10 Hammer Strength Row Alternatives (With Pictures)

10 hammer strength row alternatives

The hammer strength row is an upper body exercise used to develop strength and muscle mass in the lats, biceps, and shoulders. But it requires a hammer strength row machine, and if your gym doesn’t have one or you work out at home with limited equipment, you’ll need to consider an alternative.

The 10 best hammer strength row alternatives are:

  • Seated cable row
  • Lat pulldowns
  • Bentover rows
  • Pendlay row
  • Seal row
  • Single-arm dumbbell row
  • Chest-supported row
  • Kroc row
  • Inverted row
  • Banded row

In this list, I’ve included hammer strength row alternatives that you can do with other machines, a barbell, dumbbells, or a resistance band.

I’ll also show you how to perform each exercise correctly, provide tips to help you avoid common mistakes, and give you ideas on how to progress each movement based on your current abilities.

What Makes A Good Hammer Strength Row Alternative?

What makes a good hammer strength row alternative?

A good hammer strength row alternative should do one or both of the following:

  • Utilize a similar movement pattern
  • Work the same muscle groups

With the hammer strength row, you’re sitting with your chest against a support pad while pulling weight towards you horizontally. While other movements that you swap for the hammer strength row may require you to stand straight or in a bentover position, the weight should still be moving in a horizontal plane.

Alternative hammer strength row exercises should also work the following muscle groups:

  • Lats
  • Biceps
  • Shoulders (particularly the rear deltoids)

Some variations may require stabilization from other areas of the body — for example, the core and legs when doing a bentover row — but these three muscle groups should be the prime movers.

Hammer Strength Row Alternatives With Machines

1. Seated Cable Row

Like the hammer strength row, the seated cable row involves pulling weight in a horizontal line. The biggest difference is that the seated cable row uses a cable pulley setup while the hammer strength row requires you to pull two separate bars.

The seated cable row works the traps (the muscles in the upper back close to your shoulders and neck) and rhomboids (the muscles close to the shoulder blades that sit on either side of your upper back), but it also targets the lats and biceps, making it a suitable hammer strength row alternative.

How To Do It

  • Sit on the bench and place your feet on the footplates so your knees are bent at about a 45-degree angle.
  • Lean forward to grab the handles, then make sure your torso is vertical and your upper back muscles are engaged. This will prevent you from using your arms too much to pull the weight.
  • Pull the handle towards your stomach and squeeze your shoulder blades together.
  • Slowly extend your arms, make sure that the weights don’t slam down.
  • Repeat until you’ve completed all of your reps.

Pro Tip

When extending your arms, don’t let the weight pull you too far forward as this will take all of the emphasis off of your back muscles. You should also avoid leaning too far back as you pull the weight towards you — it shouldn’t look like you’re on a rower.

2. Lat Pulldowns

The lat pulldown is a popular exercise for strengthening the lats and adding width to your back. It’s a staple in most strength training routines due to the strength and hypertrophy benefits it offers. It’s also one of the best exercises to do to help you achieve your first pull-up.

How To Do It

  • Adjust the seat height and the thigh pads so that when you sit down, your thighs can fit snugly underneath them.
  • Adjust the weight on the machine.
  • Sit down and grab the bar with a wide overhand grip. Your biceps should be slightly in front of your ears.
  • Retract your shoulder blades.
  • Pull the bar down towards your chest and squeeze your shoulder blades.
  • Avoid leaning your torso too far back or bringing your elbows straight back behind you. Think about bringing them down and back instead of just straight back.
  • Extend your arms while keeping your feet flat on the floor.

Pro Tip

Two common flaws with lat pulldowns are not bringing the bar low enough at the bottom and not extending your arms enough at the top of the movement.

You should be pulling the bar as far down as you can go. Ideally, the bar will touch your upper chest unless you have really poor upper back and lat mobility. If you have sufficient mobility but still find it difficult to get the bar low enough, you may need to lower the weight.

And when you’re extending your arms, you want to make sure you’re moving through a full range of motion and not stopping before your arms are fully extended. This essentially cheats the movement and can hinder muscle growth in the lats.

Do you have trouble activating your lats when doing pull-ups? Check out How To Activate Your Lats More During Pull-ups (5 Tips).

Hammer Strength Row Alternatives With A Barbell

3. Bentover Row

The bentover row is one of the most popular barbell exercises to target the upper back. It can be used as a suitable alternative for the hammer strength row if you want more variety in your routine or if your gym doesn’t have a hammer strength row machine.

How To Do It

  • Load a barbell with your desired weight and place it on the ground.
  • Stand with the bar directly over midfoot and your feet hip-width apart.
  • Deadlift the bar up to your hips.
  • Hinge your hips until your torso is at about a 45-degree angle and lower the bar until it’s right below your knee caps.
  • Brace your core and make sure you’re keeping your shoulder blades down and back.
  • Raise the bar until it makes contact somewhere between your belly button and the bottom of your sternum.
  • Make sure you don’t flare your elbows out to the sides. You should be pulling them straight back.
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades at the top of the movement, then lower the bar back down to just below your knees.
  • Repeat until you’ve completed all of your reps.

