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Adding t-bar back exercises to your workout plan is a great way to isolate specific areas for building thickness.
The angles and hand positions can be adjusted to purposefully target the mid or upper back muscles.
Below I will cover nine t-bar row variations and everything you need to know about this versatile equipment.
Table of Contents
9 T-Bar Exercises for Your Back Muscles
1. Overhand Grip Landmine T-Bar Rows
Overhand grip landmine t-bar rows are probably the most common variation that you’ll see people doing.
This is because they focus on the entire back and only require a barbell, a lat pulldown bar, and a landmine.
However, you don’t even really need a landmine as long as you have a secure corner wall to wedge one end of the bar against.
You can also invest in a t-bar handle that’s sole purpose is hooking up to the barbell.
How to do it
- Secure your landmine attachment on the bottom of a power rack.
- Place one end of the barbell in the landmine hole.
- Load weight plates on the other end.
- Stand in front of the bar sleeve with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Hinge at the hips and keep your knees slightly bent.
- Feed the lat bar just under the barbell sleeve.
- Grab the handles with an overhand grip and adjust your upper body so that it’s parallel to the barbell angle.
- Pull the weight up using your elbows, retracting your shoulder blades as you go.
- Stop once your arms form a 90-degree angle.
- Reverse to the starting position with your arms straight.
Overhand Grip T-Bar Row Tips
- Maintain a neutral spine.
- Tighten your glutes and hamstrings to secure your hips and lower back.
- A wider grip works the upper back harder.
2. Underhand Grip Landmine T-Bar Rows
The underhand grip landmine t-bar row seems the same as the aforementioned.
However, the slight change in palm direction emphasizes the lower lats and biceps.
You’ll also have a stronger grip position, increasing your capabilities of lifting more weight.
How to do it
- Get your equipment all set up.
- Stand over the barbell on the side with weight plates.
- Assume an underhand grip with your hands narrower than shoulder width.
- Enter the hinge position.
- Row the bar up toward your abdomen.
- Extend your arms down and repeat.
Underhand Grip Tips
- Avoid squeezing the handles too hard, as this may overstress the biceps.
3. Dead Stop Landmine T-Bar Rows
For you, strength junkies, incorporating a dead stop into your t-bar rows can be beneficial for increasing power and core stability.
They’re also a good way to practice proper form since the resistance will be eased after the eccentric phase between every rep.
This helps you re-brace the muscles for powerful and thoughtful concentric pulls.
How to do it
- Begin in the same starting position as the previous two.
- Grab the handles with your grip of choice.
- Tighten your back and core muscles.
- With your arms extended, lift the weight off the floor, toward your belly button.
- Reverse the motion by lowering the weight plates to the floor.
Dead Stop Tips
- Start with a lighter weight and avoid using unnecessary momentum/leg drive.
4. Chest-Supported Landmine T-Bar Rows
Having chest support during your t-bar rows helps support your spine since it’ll be in a more stable position.
This isn’t the most effective exercise for hitting the lats, however, there will be high activation from the biceps and upper back.
It’s a decent alternative for those who may not have access to the traditional machine.
How to do it
- Set an adjustable bench to 45 degrees.
- Move it so the elevated end is in front of your t-bar handles.
- Lie prone with your legs extended back, and toes pressed firmly into the ground.
- Your shoulders should be directly over the edge of the bench.
- Grab the handles slightly wider than shoulder width.
- Pull them toward your chest. That’s one rep.
- Reverse until your arms are fully extended.
Chest-Supported Landmine T-Bar Row Tips
- Maintain a slight bend in your knees to avoid lower back strain.
5. Lever T-Bar Row Machine
This is a classic version of the movement that was sworn by in the Golden Era of bodybuilding.
There is no support for the lever machine since this is a standing hip hinge/rowing movement.
It is crucial to maintain a proper position.
When doing the lever t-bar row stand so that your body weight is evenly distributed on your feet.
Maybe even slightly heel dominant, just try not to sink your buttocks too far backward.
Also, ensure your back remains neutral the entire time and avoid rounding over.
How to do it
- Stack your preferred amount of weight on the loading sleeve.
- Stand on the footplates.
- Lean your torso forward.
- Bend down to grip the handles roughly the width of your shoulders.
- Hinge your hips with your knees slightly bent.
- Drive the weight upwards, making sure your elbows are tucked close to your sides.
- Stop once the handle touches or is close to your abdomen.
- Slowly lower the bar to the start by extending your elbows straight.
Lever T-Bar Row Machine Tips
- Keep your upper body at an angle between 30-45 degrees in correlation with the floor.
- Squeezing your glutes will assist in holding a solid base.
- Direct your gaze forward.
6. Lying T-Bar Row Machine
The lying t-bar row machine is my personal favorite.
It feels a lot more comfortable than number five.
Plus, you don’t need to spend time rigging a homemade setup.
It’s pre-assembled and ready for you to grip and rip.
What’s super nice about the support pad here is that you won’t have to worry about your spinal erectors becoming overly fatigued.
