Barbell rows are a powerful exercise but not everyone likes all aspects. Find out what exercise alternatives offer some of the same results.
Barbell rows, also known as bent-over rows with a barbell, are a resistance training exercise where you bend over and lift a barbell towards your body. While it sounds and is straightforward, barbell rows can offer many advantages.
Among other benefits, barbell rows can strengthen your upper back, lower back, erector spinae, core, forearms, biceps, and shoulder muscles, they can improve your posture, etc.
Whether you don’t enjoy barbell rows, you want more at-home-friendly options, or you want an alternative for any other reason, these alternatives to barbell rows can offer you some or all of the same benefits.
1. Bent-over rows with other equipment
Bent-over rows are generally done with a barbell so this exercise may seem out of reach at home. However, you can also other barbell equipment alternatives like dumbbells, kettlebells, resistance bands, etc.
Even if you don’t have more traditional fitness equipment you can use a backpack with heavy books. Take the following steps to do a bent-over row with dumbbells:
- Stand up straight with your feet at about shoulder width and a dumbbell in each hand.
- Slightly fold your knees and tilt your upper body forward until it is at about a 45-degree angle with the ground while keeping your back straight. Let your arms hang down to the ground for now.
- Bend your elbows until your hands reach your body. The goal is to mainly make your back muscles support this movement. Keep your arms close to your body, your body in a straight line, and your feet in the same position during the movement.
- Lower your hands again to the position of step 2 in a controlled motion.
Since this is still the same movement, only with other equipment, these other variations are a barbell row alternative with very similar benefits.
One potential downside is that at some point it becomes hard to reach very heavy weights with certain equipment options besides a barbell. If you are more experienced with resistance training this may be an issue.
2. Single-arm rows
For single-arm rows, you need a type of one-handed free weight like a kettlebell or dumbbell and a weight bench or similar object can be helpful.
Take the following steps to do a single-arm row with a kettlebell and a weight bench:
- Hold the kettlebell in one hand. Put the knee and arm of the other side on the weight bench. Put your slightly less-than-stretched arm and upper leg vertically on the weight bench. Let the arm with the kettlebell hand down while keeping your back horizontal.
- Bend the elbow of the arm with the kettlebell until your hands reach your body. The goal is to mainly make your back muscles support this movement. Keep your arm close to your body and your upper body in a straight line.
- Lower your hand again to the position of step 1 in a controlled motion.
This barbell row alternative is done with one side at a time, unilaterally. This can help you avoid using one arm more than the other which can lead to muscle imbalances.
You can also do single-arm rows bent-over. This will engage your oblique core muscles a lot more, especially with heavy weights.
Similar to the other non-machine options on this list you may have trouble finding something that can offer you enough resistance for growing strong muscles like your back.
3. Dumbbell pullovers
For the dumbbell pullover, you preferably want a dumbbell and a flat weight bench. Once you have these, take the following steps to do a dumbbell pullover:
- Lie on a weight bench with your head on the end of the bench. Hold the dumbbell with both of your hands on one of the weights.
- Extend your arms upward until they are slightly less than stretched and point them up.
- Slowly move back your arms as far as comfortable. To engage your back muscles more instead of your lower chest bring your elbows slightly more away from your body. Your arms stay slightly less than stretched throughout the exercise.
- Move your arms back to the position in step 2 in a controlled motion.
If you feel your lower chest muscles working a lot harder than your latissimus dorsi your technique may be off. In a situation like this, you likely have to point your elbows more outward.
One potential downside of dumbbell pullovers as a barbell row alternative is that they are more of a lat isolation exercise. Other muscles like your biceps, core, shoulders, etc. will not have to do much.
Additionally, dumbbell pullovers are somewhat scarier due to the position of the weights. You also definitely don’t want to drop the dumbbell.
4. Seated cable rows
The seated low row machine is a type of gym machine where you sit down with your feet on sloping pads to brace yourself against the resistance caused by the weight you will row.
Similar to the barbell row this movement will work out a variety of back muscles. One potential downside or upside depending on your training goals is that you engage your core muscles slightly less.
How to use a seated low row machine is relatively straightforward. Select your desired resistance, adjust the seat, take place in the seat, grab the handle, and push yourself back with your legs a small distance.
You then pull the handle horizontally toward your stomach while keeping your back straight and your upper arms close to your body.
Once the handle reaches your body return your hands to starting position in a controlled motion. You can start off with light weights and once your technique is good, increase the weights for more and faster muscle gain.
The pull-up is a classic compound back exercise that is a great alternative to barbell rows.
It is true that you need something to do the pull-up on but even if you currently don’t have something like this, a doorway pull-up bar is relatively inexpensive.
Take the following steps to do a pull-up:
- Hang from the pull-up bar with your hands at about shoulder-width with your hand palms facing forward.
- Pull your body up slowly until your shoulders are the height of the bar.
- Lower your body again into starting position in a controlled motion.
One potential downside is that pull-ups are too challenging for many people. If that is the case you can start with some of the other options on this list to strengthen your muscles.
