If you’ve never heard of the Pendlay Row — which is a close variation to the barbell row — you may want to keep reading. Invented by USA Weightlifting Coach Glenn Pendlay, this row variation specifically targets back strength and muscular development for pulling movements, such as snatches, cleans, and deadlifts. Additionally, the strict form of this row reinforces better form, carrying over to weightlifting-specific movements and pulls.
This comprehensive guide will explore how the Pendlay row can be a useful exercise across various strength and power sports, alternatives, variations, and programming suggestions.
- How to Do the Pendlay Row
- Benefits of the Pendlay Row
- Muscles Worked
- Who Should Do the Pendlay Row
- Pendlay Row Sets, Reps, and Weight Recommendations
- Pendlay Row Variations
- Pendlay Row Alternatives
- Frequently Asked Questions
Editor’s note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it shouldn’t take the place of advice and/or supervision from a medical professional. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. Speak with your physician if you have any concerns.
Below is a step-by-step guide on how to perform the Pendlay Row. Further below, we will discuss a wide variety of variations and alternatives to the Pendlay row.
Step 1 — The Set-Up
With the barbell on the floor, set up with a slightly wider than shoulder-width grip to increase lat and back width in the pull. Get your hips set as you would for a deadlift, but a little higher.
Form Tip: Set your legs, hips, and torso tightly into position, similar to that of a Romanian Deadlift. Be sure to maximize lumbar extension in the movement to force greater back and hamstring tension.
Step 2 — Brace and Pull
With the barbell on the floor, create tension, and explosively pull the barbell to the base of the chest, making sure not to elevate the shoulders and/or allow the hips to come forward.
Form Tip: Drive the feet into the floor, and think about pulling the barbell to the hips.
Step 3 — Lower and Repeat
Return the barbell under control to the floor, reset, and repeat for controlled, strict repetitions.
Form Tip: Focus 100% on feeling the muscles doing the work. If you don’t feel the back and hamstrings (isometrically contracting to aid in stability) doing most of the work, odds are you are performing this incorrectly.
Below are three reasons why the Pendlay row is beneficial for lifters and athletes of all types.
You’ll Build a Bigger, Stronger Back
When looking to build a strong back for either aesthetic purposes or to carry over to other lifts, it’s important to train with volume, load, and focused contractions. The Pendlay allows you to load the bar with relatively heavy weight compared to other back-specific movements, yet it still forces full ranges of motion (if done correctly) to maximize back hypertrophy.
A Stronger Back for Deadlifts and Squats
The ability to contract and brace your back is essential for maintaining proper posture during moves like the deadlift, back and front squat, and the bench press. As you lift more weights in those movements, the demand on your back will be greater. To ensure your ability to brace your back stays up to speed with the rest of the lift, you should add Pendlay rows to your routine.
Because each rep is done from a dead stop on the floor, you’re forced to brace each time you lift the bar.
Specificity to Powerlifting and Weightlifting Movements
For weightlifters, 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, and both are needed during the snatch, clean & jerk, and breaking through sticking points in those specific lifts. Pendlay rows can aid in the squat and deadlift for powerlifters, as they increase lower back strength and upper back strength.
The Pendlay row is a compound exercise that targets large muscle groups of the body. The below muscle groups are worked, which can assist you in more complex movements like deadlifts, squats, and weightlifting exercises.
The lats are a large slab of thin, triangular muscle that spans pretty much the entire length of your back. They are involved in scapular depression as well as the flexion (or pulling) of your arms. Anytime you pull something to you, you’re engaging your lats.
The hamstrings work isometrically to support the lifter as they assume the bent over position in the Pendlay row. When done correctly, the lifter should feel an intense strength and loading of the hamstrings. Because you’re essentially in a deadlift position for the Pendlay row (sort of), the positional strength you’ll gain should positively affect your deadlift.
The erectors work to assist in stabilizing the spine during this bent over row variation, as you’re hinged over for the entire movement. A strong lower back is necessary and can be developed during the Pendlay row. It can directly correlate to a more substantial setup and pulling position in the deadlift or any movement in which a load is lifted from the floor.
Below are a few groups of athletes that can benefit from including Pendlay row within their training programs.
Strength and Power Athletes
Strength and power athletes can benefit immensely from including the Pendaly row into their strength and hypertrophy training:
- Powerlifters and Strongmen/Strongwomen: This assistance exercise allows for more specific training of the hips and back, both of which play a crucial role in deadlifting. Additionally, lifters can improve the lumbar and spine’s stabilization in a hinged position, helping develop a healthier, stronger deadlift.
- Olympic Weightlifters: This exercise’s main goal in weightlifting training is to develop and increase lat and lower back strength and muscle, similar to the pulls in both weightlifting movements. Increasing the hips and back isolation allows lifters to apply additional stress to promote muscular hypertrophy under a full range of motion.
Competitive CrossFit and Fitness Athletes
Isolated exercises, often not seen in functional fitness WODs, can be beneficial in one’s program. The increased emphasis on hip, lat, and lower back development may improve the barbell lifts and possibly prevent injuries.
For general population lifters — meaning anyone who isn’t competitive — adding in back-specific exercises is excellent for improving one’s posture, gym performance, and minimizing injury. However, the Pendlay row is more advanced for most beginners as it requires flexibility and proper hip hinge mechanics (which doesn’t always come naturally to most people). If you’re new to lifting, start with seated row variations, such as the cable row or chest-supported row.
