Strengthening the powerful muscles in your back requires a variety of compound exercises that target different areas of your upper body. One move that does a fantastic job of recruiting multiple muscle groups in your upper, middle and lower back is the T-bar row.
The T-bar row works your upper, middle and lower back muscles.
Considered one of the "row" exercises, the T-bar row is part of a group of moves that rely on the pulling movement to train the back muscles. Other row variations that also work the major muscles in your back include the bent-over barbell row, one-arm dumbbell row, seated row and prone incline bench row.
Muscles at Work
When performing the t bar-row, you will feel multiple muscles at work to help pull the weight toward your chest and stabilize your lower back. By pulling the weight toward your torso, you retract the shoulder blades, which helps pull your shoulders down and back.
This is an important position to train your body to be in since we spend so much time seated with our shoulders rounded, which results in poor posture. To correct this, Harvard Health Publishing says the goal is to aim for a neutral, upright spine position, which is not flexed too far forward or backward.
The primary muscles targeted include during the T-bar row include:
- Latissimus dorsi, which is the large muscle covering the majority of your mid to lower back that extends, adducts and rotates the arm.
- Posterior deltoid, or rear shoulders.
- Trapezius, which extends from your neck down along your spine and across your shoulder blades.
- Rhomboids, which help you squeeze your shoulder blades together.
- Teres major, which sits close to the deltoid and adducts and medially rotates the arm.
- Teres minor and infraspinatus, both rotator cuff muscles.
The stabilizer muscles involved include the biceps brachii, triceps, erector spinae, hamstrings, glutes, abdominals and obliques.
Performing the T-Bar Row
Many gyms have designated T-bar row machines as part of their resistance training circuit. These types of machines either use a weight stack or a bar to load weighted plates. This type of equipment helps support proper form, which makes it ideal for people new to this exercise.
Whether you're using a machine designed for the T-bar row or you're creating your own equipment with a barbell and handle, the basic technique to perform this move is generally the same.
- Load the bar with plates. To help perfect your form, start with a lighter weight and work your way up.
- Straddle the bar, facing the handle and bend forward from the hips, knees slightly bent.
- Grab the handles with an overhand grip, about shoulder-width apart. You can change up the move by using an underhand grip. If you're using a barbell setup, you will grab the handle with a neutral grip where the palms of your hands face each other.
- Pull toward your torso. Pause at the end of the movement; then lower to the starting position. Your arms will be fully extended.
ExRx.net says if your back does not remain flat and your torso rises beyond 45 degrees to complete the rep, you need to lighten the load.
Alternative Back Exercises
To get an effective back workout, you need to vary the exercises you use to train these muscles. When designing an upper body routine that targets your back, try to have at least three to four different moves that you can include in your overall routine. This gives you one to two different exercises to choose from each time you train.
With that in mind, in addition to the T-bar row, consider trying the bent-over row, seated row, one-arm dumbbell row and lat pull-down. It's important to note that if you're considering the bent-over row, the American Council on Exercise gives this exercise a difficulty rating of advanced, which means, your muscles need to be strong enough to support the weight while maintaining strict form.
To put these moves into action, incorporate one or two of them into a full-body workout two to three days each week. Just make sure you allow at least one day of rest between training sessions that stress the same muscle groups. When performing a full-body routine, the National Strength and Conditioning Association recommends resistance training on nonconsecutive days such as Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
- ExRx.net: "Lever T-Bar Row (Plate Loaded)"
- American Council on Exercise: "Arm Exercises/Bent-Over Row"
- University of Washington, Department of Radiology: "Teres Major"
- University of Washington, Department of Radiology: "Latissimus Dorsi"
- National Strength and Conditioning Association: "Determination of Resistance Training Frequency"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "3 Surprising Risks of Poor Posture"