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Barbell Row Alternative: 7 Best Exercises for Building a Strong Back

Barbell Row Alternative

When you’re in the gym, it can be easy to get stuck and bored, doing the same exercises over and over again without variety. With the barbell row, there are so many good alternative options that you just need to know to make your back workout more effective and exciting.  Don’t get me wrong, barbell rows are one of the best exercises to develop a powerful back and is used in many weightlifting routines. However, if you can’t perform this exercise due to injury or simply because it doesn’t work with your fitness goals, or you just want variety, there are plenty of alternatives you can try out instead.

Related Readings: 5-Day Dumbbell Workout & Decline Bench Press Alternative.

What Muscles Does a Barbell Row Work & What Makes a Good Alternative?

Primarily, the barbell row works the latissimus dorsi, or the lats, the Rhomboids, Traps, and your rear deltoids. So, what makes a good barbell row alternative? Well, since the barbell row targets all these muscles primarily you would want to find exercise substitutes that activate majority of these muscle groups.

Below we have put together some of our favorite barbell row alternative exercises that will define and build your back.

Proper Barbell Row Form

If you’re looking at barbell row alternative, it might be because you have of poor form. With any exercise form is key, especially one where heavy weight is involved like the barbell row. Here is a quick video on how to perform the barbell row properly with correct technique.

Want The Best Barbell Row Alternative? Here Are 7 Of My Favorite!

The barbell row is the most popular exercise in weightlifting, and for good reason. It’s effective and versatile. However, there are other exercises that can be used as barbell row alternatives to target these muscles with different movements and intensities. Let’s go over some of the best alternative exercises to add to your back workout routine.

1. T-Bar Row

If you’re looking to build your back and are tired of doing the regular barbell row, here is an alternative you NEED to consider. Like the barbell row, the T-bar row also targets the lats, traps, posterior deltoid, and the rhomboids making it a great alternative and must be added to your back workout routine. So, thick, and dense back muscles is your aim, you must give this exercise a go. The only problem is that many gyms don’t provide a t-bar row station.


  1. Grab an empty barbell and secure one end of it in a corner and place a weighted plate or a heavy dumbbell to hold it down. (This step is for those who don’t have a t-bar station.)
  2. Load the other end with the desired amount of weight and stand with one foot on either side of the bar.
  3. Grip the bar at the weighted end slowly start to the pull the bar towards your chest maintaining a neutral spine position. Keep your torso in about a 45-degree angle with the floor.
  4. As you pull the bar towards you, keep your elbows tightly by your sides and your knees slightly bent for stability.
  5. Retract and squeeze your shoulder blades at the top of the movement.
  6. Pause for a moment and bring the bar back down slowly.
  7. Repeat for the desired reps.

Pro Tips

A common mistake people make with this exercise is they keep their feet too wide. Make sure your feet are about shoulder width or hip width apart.

Another mistake is your range of motion or “half reps”. It doesn’t matter how much weight you have on the bar, if there isn’t a full range of motion, you’re not getting much from the exercise.

2. Dumbbell Incline Row

The most common mistake when performing the barbell row is rounding your back which puts unnecessary pressure on your spine, causing lower back injuries. So, is there an alternative that doesn’t have the risk of you arching your back? Yes, the dumbbell incline row not only targets the primary muscles in the barbell row, but also puts much less pressure on your lower back. This exercise, hence, becomes a great alternative especially for those who are facing lower back problems.


  1. Firstly, set up a bench at about a 45-degree angle. Lie face down on the bench with your feet firmly planted on the floor.
  2. Grab a dumbbell in each hand using a neutral grip.
  3. Slowly row the dumbbells towards your chest. Make sure to squeeze your shoulder blades at the top of this movement.
  4. Pause for a moment and slowly bring the dumbbells back down until your arms are fully extended.
  5. Repeat for the desired reps.

Pro Tips

The advantage this exercise has over the dumbbell row, or the barbell row is that it provides stability as your chest is supported by the bench. This means you can focus on your form and could also lift more without the risk of lower back injuries.

