Pendlay Row Exercise Guide

And how it compares to a bent-over barbell row.

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTPublished: December 4, 2023

The Pendlay row is a unique variation of the bent-over row that makes it more difficult to cheat. This exercise can help you develop explosive back strength for Olympic lifting or other athletics.

In this article, I explain what distinguishes the Pendlay row from ordinary bent-over rows. And I show you how to execute this exercise with proper form. You’ll even get several exercise variations and alternatives to work with whatever gym equipment you have.

What Is A Pendlay Row?

The Pendlay row is a back exercise and a variation of the standard barbell row. US Olympic weightlifting coach Glenn Pendlay originally developed it.

One of the distinguishing features of the Pendlay row is that the upper body is nearly parallel to the floor. Another unique aspect is that each rep starts from the floor.

The idea behind this posture is to maximize back muscle activation. As well as improve your explosive power off the floor for other Olympic lifts.

Pendlay Row vs Bent Over Barbell Row

The main difference between a bent-over barbell row and a Pendlay row is the starting position. In a barbell row, you start with the bar just below your knees, which means your torso angle is roughly 45 degrees to the floor.

On the other hand, a Pendlay row starts from the floor, which requires you to bend farther forward to grab the bar. As a result, your torso angle is pretty much 0 degrees or parallel to the floor.

Starting from the floor on each rep reduces the momentum generated by your legs and upper body while initiating the movement. This means that the muscles of the back have to work harder.

Pendlay Row vs Bent Over Row Start

Figure 1. In both exercises, your knees are bent about the same. The biggest difference is the angle of your back.

There are some differences between the bent-over and Pendlay rows in terms of how you pull the bar. For a standard barbell row, you need to pull the bar up and back towards your belly button.

On the other hand, during a Pendlay row, you need to pull the bar straight up towards your sternum. As a result, your elbows flare out slightly more with the Pendlay row than with a barbell row.

Although these differences may seem subtle, they significantly affect the mechanics of the movement and how it works your back muscles.

View my full Pendlay Row vs Barbell Row guide, including a short video.

Pendlay Row vs Bent Over Row Finish

Figure 2. Notice how the legs and back stay in the same position. Only the arms move during the exercise. With Pendlay rows, you pull the weight further forward towards your chest.

Pendlay Row Muscles Worked

The Pendlay row primarily targets the latissimus dorsi or lats, along with the muscles of the shoulder blades such as the rhomboids and teres major/minor. Additionally, the biceps and rear delts are also recruited to some extent.

In the image below, I have shaded the lats in two different colors to highlight that Pendlay rows use slightly less of the lower lats compared to regular bent-over rows.

Pendlay Row Muscles Worked

Pendlay Row Benefits & Limitations

The Pendlay row has some advantages over standard barbell rows. One of the main benefits is that it prevents cheating by using momentum, which requires more explosive power output from the back muscles.

However, this also means that you should use lighter weights, which creates a trade-off between isolation and load. Additionally, if you are tall or using small plates, your back may start to round since you must reach down further towards the floor.

Pros

  • Significantly reduces momentum (cheating)
  • Reduces involvement of the legs and lower back
  • Works more of the upper lats and shoulder blades
  • Increases explosive power at the start of the movement

Cons

  • It puts you in a less athletic body position
  • It is not the best for lifting heavy weights to overload the lats
  • It is challenging to maintain a flat back for taller people or when using small plates

At the end of the day, Pendlay rows are not better than bent-over rows. They are simply an alternative exercise you can use for specific goals or changing up your workouts.

How To Do A Pendlay Row

Before beginning the lift, step up to the bar with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Now bend forward and grab the bar just outside shoulder-width.

In the starting position, your knees should be slightly bent. And your back should be relatively straight, with your eyes looking straight down at the floor.

From here, quickly pull the bar straight up from the floor towards your sternum. As you pull, your elbows should flare out to your sides at about a 45-degree angle to your body.

