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Effective Barbell Row Alternatives To Help You Build More Muscle

By: Zack Mathews, NASM - CPT, CES, & PES, PN-L1

barbell row alternative

The best barbell row alternatives are exercises that you can do with great form, you don’t experience pain from, you can feel it in the correct muscles, and they are ones you enjoy.

You’ve got yourself a great exercise when you can put all those pieces together.

The barbell row is a great exercise for some but should be avoided by others.  Today you’ll learn what the best alternatives to barbell rows are, why they are good and bad, and I’ll answer the most frequently asked questions.


What Are Barbell Rows Good For?

The barbell row is a back specific exercise that will target your latissimus dorsi (your lats) and the muscles in your mid and upper back, such as your rhomboids and trapezius.

It’s a great multi joint movement to build muscle and strength in your back that will translate over to improvements in your deadlift and other big lifts.

Barbell rows are done in a hinged position so proper core bracing and stabilization is required to do this exercise correctly.

Why You Might Want To Skip Barbell Rows

Since there are so many back exercises that are more joint friendly that barbell rows, I’ve taken them out of most of my client’s programs.

If they enjoy the movement I’ll keep them in but for most new client I will start them off on barbell row alternatives that you are about to learn.

The reason is that since you are bent over and it requires a large degree of core strength and spinal load, you’re more likely to hurt your lower back doing these.

Instead you want to pick barbell bent over row alternatives that are easy on your lower back so you can focus on the main muscles you want to build.

The Best Barbell Row Alternatives With Dumbbells

Chest Supported Rows

The chest supported row is one of my favorite dumbbell barbell row alternatives because you get to take out any spinal stress by positioning your chest on the bench.

This is a great exercise for beginners to learn the motion of rowing and for advanced lifters looking to give their lower back a break.

It's even one of the exercises I recommend for a beginner back workout.

I have a whole guide on chest supported rows if you want to learn more about them and the best variations.

Bent Over Dumbbell Rows

If you don’t have access to a barbell and still want to do bent over rows, grab a pair of dumbbells and do this movement.

Using dumbbells allows your wrists more movement flexibility to give you a safer angle for your shoulders to row the dumbbells.

Thor's Hammer Rows

Similar to a bent over dumbbell row, you’ll start in a hinged position for this movement.  Instead of holding the dumbbells off the ground, you’ll have them on the floor and grab them one a time.

I believe these are called gorilla rows but I thought of Thor doing these so that’s what I’m calling them!

Dumbbell Rows

You can’t go wrong with a classic dumbbell row as a barbell row alternative with dumbbells.

This is the epitome of a joint friendly exercise because it takes away any stress on your low back as you perform the row movement.  

You can add different variations of these by adding pauses, doing 1.5 reps, or adding a longer reach.

Here are the 15 best one arm dumbbell row alternatives.  Many of the ones you see in here are listed in the article!

Barbell Bent Over Row Alternatives With Barbells & Machines

Landmine One Arm Rows

Setting up the barbell in a landmine attachment (or in the corner of a wall if you don’t have access to one) and performing a row will allow you to get a good contraction on your lats and upper back.

I like this exercise because you’ll still be in a hinged position so you hamstrings will be lengthened and you’ll need to stabilize your core.  Since you won’t be rowing both arms at the same time you’ll be using less weight which means less stress on your lower back.

Inverted Rows

To test your relative strength, aka how strong you are compared to your bodyweight, try inverted rows.

The great thing about this exercise is that you can make it as easy or as hard as you want.

The more vertical you put the bar, the easier it is.

The lower it goes and the more parallel your body becomes with the floor, the harder it is.

Seated Cable Rows

If you want to get away from dumbbells and barbells for bent over row alternatives, you can always jump on a machine.

The classic seated cable row will target the same muscles as a bent over barbell row.

You can also play around with different handles and cables to see which one feels the best for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

barbell bent over row alternatives

Are Barbell Rows Necessary?

Barbell rows are not necessary if you want to build muscle in your back.  There are plenty of other alternatives to bent over barbell rows that will work the same muscles.

If you enjoy doing them, great! Do them all you want!

If they feel weird or hurt you, swap for a safer variation.

How Do You Do Rows Without A Barbell?

If you want to mimic a bent over barbell row without a barbell, your best option is to use dumbbells or resistance bands.

If you are ok with not having the hinged portion of the lift but want to work the same muscles, you open yourself up to different variations using dumbbells, benches, cables, and machines.

Barbell Row Alternative Recap

The bent over barbell row is a staple for many people who are looking to build muscle and strength in their back.  Although it may work for some people, that doesn’t mean everybody.

If you suffer from any lower back or hip pain you might have trouble getting into the proper position and would be better off with one of these alternatives to barbell rows.

At the end of the day, find an alternative that you enjoy and feels good on your body.