If you’re unfamiliar with the Pendlay row, you’re likely missing out on the primary benefits of performing this exercise. The Pendlay row, a close variation of the bent-over barbell row, is a weightlifting exercise that focuses on strengthening and developing the back muscles used in pulling movements.
Developed by USA Weightlifting coach Glenn Pendlay, this exercise has become a popular go-to for athletes and fitness enthusiasts looking to maximize their gains in their back and upper body. The Pendlay row is performed by holding a barbell with an overhand grip and then bending forward at the hips until the torso is nearly parallel to the floor. The movement has been used to build back strength and size in strength athletes and lifters of all levels.
Let’s learn about this powerful move that would undoubtedly add a lot of punch to your workout.
How to Do the Pendlay Row
The barbell row has been a long-running staple for building size and strength in the back, shoulders, and arms. The Pendlay row enforces specific techniques to increase power output and make the target muscles work even harder.
The Pendlay Rows is an explosive, dynamic movement that’s part deadlift and part barbell row. Here’s how to execute this move with perfect form.
Step 1 – The Pendlay Row is similar to the deadlift in form. Set up by positioning your shoulders directly above the barbell and your knees bent at about 45 degrees. Keep your hips low, almost like you’re in a half-squatting position.
Step 2 – Hinge at the waist, keeping the shoulders retracted and the chest up. Your back should be parallel to the floor.
Step 3 – Pull the bar off the floor, retracting your shoulder blades and keeping the elbows high. Pause at the top position with the barbell under your chest for one second.
Step 4 – Return the barbell to the ground quickly while maintaining a tight core. Think of it as one fluid motion.
Tip: If your torso moves significantly, reduce the weight on the bar and focus on maintaining a tight posture. Keeping a strict upper body position while lifting explosively is more critical than swinging heavy weights.
Pendlay Row Mistakes to Avoid
The Pendlay row is specifically used to avoid technique issues more common with traditional barbell rows. Make sure you’re performing it correctly by avoiding these problems.
Moving Your Upper Body
One of the most noticeable differences with a Pendlay row is the significantly bent-over position, keeping the upper body parallel to the ground throughout the exercise. This allows maximum stress on the upper back and lat muscles without using the lower back, glutes, and hamstrings to move the weight.
If your torso shifts to get the weight moving, you’re dissipating stress from the target muscles and reducing the strength and size benefit of the exercise.
Remember that the body position is deliberately bent forward to get optimal results. Be conscious of maintaining a strict parallel position. Never trade technique for more weight on the bar.
Bouncing Off the Floor
Each rep of a Pendlay row should be performed with the bar starting from a rested position on the floor. This requires your body to produce maximum force for each rep instead of relying on the stretch-shortening cycle (a muscular phenomenon that uses a stretched position to increase strength). This technique is sometimes referred to as “dead-stop training.”
Eliminating this complete rest at the bottom allows momentum to build, which decreases the body’s force production and reduces the exercise’s effectiveness.
Allow the bar to come to a complete stop on the ground after each rep. Releasing the bar and resetting your grip between reps can also help ensure a complete stop. Approach any set as a series of individual reps, not one group of several reps. For example, instead of “a set of five reps,” think of performing “five single reps” with one second between each.
Benefits of the Pendlay Row
The Pendlay row was initially used to support good old-fashioned strength gains. Like all barbell rows, it also delivers plenty of muscular growth. Here are all the reasons to train with this big, basic lift.
A strong back is essential for maximal strength production during pressing exercises and reducing the risk of shoulder injuries. The Pendlay row directly trains all the muscles of the back to increase pulling strength, as well as to carry over to the bench and overhead pressing.
Because the Pendlay row is performed from a dead stop, an explosive lift is required to move the weight. This helps to increase muscle recruitment and has been shown to improve overall power and strength gains.
Directly training the lats and upper back with heavy weights is an ideal way to trigger muscle growth. The Pendlay row applies muscular stress to these body parts and the biceps and forearms, making it an excellent cornerstone for any back-building workout.
Muscles Worked by Pendlay Row
The Pendlay row is a compound (multi-joint) exercise coordinating many muscles to complete the lift. This intense exercise hits nearly every muscle on the back half of the body, and then some.
The upper back — consisting of the trapezius, rear deltoids (shoulders), rhomboids, and other smaller muscles — works primarily to control the shoulder blades (scapulae). The Pendlay row activates the upper back on each repetition, helping to lift the bar from the ground and pull the bar into the top position.
The latissimus dorsi (lats) are the largest muscles on the back, running near your ribs and from under your arms to your lower back. They work to bring your arm in towards your body from an extended position, making them the primary mover during any rowing exercise.
The spinal erectors are a pair of muscular columns running the length of your spine. They work to control your torso position at the waist (bending forwards or sideways and rotating). During the Pendlay row, the spinal erectors work to maintain a static upper-body position.
The biceps brachii (biceps) control flexion at the elbow, bending your arm into a closed position. At the same time, they don’t undergo a complete contraction during a Pendlay row (a broader grip on the bar prevents a full biceps contraction); the biceps help to pull the weight towards your body and complete the lift in the top position.
