The Pendlay Row is one of the most popular barbell rowing variations for strength athletes. It’s a variation of the bent over row, but with a double overhand grip, and a stricter alignment of the hips and back. All types of strength athletes can benefit from utilizing this rowing variation because it promotes pulling movements, while isolating major muscle groups used in pulls.
The Pendlay Row was originally named after American weightlifting Coach Glenn Pendlay. This row variation will forever go down in strength sports history with Pendlay’s name on it, but Pendlay’s done much for the sport of weightlifting than having an exercise named after him.
Pendlay has been a weightlifting coach for over 20 years, and has coached countless athletes at the club, National, and International level. In his coaching tenure, he’s also helped multiple athletes break American weightlifting records. Pendlay has also helped formulate a popular line of weightlifting shoes, barbells, and plates.
Currently, Pendlay is still a weightlifting coach, and continues to bring the best out of weightlifting athletes from all levels of experience. For this article, we wanted to learn how Pendlay ended up having an exercise named after him.
BarBend: For strength athletes that don’t know you (which is probably very few), can you give us a little background on yourself?
Pendlay: A glance into my history. I have been interested in getting strong and being strong since at least age 8 or 9. I started squatting after having used a post hole digger to put two posts in the ground to use as squat racks at about age 12. I trained outside, and I even trained when it rained. At some point, probably in HS, the squat rack got moved into a shed on our property in Kansas. I didn’t even know what weightlifting or powerlifting were back then, I just knew that I wanted to be strong.
I wrestled in high school and that sport consumed all of my time for quite a while. I had planned to wrestle in college, but shoulder problems in HS convinced me that I should sit out at least one year and concentrate on getting stronger. When I went off to college I started powerlifting, simply because I didn’t even know that weightlifting existed. Remember, this was all before the internet, Facebook, Google, etc.
Suffice to say, that my path to weightlifting was a long journey and included getting into powerlifting, then Scottish Highland Games, before discovering the sport of weightlifting. But weightlifting is my true love, and it’s too bad it took me so long to find it.
BarBend: That’s an insane background. Diving into the Pendlay Row, what gave you the idea/motivation to create this rowing variation? Do you remember the exact moment when you started getting recognition for the row variation that’s now the Pendlay row?
Pendlay: In reality, the Pendlay Row is simply a strict barbell row, done with the back staying at parallel to the ground, more or less. Arching the back in an explosive movement was just something that seemed right. I didn’t really invent this, it’s just a barbell row done the way they should be done.
I started doing these when I was competing in powerlifting, and my biggest weakness as a powerlifter was back strength. I always felt that if I could hold the bar on my back and get set up with it, then the squatting aspect was the easy part. My legs were always plenty strong, and I just needed a stronger torso and back to hold the bar.
These rows contributed a huge help to making my back strong. When I first started doing them, 185 pounds was really tough for a set of 5. Years later, I eventually did 315 for 10, 365 for 5, and 405 for 3. My back was a huge weak point and I just kept on and kept on till I made it into a strong point.
BarBend: When you started doing your row variation, how did you teach and use it? Was there any resistance from others who saw it as new? Were there skeptics of its usefulness?
Pendlay: I didn’t really discuss it with people. If anyone asked, I just called them barbell rows. In fact, years later when people started calling them Pendlay Rows, I resisted it, and said again and again, it was just a strict barbell row. But calling them Pendlay rows just never died out.
BarBend: Since the original use of the Pendlay Row, has anything changed? For example, have you seen it grow over time and find that it’s useful for more reasons than you originally used it for?
Pendlay: I originally used it to strengthen my back for powerlifting, specifically the squat. It was only many years later when the name had already firmly stuck, and I was coaching weightlifting that I started using it for weightlifters. Turns out, strong is strong, and a strong back is just as useful for weightlifting as it is for powerlifting.
BarBend: How long did you use this row variation before it became known as the Pendlay row?
Pendlay: I did rows like this for a long long time, many years before they become known as Pendlay rows.
BarBend: Why do you think some exercises like the Pendlay Row and Pallof Press stick so well in the strength world?
Pendlay: Honestly, I have no idea why people do most of the things that they do.
BarBend: Going off the above point, why do you think the strength world as a whole hasn’t seen more exercises with coach’s names attached to them?
Pendlay: Again, I have no idea. The Pendlay row isn’t really a revolutionary exercise, or in it anyway special in my opinion. If I had to pick a lift to have named after me, then it certainly wouldn’t be a form of the barbell row.
BarBend: Your name will forever go down in lifting history for the Pendlay Row, and that’s a seriously cool accolade. How do you feel about that?
Pendlay: If that’s all that my name goes down in history for, then I will feel like a failure.
My LIFE WORK has been and continues to be to elevate American weightlifting up to where it should be. If some day, when I am dead and gone, if someone remembers me as a great coach, that would be cool. Or, if I’m remembered me as the coach of some yet to be discovered Olympian or world medalist – that would be cool.
Feature image from @glennpendlay Instagram page.