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The T Bar Row: Benefits, Variations, and Programming

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Meathead Movements Done Right.

The t-bar row might be one of the top five quintessential meathead exercises. It’s up there on the list of “exercises that don’t make you cool, but if you’re gonna do them, you might as well do them well.” Today we’re throwing spite at the t-bar row haters and showing their benefits and drawbacks are, execution, different variations, and how to look cool doing them.

What is a T-Bar Row?

A t-bar, historically, refers to a certain machine that has a barbell welded into it along with a protruding grip so it looks like a T. While there probably are some other small, mostly obscure uses, for this machine, it’s designed for t-bar rows, and I’ve never seen anybody do anything with it besides t-bar rows. (Admittedly, I shy away from hardcore meathead circles though.)

Without the machine, there’s also a form of a landmine row that’s now called the T-bar row because it’s effectively the same exercise in terms of angles and movement, just using a free-weight barbell instead of a machine. Between the machine and landmine variation, there are a few differences that we’ll touch on.

 

Muscles Worked

Unless you’re totally new to the weight room, you’ll recognize the t-bar as a back exercise. It’s going to hit the lats, the mid traps, rhomboids, and rear delts. Depending on the grip and your technique, you can distribute the load to specific muscles. In general, though, the main muscle you’re training is the lats, so refer to our lat training guide if you’re not sure how to activate them.

The t-bar row has the advantage of grip options, so in contrast to other rows (like bent-over rows) you have more options for which specific muscles to focus on.

Step By Step Execution

If you’re doing the landmine t-bar row, first you’ll have to set up the barbell using either a landmine attachment or by placing one end of the barbell into a (well-padded, ideally) corner of your gym. From there, the execution is more or less the same.

  • Load the weight you want
  • Set up with your feet about hip-width apart
  • Engage your core to protect your lower back
  • Slightly bend your knees (like a stiff-leg deadlift)
  • Hinge at the hips until you’re at a 45-degree angle
  • Grab the weight
  • Pull your shoulder blades back FIRST to engage your upper/mid back muscles
  • Pull your elbows back, keeping the shoulder blades back

Benefits of a T-bar Row

Different Strength Curve

Compared to any free weight exercise like a dumbbell row or bent-over row, the t-bar row has a different strength curve. The strength curve is how “heavy” the weight feels at different parts of the range of motion. For any landmine exercise, the weight feels heavier at the bottom because the bar has a smaller angle to the ground. Since gravity only exerts force downward, at the bottom you’ll have to actually lift more of the weight.

For the t-bar row, this is great news, because often the hardest part of a row is the top. As you row up, you have to lift less and less weight, making the difficulty more consistent. Often this strength curve fault of standard back exercises explains why people feel their lats a lot at the bottom of a movement, but not at the top. It’s the right weight at the bottom, but too heavy for what they can row at the top.

Easier to Load and Safer

Dumbbell rows with 200 pounds look cool and all, but most gyms don’t go that high. The t-bar row is a bit more practical on that front.

As you go heavier in a bent-over row, the limiting factor often becomes your lower back. With t-bar rows, that’s still a factor, but not as much because the weight comes at an angle, thanks to the nature of the landmine setup.

More Grip Options

As you’ll see, you have way more options for how to grip the t-bar row than the bent-over row, which you have two choices for: overhand or underhand. With The DB row, you can swivel your wrist, but the t-bar gives you distinct options and grips. It depends exactly what you’re going for, but in general, the t-bar row has more choices.

Landmine T-Bar Row vs Machine T-Bar Row

While they’re effectively the same exercise, there are a few differences between the machine version and the landmine version.

Varying Machines

Firstly, not all t-bar machines are the same. The one I have at my gym is a chest-supported version. This is a similar but slightly different exercise that changes the angle of my torso while eliminating torso movement. Others have bars of different lengths, which slightly change the angles and the strength curve. All in all, these aren’t changes to concern yourself with, but they’ll make a slight difference.

Grip

For the landmine version, you’ll want a tricep rope or a specialty landmine attachment. Because of the various attachments you can buy and get creative with, the options are nearly limitless. The machine has the disadvantage that you can’t change out the grip, although you often have the choice between a neutral grip, pronated grip, and wide grip.

