Here we are again with another edition of the barbell substitutes series. If you haven’t had a chance to read the first two you can click the links below.
Using a barbell to do bent over rows is a fantastic back exercise. The main muscles activated are the latissimus dorsi (lats), Trapezius (upper back muscles) and the rear deltoids. There are some limitations when using a barbell for bent over rows so using a barbell substitute can actually benefit you if you choose the right replacements.
You may notice a pattern in this series, the first exercise is always just replacing the original with dumbbells, which in the case of the barbell row, can be more beneficial. Using dumbbells allows you to get your elbow further behind you without the weight being stopped by your body like with the bar, this allows for a greater contraction and muscle engagement. You will also find any imbalances you have between your left and right sides, with a barbell these can be hidden.
If you have access to a set of dumbbells then this is a good place to start. If you don’t then you can also do this exercise with resistance bands by standing on the middle of the band and holding either end.
To perform this exercise stand with your feet hip width apart holding a pair of dumbbells or resistance band handles, keep your back neutral and a slight bend in your knees. Push your hips back while leaning forward until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings. This will be between 15-45 degrees for most people, don’t go past this point or you will start rounding your back placing significant stress on your lower back.
Now keeping your core tight and your arms hanging straight down in front of you, pull your elbows back on either side of your body and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Pause for a second and then lower the weight back to the starting position in a controlled manner while keeping your back neutral.
Chest Supported Incline Row
Another barbell substitute that works your back in a similar fashion to the barbell row is a chest supported incline row. To do this exercise you will need a weight bench set to 45 degrees, or something similar that you are able to support your chest with. You are also able to perform this with dumbbells or a resistance band supported under the bench.
Holding a pair of dumbbells approach the bench facing the angled back and lean on to it allowing your hands to hang straight down. With your palms facing each other pull your elbows back on either side of your body and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Keep your back muscles engaged and slowly lower the weight back down to the starting position.
Seated Cable Row
The seated cable row is one of the most popular back exercises and another good choice for a barbell substitute exercise. If you don’t have access to a cable machine, a resistance band attached on a low point or looped around your feet can be used as well.
You want to be far enough away from the cable machine that with your knees slightly bent you have to reach forward to grab the handle without rounding your lower back. Now sit up straight with arms in front of you, pull the handle to your abdomen while squeezing your shoulder blades together. Try to get your elbows past your body and hold for a second before returning to the start position. Allow the weight to pull your arms as you lean forward a bit to maximize the stretch on your back muscles.
Two things to remember when doing this barbell substitute is don’t use the momentum of your body to pull the weight toward you and don’t turn it in to a bicep exercise by pulling with your arms. If you find you are engaging the biceps too much try lowering the weight a bit and imagine you are pulling your elbows back and not your hands.
Narrow Grip Pull downs
The narrow grip pull down is another exercise that can be completed with a cable machine or resistance band. The handle attachment you use can be a Double D handle, a straight bar or a triceps rope, just make sure your grip is inside of shoulder width apart.
Sit on a bench under the cable attachment while grabbing the bar with an overhand grip. While keeping your elbows slightly in front of your body and not out to your sides, pull the bar down to your upper chest while engaging your lats. Squeeze your lat muscles at the bottom and while keeping them engaged return to the starting position.
Covered in the first installment of the barbell substitute series that you can read here, this is such a good exercise I wanted to make sure I covered it in both series.
You will need a body weight trainer or even a sturdy table that will support your weight and you can lay under to perform an inverted row. Now lay on the floor under the trainer straps and grab them with palms facing inward, keep your body rigid and your heels planted on the ground, activate your lats as you pull your body up until your elbows are behind you on either side. Hold at the top while squeezing your shoulder blades together before slowly lowering yourself back down until your arms are straight. To make this exercise easier you can raise the handles and take a step backward so your body is more vertical.
Resistance Band/Cable High Row
This is one of my favorite barbell substitutes for working the lats, when done properly you get the benefits of being able to fully contract the lat muscles as well as get a big stretch on the concentric portion of the exercise. You will need a set of resistance bands or a cable machine with a high pulley.
Holding the handle in your right-hand step back until you’ve taken the slack out of the band with an outstretched arm, stand in a staggered stance with your right foot behind your body or put your right knee on the ground with your left foot in front of your body.
Pull the band toward your abdomen while engaging your lats and slightly rotate your right side away from the attachment until your elbow is past your body. As you return to the starting position rotate back toward the anchor while reaching your right-hand as far away from your body as you can to get the maximum stretch. Complete all the reps for your right side before switching to your left.
If you do all the exercises in this barbell substitutes workout you will see great results and won’t have to worry about not having a barbell to get them.
What would you like to see me cover in the next installment of the barbell substitutes series?