Old Fashioned T-Bar vs. Bent-Over Row
Both moves work the back, but which move is better at targeting the lower lats?
By Jimmy Peña, MS, CSCS
Old Fashioned T-Bar Row
You can’t get any more old school than this classic. From the days of Arnold and Franco, the T-bar was considered a must-do move for serious back thickness. All you need is a half-loaded bar and an empty corner, and you’re ready to row. One of the keys to success on the T-bar is to swallow pride and load the bar with smaller plates. Reason being, you want the most productive range of motion (ROM) possible, and the bigger 45-pound plates will hit the floor, your chest or both during your set. By filling the bar with 25s instead, you’ll still overload your back but you gain a great deal of ROM on both the positive and negative portions of the rep. One more point: Your torso doesn’t have to be completely parallel to the floor to make this work, but just above parallel (about 20–30 degrees higher) is sufficient.
With the exception of perhaps the deadlift, the bent-over row is arguably the king of all back exercises. The key to your form on the bent-over row is to exaggerate the arch in your lower back as you bend your knees. This will help protect your spine from injury while simultaneously putting yourself in your strongest position possible. Stay bent forward at the waist as you would during a romanian deadlift; once the bar is at shin level (and close to your legs) you row the bar to your upper abs keeping your chest up, butt out and back arched.
Advantage: T-Bar Row
It’s not often an exercise edges out the bent-over row, but in this case, the bent-over row comes in second. Because we’re focusing on the lower lats, it all comes down to your elbow position relative to your body. Notice in the T-bar row how your elbows are close to your sides in the top position, whereas your elbows are away from the body in the barbell row? That’s your determining factor. Whenever you row with your elbows in tight to the body, you automatically zero in on the lower lats. Many people see the T-bar row as a middle-back exercise because the hands are close together, but that only magnifies the lower lat recruitment pattern. During the bent-over row, your hands and elbows are wide, and if you were to draw a line from elbow to elbow during the peak contraction, you’ll have shaded the muscles it’s actually hitting; the upper lats, rhomboids and middle traps.