Pro Tip

If you want to work more of your biceps, you can hold the bar with a supinated grip (palms facing away from you).

Also, because you’re in a bentover position for an extended period of time, your lower back may get fatigued faster than your upper back. You may need to keep the reps lower if you feel too much stress on your lower back. I also recommend not doing bentover rows on the same day as deadlifts.

The T-bar row is another popular rowing exercise, but it requires a different setup with a landmine attachment. Learn more about the differences between the two exercises in T-Bar Row vs Barbell Row: Differences, Pros, Cons.

4. Pendlay Row

The Pendlay row is similar to the bentover row except you bring the bar all the way down to the ground for a full stop after each rep. This requires you to move the bar through a larger range of motion and helps you develop more power since you’re starting each new rep from a dead stop.

This also makes the Pendlay row a good movement to do if you’re trying to increase your deadlift strength.

How To Do It

  • Load a barbell with plates on each side and place it on the ground.
  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart and the bar directly over your midfoot.
  • Hinge at the hips to bend over so your torso is parallel to the floor and grab the bar with an overhand grip, keeping your hips high with just a slight bend in your knees.
  • Think about keeping your shoulders down and back.
  • Without using any momentum, lift the bar until it makes contact between your stomach and your sternum.
  • Lower the bar down all the way until it touches the ground.
  • Let the bar come to a full stop before you start your next rep.

Pro Tip

You may have issues with the bar hitting your knees, especially if you have long legs. You can resolve this by setting up with a higher hip angle. You can also elevate the bar by placing the loaded ends on stacks of plates to raise its starting position or setting the bar on low safety pins in your squat rack.

It’s also common for the bar to hit your knees in the deadlift. Find out how you can resolve this in How To Deadlift Without Hitting Your Knees (5 Tips).

5. Seal Row

The seal row is a rowing variation that takes any possibility of cheating with momentum out of the equation. Since you’re laying down on a bench, your torso is forced to stay more rigid throughout the movement.

The seal row also removes stress placed on the lower back, making it a good option if you don’t want your back to remain in constant tension with a bentover row.

This exercise is best done on a seal row machine. But if your gym doesn’t have one or you want to try this exercise at home, you can use a flat bench propped up on a stack of plates or two plyo boxes of the same height. Just be very careful and ensure that whatever you put your bench on won’t slide out from underneath you.

How To Do It

  • If you’re using a seal row machine, load the bar on the machine with your desired weight.
  • If you’re using a regular flat bench, prop it up and slide a barbell underneath it. Then load the bar with your desired weight.
  • Lie face down on the bench and grab the bar with a pronated (overhand) grip.
  • Use your back muscles to pull the bar up and aim your elbows towards the ceiling.
  • Slowly lower the bar until your arms are fully extended, then repeat.

Pro Tip

To isolate your lats more, use a narrower grip and aim to pull the bar more your waist instead of up towards your chest.

Hammer Strength Row Alternatives With Dumbbells

6. Single-Arm Dumbbell Row

Even though the hammer strength row is a bilateral exercise (meaning you pull with both arms at the same time), it’s always good to incorporate unilateral (single-arm) work into your routine. The single-arm dumbbell row allows you to do just that since you’re pulling weight on one side of the body at a time.

How To Do It

  • Holding a dumbbell in one hand, kneel on a bench with the opposite leg and place your free hand on the bench for support. Your hand should be directly underneath your shoulder.
  • Alternatively, you can do this exercise standing by hinging at the hips to hold on to a stack of plates, a bench, or a box with your free hand.
  • Make sure your back is flat.
  • Keeping your arm close to your body, pull the dumbbell up until your elbow is about even with your torso.
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades at the top.
  • Slowly lower the weight back down without letting your shoulder drop towards the floor once your arm is fully extended.
  • Complete all reps, then switch sides and repeat.

Pro Tip

A common flaw of the single-arm dumbbell row is bringing the dumbbell up to the armpit instead of back towards the hip. Bringing it back towards the hip engages the lats more. Thinking about pulling with your back rather than pulling with your arm can help you bring the dumbbell closer to your hip.

Looking for other ways to train your back as a powerlifter? Check out How Do Powerlifters Train Back? (3 Must-Do Exercises).

7. Chest-Supported Row

The chest-supported row allows you to isolate your lats and upper back more because it removes any temptation to use momentum to lift the weight. You also don’t have to rely on your core and lower body to keep you stabilized like you would when doing a bentover row.

How To Do It

  • Adjust an incline bench so it’s at a 45-degree angle.
  • Lie on the bench with your legs straight out behind you.
  • Carefully pick up dumbbells with both hands and let your arms hang straight down with your palms facing each other.
  • Use your back to lift the weight and pull your elbows back towards your ribcage.
  • Don’t let your chest rise from the bench or arch your back as you lift the weight.
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades at the top.
  • Slowly lower the weight and repeat until you’ve completed all of your reps.

