The Benefits Of T-Bar Rows And How To Do Them Right – Garage Strength

The Benefits Of T-Bar Rows And How To Do Them Right

The Benefits Of T-Bar Rows And How To Do Them Right

“It gives you wings, so you can flyyyyy”. Anyone else remember that old red bull slogan?

Well, they might as well apply that to T bar rows too. Not always one of the most common row exercises but one that can serve a multitude of benefits when trying to grow your back, improve your strength, and even improve athletic performance.

More power. More Strength. More aesthetically pleasing. Say no more, fam. A strong back translates into so much. A stronger back means a stronger pull, more stable squats, and potentially even a better bench. If you want to get better at sports, become the strongest version of you and even want to improve your physical shape–your back is often the foundation of most of these things. But a strong back doesn’t have to mean only doing your typical lat pull downs, pull ups and barbell rows.

We are going to unpack the T bar row and how this sometimes-forgotten movement can be the icing on the cake for many different back day goalz.

What Is A T Bar Row?

Whether you choose unsupported or supported T bar rows, there are structural similarities in the few variations of this movement. And we will dive more into the variations of the movements next. But let's talk about some generalities you will see in this wing-growing, back building exercise.

Muscles Worked

In general, T bar rows primarily target your lats. But be sure to not overlook the fact that the set up of this particular row can also be beneficial in training your erectors and rhomboids as well as rear delts. Sure, there is less pressure on the lower back than some other row variations (more on that in a minute) but overall, we get some back focused gains with this row.

You might also notice that some of your itty bitty stabilizer muscles get fatigued with this row variation. Likely more so in unsupported, regardless, you're not simply rowing when you complete this exercise. You are also working hard to maintain form and an erect posture while simultaneously pulling the weight at the same time. We love this compound movement.

Benefits Of A T Bar Row

The T bar row will give you wings, and here is why.

This particular row allows for so much versatility, depending on your approach. Where are your hands, wide or narrow? How much support are you looking for? Will you go chest-supported or not? How will you place your hands, overhand grip or neutral? See all the options.

T-bar rows offer a unique advantage in their ability to increase your range of motion. How? By using plates with a smaller circumference, you can pull the weight closer to your chest, maximizing the effectiveness of each rep. This is a case where size does matter, and smaller is better. The smaller circumference allows for a deeper squeeze at the end of each motion, right at your chest.

When setting up for a T-bar row, the key is to maintain an angled torso. This position allows you to lift more weight than with a traditional bent-over row, whether you're using a barbell or a set of dumbbells.

What about training with sore muscles? It is not uncommon to train on sore muscles when trying to level up to reach certain goals. Actually, sometimes, it might be required for the specific strength adaptations.

But what’s worse than training an already sore back? What's worse than potentially toeing the line of injury, unsure if you are experiencing soreness or something more? Nothing.

Nothing is worse. So rather than potentially injuring yourself, rather than potentially putting any additional strain on an already taxed back, this row variation allows you to safely add size, strength or endurance to these targeted muscles and not question the safety of what you are about to do. Unlike the barbell row, the torso positioning of a T bar row specifically takes pressure off that low back while still working the upper back and trap muscles.

Another part of your posterior chain that might be giving you some general ache and we want to avoid injury with is your hamstrings. Similar to training your back without straining the back, the T bar row can also provide some posterior chain training without too much input from the already strained hamstrings.

Let's give those things a break. Again, that angled torso of this row will allow more focus on the pull rather than the hinge. YES, I said you will be working your posterior chain and you will. BUT it's not going to be as demanding on your posterior chain as other rows can often be.

With T bar rows, you might also see you can use more weight. It may not always be about weight added since we don't want to add momentum here (keep reading for more on that) but nothing wrong with increasing load so long as you are already efficient with the movement. And we also know that you are your strongest with a neutral grip- you will have a much easier time building absolute strength with this movement as compared to other rows.



Chest supported T bar row is just as it sounds, your chest is resting on a pad that ideally keeps your torso at a 45 degree angle from the floor. This in turn means there is less focus on stabilizing the position of your body and you can put greater emphasis on the row itself while connecting to the back muscles you are targeting.

