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How to Do the Pendlay Row (Videos) | Origym

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The Pendlay Row is pretty similar to the standard bent over row (also known as the barbell row) just with a few tweaks that mean that there are a couple of benefits unique to this movement. 

Glenn Pendlay, an Olympic weightlifting coach, created this variation of the traditional barbell row pretty much by accident. But according to Pendlay, Pendlay Rows are just a bent over row done with proper form rather than a ‘variation’ of the original exercise. 

The main downside of the bent over row favoured by bodybuilders is that a lot of people cheat their form. The benefit of opting for a pendlay row instead is that you’re forced to keep a stricter form, reducing the strain on your lower back whilst seeing a serious increase in the strength and size of the muscles in your back, particularly the latissimus dorsi (lats).

Stick with us because we’re going to discuss the pendlay row benefits shortly. But first, we’re going to go through exactly how to do this exercise, how to get the correct form, the Pendlay Row muscles worked and how it differs from the bent over row. 

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How to Do a Pendlay Row

Starting Position

pendlay row starting position image

  • Start with the barbell on the floor in front of you.
  • Stand with your feet flat on the floor, around hip-width apart.
  • Bend down by slightly bending your knees and hinging forward at your hips until your torso is parallel to the floor.
  • Keep your back straight.
  • Grab the barbell slightly wider than shoulder-width apart using an overhand grip.
  • Hold the barbell in front of your thighs.

Execution  

how to do pendlay row execution

  • Brace your core and lift the barbell up towards your chest.
  • You should lift the bar by moving your arms and squeezing your shoulder blades together without raising your shoulders.
  • Your elbows should move up and backwards, staying relatively close to your body.
  • Hold the barbell at the top of the move for a second.
  • Lower the barbell back down and place it on the floor (but keep hold of the bar).
  • That’s one rep!

Getting your form and execution right is vital for this move, have a look at our tutorial video to see how to do pendlay rows correctly. 

Pendlay Row Muscles Worked

Prime Mover: Latissimus dorsi (lats). 

Secondary Muscles Worked: Erectors (in your lower back), Rectus Abdominis (the anterior abdominal muscles), hip flexors and forearm muscles. 

Grip Variations 

The prime mover of the pendlay row is the latissimus dorsi but by taking a narrower grip, you can transfer more of the stress of the move onto your biceps. 

Generally, the wider your grip, the more the move will target your lats. If you’re new to this move, you should start by gripping the barbell slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. If you’re confident in the strength of your latissimus dorsi, you can shift more focus onto the muscle by taking a wider grip.

Pendlay Row Form

It’s important that you keep your knees, back, and hips in the same form as the starting position, throughout the entire movement. Pendlay Rows are used as a solution to avoiding the issues of poor form which are common in standard barbell rows. But, that doesn’t mean that you can’t cheat this move – whether you do so intentionally or not. Here are a few things to look out for to make sure you get the most out of this exercise:

pendlay row form graphic

Keep Your Knees Still  

This exercise is all about working the back muscles. In order to focus on these muscles, you need to use them! Although it might make it easier to use your knees to help lift the weight off the ground, using that momentum will take away from the effectiveness of the row. 

Don’t Move Your Back 

Keeping your back horizontal during the entire execution of the move is vital to make sure that you’re working the correct muscles. If you move your back up any higher than 15°,you’ll transfer the stress of the move onto your legs which will stop any benefits for building the muscles in your back.

Lowering Your Chest

Another way that a lot of people cheat this move is by lowering their chest towards the barbell. You need to keep your chest still and pull the weight all the way up, only moving your arms and your shoulder blades. Cheating your form by dropping your chest will only make the move less effective, stopping you from seeing the serious results you could get out of this move.

Top Tips

pendlay row common mistakes

Don’t Bounce the Weight

The biggest difference between the pendlay row vs bent over row is that at the end of every rep of the pendlay, you place the barbell on the ground. Seems simple right? It is – as long as you don’t bounce the weight. 

Whether it’s intentional or not, a lot of people bounce the barbell off the floor which adds momentum to the lift, this might make the lift feel easier but if you do this, the move won’t be as effective and it will likely result in you injuring yourself. 

The barbell should be stationary in between every rep. It’s best to lower the barbell down in a controlled manner and place it on the ground without letting go of the bar, before lifting it back up for your next rep.