The forearms are technically composed of two separate muscles — the flexors on the bottom side of the forearm and the extensors on the top side. Maintaining a secure grip on the barbell during Pendlay rows heavily activates the flexors while controlling the bar during the upwards lift recruits the extensors.
Who Should Do the Pendlay Row
Like many compound exercises, lifters with various goals can benefit from incorporating the Pendlay row into their workouts.
Strength and Power Athletes
Lifters focused on moving serious weights in competition (or for recreation, too) can benefit from the strength and power built from Pendlay rows. Coach Pendlay used the exercise to assist the power lifts and eventually used it as a staple for his Olympic weightlifting champions.
Training for Muscle
Heavy rowing exercises have consistently built large, muscular backs. The Pendlay row develops thicker, wider lats and an upper back to match.
Pendlay Row vs. Barbell Row
When athletes see someone perform the Pendlay row, they start to wonder whether this is a good replacement for the barbell row or makes for a worthwhile accessory lift.
Some of the recent traction is also because of many Olympic lifting videos of the Pendlay Row going viral on social media. However, when you are not an elite strength athlete, are you getting the most bang for your buck by performing this movement?
The Pendlay Row was initially designed to develop strength, while the Barbell Row is focused on hypertrophy.
The Pendlay Row, also known as a JS Row or even a Speed Deadlift by many coaches, is a touch-and-go variation of the barbell row. You do not lower or pause at any point during the lift. You pull the bar from the floor to your lower chest, hinged at the waist with your back parallel to the ground, and then immediately return it in one fluid motion.
The Barbell Row, on the other hand, requires you to lower the bar in a 3-4 second count. You lower it until your arms are fully extended and pause before initiating the next pull. Think of it like a pulsing move rather than an explosive one.
Range of Motion
The Pendlay Row requires you to lift the bar off the ground from a dead-stop position. You rip the bar off the floor and bring it up to your chest for a stand-still rep before lowering it back down again, all the way to the floor.
This means that the range of motion for all muscle groups involved is much higher. The Barbell Row, on the other hand, requires you to lower the bar to almost fully extended arms but then return it up to the chest again. This means you have a limited range of motion. Your arms are never fully extended.
You can lift more weight with Pendlay Rows than barbell rows because the movement is explosive, and there’s no pause at any point during the lift. The caveat is that your total reps will be lower.
The Barbell Row, on the other hand, allows you to do more reps because you generally don’t lift as heavy as you do with the Pendlay row.
Carry Over to Other Compounds
The better you are with your Pendlay Rows, the more explosive you will perform any other weightlifting exercise like the deadlift or the squat.
The Barbell row, on the other hand, offers slightly lesser carry-over benefits. It’s still a terrific compound move in its own right, and it works when you are trying to build muscle mass. But when compared to the Pendlay Row, the Barbell row doesn’t bring as many gains when it comes to other compound moves like squats or deadlifts.
Because the Pendlay row focuses more on explosive lifts, it rarely pushes your body into overdrive. You need to allow for ample recovery time between each workout session involving the Pendlay Row. But it will still be easier to recover from.
The Barbell row, on the other hand, will increase the time under tension for your muscles. Also, with more reps, there’s a likelihood that your muscles will be pushed into overdrive.
So, your body will generally require more recovery time with the Barbell row than with the Pendlay row.
Which Exercise is Harder for beginners?
That’s subjective. But given the heavier weight, the full range of motion, and the fact that the move is more demanding on a neural level, beginners may find it harder to perform the Pendlay row than barbell rows.
The Barbell Row is useful for those just learning how to lift weights because you can start with lighter weights, and it has a restricted range of motion. That said, you must learn the form for each move regardless of which one you pick. If you find doing both of these exercises hard, try building your upper body doing seated rows, close grip bench presses, dumbbell presses, or barbell presses. You can also try negative or assisted pull-ups to get a more muscular upper body.
You are constantly hinged with your back parallel to the ground. The Barbell row requires you to be in a loaded position for as long as you perform the exercise. That can be taxing on your lower back. To ensure that you can execute the move staying free of injuries, master good form with lighter weight.
Which Is Better For Powerlifting?
The Pendlay row wins, hands down. It’s a much more effective weightlifting exercise for powerlifters because it assists the lifter with explosiveness from the floor to the lockout position. That’s useful in most powerlifting exercises like deadlifts and squats.
Which Is Better For General Strength?
If you are not a powerlifter or an elite Olympic athlete, any differences in these two exercises for general strength development might be too minuscule.
The Barbell Row is more about endurance. You will notice that the explosive power required to lift the barbell is considerably less than what you need for a Pendlay Row. For a seasoned athlete, the difference in the two is significant. The Pendlay row is a clear winner.
But if you are a recreational lifter, performing either move with perfect form would be more helpful. The strength gains will come regardless.
Can you do both?
Absolutely! You can focus on the Pendlay row one day with high intensity and low volume and reserve a day for the Barbell row with higher volume.
- Pendlay Row: JPS Health & Fitness