activities.

The elastic nature of the resistance band plays a pivotal role in maintaining consistent tension in your muscles throughout the exercise, promoting muscle engagement and growth.

Primarily targeting the upper back muscles, the Resistance Band Row is a valuable tool for building comprehensive upper body strength. Its benefits extend beyond the immediate focus, providing enhanced support for other pulling and pushing exercises, such as the bench press.

The versatility and user-friendly nature of the resistance band make it an ideal option for individuals of all fitness levels. Here's a straightforward guide on how to perform the Resistance Band Row:

  1. Secure Setup: Wrap a resistance band around a stable apparatus, such as the leg of a squat rack or your own feet, ensuring a secure anchor point.
  2. Optimal Grip: Pull both sides of the bands tightly, assuming an upright position with your arms fully extended and approximately shoulder-width apart.
  3. Maintain Form: Keep your back straight and core engaged as you pull both sides of the band towards your ribcage, targeting the upper back muscles.
  4. Controlled Release: Slowly extend your arms back out, maintaining control throughout the entire movement.

Summary

That's that, nine of my favourite barbell row exercises – although there are plenty more to discover. All the exercises I chose to write about are easy to perform and great when it comes to injury prevention. I also tried to include exercises where you can use everything from barbells to dumbells, resistance bands and even your bodyweight. I know that variety is fun when working out, but its also important to always shock your body with new exercises!

Hope you enjoyed this article – feel free to share it with a friend so you can perform the new exercises you learned together!

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