In this article we will discuss the barbell row and its alternatives for growing a stronger, more muscular back. In the below sections we will address the benefits of performing barbell rows and offer eight (8) barbell row alternatives coaches and athletes can integrate into their training.
Purpose of the Barbell Row
In an earlier article we discussed the benefits of the bent over row, which is very similar and often the same to the barbell row. Some of the benefits of performing the barbell row are:
Increased Back Strength and Muscle Mass
Training the back through exercises like barbell rows and the alternatives below can help to increase overall pulling strength and muscle mass in the upper back. A strong back is necessary for heavy deadlifts, posture in cleans, squats, pressing, and most human movements (lifting, carrying, supporting loads).
Greater Pulling Strength and Performance
A strong back is essential to deadlift and strength and power sports (strongman, weightlifting, powerlifting, competitive fitness, etc). The greater resistance to lumbar flexion you can provide and the more muscle units your back has to contract when pulling can greatly increase performance and injury resilience.
Positional Stability (Spine)
During movement like deadlifts, cleans, and other bent over positions the lifter must support the spinal integrity (specifically the lumbar spine) to resist placing unwanted stress on the lumbar spine. With the help of rows you can learn to stabilize the torso and spine under load in the same positions you are in when deadlifting, cleaning, etc.
[Training back is awesome, but so is proper recovery — so check out our pick for the best foam roller for the back.]
8 Barbell Row Alternatives
Below are eight (8) barbell row alternatives that you can place into your workout routine to target the back (upper and lower). Note, some of the below alternatives are not 100% identical to the barbell row, yet do offer many of the same benefits (all are discussed in detail below).
Bent Over Row
The bent over row is often the exercise performed when most people refer to a barbell row (however not always the case, see below exercise). This can be done with a barbell, dumbbells, or even kettlebells.
The Pendlay row is a rowing movement specific to the deadlift and clean. It slightly differs from a standard barbell/bent over row in that the lifter places the load on the floor. This can work to increase hamstring stability and concentric strength in the row, both vital for deadlifting and pulling strength and integrity.
Single Arm Dumbbell Row
The single arm row can be done with a dumbbell, kettlebell, or other type of equipment (see below). This is a great way to increase muscle activation via increasing the rowing range of motion. Additionally, this barbell row alternative can be used to address any muscle imbalances or movement asymmetries a lifter may possess that would otherwise go unseen when using a barbell.
This row variation was named after bodybuilder and Elite FTS advisor, Jim Meadows. This unique rowing variation allows you to train unilaterally while also having a large range of motion that can increase muscle hypertrophy. Additionally, the angle of the movement allows for some new stimulus on the back muscles and further muscle growth.
While the lifter may not have to support their own body like other variations, the T-bar row is a barbell row alternative that takes all other aspects of the bent over row position out of the equation, solely focusing on back strength. Since the lifter is supported by the pad, the lifter does not have to worry about any limitations caused by hamstring or lower back issues/fatigue; often resulting in the ability to train with higher load and more repetitions (increasing training volume).
The inverted row can be done with a barbell, bar, or TRX band. While loading may be less than a standard barbell row, the lifter can still train many of the same muscle groups involved in the row movement and still developer back strength, muscle mass, and even increase body awareness and core stability.
The seal row is another supported rowing movement (like the T-bar row), however can be done to increase range of motion of the movement. Additionally, this barbell row alternative can help to address any muscle imbalance and/or movement assytmetriws in the upper body/scapluar region.
The gorilla row is a barbell row variation that has a lifter perform a Pendlay row with either dumbbells or kettlebells, doing them in an alternating fashion. This can be done to increase back, hip, and even core strength.
More Rows and Back Exercises
Take a look at some of the below article and exercise guides to upgrade your back workouts.
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