Go for A Lighter Weight

Choosing a lighter weight is important, if you grab a barbell which is too heavy, it’s likely you’ll cheat the form. Keeping the right form with a lighter weight will do more for your muscles than grabbing a heavier weight that you can’t execute the move properly with. 

pendlay rows barbell graphic

The movement of this exercise is really straightforward, especially now you know all of the common mistakes to look out for in your form. But just because the movement is simple, doesn’t mean it’s easy. 

Because you have to lift the weight off the floor for every rep, Pendlay Rows are a little more difficult, so you’ll need to go for a lighter weight than you’d use for a normal barbell row.

Stick to Low-Reps

When it comes to fitting them into your workout (you’ll definitely want to once you’ve read the Pendlay Row benefits below), it’s important to note that this isn’t a high-rep exercise.

We recommend you stick to around 5 reps per set for 5 sets. Trust us, you’ll see benefits from this!

Speaking of benefits, stick with us for those. First, have a look at our ‘how to’ videos for the bent over row so you can see how the moves differ from each other.

Pendlay Row vs Bent Over Row 

The bent over row, or the barbell row (they’re the same), is a classic move for building muscle mass. It’s favoured by bodybuilders and athletes alike for its benefits for strength and aesthetics.  

Both are great moves for building overall strength and muscle hypertrophy, with a focus on the muscles in your back. 

To make it easier to compare the pendlay row vs bent over row, here’s our guide to how to do the bodybuilders favourite – the bent over row.

Starting Position 

how to do a bent over row image2

  • Grab hold of a loaded barbell and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Hold the barbell with an overhand grip and position your hands a little wider than shoulder-distance apart.
  • Bend at your knees slightly and lean your upper body forward about 45°by bending at the waist – keeping your back straight from your neck, down your spine. 

Execution 

bent over row execution image

  • Pull the weight up to your abdomen, squeezing your shoulder blades together and using your forearms to power lift.
  • At the top of the move, hold the barbell next to your torso for a second.
  • Slowly lower the row back to the starting position.
  • That’s one rep, repeat the move for 10 reps. 

How to Do a Bent Over Row Correctly

Muscles Worked 

Main Muscles Worked: This move works the pulling muscles in your back, which include the latissimus dorsi, trapezius, rhomboids, posterior deltoids. Bent over rows also recruit your biceps.

Secondary Muscles Worked: Lower back, glutes, hamstrings.

As you can see, there are some obvious differences between the two, mainly the pendlay row form. Below, we’ve compared the two in more detail, highlighting the pendlay row benefits to help you decide which variation suits your goals most!

Pendlay Row Benefits

Target the Upper Back

The standard bent over row is less of an isolation exercise. By positioning your back in the horizontal position, the pendlay row form better targets the muscles in your back – mainly your lats – and give your lower back a bit of a break.

pendlay row muscles worked

Strengthening the muscles in your back is an effective way of improving your posture. Having good posture has a ton of benefits within itself, such as reduced lower back pain, increased lung capacity, improved digestion and reduced fatigue (because your bones and joints are in the correct alignment, so all of your muscles are working as they’re supposed to). 

Building bigger lats has huge benefits if you want to focus on the aesthetics of your physique. As well as a good posture, targeting your lats will give you a wider upper-back and make your waist look slimmer, too. 

Muscle Gain

Each rep ends with the bar stationary on the ground, this is called the dead stop position. Starting the move in the dead stop position shuts off the stretch reflex which means there’s no momentum assisting you with the lift. This has benefits for building muscle strength because your muscles have to do all of the work to lift the weight.

how to do a pendlay row graphic

Because the dead stop position means that you only use muscle to lift the load, your muscles are forced to work harder which means a lighter weight will be just as effective as lifting a heavy weight for the normal bent over row.

Unlike the bent over row, you can’t rely on momentum to help you with the pendlay row. Deadlifting at the start of each rep means every row works your muscles just as much as the first – working your muscles harder so you’ll see more hypertrophy!

Reduced Joint Stress

If more effective muscle building isn’t enough to persuade you of the benefits of starting your row from a dead stop position, the concentric movement of the pendlay row also means that the move has benefits for reducing joint stress or pain that.

Because you can use a lighter weight and the muscles do all the work for the lift, the move is easier on your joints. This has benefits for preventing injury and easing any joint pain or stress that might have put you off standard rows in the past.

