What Is the Pendlay Row?The Pendlay Row is a horizontal row exercise that trains the entire back.
It’s named after USA weightlifting coach Glenn Pendlay, who coached weightlifters to row with their backs parallel to the floor and lift the barbell from a dead stop on the ground with each rep.
Pendlay believed performing horizontal rows like this was the most effective way to develop muscle, strength, and power because it prevented you from using momentum to “cheat” the weight up.
Pendlay Rows: Benefits
1. It trains your entire back.Many people think that vertical pulling exercises develop your lats, which makes your back wider, and horizontal pulling exercises develop your traps, rhomboids, and teres muscles, which makes your back “thicker.”
However, this isn’t based on any sound scientific reasoning and is essentially just gym lore.
Research shows that horizontal pulling exercises, like the Pendlay row, train your entire back, including your lats (perhaps even slightly better than vertical pulling exercises like the pull-up and lat pulldown).
Thus, all horizontal row exercises, including the barbell Pendlay row, make your back thicker, wider, and stronger.
2. It boosts your performance on other exercises.Having a strong back is essential if you want to lift heavy weights—you can think of it as the scaffolding that supports the rest of your body.
It keeps your upper body tight and prevents you from tipping forward in the squat, stops your spine from rounding in the deadlift, and creates a stable base during the bench press.
The barbell Pendlay row allows you to lift heavy weights safely and progress regularly, which makes it ideal for gaining back strength that’ll boost your performance on other exercises.
3. It prevents you from using “momentum.” When you rapidly stretch a muscle, your central nervous system sends a signal “instructing” that muscle to contract.
This process is known as the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC), and it helps you lift heavier weights on exercises that involve quickly transitioning from the eccentric (lowering) to the concentric (lifting) portion of the exercise, such as the squat, bench press, and barbell row.
While the SSC is vital for lifting heavy weights, it may also rob you of some muscle growth since your muscles have to do less work when you rely heavily on the spring-like effect of the SSC.
Unlike most row exercises, each rep of the Pendlay row begins and ends with the barbell on the floor. This prevents you from using the SSC to lift more weight and ensures your muscles work hard through the full range of motion, making it ideal for gaining muscle, strength, and power.
Pendlay Row: Muscles WorkedThe main muscles worked by the Pendlay row are the . . .
- Latissimus dorsi
- Teres major and minor
- Posterior deltoids
- Erector spinae
Here’s how the main muscles worked by the barbell Pendlay row look on your body:
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Pendlay Row: FormThe best way to learn proper Pendlay row form is to split the exercise into three parts: set up, row, and descend.
1. Set up.Position your feet shoulder-width apart under a loaded barbell with your toes pointed slightly outward. Bend over and grab the bar slightly wider than shoulder-width apart with an overhand grip (palms facing toward you), then straighten your back and raise your hips until your back is roughly parallel to the floor.
2. Row.Take a deep breath into your belly and brace your core, then, without changing your back angle, pull the weight to your upper body, touching it anywhere between your lower chest and belly button.
As you pull the bar, drive your shoulder blades together and your elbows toward the ceiling.
3. Descend.While keeping your back flat and your core tight, reverse the movement and return the bar to its starting position on the floor.
Don’t try to lower the bar slowly or quietly. The entire descent should take 1-to-2 seconds or less. Take a moment to get in the proper starting position, then start your next rep.
Pendlay Row: Common Mistakes
1. Lifting too much weight. Many new weightlifters anticipate lifting the same amount on the Pendlay row as they do on a regular barbell row. However, because of the Pendlay row’s stricter form, you typically can’t lift nearly as much.
Trying to lift too much weight usually causes your form to break down, diminishing the exercise’s effectiveness. Avoid this by choosing a weight that allows you to row with proper form, then increase the weight gradually.
2. Using your hips and legs.Driving through your legs and “whipping” your back up by thrusting your hips forward allows you to lift heavier weights but detracts from the Pendlay row’s primary purpose: developing explosive strength and power in your back.
While there’s a time and place for using “leg drive” (in the regular barbell row, for example), you should try to keep your hips and legs as still as possible throughout each rep of the Pendlay row. Only lifting weights that are light enough to allow you to perform the exercise with proper form is the best way to achieve this.
3. Flaring your elbows.Excessive elbow flaring turns the Pendlay row into a rear delt row, shifting the focus to the shoulders rather than the back.
To ensure you train your back muscle, keep your elbows at a 45-degree angle relative to your torso throughout each rep. For most people, this means keeping your elbow 6-to-8 inches from your sides.