How To Do A Pendlay Row

And how it compares to a bent over barbell row.

The bent over barbell row is one of the staple exercises for building a bigger and stronger back. But it’s easy to cheat and use momentum. Especially when lifting heavy weight.

On the other hand, the Pendlay row makes it way more difficult to cheat. So it can help you increase your strength and build a bigger back.

In this article, I show you how to do a Pendlay row with proper form. And give you several exercise variations and alternatives to work with whatever gym equipment you have.

Pendlay Row

What Is A Pendlay Row?

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

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 Muscles Worked

The primary muscle group involved in the Pendlay row is the latissimus dorsi or lats. In addition, the muscles of the shoulder blades are heavily involved in this movement. Including the rhomboids and teres major/minor.

Since this is a compound exercise, it involves movement of both the shoulder and elbow joints. So there is also some recruitment of the biceps and rear delts.

Pendlay Row Muscles Worked

In the image above, you’ll notice I shaded the lats in two different colors. This is because Pendlay rows use a little less of the lower lats compared to regular bent over rows. Keep reading to learn why.

Pendlay Row vs Bent Over Barbell Row

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

Whereas a Pendlay row starts from the floor. This means you must 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. And that means the muscles of the back must do more work.

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.

Another difference between the bent over row and Pendlay row is how you pull the bar. For a standard barbell row, you pull the bar up and back towards your belly button.

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

While these differences seem subtle, they change the mechanics of the movement. And actually shift more weight to the upper lats, rhomboids, and teres muscles.

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 Benefits & Limitations

The Pendlay row does have some advantages over standard barbell rows. Mainly that you can’t cheat by using momentum. And this puts more emphasis on the target muscles of the back.

Although eliminating momentum means you should use lighter weight. So there’s a trade-off between isolation and load.

Also, your back may start to round if you’re tall or using small plates since you have to 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

  • Puts you in a less athletic body position
  • Not the best for lifting heavy weight to overload the lats
  • Difficult to maintain 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 Video

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 which can make doing a pure Pendlay row more challenging. Ideally, you would perform this exercise on a Smith machine with a straight up and down path.

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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 before since you have to control two weights instead of one. Also, dumbbells’ small diameter means you have to bend forward farther at the start.

Kettlebell Pendaly Row

Kettlebells have handles that are a little farther off the floor compared to dumbbells. So if you have this equipment, it’s easier to get your body in the proper starting position.

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.

Hypertrophy Training Program

The Pendlay row is a great exercise to increase power and target specific muscles in your back. But if you really want to reach your fitness goals, you need a complete resistance training plan designed for muscle gain.

In order to maximize muscle growth (aka hypertrophy), you should adjust 10 specific training variables. Check out my free hypertrophy training program to see how to optimize your workouts.

Hypertrophy Training
Build More Muscle

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!

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