In general, looking for an angle at which your torso will be 30-45 degrees is pretty standard. It can be helpful to know that a more upright angle will focus more on your upper back while a lower angle can be better for mid back and lats.

Also note that the supported variation of this row makes it harder to cheat. You are stuck in position and it's much harder to rely on momentum when your chest is pressed into the pad.

We know that a support pad may not be as commonly seen but that doesn't mean you can't reap similar benefits of a supported T bar row. Consider experimenting with some solid alternatives like a seal row or incline bench prone dumbbell row.


Here is where you might notice those bitty stabilizer muscles being put to work.  With no pad to lean your chest on, not only are you focusing on working your lats with each pull, but now your erectors get in on the action trying to maintain that ideal 45 degree angle we want to have. 

Some solid alternatives here would be the barbell row or dumbbell rows. 

Let's talk GRIP

Small details can start to matter as your training age and goals add up.  One of those details is your grip. How and where should you put your hands?

Wide grip, which can be performed using t bar handles, is going to be the grip of choice when you want less emphasis on the lats.  Don't mistake that for thinking your lats won't be worked at all. Because that's not the case.  They just won't be AS needed as if you were to do narrow grip.  Wide grip really helps work the upper back, traps, rhomboids and rear delts.

Narrow grip is an alternative grip for T bar rowing. This can be achieved through handles that are close in proximity, as the name suggests. Here you will notice your lats working harder while still helping fatigue your other back muscles. Keep reading for some tips on how to really get those lats in on the action with this specific set up.

Neutral grip is where you want to be if you have any nagging elbow or wrist pains. This grip allows you to row the most amount of weight as well.

T Bar Row Setup and Execution

We know you can do supported or unsupported rows, but what else is there to know about the set up?

It is also worth mentioning that the landmine attachment (or simply shoving one end of your barbell safely into a corner) can be a great alternative to get this row in without needing any fancy schmancy equipment.

Let's talk about some generalities for T bar rows.

  1. Deadlift the bar up.  Even when simply picking equipment up off the floor, we want to move well.  So many silly and avoidable injuries can be prevented if we are always moving with intention.  So don't haphazardly yank the bar off the floor. Proper deadlift, folks.
  2. Position the torso so you are at that desirable 45 degree angle.  There are different approaches but again, in general, keep a soft bend in your knee while noticing glute activation to help hold that angled torso.
  3. Flat back and neutral spine (including neck) is what we are looking for.
  4. As you begin to row, think about pulling the plates towards you, retracting your scapula.  Keep those shoulders away from your ears.
  5. DON'T FORGET TO HOLD POSITION. Yes, you will feel your posterior chain working here. Good.  Maintain that position and stay tight.
  6. As you lower the weight be sure to maintain a neutral neck position and don't go completely lax at the bottom. Maintain tension through the entire movement.

Incorporating T-Bar Rows into Your Workout Routine

Now that we touched on the variations, the set up, the things to do and things to avoid as well as best common practices, we need to talk about HOW.  How do you best incorporate T bar rows into your training?

The answer to this question very much depends on your goal.  Are you looking to build strength, size or muscular endurance?  Because that will dictate what you do.

One thing to remember is that T bar rows will likely tax your low back and posterior chain (hi hammies).  So if you are looking to deadlift, it might be worth doing this row and your deadlifts on different days.  That being said, there is nothing wrong with doubling up the deadlift and row in the same training session but be sure to always prioritize the deadlift before the row.  Think of the T bar row as an accessory to your main lift.

Now, back to incorporating these rows into your training.

Upper Body Power days are a great place to add this lift in, however make sure you up the load. For strength, lean on lower reps per set but with heavier weight.  The heavy weight here is key.  Always maintain control especially here in the eccentric portion of the lift.  Doing this you can say hello to those deeply desired wings you want (aka put on some size and strength here!)

Another approach to size out those wings of yours would be to aim for 6-12 reps per set with a moderate to heavy weight.  Really bring in that mind-muscle connection and focus on a strong squeeze at the top of every rep.  Again, a great addition to your Upper Body Power day.