Pro Tip

While this exercise is most commonly done with a neutral grip (hands facing each other), you can also do it with a pronated grip (palms facing backward). This will work more of the traps and rear delts.

However, doing the movement with a pronated grip can also cause shoulder discomfort. You may want to stick with the neutral grip if you have a history of shoulder injuries.

8. Kroc Row

The kroc row is one of those exercises that you may think someone is doing wrong because it uses more momentum than a regular dumbbell row. But it’s actually an effective way to strengthen the lats.

Also, it’s not uncommon to be able to lift a lot more weight for higher reps with the kroc row. It’s a good exercise to add to your routine if you’re having trouble progressing on other upper back movements.

How To Do It

  • Hold a dumbbell in one hand and use your other hand to hold onto something for support such as an incline bench, a plyo box, or a stack of plates.
  • Use a split stance with the foot of your non-weighted side in front.
  • Make sure your shoulders stay higher than your hips. Your torso should be at roughly a 15-degree angle.
  • Pull your shoulders down and back while bracing your core.
  • Pull the dumbbell up and back towards your rib cage.
  • Stop as soon as you feel a contraction in your lats. Your elbow shouldn’t travel very far past your midsection.
  • Lower the weight without pausing at the top.
  • Allow your shoulder to drop towards the floor at the bottom of the movement until you feel a stretch in your lats and upper back.
  • Complete your desired number of reps, then repeat with the other arm.

Pro Tip

Because you can typically use a heavier dumbbell for the kroc row than you would for the regular dumbbell row, your grip may give out faster than the rest of your body.

If you need to, use a pair of lifting straps so you can complete all of your reps without having to break them up. My personal favorite straps are the Gymreapers Lifting Straps.

Check to see whether the lifting straps are cheaper on Amazon or direct from Gymreapers. If there are no price differences, I recommend ordering direct from Gymreapers to get better customer service.

If you’re in the market for a new pair of lifting straps, I reviewed more of the best products on the market in the article Best Lifting Straps: What Are Top Lifters Wearing?

Hammer Strength Row Alternatives You Can Do At Home

9. Inverted Row

The inverted row is an excellent pulling exercise for people who work out at home. All you need is a sturdy squat rack and a barbell.

How To Do It

  • Adjust the height of a squat rack so the bar is at about waist height.
  • Lie on the floor so your chest is directly underneath the bar.
  • Grab the bar with a wide overhand grip.
  • Keeping your body in a straight line, engage your glutes and core and use your lats to bring your chest to the bar.
  • Avoid letting your hips sink towards the floor.
  • Lower yourself back down to the starting position and repeat for your desired number of reps.

Pro Tip

You may notice that the bar moves back and forth on the J-cups as you’re pulling yourself up and lowering yourself back down. To prevent this, you can secure the bar with resistance bands.

With the bar on the rack, loop one end against the inside of the barbell’s bushings or bearings. Bring the band around the back of the post on the squat rack and loop it around the bar and J-cup several times in a figure-8 pattern. Once you can’t wrap it anymore, loop the other end of the band around the sleeve of the barbell. Do the same thing on the other side.

This will prevent the bar from shifting too much, which will help you feel more stable.

10. Banded Row

Using resistance bands for rows is beneficial because you get resistance from the elasticity of the band without having to overload your joints with heavy weights if you’re unable to or don’t want to use dumbbells or a barbell.

Banded rows are also very convenient. All you need is a resistance band and something sturdy to wrap it around. You can use a thicker or thinner band to make the movement easier or more challenging.

How To Do It

  • Secure a resistance band to something sturdy such as the post of a squat rack.
  • Make sure the band is about even with your rib cage.
  • Grab the band with your hands facing each other and take several steps backward so that it’s straight when you hold it with your arms outstretched.
  • Bending your elbows, pull the band back towards you, stopping when your hands are even with your chest.
  • Don’t allow the tension from the band to pull your shoulders too far forward as you extend your arms.

Pro Tip

If you don’t have something at home that you can secure a band to, you can sit on the floor with your legs outstretched and loop one end of the band around your feet. Hold onto the band with both hands, keeping your elbows close to your sides. Pull the band until your elbows are behind you, then slowly straighten your arms again and repeat.

When doing this variation, be sure to keep your torso rigid. Avoid rocking back and forth as the momentum will remove the emphasis from your upper back muscles.

Other Upper Body Exercise Alternatives

About The Author

Amanda Dvorak

Amanda Dvorak is a freelance writer and powerlifting enthusiast. Amanda played softball for 12 years and discovered her passion for fitness when she was in college. It wasn’t until she started CrossFit in 2015 that she became interested in powerlifting and realized how much she loves lifting heavy weights. In addition to powerlifting, Amanda also enjoys running and cycling.