Step-by-step directions:

  1. Step up to the bar with feet about shoulder-width apart
  2. Grab the bar with an overhand grip just outside shoulder-width
  3. Bend your knees slightly so your back is parallel to the floor
  4. Pull the bar straight up towards your sternum
  5. Lower the bar back to the floor and let it stop before the next rep
  6. Repeat for the desired number of reps
Pendlay Row

Pendlay Row Form

The pictures and video above should give you a good idea of how to do this exercise properly. But here are some addition do’s and don’ts for proper Pendlay row form.

  • Try to keep your back flat throughout the movement

  • Try to keep your knees bent at about the same angle throughout the movement

  • The bar should touch your chest at, or just below, nipple level

  • Try not to roll your back forward

  • Do not drive or push through your legs to lift the weight

  • Do not bounce the bar off the floor (start from a dead stop each rep)

Pendlay Row Form

Figure 3. This is how your body should look at the start and mid-way point of each rep.

Pendlay Row Variations

If you work out at a gym like Planet Fitness, you might not have a free weight barbell. Or if you have a home gym, you may only have dumbbells or kettlebells. So here are some Pendlay row variations you can do with different equipment.

Smith Machine Pendlay Row

A Smith machine Pendlay row should be performed just like the barbell version. The only difference is that the bar moves on a fixed path due to the guide rails.

Some Smith machine bars travel on angled rails, making doing a pure Pendlay row more challenging. Ideally, you would perform this exercise on a Smith machine with a straight up-and-down path.

Dumbbell Pendlay Row

Another variation is to do the Pendlay row using dumbbells. One advantage is that each arm must work independently. So you’ll recruit more stabilizers.

However, you might find dumbbells more challenging if you’ve never done this exercise since you have to control two weights instead of one. Also, the small diameter of a dumbbell means you have to bend forward farther at the start.

Kettlebell Pendaly Row

Kettlebells have handles a little farther off the floor than dumbbells. So, if you have this equipment, getting your body in the proper starting position is easier.

workouts mobile

Custom Nutrition & Workout Plan

Get a personalized meal plan designed to fit your body and lifestyle. Including a custom workout routine built around your schedule and fitness goals.

All this for just $19.99! Click here to choose your plan.

Pendlay Row Alternatives

If you’re struggling to learn the technique for Pendlay rows, you may want to start with some more familiar back movements. Once you build up the strength and confidence, you can go back and try again.

Smith Machine Bent Over Row

A Smith machine row is the same as a traditional barbell row, except the bar is on guides. One benefit of this exercise is that it requires less balance and coordination. So it’s great for beginners or advanced lifters trying to isolate their lats.

Landmine Row

The landmine row is another twist on the standard bent over row. One end of the bar is secured to the floor with an apparatus called a landmine. Then you perform the row movement with the free end.

With this exercise, the movement path is also relatively fixed due to the lever action of the bar. Although you still have to control the weight from side to side.

In theory, you could do a landmine Pendlay row if you use small plates and bend forward farther. Although I’ll be honest, I’ve never tried that variation.

Meadows Row

The Meadows Row is named after the late bodybuilder John Meadows, who popularized the movement. This exercise is essentially a one-armed landmine row where you stand perpendicular to the end of the bar and grasp the sleeve.

From this position, you bend forward with the other arm resting on your knee and your back flat. Now, you pull the end of the barbell straight up by driving through your elbow.

Meadows used this exercise specifically to target the rhomboid and upper back, similar to the Pendlay row.

More Back Exercises & Workouts

The Pendlay row is a great exercise to increase power and target specific muscles in your back. But if you want to build your entire back, you’ll need a few other exercises to round out your workout.

Here are some additional back exercises and workout routines that I know you’ll find beneficial.

Best Standing Cable Pullover Angle for Activating Lats

13 Best Dumbbell Back Exercises for Lat Strength & Size

Complete Pull Day Exercises List (with Videos)

Example Dumbbell Back and Bicep Workout

Close Grip Lat Pulldown vs Wide Grip for a Bigger Back

With this information, you’ll be well on your way to reaching your fitness goals. And if you found this exercise tutorial helpful, click on the articles below for more workout tips!

Share with your community and get the conversation started!

By |December 4, 2023|Workouts|0 Comments
Go to Top