One thing to make sure when performing this exercise, however, is to make sure your chest is always in contact with the bench. This is because you want your back to perform the rowing motion. As soon as your chest comes of the bench, momentum kicks in and decreases the effectiveness of the exercise.

3. Single arm dumbbell row

Another really beneficial alternative to the barbell row is the single arm dumbbell row. Why? Well, firstly it targets all the primary muscles used in the barbell row. Secondly, the exercise helps improve your posture. Strengthening your middle and upper back can significantly contribute to your spine alignment.

This is also a compound exercise that targets other major muscle groups like shoulders, upper arms and the core.

So if you are searching for an alternative, you might want to include this in your workout.


  1. Bend over and place your left hand firmly on a steady bench and have an even feet position.
  2. Reach down and extend your right hand to grab the dumbbell. Make sure your back is straight.
  3. Slowly lift the dumbbell up towards the side of your body until it reaches near your chest.
  4. Lower the dumbbell down slowly until your right arm is full extended.
  5. Do your desired number of reps and switch sides.

Pro Tips

You might notice some people at the gym placing one knee on the bench. This is also correct, however according to Men’s Health, placing one knee on the bench may cause inconsistencies through the hips and spine.

Another factor to consider when performing this exercise is that you must keep your back is straight throughout the movement.

During the pull movement of this exercise, try not to rotate or twist the position of your spine in order to lift the dumbbell. It might help to perform this exercise in front of a mirror so you can make sure you are performing it with correct form.

4. TRX Row

Let me talk from experience here. TRX Row’s are the best and most underrated exercise. Performing the trx row exercise is a great alternative to the barbell row because it still works the same primary muscles and it’s great for those with back injuries, knee injuries or shoulder injuries. It’s also good for people who have no equipment, just a couple of TRX straps and some determination. I’ve been doing trx rows for years and it’s one of my favorite exercises to target my back muscles as well as my shoulders and lats.


  1. Set up the suspension trainer so that the handles are hanging.
  2. Hold the handles, one in each hand, with your palms facing each other. Stand upright with your feet about hip width apart.
  3. Engage your core and start to lean back, putting your weight on your heels. Keep leaning back until your arms are full extended.
  4. Slowly, using your back, arms, and shoulder, pull your chest and torso up between your hands. Make sure to keep your elbows close to your sides and squeeze your shoulder blades.
  5. Pause at the top of this movement before lowering yourself back down until your arms are fully extended.
  6. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Pro Tip

Remember to keep your body position so that you form a straight line from your heels to your head. Having a bad or unstable position will remove the effectiveness of this exercise.

Another thing to note is the position of your feet. The further away your feet are, the more you lean back and the harder the move gets.

Moving your feet back will make the move easier. Have your feet in a position where it is challenging for you.

5. Inverted Row

There are many benefits of performing the inverted row exercise. The muscles worked during an inverted row include the latissimus dorsi, teres major and rhomboids which makes this exercise a perfect alternative. The great thing about the inverted row is that you don’t need a barbell or any equipment at all; simply position yourself under a sturdy object or a simple bar. Inverted row is just as effective as the barbell row. In fact, according to Muscle and Fitness, the lats activity is 60% greater than the barbell making this exercise a very effective alternative. You’ll be targeting your lats and stabilizing muscles by performing the inverted row exercise. This means you can do it just about anywhere, anytime!

It’s also beneficial to point out that this movement is very similar to the TRX Row.


  1. Find yourself a steady bar at about waist height and lie beneath it.
  2. Grad the bar with both hands using an overhand grip with your arms fully extended. Your hands shoulder be slightly wider than shoulder width. Your body should be off the ground with your heels being the only thing that is contacted with the ground.
  3. Engage your core and pull yourself up towards the bar and until chest is close to or is touches the bar. Remember to retract your shoulder blades.
  4. Engage your core and pull yourself up towards the bar and until chest is close to or is touches the bar. Remember to retract your shoulder blades.
  5. Pause at the top of this movement then slowly lower yourself down.
  6. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Pro Tip

Just like the TRX row, make sure your body maintains a straight line from your heels to your head.