Below are three primary sets, reps, and weight (intensity) recommendations for coaches and athletes to properly program the Pendlay row to help them meet specific goals. Note that the below guidelines are here to offer coaches and athletes loose recommendations for programming.
View this post on Instagram
To Gain Strength
The Pendlay row is a great strength accessory move, and so you shouldn’t aim to hit a one-rep max on it. That said, you can still work up to heavy weight, but lift three or more reps. In fact, for strength gains, we suggest starting with three to five sets of five to 10 reps. Rest for up to two minutes between sets.
To Build Muscle
For general muscle hypertrophy, performing movements in the full range of motion and loads that allow for proper positions and tempo is paramount. You can generally start by performing three to four sets of eight to 15 reps. Rest for between 60 to 90 seconds after each set.
To Improve Muscular Endurance
The Pendlay row is often not used to increase muscle endurance, as it is ideal for moving heavier loads. If you do not want to isolate the muscles individually on a smaller basis, you can perform this exercise for two to three reps of 15 to 20 reps. Generally speaking, you are limited by your weakest link, and in most cases, this will be the lower back. The good news is, done for only a couple of sets of high reps, the Pendlay row may benefit your lower back. You can also isolate your low back — adding specific lower back exercises — to strengthen the area separately.
Below are four Pendlay row variations to increase back size and strength and aid in positional strength for movements like deadlifts and other pulls off the floor.
Pendlay Row from Blocks
By raising the bar off the ground, you’re reducing the range of motion that the barbell needs to travel. This allows you to A) achieve a better starting point if your mobility is limited, and B) improve specific sticking points of your pulls. For example, if you’re weaker at the top of your rows, this will let your lift more weight to strengthen the muscles in a particular range of motion.
Tap and Go Pendlay Row
Tap and go reps are beneficial if and only if they are used to facilitate increased reps using slight body English while maintaining tension throughout the movement. They can help you increase the number of reps you do each set for more overall growth. However, if you bounce the bar off of the floor, then you’re not only potentially risking injury with haphazard form, but you’re not getting anything you of the movement.
Deficit Pendlay Row
Performing the Pendlay row from a deficit grants you all the aforementioned benefits, but with the bonus of an increased range of motion. For lifters who want to increase muscle growth, the lengthened range of motion allows you to stretch the muscle and increase the muscles’ time under tension.
Pendlay Row + Deadlift
This complex — meaning two or more moves are paired together in one set — is a great way to warm up for a deadlift session. By performing a few Pendlay rows before deadlifts, you can accumulate good volume as you build in lighters sets of deadlifts, and warm-up the hamstrings, lower back, and upper back, too. When your deadlift warm-up sets are still below 50% of your one-rep max, do three to five reps of Pendlay rows in the first few sets of warm-ups (below 50% of deadlift max).
Below are three Pendlay row alternatives that can be used to improve back strength and hypertrophy.
The seal row is a Pendlay row alternative used to attack back strength and size while minimizing hamstrings and erector stress. This is key for lifters looking to attack back growth without monitoring lower back and hamstrings stress or lifters who may have issues adding size and strength to the back due to lower back issues. To do it, lay face down on a bench that is securely sitting atop two stacked 45-pound bumper pates. (You should be able to extend your arms fully without your hands touching the floor.) Now, row either barbells or dumbbells to your chest.
Bent Over Row
This rowing variation is nearly identical to the Pendlay row except that you don’t rest the weight on the ground after each rep. Because you’re supporting the weight fully for the duration of your set, the lower back is even more taxed in this variation. For this reason, you’ll want to use less weight and perform more weight, which makes this a great muscle-building alternative.
Double Kettlebell Pendlay Row
This double kettlebell Pendlay row allows for slightly more individualization in foot stances (can help modify things if hamstrings or mobility is an issue). Also, it allows for greater unilateral strength and positional awareness (all the benefits of unilateral training combined with the benefits of the Pendlay row).
What is the difference between a Pendlay Row and a Bent Over Row?
The main difference between the two is the setup position and specificity to pulling movements. In the Pendlay row, the set up placed the lifters back in parallel to the floor, making it much more difficult to assume a proper start position. By placing the back at that angle, you can load the back and hamstrings more. The Pendlay row also has great application to movements like deadlifts and cleans, as the barbell starts from a static position on the floor and is pulled upward without allowing the hips to move up or down, reinforcing a strong setup and start position for those more advanced movements.
Can you do Pendlay Rows with dumbbells or kettlebells?
While this Pendlay row was originally meant to be used with a barbell specific to Olympic weightlifting and strength, it has evolved over the years to become a movement in and of itself. For that reason, you can certainly use dumbbells or kettlebells. However, some circles will remain fixed that the Pendlay row is used exclusively with a barbell, and anything else is just a bent over row.
How do I stop my hips from moving during the Pendlay Row?
This is one of the main reason why lifters do the Pendlay row, and is exactly why using a load that first allows proper positions is key. If you have issues doing this, you need to focus on locking the knees and hips in a bent position, push through the floor prior to lifting, and brace the core. From there, you may also need to simply use less weight.
Featured image: Paul Aiken/Shutterstock