How to Do T-Bar Rows

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on July 11, 2022
5 min read

T-bar rows are a resistance exercise that strengthens your back. There are a number of ways to do t-bar rows depending on your equipment.

Specific t-bar row machines can be found in gyms, but you don’t need one for this exercise.

The general t-bar motion involves pulling weights in toward your abdomen while retracting your shoulder blades and keeping your elbows tucked. 

T-bar rows that are done with barbells are considered a type of free weight exercise for your back. This is because the weights are mostly stabilized by your muscles instead of the equipment. The weights provide resistance and help you build muscle. 

The exercise can be difficult for beginners because it demands proper form. It can be scaled up to benefit people in all stages of their weight training programs. 

T-bar row exercises are similar to bent-over rows, but this exercise focuses more on your inner back muscles.  

T-bar rows are considered a compound exercise because they work out a large array of muscle groups. In this case, the main muscle groups are located throughout your back. 

T-bar rows specifically focus on your: 

  • Latissimus dorsi
  • Rhomboids
  • Trapezius muscles — also called your traps

Your rhomboids and traps are inner back muscles

Other affected muscles include your: 

  • Abdominal muscles
  • Hamstrings 
  • Glutes
  • Biceps 
  • Triceps

Your leg muscles should remain relatively motionless throughout the exercise, but they’re still strengthened because they provide support. Your arm muscles stabilize the exercise when you’re in motion. 

There are variations of this exercise that focus on particular subsets of muscle groups. For example, there are one-sided variations that focus on just the muscles on either the left or right side of your back. 

There are a number of benefits to incorporating t-bar rows into your exercise routine. These include: 

  • Building a bigger back — and widening your frame 
  • Strengthening your back muscles
  • Improving your pulling strength
  • Improving your core strength and stability
  • Helping your posture
  • Lowering your risk of lower back pain 
  • Improving your overall balance

In order to get the most out of your t-bar rows, you need to make sure that you’re tailoring the exercise to your body’s needs. Before you attempt this exercise, make sure to talk to your doctor or physical therapist if you have any medical conditions or causes for concern. 

Traditional t-bar rows involve using either specific machines found in some gyms or an assemblage of gym equipment. 

One type of t-bar row machine provides an angled platform to stand on. It also provides tilted support for your abdomen. You can grab handles and pull weights up toward your chest. 

Another type of t-bar row machine is also called a landmine unit or landmine station. One end of a barbell is placed in a special holder that’s bolted to the floor. The other end of the barbell is functional, and you can add standard weights to it. 

You can also use a barbell with weight plates or a heavy dumbbell weighing down one side. These are meant to keep one end firmly fixed to the floor while allowing the bar to move up and down. 

There are a lot of alternatives to t-bar rows. Some alternatives involve using small handheld weights, weight benches, and other equipment. The exact requirements depend on the version of the exercise that you’re doing.   

Form is key for the t-bar row, particularly when you are using a barbell.  

No matter what kind of equipment you’re using, though, the most important piece of advice is to keep your back straight throughout the entire exercise. 

To succeed with a barbell, you need to fix your feet, knees, and hips in the right posture from the start. Remain aware of your body’s positioning while you move. 

To maintain the right form for barbell-based t-bar rows, you need to:  

  • Place your feet hip-width apart and make sure that they stay there throughout the exercise.
  • Keep your knees slightly bent.
  • Place and keep your hips at a 45-degree angle. 
  • Keep your elbows tucked in throughout the motion — not pointing out to your sides.
  • Keep your core muscles engaged.
  • Maintain a slight arch in your lower back. 

Once you understand the proper forms to use during a t-bar row, you need to decide what weight to use on the mobile end of your barbell or the lifted part of your machine. 

It’s safest to start out with very little weight. You can gradually increase the amount when you’re more confident in your posture and muscle strength. 

To perform a t-bar row with a t-bar row machine that includes a standing platform, you: 

  • Adjust the height of the standing platform so your upper chest reaches the top of the abdomen support.
  • Grab the handles — the way that you position your hands affects how much certain muscles are worked.
  • Start with your arms completely extended, then slowly bring them up toward your torso.
  • Return to the starting position without lifting your body off of the pad that’s supporting your torso. 

To perform this exercise with a barbell in a landmine unit or with one that's been weighted down, you should: 

  • Stand with the barbell between your legs and face the moveable end.
  • Get into the form described above for a barbell-based t-bar row.
  • Bend from your hips and place your hands on opposite sides of the barbell.
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together while drawing your elbows in toward your back.
  • Once the weights are near your chest, carefully lower the bar back to its starting position.

These motions count as one repetition. The number of repetitions that you should do depends on your fitness level, goals, and the amount of muscle that you’re attempting to build.  

There are many different alternatives to t-bar rows. Examples include: 

  • Bent-over dumbbell rows. This is the best alternative for people with limited exercise equipment. You can even use full water bottles in place of dumbbells. You use a very similar form to the t-bar row, but instead of standing over a barbell, you hold weights in each hand and move them up and down while tightening your shoulder blades and keeping your elbows tucked. 
  • Standard barbell rows. This move still requires a barbell. Use the same amount of weight on each side of the barbell and place it about three inches from your shins. With your feet shoulder-width apart, bend at your hips and knees and grasp the barbell from above in a pronated grip. Pull your elbows up behind you and squeeze your shoulder blades together to lift the bar up toward your abdomen. Carefully replace it to complete one repetition.