This makes it tremendously effective for pure back isolation.
And these machines usually come with multi-grip handles to keep your workouts spicy.
How to do it
- Lie prone on the pad with your upper chest resting on the top.
- Place your feet flat against the footplates.
- Grab the handles with whatever grip you fancy.
- Unrack the bar.
- With your arms extended, begin rowing the weight, squeezing your back muscles as you go.
- Return to the start.
Lying T-Bar Row Machine Tips
- Protract your shoulder blades during the eccentric phase, and retract them during the concentric phase.
- Your knees should be slightly bent.
7. V-Handle Landmine Barbell Rows
A v-handle is a suitable alternative to the regular t-bar attachment.
Almost every gym worth going to has one.
Personally, I find the v-bar to be a bit small and awkward while pulling.
My biceps always used to take over.
Although I’ve fixed this issue, they still aren’t my go-to exercise on a back day.
But that’s just a me problem.
Don’t let this deter you from giving these a go, and seeing how they feel for you.
These are especially beneficial for anyone battling shoulder or wrist pain.
The natural hand placement of the palms facing each other reduces strain on these areas.
How to do it
- Attach your v-handle to the barbell.
- Assume a neutral grip.
- Bend at the knees and hinge the hips.
- Slightly stand upright so that your upper body is bent at 45 degrees with the weight plates elevated off the ground.
- Drive your elbows back toward your hips.
- Squeeze for a second, then re-straighten your arms and repeat.
V-Handle Barbell Row Tips
- Imagining your hands are hooks is one way you can prevent the biceps from taking over, they don’t need to be overly tight on the handles.
- Use a thumbless grip for greater back activation.
- Allow your elbows to control the movement.
8. Single Arm T-Bar Rows
Sick of having to wait for the free weight section to clear before doing single-arm dumbbell rows?
The solution is an unorthodox way of using a t-bar row platform.
You won’t be missing out on those unilateral training benefits after all.
I first tried this exercise after seeing John Meadows do it.
And let me tell ya, my traps have never felt so sore in my life.
How to do it
- Load weight onto the sleeve.
- Stand with your left side facing the machine’s platform with your left foot aligned directly under the outer portion of the sleeve.
- Grab the end of the sleeve with your left hand.
- Take a staggered stance with your right foot forward.
- Lean your torso to 90 degrees relative to your hips.
- Row the weight, driving your elbow toward the ceiling.
Single Arm Tips
- Stand parallel to the t-bar sleeve and assume a neutral grip to emphasize the lats, or stand perpendicularly to emphasize the upper back.
- I highly suggest using lifting straps for this exercise as the sleeves can get slippery if your hands are sweaty.
9. Rope Landmine Barbell Rows
I know a rope isn’t exactly a t-bar but it can mimic the same function when it comes to rows.
If your gym has a standard tricep rope (which they should), that’ll do the job.
The downside is that the metal piece in the middle that you would attach to a cable will have to be pushed to either side.
Potentially making the arms feel uneven while pulling.
How to do it
- Anchor your barbell and add weight.
- Hook the rope under the barbell shaft, butted against the outer edge.
- Assume a neutral grip and stand upright.
- Slightly retract your shoulder blades.
- Hinge your torso just above parallel to the floor.
- Extend your arms while the weight plate is elevated above the ground.
- Move the load by pulling your elbows toward your sides.
- Slowly reverse the arm motion before repeating.
Rope Landmine Barbell Row Tips
- You could also alternate your hands between an overhead and neutral grip to work different muscles.
- As you pull, rotate into overhand, and as you lower rotate back to neutral, and vice versa.
What Is a T-Bar?
A t-bar is a type of handle that comes pre-attached to a machine used for compound and isolation exercises.
They have a long overhand grip assembly, while some have secondary inner handles for a neutral grip.
They can also be purchased separately to secure onto either end of a barbell.
When attached, they resemble a T shape.
The typical use is for rowing movements to strengthen the posterior chain.
When Should You Use It?
The frequency at which you perform t-bar rows depends on your goals.
I recommend programming 1-2 of your preferred variations on back or pull days.
To maximize muscle growth, add them twice a week in the 6-12 rep range within 60-80% of your 1RM for 3-5 sets.
For strength, use a similar frequency with less volume: 3-5 reps – 85% or higher of 1RM – 2-5 working sets.
Muscles Worked With T-Bar Rows
- Latissimus dorsi:
Your lats are a prime mover during t-bar rows.
They are often worked to achieve back width but are also attributed to thickness.
The trapezius is a diamond-shaped upper back muscle (the one that makes it look like your shirt’s gonna rip).
They are heavily targeted when the shoulder blades are retracted, which is part of proper t-bar rowing.
These are inserted below the traps and also assist with shoulder or scapular movement.
- Spinal erectors:
The spinal erectors are used to stabilize the spine during t-bar rows and prevent rounding over.
They are stimulated through isometric contractions, meaning they’re not actively moving.
- Posterior deltoids:
The posterior or rear deltoids are a part of the shoulder family.
They assist in the movement and stabilization of the surrounding joints.