Correct Muscle Imbalance

Bench presses are great – a chiselled chest is a really common goal, but all too often people take this too far and neglect the muscles in their back. A lot of gym-goers will focus on the front of their body, building their chest and other ‘mirror muscles’ for the aesthetic benefits. But, without training your back you’ll never reach your genetic potential. 

pendlay row vs bench press graphic

Even though it’s easy to focus on improving the look of the muscles we can see in the mirror, training your back muscles, especially the lats, rhomboids, and traps, will have serious aesthetic benefits too. Working on the muscles in your back will improve the look of your upper body in general by broadening your upper back and making your waist appear pinched in. So, a few sets of pendlay rows will complement all the work you’ve put into your bench press.

Aside from the aesthetic benefits, it’s important to train your back as well as your chest to avoid muscle imbalance. Muscle imbalance happens when you train one side of the body more than the other (usually the front). It’s not uncommon for people to focus on their chest and biceps, we’re not here to judge, but by doing this you’re basically setting yourself up for injury.

When you have a muscle imbalance, certain muscles have to work harder to compensate for the difference. These muscles become strained and eventually injured, this can affect your stronger side as well as the weaker side of your body, so it’s best avoided altogether!

Easier on Your Lower Back

Another benefit is that this move is safer for your lower back compared to bent over rows. Because you place the barbell on the ground after every rep, like a deadlift, there’s no tension on your lower back muscles in between reps. 

pendlay row dead stop

The dead stop between each rep also gives you a chance to quickly check your form before you lift again. Keeping the correct form will have huge benefits for injury prevention. By setting your back into the neutral position between reps, you can avoid rounding your back or over-arching your spine – both of which can cause a number of lower back injuries, like a slipped disc, something that we all want to avoid. 

Reducing the strain on the lower back means that by switching the bent over row for the pendlay row, you can also promote faster recovery of your lower back muscles. Squats, deadlifts, and overhead presses all work your lower back, and if you add a set of bent over rows into your workout, too, that’s a lot of work which will take a while to recover from. 

We’re not saying to abandon these moves altogether but subbing in an extra set of pendlay rows every now and then will give your lower back a bit of a rest and speed up its recovery.That way you’ll have the benefits for building muscle of your current training plan and more, as you can add in an extra set of rows on the days you’re feeling major DOMS in your lower back. 

Less Muscle Soreness

We briefly mentioned that because of the dead stop between reps, the pendlay row is a concentric movement. A concentric contraction activates your muscles by causing them to shorten, whereas an eccentric contraction refers to the motion of an active muscle which lengthens as the muscle is contracted.

pendlay row concentric vs eccentric muscle movement

The eccentric part of a lift is usually the main reason for the muscle soreness you feel a day or two after training. By training the concentric contraction choosing the pendlay variation can minimise muscle soreness so you’ll be able to sneak in a few more sets than you’d be able to manage for the bodybuilders bent over row.

Most people stick to eccentric movements if muscle hypertrophy is their main goal because eccentric contraction creates more muscle damage, and therefore more hypertrophy. But, despite the common consensus being that eccentric contractions are better for building muscle, scientific research has revealed that the advantage of eccentric over concentric training is pretty small and insignificant.

That said, we’d say you’d see the biggest results if you added this concentric move into your regime alongside eccentric exercises like squats and Romanian deadlifts.

Benefits Other Moves

Working on the pulling muscles in your back has benefits for the other moves in your workout which use a similar movement. Adding a few sets of pendlay rows into your regime can translate into better snatches, cleans and deadlifts.

Building the strength of your back muscles thanks to the pendlay row form will benefit your deadlift especially. The bent over position means that pendlays target your hips and back, both of which are important for a good deadlift form. 

Basically, incorporating this move into your workout will result in a stronger deadlift meaning you’ll be able to lift more and build further muscle strength and size.

Before You Go

Now you know how to add a set of Pendlay Rows into your workout and see the benefits for yourself. Give us a shout on Facebook or Twitter to let us know how you get on!

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Written by Abbie Watkins

Qualified Personal Trainer & Fitness Blogger

Abbie is a work-hard, play-hard qualified personal trainer and blogger. She loves a scenic run and a good upbeat exercise class. You can usually find her on the front row of a spin class on a Saturday morning.