On the other hand, if you are more experienced with resistance training, bodyweight pull-ups may currently be too easy.
In that case, you can make them weighted with equipment like a dip belt, weighted vest, ankle weights, or a dumbbell clamped between your feet.
6. Lawnmower pulls
You can do this next exercise with a wide variety of equipment options including a cable machine, dumbbell, kettlebell, weight plate, resistance bands, etc.
Take the following steps to do a lawnmower pull with a dumbbell:
- Stand up straight with a dumbbell in one hand.
- Take a medium step forward with the leg on the opposite side of the dumbbell.
- Slightly fold your front knee and tilt your upper body forward until it is at about a 45-degree angle with the ground while keeping your back straight.
- Bend the elbow of the arm with the dumbbell until your hand reaches your body. The goal is to mainly make your back muscles support this movement. Keep your arms close to your body, your body in a straight line, and your feet in the same position during the movement.
- Instead of stopping there, raise the dumbbell slightly more by twisting your upper body.
- Rotate your upper back until it is horizontal and lower your hand again to the position of step 3 in a controlled motion.
In simple words, you can describe lawnmower pulls as a one-handed bent-over row with an extra twist at the top of the movement.
This extra twist can help you train your oblique muscles more compared to a more static bent-over row.
7. Chest-supported machine rows
A chest-supported row machine is a machine where you can sit down and rest your chest against a support pad to brace against the resistance you will row.
Some machines allow you to load each arm differently. This can help you avoid muscle imbalances by making sure each arm rows the same weight. Others require you to row a single weight with both of your hands.
To do this barbell row alternative you simply adjust the seat, load your desired weight, sit down, grab the handles, and row for your desired number of repetitions.
Because of the chest pad, you will be able to work out your upper back muscles without having to worry about things like posture or how strong your core muscles are.
This can help you focus more on building upper back muscle compared to the barbell row.
The potential downside is that you train your core muscles and stabilizing muscles a lot less with the chest-supported machine row.
You can also do chest-supported rows with free weights with an incline bench.
The potential downside with these is that you likely have to use something like dumbbells or kettlebells which have a relatively low weight capacity compared to a barbell.
8. Lat pulldowns
The lat pulldown exercise often has its own back machine setup in the gym.
This is basically a seat with pads to brace your upper thighs against in front of a cable machine. The pads are there so you don’t pull yourself up during the exercise.
If you have a good anchor somewhere high you may also be able to do this compound back exercise with quality resistance bands, especially if you have a bar attachment.
Take the following steps to do a lat pulldown:
- Take place the seat with your legs anchored behind the thigh pads. Select the desired weight.
- Grab the handle with an overhanded grip, this means hand palms facing forward/downward, with your hands at about shoulder width. Lean back slightly with your upper body.
- Slowly pull down the bar by folding your elbows and squeezing your shoulder blades together until the bar reaches your chest.
- Lower the bar back into the position of step 2 in a controlled motion.
As the name implies this exercise mainly focuses on your latissimus dorsi also known as your lats. Even so, it also engages a few other muscles similar to barbell rows like deltoids, forearms, biceps, and trapezius.
9. T-bar rows
The T-bar row is a type of machine where one end of a bar is anchored to the ground behind you. At the other end of the bar you can attach weights.
The name of this exercise comes from the shape this bar has because of the horizontal handle at the end of the bar.
To do this exercise you start standing up over the bar which is between your legs with your back to the ground anchor point. Pick the weight off the ground by using your legs while keeping your back straight.
Get in a position where your legs are slightly bent, your back straight at about a 45-degree angle or more to a vertical line, and your arms stretched.
Pull the bar toward your body as far as comfortable while keeping your back straight and upper arms close to your body. After that, lower the bar in a controlled motion until your arms are stretched.
If you don’t feel your back muscles fatiguing during this barbell row alternative your technique is likely not optimal.
T-bar rows are very similar to bent-over barbell rows except that you have to worry less about balance. The upward trajectory of the weight is also slightly different.
10. Inverted rows
For inverted rows, you can use a sturdy barbell rack with a bar, sturdy table, dip bars, gymnastic rings, or trx bands.
If you are more experienced with resistance training this barbell row alternative may not be enough to engage your back muscles enough for a lot of muscle growth.
Take the following steps to do an inverted row with a barbell rack:
- Sit or lie down with your back on the ground under the barbell.
- Put your hand in an overhanded position on the barbell at about shoulder width.
- Move your body so your arms are stretched, your knees are at about a 90-degree angle, and the rest of your body is in a straight line.
- Raise your body by slightly bending your elbows until your body reaches the bar. The goal is to mainly make your back muscles support this movement. Keep your arms close to your body, your body in a straight line, and your feet in the same position during the movement.
- Slowly lower yourself again until you are back in the position of the third step.
A regular weight lifting row involves standing bent over and moving an external weight up and down.
With this inverted row, you will move your body weight up and down in a way that targets similar upper body muscles.
One of the main differences is that inverted rows do not engage your lower back muscles as much as barbell rows.