Versatility

Not all gyms have a t-bar machine, so your only choice is to use the landmine t-bar row. Kind of an obvious one here. Or if you train at home, all you need is a barbell.

Machine vs Free Weight

As has been discussed in the fitness industry ad nauseum, machines move in a fixed motion, so a lot of smaller muscles don’t need to work to stabilize the movement. In this case, one side of the barbell is fixed regardless, so there is less of that free weight “stabilizer” effect. However, you’ll likely need to use your core muscles more with the landmine version. But I think for this particular exercise the difference is negligible.

Landmine T-Bar Row Grip Options

Because the landmine doesn’t have built-in grip options like the machine, you’ll have to be creative with attachments. None are necessarily better than the others, but a different grip targets different muscles, providing nearly endless variations for the t-bar row.

Tricep Rope Attachment

rogue tricep attachment

The tricep rope wraps easily underneath the bar for a neutral grip. And it’s commonplace in nearly all gyms. It provides a neutral grip, and you can rotate as you row, making it versatile. The downsides are it’s a bit awkward and it will never be perfectly even left to right because of the metal attachment part in the middle. But this is a great option and versatile.

Neutral, Angled Grip

rogue neutral grip landmine attachment

This attachment from Rogue slides right onto the barbell. It’s comfortable and easy to set up. I won’t lie, it’s heavy-duty. You’re committing to some t-bar rows for years to come with this one. If you’re an avid landmine user, it’s worth the investment.

Wide Grip

rogue wide grip landmine attachment

Also from Rogue, it’s the same idea only with a wider grip. The wider grip will hit the lats less and the rear delt more. These are usable for many other exercises, such as one of my favorites, landmine antirotations. Again, for the everyday person messing around, it’s not necessary, but if you’re a landmine connoisseur (or stuck at home with just a barbell) it’s worth looking into.

Close Grip

For a close grip, you can get an attachment or you can just grab the bar and do the exercise without an attachment. Personally, I’ve found the latter to be perfectly okay. I’d spend your equipment budget elsewhere.

Common Mistakes

Too Heavy

Like nearly all classic meathead exercises, many people use too much weight on t bar rows. It’s really that simple. If you…

  • Need momentum to get the weight up
  • Can’t pinch your shoulders back all the way
  • Generally don’t feel your back working…

Then the first step is to reduce the weight. Leave your ego at the door when you walk into the gym.

Not Learning How to Activate The Back Muscles

The back is a particularly tricky body part for many. Those muscles aren’t so easy to feel like the biceps, quads, or chest. Often it requires going back to basics to improve your mind-muscle activation and learn how to use the lower lats.

Unaware of Grip or Strength Curve Differences

This goes for nearly all back exercises, but I find that few people understand why they’re using a certain grip or exercise. If you’re doing the t-bar row, you should have a general understanding of its benefits and uses. Since you’ve read this far, now you do.

Programming Considerations

If you enjoy the t bar row, can be a staple in your back training program. Rowing exercises should be a part of every program, and most people simply do not do enough rowing. So I like keeping this in my rotation of rowing exercise along with dumbbell rows, single-arm landmine rows, and TRX rows.

Typically it’s performed as a hypertrophy exercise, for 8-12 reps and 2-5 sets. I don’t love it as a pure strength exercise (3-6 reps) because then you’ll have to go very very heavy which can put some stress on the low back, and it also makes the setup up a pain. For maximally-loaded back training, I’ll stick with pull-ups and keep my rows in a slightly higher rep range.

Final Thoughts on T-Bar Rows

I’m a HUGE fan of landmine exercises. That’s why I’m writing a book on that exact subject to be released in 2022. In the meantime, you can read my 8 favorite landmine squat variations and 3 favorite landmine row variations.

About the Author

David is a writer and strength coach and co-owner of Roman Fitness Systems. In addition to helping run RFS, he's also the head editor for prohockeystrength.com., the official website of the Strength and Conditioning Association of Professional Hockey. You can also check out his Instagram, he's pretty easy on the eyes.

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