When designing your accessory work or simply looking for a nice antagonist/agonist compliment to a push day, consider playing with some endurance sets.  For endurance or hypertrophy purposes,, shooting for at least 15-20 reps per set is where you want to be.  Don't be afraid to even test out your testicular fortitude here and go for a set of 30 or dare I say to failure?  A blessing and a curse with this move, you will also get to see what your grip strength is made of along the way.


Just as the set up and execution will be specific to the variety of row you decide to perform, there are some overlaps in general tips on how to get the most bang for your buck with this movement.  Here are a few things to take into consideration no matter the grip, hand positioning or if you go with chest supported or not, that can help make this row a top notch choice in your training.

  1. Always lead with elbows. Whether you have them close to target your lats or out wide to give your rhomboids and rear delts a run for their money, your elbows are the money maker on this movement.  Initiate the squeeze in your back but maintain follow through of the movement with elbows.
  2. Keep those shoulders back and down.  Rounding is not your friend. “Puff your chest out”, “cleavage to the sky”, whatever cue you need to give yourself to remember that competence in this movement requires a neutral spine- put that cue on repeat.
  3. Neutral wrists, always.  As noted above, this row is a great option when dealing with wrist or elbow injury. Keep it that way by making sure you are grabbing the handles in a way that your wrists maintain a neutral position.  No weird or off angle bend prior to pulling.
  4. How's your breathing? Since we want to keep that mind-muscle connection in play, using your breath to help that process along can be critical.  Inhale as you lower (but maintain tension and form) and press a big breath out as you focus on dynamic trunk control and pull, leading with your elbows. Continue to lean on your breath to make movement execution just a smidge easier- and maybe you will even see that an efficient breath can help with increasing the load over time.

Common mistakes

Now you know how to do it right. You know how to set up, which variation is best for your goal and even some general tips to capitalize on the hard work you're putting in at the gym.

But what do you want to avoid doing when implementing this exercise?

  1. Don't round your back! Part of the beauty of this movement is that the row itself isn't going to be the only thing that helps with making gainz but also maintaining a solid pulling position helps.  So be sure to keep a neutral spine as you row AND during the entire range of movement.
  2. Alternatively, don't stand too upright. A t bar row performed when standing too upright can easily turn into some type of a shrug.  And your lats and rhomboids certainly won't get the pump you are looking for when the focus is brought too much to your traps. 
  3. Stop looking up.  If you are looking to work traps a bit more, sure keep your head up and eyes up in front of you. But if that's not the goal then it can be helpful to remember that you are looking for a neutral neck position, keeping your gaze about 3-4 feet on the floor in front of you.
  4. None of that kipping action here. CONTROL CONTROL CONTROL. Get out of here with that momentum on these reps. This is a controlled movement.  If you find you cant row the weights to your chest without control, both up and down, drop weight and get more control.  Using momentum to help with the weight isn't ideal.
  5. Using big plates. Sure, we want to lift heavy weights but don't put on a massive 45 pound plate with a wide circumference.  Instead, use a 25, 10 and a 5.  Why? These smaller plates allow a greater range of motion with you pulling closer to your chest.


If you have avoided or simply forgotten about this beast of a row, it's time to bring it back into existence. With the versatility it offers, this is one that can be a complimentary accessory or a key piece of training.

Don't forget that your set up matters. Decide which is best for you and then move with intention. Keep those key points of posture, positioning and pulling with purpose in mind every time you set up and execute a set.

If you aren't quite sure how to add this into your training or simply want more guided expertise, be sure to check out our Peak Strength app where we take the guesswork out of progress for you.


Gaylemarie, but just call her gm, is a seasoned fitness and nutrition professional with nearly two decades of experience in the industry. With a diverse clientele ranging from ultra runners to high-level competitors, gm brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise. As a former high-level athlete in running, crossfit and olympic lifting to now, a busy yet active mother, she understands the challenges of balancing fitness and goal getting with a hectic lifestyle. Gm's approach emphasizes discipline, ownership, and hard work, tailored to honor each individual's life season for optimal health and well-being.

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