To make this move easier, you can raise the bar to a new height. It might take a while to figure out which height level is best for you.

One common mistake people generally make is they aim to get their chin up to the bar. You should aim to get your chest towards the bar, the chin happens to get above the bar during this process.

6. Seated Cable Rows

The seated row exercise is a great barbell row alternative because it works the same muscles as the barbell row, but in different ways. The seated row exercise works your back and arms and gets you that awesome V-taper. The seated row, like the barbell row, will help improve your posture and the shape of your back If you’re having trouble finding good alternatives for the barbell row, definitely try performing the seated row exercise!


  1. Take a seat on the bench with your feet on the pads and knees bent.
  2. Grasp the handle. Keeping your back straight and core engaged pull the weight back until it has reached your torso. Make sure to keep your elbows in.
  3. Once the handle has reached your torso, make sure to squeeze your shoulder blades and pause at this position.
  4. Slowly reverse this movement and repeat for the desired number of reps

Pro Tip

As we discussed earlier, momentum will destroy the effectiveness of your exercise. So, try to keep your torso as stationary as possible so that your back and arms are doing all the work.

Secondly, make sure to have your back straight unless you are looking for ways to get injured!

Also make sure to have a full range of motion. HALF REPS DON’T COUNT! If you can’t get the full range of motion, decrease the weight.

7. Pendlay Row

This specific exercise can be very beneficial in developing the strength of your lats and upper back. It has many benefits that could make it one of the best alternative exercises for performing barbell rows. Using it allows you to get stronger while working muscles at the same time because, unlike many exercises that work isolated muscles and tendons, more than one muscle group is used with each pull in during Pendlay Rows.

Along with this exercise working the lats, rhomboids, traps, and posterior deltoid, it also does a great job in increasing static and concentric strength. So, if you’re looking to increase power of your back muscles, definitely give this exercise a try.


  1. Bend forward so that your torso is parallel to the ground and have your knees slightly bent.
  2. Grab the bar, keeping both hands slightly wider than shoulder width.
  3. Engage your core muscles and pull the bar to your abdominal area. Make sure to retract and squeeze your shoulder blades at the top of this movement.
  4. Slowly lower the bar back to the floor.
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Pro Tip

If you want to avoid injure, make sure your torso is always parallel to the floor. Your arms and shoulder should be the only thing that is moving throughout this exercise.

This exercise is mainly for power and strength so the number of reps should be decreased. Take enough rest in between your sets as well.

Frequently Asked Question

Here are some questions that people ask often and might give you a better understanding of the barbell row and its alternatives.

Do You Really Need To Do Barbell Row?

The short answer is no. You don’t HAVE to because if you’re targeting the back, in particular the lats, traps, rhomboids or rear delts, then no because there are so many alternatives that you could do that target those exact muscles. In fact, most exercises have an alternative, so you don’t have to just do that exercise to target a specific muscle group.

Having said that, I love the barbell row exercise. It’s like my go to exercise during my back and bicep day.

Are bent over rows bad for your back?

This answer to this is simple. No if you’re performing them with correct form. This, like any other exercise, won’t cause any injuries if it is performed correctly. However, if you do have back pain, I wouldn’t suggest this exercise. As an alternative, there are many types of rows that target the same primary muscle groups as the barbell row without the risk of back injuries. For example, the dumbbell incline row.

What Are the Benefits of The Barbell Row?

There are countless benefits of this exercise. The most obvious being that it helps develop stronger and more defined back. It also helps improve your posture.

If your doing deadlifts and are stuck because you can’t increase the weight, try the barbell row.

This exercise can both build more muscle mass and burn a ton of calories.

Final Thoughts

A good barbell row alternative will either provide a similar movement to the barbell row or target the same primary muscle groups involved in the exercise. Now despite barbell row being a great exercise, you might need to switch it up because who wants to do the same exercise every pull day right? All the above exercise are therefore a solid alternative and can be blindly added to your workout routine.

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Hey, I'm Shalin

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Shalin Anam

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