Are T Bar Rows Better Than Barbell Rows?

T bar row
September 20, 2022 0 Comments

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In this article I will be answering the question “are T bar rows better than barbell rows?”. As someone that has performed loads of different variations of rowing over the years I am well qualified to discuss this.

I have done strict barbell rows, pendlay rows, cheat rows, seated cable rows, seated hammer strength chest supported rows, T bar rows, seal rows and dumbbell rows! 

Both T bar rows and barbell rows are fantastic compound exercises for building up size and strength in your back. However, they are not the same and this article will explore whether T bar rows are better. 

Are T Bar Rows Better Than Barbell Rows?

Many factors have to be considered when determining whether T bar rows are better. If you have lower back issues then you will find that strict barbell rows will put a lot of stress on your lower back.

T bar rows would be better as you can get into and maintain lower back extension easier and it is less stressful on the lower back. However, barbell cheat rows often are less stressful on the lower back. You can also handle very heavy weights, for powerlifters the barbell row would be better.

In the end, whether T bar rows are better for you is down to your personal preference and goals. Some people find that they are able to feel more tension in the back on T bar rows. Other people prefer heavy barbell cheat rows for the power element and the carryover to their deadlift.

Stress On The Lower Back

When performing any type of rowing movement it is always important to consider how stressful it is on the lower back. This is due to the fact that lower back strains are very annoying and can really derail your progress.

The lower back is involved in big movements like the squat and deadlift as well. If rows are making your lower back very sore this will also negatively affect you in those bigger compound movements.

From my experience, strict barbell rows put a lot more stress on your lower back than strict T bar rows. Personally, I have strained my lower back in the past from strict barbell rows. This is why I don’t advise others to barbell row heavy loads with super strict form.

There is a higher risk of injury. There is an article on my site where I talk about different variations of barbell row and which one I believe is best. You can view the article here

I urge you to read this article so that you can get more insight into barbell row variations. It is clear that the T bar row is safer on your lower back than strict barbell rows. This is a tick in the box for the T bar row.

More Delt And Bicep Activation With Barbell Rows

You will find that heavy barbell cheat rows will work your deltoids, forearms and biceps a lot harder than T bar rows. I have first-hand experience with this, when I used to do heavy cheat rows I would find that my shoulders would look a lot more “3D” and capped.

Dr Deadlift, otherwise known as Cailer Woolam, is well known for performing “Cailer rows”. Cailer rows are essentially cheat barbell rows in his style that transfer incredibly well to the deadlift. This move has helped Cailer as well to develop popping 3D deltoids. 

You can handle a lot heavier weight with the cheat row than you can with the T bar row. This allows a lot more muscles to assist in the movement and it is almost akin to a deadlift row.

The video below demonstrates how Cailer Woolam performs cheat rows. 

Lower Lat Activation

Overall the T bar row is a tremendous exercise for hitting the lower lats really hard. The barbell row also targets the lower lats, but I find with T bar rows the movement pattern is more deliberate and focused.

Barbell rows require a lot more stabilisation to perform than T bar rows. Therefore, it is easier with T bar rows to really focus in on the rowing portion of the exercise. I find that T bar rows give me a great contraction in the lower lats and all throughout the mid back. 

The strict barbell row can have a similar effect, however I have already explained that strict barbell rows are too risky for the lower back. I would always have people perform cheat rows than doing strict barbell rows. 

Better Peak Contraction On T Bar Rows

Another important point to consider is the peak contraction and squeeze at the end of the rep. Anecdotally, many people agree that T bar rows allow you to get a better mind muscle connection and emphasise the peak contraction.

This makes the T bar row a fantastic exercise for bodybuilders. In fact, in the pumping iron days Arnold was famous for his style of heavy T bar rows. He would perform this exercise with an intensity that was unrivalled. 

For bodybuilding purposes I would favour the use of the T bar row over the barbell row. There is a good article from Iron Man Magazine going into detail on the T bar row. You can read that article here.

T bar row

Final Thoughts

Are T bar rows better than barbell rows? First I will say that T bar rows are better than strict barbell rows! T bar rows are better for bodybuilders in general.

I know that Dorian Yates was famous for the Yates row, but there are countless more examples of bodybuilders who favoured the T bar row. 

For powerlifting purposes I believe that the Cailer cheat barbell row is superior to the T bar row. Cailer rows are fantastic for working lots of muscle mass and they transfer a lot better to the deadlift. The movement is simply a lot more specific to the deadlift.

For people who have lower back issues, T bar rows should be favoured instead of barbell rows. These are my recommendations based on my experience and research.

I would love to know your views on this topic. Please leave me a comment below!

As always, stay safe and enjoy your training.

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