T Bar Row vs. Cable Row – Comparison, Muscles Worked, Benefits, Differences
The T Bar Row was at one point in time considered the ultimate back exercise for building muscle and developing upper back strength. But as the years have gone by, people have started to realize that other exercises such as the rear delt row, the dumbbell row and the seated cable row can provide similar or even better results.
A common question that might pop up every now and then is whether the T Bar Row or Cable Row is a better and safer exercise overall, especially for beginners.
The short answer to that is, it depends.
The long answer is.. well, a bit more complicated.
It really depends on your goals and what you're trying to achieve with your training.
In this article, I will take a more in-depth look at both exercises and show you how they compare to each other.
What Is the T Bar Row?
The T Bar Row is a strength training exercise that primarily targets the back muscles. It is often considered one of the best exercises for building muscle and developing upper back strength.
The exercise is performed with a typical barbell (one's that you see on the benchpress, they look like this) and then is attached to a T Bar stand, (looks like this) a piece of equipment that is found in most gyms.
The T Bar Row can be performed with a variety of different grips, but the most common grip is the overhand grip.
The alternative is to do a DIY Barbell setup, which is a little tricky.
How to Do the T Bar Row
Despite the compound nature of the T Bar Row, it is actually an exercise that is quite easy to perform. The only thing that you need is a barbell with a weight plate attached to one end. You will also need something to prop the barbell up so that it is at waist level.
Here's a step by step guide on how to do this exercise.
- Step 1 - If you have a T Bar machine, load a weight plate onto the bar. If you don't have a T Bar machine, then you will need to do a DIY setup. To do this, attach a weight plate to one end of the barbell using a collar.
- Step 2 - Place the barbell on a waist-high surface. This could be a bench, box, or even a rack.
- Step 3 - Grip the barbell using an overhand grip, and position yourself so that you are standing in front of the barbell.
- Step 4 - Brace your core, hinge at the hips and pull the barbell up towards your chest. Keep your elbows close to your body as you do this.
- Step 5 - Your torso should be at a 45-degree angle to the floor at the top of the movement.
- Step 6 - Reverse the motion and lower the barbell back down to the starting position.
Repeat for the desired number of reps.
**Tip - Shoot for 8-12 reps. IF the weight of the barbell is too heavy to complete this many reps then remove some of the weight so that you can get in a higher number of reps.
Doing this you will be able to focus more on your form and mastering the technique of how to complete the t bar row properly.
Here is a Video Demonstration on How To Do T Bar Rows Correctly
What is the Cable Row?
The cable row is a weight training exercise that targets the back muscles. It is a similar to low rows, an exercise that targets the back and arm muscles using a lower pulling and rowing motion.
The seated cable row version is performed by sitting on a bench with your feet planted on the floor and your knees bent. You will then grasp the handle of the cable machine with both hands and row the weight back towards your body, keeping your back straight and your shoulders square.
How to Do the Seated Cable Row
The seated cable row is one of the easiest weight training exercises to perform. All you need is a cable machine and a seat.
Here's a step-by-step guide on how to do the seated cable row:
- Step 1 - Sit down on the bench and plant your feet firmly on the floor.
- Step 2 - Grab the handle of the cable machine with both hands and extend your arms in front of you.
- Step 3 - Row the weight back towards your body, keeping your back straight and your shoulders square.
- Step 4 - Return to the starting position and repeat.
Here is a Video Demonstration on How To Do the Seated Cable Row Correctly
T Bar Row vs Cable Row
Head to Head Comparison
Despite the similarities, there are some key differences between the T bar row and the cable row.
Here's a breakdown of how these two exercises compare:
Muscles Worked by Each Exercise
The T Bar Row is a compound exercise that works the muscles of the back, including the lats, traps, and rhomboids. But since you are in a standing position, it also works the muscles of the lower body, including the glutes, quads, and hamstrings.
The cable row is also a compound exercise that works the muscles of the back, including the lats and rhomboids. But since you are seated, it primarily works the muscles of the back and does not work the lower body to the same extent as the T bar row.
Muscles Worked by T Bar Row
Here's a list of the muscles worked by the T bar row:
The T Bar row is one of the best exercises for targeting the latissimus dorsi, or "lats." The lats are the largest muscles in the back and are responsible for the "wings" that give a person a V-shaped torso.
The T bar row also works the trapezius, or "traps." The traps are a group of muscles that run from the base of the skull to the middle of the back. They are responsible for shrugging the shoulders and stabilizing the spine.
The erector spinae are a group of muscles that run along the length of the spine. They are responsible for keeping the spine upright and for extending, or straightening, the spine.
The Hamstrings are a group of muscles that run from the hip to the knee. They are responsible for bending the knee and extending the hip. When you hinge at the hips to row the weight back, you are working your hamstrings.
