Pendlay Row vs Barbell Row – Which Is Best for Strength?

The barbell row is one of the most widely embraced upper body movement to build serious strength and muscle mass regardless of sport and aesthetic goals. When browsing across the various rowing variations, we often see lifters using a wide range of back angles, “total body” momentum, and/or ranges of motion.

Glenn When looking at which row style to embrace, we are often faced with a decision to choose between the barbell row and/or the strict, back parallel to floor version, called the Pendlay row.

Therefore, in this article we will discuss each row movement, provide video demonstration of proper execution, and discuss the distinct differences and applications of each rowing style.

The Pendlay Row

In a recent sit down with Glenn Pendlay, we discussed the origins of this row. According to Glenn, the row is simply a bent over row done the way it should be; strict, back flat, and parallel to the floor. Whether or not he calls it the Pendlay row or just a simple row is another story, which you can read more about here.

In the video below we look at how to properly perform the Pendlay row.

The Barbell Row

The barbell row is a vague exercise classification given to any and all rowing movements done with a barbell. This includes the Pendlay row, which is a distinct style of barbell rowing. Other variations include underhand barbell rows, barbell rows with a 45 degree back angle, and more. Take a look at the video below to see how to properly perform a barbell row and how it is slightly different than the pendlay row variation. This video is specifically geared for those of us who are serious about strength and power sports, so pay attention!

Differences and Applications

Below are some of the key differences between the Pendlay row and barbell row, and how they apply specifically to strength and power sporting movements.

Muscular Hypertrophy

Both rows have the ability to promote massive muscle growth. When looking to build a strong back for either aesthetic purposes or carry over to other lifts, it’s important to train with volume, load, and focused contractions at specific times of your training. Muscular hypertrophy can be done with both movements, especially when hand placement, back angle, and increased strict form is prioritized (however doing more body english on a high rep row set can also help increase muscular damage and growth).

General Strength

Strong is strong. Therefore, to be strong, one must take the time to develop both lifts. When looking why you actually need/want all that strength (such as in the specific sections below), you need to determine if overall strength is a weakness or specific positional strength is your issue. If you have issues staying tight with the back in a deadlift or squat, you may need to start performing a strict rowing versions like the Pendlay row. If however, you need to just gain some overall size and strength, heavy barbell rows at various angles (even with some body english) can also help you gain strength and mass.

Specificity to Powerlifting and Weightlifting Movements

In terms of weightlifting, performing the Pendlay row is a top priority for lifters who lack positional strength in the hamstrings and back. The Pendlay row does a great job of increasing static and concentric strength, both needed during the snatch, clean, and breaking through stick points in a lift. For powerlifting, Pendlay rows can also be used to aid in the squat and deadlift, as they increase lower and upper back strength, similarity to the effects on weightlifters. That said, barbell rows (and their variations) are great ways to add general strength and muscle mass, both of which are very beneficial to gaining weight and getting strong.

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Mike holds a Master's in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor's in Exercise Science. Currently, Mike has been with BarBend since 2016, where he covers Olympic weightlifting, sports performance training, and functional fitness. He's a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and is the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at New York University, in which he works primarily with baseball, softball, track and field, cross country. Mike is also the Founder of J2FIT, a strength and conditioning brand in New York City that offers personal training, online programs for sports performance, and has an established USAW Olympic Weightlifting club.In his first two years writing with BarBend, Mike has published over 500+ articles related to strength and conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, strength development, and fitness. Mike’s passion for fitness, strength training, and athletics was inspired by his athletic career in both football and baseball, in which he developed a deep respect for the barbell, speed training, and the acquisition on muscle.Mike has extensive education and real-world experience in the realms of strength development, advanced sports conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, and human movement. He has a deep passion for Olympic weightlifting as well as functional fitness, old-school bodybuilding, and strength sports.Outside of the gym, Mike is an avid outdoorsman and traveller, who takes annual hunting and fishing trips to Canada and other parts of the Midwest, and has made it a personal goal of his to travel to one new country, every year (he has made it to 10 in the past 3 years). Lastly, Mike runs Rugged Self, which is dedicated to enjoying the finer things in life; like a nice glass of whiskey (and a medium to full-bodied cigar) after a hard day of squatting with great conversations with his close friends and family.