The latissimus dorsi

The rhomboids

The trapezius muscles

Ok we’re done…thanks for reading.

..but wait a second!

While you’re here, don’t you want to know at least a little bit more? It’s not so much what does a T-bar row work, rather, but why you should have a place for T-bar exercises in your training program. Let’s flesh this out a bit more.

Importance of Your Latissimus Dorsi, Rhomboids, and Trapezius Muscles

Depending on how you count them, you have 40 muscles in your back, and these consist of 20 muscle pairs (Henson et al.,, 2023). These are known as the superficial muscles and these are what you probably think of when they think of back muscles.

Four main muscles fall into this category and their primary jobs are to support shoulder and neck movements. However for our purposes we will examine the three largest. These include:

  • The Latissimus dorsi (informally known as your lats) is the largest muscle in your upper body, and it runs from your lower back to your shoulders. Its role is to support arm and shoulder rotation.
  • Your Rhomboids work to pull your shoulders in together, connecting from your scapula to your spine.
  • The Trapezius (frequently called traps) function to help you stand erect, and raise your shoulders and arms and they connect to the neck from the lower back in a V shape.

(Lehman et al., 2004)

Diagram showing the muscle groups targeted in a back workout, highlighting the muscles in the upper and lower back.

Why Should You Train These Muscles?

Believe it or not, there are people out there who actually neglect training their back.

“Out of sight, out of mind!”

Unfortunately (for them!) a strong back is a key part complement to a strong front. Training your back muscles will help form the foundation of a strong and developed chest. Other reasons include:

  • Prevent back injuries. We can put a lot of blame on the modern sedentary life. Whether it’s hours sitting at an office job, hours bent over looking at a smartphone or just sitting in general, a weak back will eventually lead to back and neck pain (Kumagai et al, 2021). On top of this, a weak back will progress to tight and inflexible back muscles, reducing your mobility and leading to injury.
  • Love standing tall. Having a tight and upright posture signals confidence to the world and people immediately notice you. By simply working on your back muscles you are more able to literally pull yourself together and project strength, dominance and power to other people.
  • Appreciate the aesthetic. A well-developed back as part of a trained body is a marvel to behold. Just look at the statues from the Ancient Greeks. They knew what they were talking about. You can frame your body with that classic V when you have created that foundation of back strength.

T-Bar vs. Standard Barbell

For most people, T-bar rows allow them to train with heavier weight due to the leverage involved. At the same time, the more stable nature of the setup can be a great way for people recovering from injury to get back into more heavy training. The stable setup can also be very helpful for those people starting out with back training or who don’t have the core strength to lift heavy weight via a standard barbell row (Snarr et al., 2014).

The best advice is to incorporate both T-bar rows and standard barbell rows as part of your training regimen. Barbell rows do allow for overall greater variation and require less equipment. On top of this, you are actively engaging your core when properly completing a standard barbell row (Oliva-Lozano & Muyor, 2020).

How to Perform T-bar Rows

Now that we know the target muscles of the T bar row and why we should be working on them, let’s turn our attention to specific exercises.

T bar rows are usually done in two main ways. Either in landmine fashion or via a machine at the gym.

Landmine T bar rows involve taking a barbell and securing one end in place, often in a corner or by a special plate fixed to the ground. The weight is loaded on to the other end and you position yourself over the bar at a 45 degree angle with the bar between your legs. You can grab the bar simply with your hands, or use a towel or specialized handle attachment to help alternate the grips.

Machines help to standardize the movement and can be useful in very specific muscle targeting by having for example a chest pad fixed at a certain angle. This allows you to perform more reps without becoming tired in other parts of your body, caused by bending over to hold the barbell. Different machine attachments also enable you to train with a variation of grips.

Man performing bent-over row exercise with a Major Fitness Smith machine in a home gym setup

T Bar Row Variations

As you spend more time getting reps in, you will most likely start to try some different ways of focussing on the target muscles whether it’s the latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, or trapezius.

A great way of seeing what works for you specifically is to vary the grip you’re using. An overhand grip will mainly activate the upper back and trapezius areas. An underhand or neutral grip will target the lower latissimus dorsi.

You can also perform a T-bar row using only one arm. The setup is the exact same except you stand to one side of the bar. Ideally you should not support yourself by holding on to something with your other arm although a further variation is known as the bench supported landmine row and this is great for people who lack the necessary stability.

Another variation is what’s called a Meadows row. The main difference with this is that you stand perpendicular to the bar and perform a single arm movement, driving the elbow out to bring your hand in line with your chest.

Key Part of a Comprehensive Back Development Program

The secret to strong, developed, and prominent latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, and trapezius muscles is not just T-bar row exercises. But as we have seen, the T-bar row should have a seat at the table in any back development program.

No more of this “out of sight, out of mind” business; if you want to develop your full body, you gotta do some back exercises. You may as well kick things off with T-bar rows.

References

Henson B., Kadiyala B., Edens M. (2023) Anatomy, Back, Muscles. National Center for Biotechnology Information.

Kumagai, G., Wada, K., Kudo, H., Tanaka, S., Asari, T., Chiba, D., Ota, S., Takeda, O., Koyama, K., Oyama, T., Nakaji, S., Ishibashi, Y. (2021). The effect of low back pain and neck-shoulder stiffness on health-related quality of life: a cross-sectional population-based study. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 22(14) https://bmcmusculoskeletdisord.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186 /s12891-020-03871-5

Lehman, G., Buchan, D., Lundy, A., Myers, N., Nalborczyk, A. (2004). Variations in muscle activation levels during traditional latissimus dorsi weight training exercises: An experimental study. Dynamic Medicine 3(4) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC449729/

Oliva-Lozano, J., Muyor, J. (2020).Core muscle activity during physical fitness exercises: A systematic review. International Journal of Environmental Research & Public Health 17(12) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7345922/

Snarr, R., Nickerson, B., Esco, M. (2014). Effects of hand-grip during the inverted row with and without a suspension device: An electromyographical investigation. European Journal of Sports and Exercise Science 3(4), 1-5 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/272092763_Effects_of_hand-grip_during_the_ inverted_row_with_and_without_a_suspension_device_An_electromyographical_ investigation


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