Muscles Worked by the Seated Cable Row
Here's a list of the muscles worked by the seated cable row:
Just like the T Bar row, the cable row is a great exercise for targeting the latissimus dorsi, or lats. This large muscle group is responsible for the width of your back, and can give you the sought-after "V" shape.
The rhomboids are a pair of muscles located between the shoulder blades. Strengthening these muscles can help improve posture and prevent back pain.
The biceps brachii, or biceps, is a two-headed muscle located on the front of the upper arm. While the seated cable row primarily works the back muscles, the biceps is also activated to a certain degree.
The posterior deltoid is a muscle located on the back of the shoulder. Like the biceps, it's also activated to a certain degree during the seated cable row.
Other easier exercises you can do to work these areas without an exercises machine are upright rows, high pulls, and rear delt flys, all you would need is a pair of cheap standard dumbbells.
# of Sets and Reps to Get the Full Benefit from Each Exercise
This depends on a multitude of factors, such as your fitness level, your goals, and the amount of weight you are using.
As a general rule of thumb, 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps is a good starting point for most people for either exercise.
How Many Sets and Reps of T Bar Rows Should I Do?
The T Bar row is generally used to move heavier loads. So if you are using a lighter weight, you may need to do more reps to get the same benefit as you would from the seated cable row.
That said, the position of the torso and hinging at the hips during the T bar row can make it a bit more challenging for some people.
If you are new to weightlifting, start with a lighter weight and focus on getting the form down before going heavy.
If you are aiming to build muscle, you will eventually want to use a heavier weight and do fewer reps. For example, you could do 4 sets of 6-8 reps.
If you are aiming to improve muscular endurance and stamina, you will want to use a lighter weight and do more reps. For example, you could do 3 sets of 12-15 reps.
How Many Sets and Reps of Cable Rows Should I Do?
Because of the seated position and the upright torso, the seated cable row is a bit easier on the lower back than the T bar row.
This makes it a good option for people with lower back pain or those who are new to weightlifting.
The number of sets and reps you do will depend on your fitness goals.
If you are trying to build muscle, aim for 3-5 sets of 8-12 reps.
If you are trying to build strength, aim for 5-8 sets of 3-5 reps.
We have not discussed the weight or the intensity here as that will depend on your level of fitness.
Which Is Better for Lats?
Both these exercises do target the lats. But they are primarily used to build the mid-back.
The seated cable row might slightly be a better option if you want to focus on the lats. This is because the position of the torso and the fact that you are rowing the weight towards your chest. This means that the lats have to work a bit harder.
But the effective exercises for targeting the lats would be bent over barbell rows, machine lat pulldowns, and Australian pull ups.
Can T Bar Row Replace the Cable Row?
To be honest, it can. The primary difference is that one is a compound that's performed in a stand-up position, while the other is isolation that's performed in a seated position.
Both target the same muscle groups, with one recruiting more muscles of the core. But the differences are tiny, and both are great exercises.
So, the answer is yes, you can replace the seated cable row with the T bar row.
Can Seated Cable Row Replace the T Bar Row?
Unless you have limited mobility or lower back pain, there's no reason to swap out the T Bar row. The seated cable row will target almost the same muscles. But you might not be able to go as heavy with the seated cable row.
So, the answer is no, you should not replace the T bar row as far as you can.
But if your mobility is limited, then the seated cable row is a good option.
Which Is Superior for Training Back?
Our vote goes for the T Bar row. It's a compound exercise that allows you to move heavier weights. Plus, the benefits of rowing in a standing position with a hinged torso just can't be beat.
The seated cable row is a great exercise, don't get us wrong. But it's not as good as the T bar row.
Other exercises to train your back would be face pulls and machine rowing.
Which Is Better for Beginners?
The cable row, seated variation, is a better choice for beginners because it is a simpler movement and allows you to focus on rowing with good form. You can start with light weights and gain competence over the exercise without worrying about causing a low back sprain, which is common with freestanding rowing exercises.
The T-bar row is a more advanced exercise that requires additional stability and balance. If you are new to weightlifting, start with the seated cable row and progress to the T-bar row when you are ready.
Now we answer a few FAQs about these two exercises
Q. Are Seated Cable Rows Effective?
A. They sure are. Seated cable rows are a great exercise for targeting multiple muscles of the back, including the lats, traps, and rhomboids.
Q. Is the T Bar Row Dangerous?
A. If you mean dangerous because of the risk of injury, a long as you use good form and don't try to lift too heavy, the T bar row is a safe exercise.
However, if you have mobility issues or have a history of lower back pain, it's best to avoid the T bar row. You can get similar results from lat pull downs, seated rows or other easier exercises. The good news is you don't even require pricey lat pulldown machine to perform lat pull downs. You can even build lats by having a DIY lat pulldown bar in the comfort of your own home.
Q. What Can I Use Instead of T Bar Row?
A. Why the seated cable row, of course. It's a great exercise that targets many of the same muscles as the T bar row. In fact, we wouldn’t think twice before swapping out the T bar row for the seated cable row if need be.
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