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May 12, 2022 1 Comment
If you have a small back, it’s probably ‘cause you’ve been ignoring the T-Bar Row. Big mistake. T-bar rows are perhaps the best exercise you can perform to add mass and strength to your entire back. And yes, we do have the bent over row in mind when we say that. Not that the bent over row is a bad back exercise, because it’s awesome! And that should tell you how much awesomer the T-bar row is...at least in many cases.
This article will go over what you need to know about t-bar rows:
It’s time to say goodbye to your small back - we know it’s small because you haven’t been doing T-bar rows ;)
The T-bar row is a compound movement that uses a simple machine consisting of a platform to stand on as you straddle a bar fixed at one end. On the non-fixed end (the end you hold), a handle is attached that shoots off on either side, making it resemble the letter “T.” In addition, most T-bar machines also consist of handles that keep going straight to allow a neutral grip. Lastly, a weight collar attached to the end allows you to load plates. This essentially creates a bar that can pivot as you lift it while allowing you to easily add or take away weight.
The T-bar row is one of those exercises that is a bit of a mix between free weights and a machine. It’s not a pure free weight exercise as the bar path is fixed to an extent. However, it’s not really a machine as it’s merely just a rod that can pivot.
While the path is fixed in terms of the arc, it will make going up and down (as it’s on a pivot), the load can still sway left or right. Compare this to the Smith machine where the load can only go up and down. That being said, we would say it heavily leans more towards being a free weight exercise as there is a lot of stabilization going on. We still like to include it in full body gym machine workouts, however.
Standing vs Chest Supported T-Bar Row Machines:
Some T-bar row machines will place you in a standing position and some T-bar row machines will have a chest support which has you leaning forward. The main difference between the standing T-bar row machine and the chest support T-bar row machine is that you can go heavier when standing as it allows for more momentum to be used, whereas the chest supported T-bar row creates a strict form. Both are good in their own right and the same muscles will be worked.
Landmine T-Bar Row With Barbell Set Up:
T-bar rows can also be done with a barbell landmine set up (or simply shoving a barbell into the corner of a wall) and the right attachments. With a landmine set up, you can connect various attachments to the free end of the barbell (a T-bar row handle and/or a D-bar handle attachment) and perform the T-bar row in the exact same way as you would with a T-bar row machine.
So, if you don't have a bonafide T-bar row machine, but you do have a barbell and some attachments, you can still do T-bar rows and all of the following information still applies.
Note: You could even do a T-bar row without handle attachments by placing your hand stacked on the handle of the barbell just below the loaded sleeve. No excuses not to do T-bar rows over here! And we love all the T-bar row variations.
As you’ve already heard us say a few times, we love this exercise. You could probably guess that’s because there are a ton of benefits. If you did, you would be right. Here are the top benefits of the T-bar row.
1) Can Be Used For Mass And Strength:
Many exercises tend to be either better for strength or hypertrophy for whatever reason. T-bar rows really lie in the middle and can be used effectively for both. It’s great for building strength as you can safely load a lot of weight and perform reps with good form. This is due to it being on the pivot, which tends to be just enough “help” to make this possible.
On the other hand, you can use lighter weight to get a lot of volume for hypertrophy work. Still, there are multiple grips that let you hit the muscles from various angles, which is vital for optimal muscle growth.
2) Allows Multiple Grips To Hit The Muscles A Bit Different:
As alluded to above, T-bar rows allows multiple different grips that can be used to provide a slightly different stimulus for your upper body. For example, here are a few different grips and how they will affect muscle activation differently.
This ability to use different grips makes the T-bar row machine extremely versatile and easy to use. Plus, you can use different grips in the same session. For example, most people can use more weight when using the underhand grip. Therefore, a common practice would be to perform as many reps as possible with your overhand grip and then perform a drop set. However, instead of dropping weight, you just switch to the stronger underhand grip and rep it out.
3) Easy To Load And Unload:
When you start using big weight, this actually really is a big deal. One of the most annoying things about free weights is loading the barbell. However, the collar on the T-bar row is elevated, making it very easy to swap out weights. This makes it extremely easy to load as well as perform drop sets. Again, this might seem like a lazy benefit, but when you just finished loading a ton of plates on a deadlift, it’s nice to be able to just throw a plate on a collar and go.
4) Safe To Use:
Because the load is fixed to a rod that pivots, it can add a bit of safety when compared to performing the bent over row. Because it’s fixed, you are able to stay sturdier and keep a tighter back. As mentioned above, this tends to make it easier to perform rows with correct form even when using heavier loads. All of the above can make it a bit less stressful on the back (but you’re still gonna feel it, in a good way).
When it comes to the muscles you’ll train, it’s literally every single muscle in your back AND your biceps. In fact, it will even train the erector spinae with an isometric hold as you will be leaned forward in a similar fashion as the bent over row. Other than that, the other primary back muscles trained are going to be the lats and traps.
The T-bar row exercise is fairly simple to perform with proper form. However, there are a few important cues. Here’s how to perform T-bar rows:
The most important things to keep in mind when performing the bent over row are your back angle and driving your elbows back. It can help to think about pushing your chest forward as you’re pulling the load up, as if you’re driving your chest forward. We hope these t bar row tips help you get better muscle activation.
The T-bar row exercise is going to definitely enhance your back training. That being said, there are a few ways you can program it and use it to build mass and strength. Therefore, here are a few methods you can use to enhance your training.
a) To Build Strength:
To build strength, you’ll want to use loads at or greater than 85% of your 1RM. As you probably don’t know what your 1RM is, this would be a weight that allows you to perform 6 clean reps. When training for strength, we like to use four or five sets to ensure we are getting enough volume at this load.
You can use any handle grip, but we would suggest using the neutral grip or underhand grip once in a while, as these allow the heaviest load. Again, feel free to still rotate through the hand grips occasionally.
b) To Build Mass:
To build mass, you’re going to want to use a lighter load from around 80-70% 1RM. As you’re able to perform more reps, you can just use three sets. For these, we could recommend messing around with the wide grip as it’s a lighter hand placement anyways. Further, the standard overhand grip works well, but you can play with any of the grips.
As mentioned above, a fun way to perform T-bar rows as a last burnout set is to put on a weight and first perform reps with the most challenging grip. Then, once you reach a point where you’re a few reps before failure, you can use the next grip. Continue this until you get to the neutral grip that allows you to lift the most weight.
What this would look like is:
Wide Grip → Standard Overhand Grip → Underhand Grip → Neutral Grip
Again, this is just a unique version of the droplet that you can perform with the T-bar row.
If you’re really wanting to train your back, train it twice per week and include the T-bar row both days. On one day, you’re going to want to build strength and train to build mass on the second. This is a great way to optimize your training to ensure you get the best of both worlds.
T-bar rows are simple, effective, easy to perform, and versatile. Plus, it’ll definitely increase the size of your back. There’s really not much else to say about this exercise, so do yourself a favor and start making the T-bar row a staple of your back training. It definitely needs to be part of your back training routine.
If for some reason you can't do the T-bar row exercise, good news, we have some great alternatives to T-bar rows for you. There are also many dumbbell rows that you can do. Check out these dumbbell back exercises.
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