- Biceps and forearms:
The former is necessary for elbow flexion (bending the arm), while the latter is used for gripping the t-bar.
- Stronger and thicker posterior chain:
Similar to a barbell row, the t-bar row requires muscle activation from the hamstrings and glutes to ensure a securely held hinge position.
Plus, their movement pattern consists of horizontal pulls (in relation to the torso), which is why they’re considered a king for building a thicker back.
- More beginner-friendly than barbell bent over rows:
A barbell row requires you to maintain a bent-over posture while simultaneously pulling the weight toward your midline.
For beginners, this can be hard to learn as there are so many factors: grip width, lower body engagement, and proper hip hinge.
One flaw can put your back in a compromised position.
Of course, t-bar rows aren’t a cakewalk either.
But the direct grip design helps you figure out where to place your hands, while the guided bar path is easier to stand without tipping forward.
Plus they tend to have a chest pad, letting you focus on isolating the back without needing to worry as much about your hamstrings being braced or spinal erectors fatiguing.
Again, the guided bar path and chest-supported t-bar machines allow you to efficiently engage the back muscles.
Plus, the likelihood of stressing your spine is lessened due to the weight’s center of gravity being underneath you.
- Carry over to other exercises
Since the t-bar row targets a large number of pulling muscles, you can expect improvements in compound exercises like deadlifts.
You may be surprised to learn that they carry over to the bench press too due to the lats antagonist function.
- Loading and scaleability
Loading weight plates onto a t-bar machine is easy because the sleeve is elevated off the ground.
This makes performing drop sets effortless and faster-paced.
Perfect for advanced lifters who need an intense workout.
Common Mistakes When Using a T-Bar
- Using large weight plates:
This mainly applies if you’re doing t-bar rows with a landmine.
Using large 45 LB weights can restrict the range of motion.
It’s recommended to use 25 LB plates since they are smaller in diameter.
You could also stand on a box or bumper plate to increase ROM.
- Going too heavy:
Going too heavy leads to excessive cheating.
At best reducing the effectiveness, and at worst causing injury.
Use a lighter load with more reps until you develop the proper form and strength.
- Too much wrist flexion:
Excessive wrist flexion (hand curling inwards) can cause joint damage.
Try to keep your hands and wrists straight in line with your forearms.
If grip strength is a limiting factor, invest in a pair of straps.
- Rounding the lower back:
This error is so common, yet so avoidable.
It usually stems from using too much weight or when going past failure.
Work on keeping your lower back flat, chest slightly up, and scapula tight.
Abdominal bracing will also prevent this issue.
- Too much bicep muscle activation:
Focus on driving your elbows back while keeping them tucked in comfortably by your sides.
Also, avoid squeezing the handles too tight, and consider using a thumbless grip.
- Standing too upright:
The torso angle should remain within 30-45 degrees in relation to the floor.
Otherwise, the traps and deltoids might take over.
T-Bar Row FAQ
Is the T-Bar Row a Good Back Exercise?
Yes, the t-bar row is a good back exercise for building thick and strong back muscles.
The fixed bar path allows you to safely load more weight compared to other row variations.
What Muscles Does the T Bar Work?
When used for rowing exercises, the t-bar works muscles in the back known as the latissimus dorsi, spinal erectors, trapezius, teres major, and rhomboids.
The movement also works the shoulders (mainly the rear delts) and arms (biceps brachii and brachioradialis).
What Is the T-Bar Good For?
The t-bar is good for doing variations of the overhead press and the bent-over row.
In combination, targeting the shoulders, pecs, triceps, biceps, and back muscles.
What Are the Disadvantages of the T-Bar Row?
The disadvantages of the t-bar row include:
– Less core and lower back engagement than in the barbell row
– Not all gyms have t-bar row machines
– Hard to get a full range of motion when using a landmine setup
– Not very functional, meaning there’s not too much carryover for athletic activities
– Grip may fail before the back muscles do
What Is the Difference Between a T-Bar and Barbell Row?
The difference between t-bar and barbell rows is that the barbell row requires more core stability and lower back and hamstring engagement.
It’s also a free-weight exercise and works a large number of small stabilizer muscles.
Furthermore, t-bar rows focus on isolating the mid and upper back muscles, and whether you use a machine or landmine, they’re semi-guided.
This puts less stress on the lumbar spine while allowing you to achieve effective back workouts with lighter loads.
What Can I Replace a T-Bar With?
Below are 11 exercises you can replace the t-bar with:
1. V-bar landmine rows
2. Rope landmine rows
3. No handle landmine rows
4. Smith machine row
5. Inverted row
6. Seal row
7. Dumbbell row
8. Barbell row
9. Lat pulldown
10. Pendlay row
11. Resistance band bent-over row
Get Thick With T-Bar Row Exercises!
Are you excited?
You’ve not only got one, but nine t-bar exercises to spice up your back training!
Crank these out and reap all the benefits:
- Fuller and stronger back
- A safe mechanism for horizontal pulls
- Beginner friendly
- Multiple grip choices