Barbell Bent Over Row Alternative [Ultimate Back Workout]

Replace bent-over rows in your workout with free-weight exercises like single-arm dumbbell rows and lying bench rows. To use machines to replace bent-over rows, add seated cable rows to your routine. For a bodyweight alternative to bent-over rows, try inverted rows or TRX rows. By combining a couple of these exercises into a workout with wide-grip pull-ups, face-pulls, and lower back extensions. This will provide an incredible workout that targets all the essential muscle groups in your back.

Barbell bent over row alternative

What Muscles Do Bent Over Rows Work?

Bent over rows primarily work the muscles of the upper back, rear of the shoulders, and the biceps. The back muscles targeted by bent over rows are the lats, posterior deltoids, rhomboids, and the trapezius. The pulling motion also utilizes the short and long heads of your biceps as secondary muscles to complete the exercise.

  • Posterior Deltoids
  • Latissimus Dorsi
  • Rhomboids
  • Trapezius
  • Biceps

Performing bent over rows with the correct form also requires engagement from your core muscles and the muscles in your upper legs, including the quads and hamstrings. However, these muscles are mostly used as stabilizers during bent over rows.

What Can You Do Instead of Bent-Over Rows?

You can replace bent over rows in your workout with several different workouts. Seated cable rows and single-arm dumbbell rows are two of the most common replacements for bent over rows. They allow you to target the same muscles as a bent over row without waiting for a spot on a lifting platform and loading up a barbell.

  • Seated cable rows
  • Single-arm dumbbell rows
  • Lying bench rows
  • Inverted rows
  • TRX rows

If you prefer to replace bent over rows with bodyweight exercises, you can perform inverted rows (also known as Australian rows) or TRX rows. These exercises have you work by pulling your body upward while you lean back, rather than lifting a weight from the ground. They are more comfortable than bent over rows for many athletes.

The Best Back Workout Without Bent Over Rows

Even if you do not enjoy bent-over rows, you still want to make sure you get a back workout that builds muscle throughout your upper body. We’ve crafted a bent-over-row-free back workout that will target all the muscles in your back. Here’s what to do on back day:

Pull-Up/Lat Pulldown

After an active warm-up, begin your back workout with wide-grip pull-ups. This exercise targets the lats and works large muscle groups. If you’re not a pro at wide-grip pull-ups, check out this tutorial video and follow these steps:

  • Grip the pull-up bar overhand, with your hands slightly more than shoulder-width apart.
  • Pull your shoulder blades down and back.
  • Keep your legs straight and follow our tips for no-swing pull-ups.
  • Pull yourself straight up until your chin is above the pull-up bar.
  • Slowly lower yourself back to the starting position.
  • Repeat for 5–8 reps.
  • Perform 5 sets with 90 seconds of rest between sets.

If wide-grip pull-ups are very difficult for you, you can replace this exercise with lat pulldowns. The form is very similar and both exercises work the same muscle groups. Either way, you’ll begin your back workout by targeting the largest muscle in your back—the lats.

Seated Cable Row

Here’s where we have our first replacement bent-over rows in the workout plan. Seated cable rows will target the mid-back, posterior deltoids, rhomboids, lats, and biceps. This is a simple exercise that can be performed on any cable machine in your gym. To do this exercise:

  • Equip your cable machine with a handle attachment that allows for a close, neutral grip.
  • Grip the handle with a neutral grip (palms facing inward and thumbs toward the ceiling).
  • Sit on the machine seat and place your feet on the footrest.
  • Bend your legs slightly at the knee—do not lock your knees.
  • Keep your back straight, shoulders back, and eyes forward.
  • Beginning with arms extended, pull the handle toward your body until it touches your chest.
  • Slowly straighten your arms until they are extended in the starting position.
  • Repeat for 8–12 reps.
  • Perform 5 sets with 90 seconds of rest between sets.

If you prefer a visual demonstration, this video tutorial is a great way to learn seated cable rows. They are an excellent foundational back exercise for building muscle and strength.

Face Pulls

Face pulls are an excellent exercise to target the rear deltoids and trapezius muscles during a back workout. This how-to video is a great demonstration of the exercise. For this workout:

  • Attach a rope handle to a high pulley on a cable machine in your gym.
  • Grip the handle with both hands, using an overhand grip (palms facing down).
  • Step backward until your arms are straightened and the top weight has just lifted off the stack.
  • Set your feet hip-width apart, straighten your back, pull your shoulders back, and keep your eyes forward.
  • Pull the rope handle toward the bridge of your nose until your elbows are bent 90 degrees.
  • Keep your elbows flared out to the side at shoulder height.
  • Slowly straighten your arms to return to starting position.
  • Repeat for 8–12 reps.
  • Perform 3–5 sets with 90 seconds of rest in between.

When performing rope face pulls, you do not need to pull the rope all the way to your face. Pull back far enough that your hands are in line with your ears on either side of your head. This exercise is great for upper back and rear shoulder muscle development.

Single-Arm Dumbbell Row

To once again target mid-back muscles and continue to build a stronger back without bent-over rows, incorporate the single-arm dumbbell row into your program. This video tutorial is very helpful if you are still learning dumbbell rows. However, some things to keep in mind when doing this exercise are:

  • Place your left palm and left knee on a weightlifting bench, so your back is parallel to the ground.
  • Keep your right foot planted on the ground.
  • Grip a dumbbell in your right hand with your arm extended straight downward.
  • Keep your back straight and eyes forward.
  • Pull the weight upward by pulling your elbow straight up toward the ceiling until the dumbbell touches your torso.
  • Slowly straighten your arm.
  • Repeat for 8–12 reps.
  • Switch the weight to your left hand and perform an additional 8–12 reps.
  • Perform 3–5 sets with 90 seconds of rest between sets.

When you are doing single-arm dumbbell rows, make sure to avoid twisting or “rolling” your body to the side in order to move the weight. Doing so can cause lower back injury. By bending your arm at the elbow to pull the weight up, you are engaging the muscles in your mid-back to do the work.

Back Extensions

Back extensions are a great way to build lower-back muscle and core strength. These muscle groups should not be neglected on back day since they make bent-over rows, deadlifts, and many other compound exercises much safer. You can follow this tutorial video to learn back extensions, or follow these steps:

  • Locate the back extension machine in your gym.
  • Step into the machine with your face forward and your heels braced against the rear pads of the machine.
  • Place your hips against the forward pads of the machine. Adjust the height of these pads so they are just below your hips.
  • Cross your arms over your chest and straighten your back—at this point, you will be tilted forward slightly due to the machine’s position.
  • Bend forward at the hips until they are bent nearly 90 degrees.
  • Slowly straighten your back until you return to the starting position.
  • Perform 15–20 reps.
  • Do 5 sets with 90 seconds of rest between sets.

Once you become more adept at back extensions, you can perform them while holding a weight plate to your chest. This will increase the challenge and help you build additional lower back strength. Once you wrap up your back extensions, you’ve completed your back workout routine.

Can You Get a Good Back Workout Without Bent-Over Rows?

Bent-over rows are a fantastic back exercise, but they can be replaced with other, similar movements that put less stress on your lower back. The best alternatives to the bent-over row are:

  • Single-arm dumbbell rows.
  • Seated cable rows.
  • Rope face pulls.
  • Lying bench rows.
  • Inverted rows.
  • TRX rows.

You can even build a total back workout without bent-over rows. Begin with pull-ups or lat pulldowns, then perform seated cable rows, rope face pulls, single-arm dumbbell rows, and back extensions. This workout will work all the muscles in your back in 30–45 minutes and deliver great results.

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