Rows are one of the best exercises for strengthening your upper body, especially your upper back, but there are various approaches to doing a row. You’re probably familiar with the bent-over row but are you familiar with the Pendlay Row? It has some similarities to the bent-over row but also some differences that make them a worthwhile addition to your strength-training workout.
Both exercises are staples of strength training, but their unique strengths make them suited for different goals and techniques. Whether you’re a bodybuilder, powerlifter, or just want to get stronger in a general sense, understanding the benefits of each exercise is essential to maximizing the results you get.
We’ll look at the differences between Pendlay rows and bent-over rows and the unique strengths of each, as well as when and why you should incorporate them into your strength training program. With this information, you can take your workouts to the next level and reach your goals faster.
What Is a Pendlay Row?
The Pendlay Row is a relatively new way to rowing to build back strength. It was developed by Olympic weightlifting coach Glenn Pendlay. He is credited with popularizing the exercise and incorporating it into his training programs.
Pendlay was known for his innovative approach to weightlifting and attention to proper technique. He was a strong advocate for using compound exercises like the bent-over row to build functional strength and improve athletic performance and he believed in workout efficiency and maximizing the results of strength training while minimizing the risk of energy.
Like the bent-over row, the Pendlay Row is an exercise that targets the big muscles in the back, including the lats, rhomboids, and rear deltoids. As with the bent-over row, you hold the barbell with an overhand grip and pull it towards your chest while bent over at the waist. This approach is particularly effective for building stronger back muscles, as well as improving posture.
The main difference between a Pendlay row and a bent-over row is the starting position and the range of motion of the exercise. With the Pendlay row, you begin with the bar on the ground and return the bar to the ground with each rep, whereas with the bent over row, you begin the exercise with the bar at a level just below the knees and don’t place the barbell back on the ground until you’re finished.
Since you’re returning the bar to the floor each time with a Pendlay row, you must bend farther forward to grab the bar from the floor, thereby increasing the range of motion. Plus, you must return the bar to the ground and lift it back up with each repetition. So, you’re transversing a greater distance compared to the bent-over row.
Additionally, Pendlay rows target your upper back muscles more than the bent-over row, which works the muscles in your lower back and rear deltoids more. You also use a wider grip with a Pendlay row than a bent-over row.
The Pendlay row can also help you develop better technique and give you a performance advantage for weightlifting movements such as snatches, cleans, and deadlifts. One of the goals Pendlay had for developing it was to build back strength that could be applied to pulling exercises.
Here’s how to do a Pendlay Row:
- Stand in front of a weighted barbell with your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent.
- Grasp the bar using an overhand grip with your hands just wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Brace your core, flex your abs, and squeeze the bar to create tension and stability.
- Pinch your shoulder blades together and quickly drive your elbows up while rowing the weight to your midsection.
- Return the barbell to the starting position on the floor and repeat.
Pros and Cons of Pendlay Rows Over Bent-Over Rows
The Pendlay Row, like the bent-over row, is a compound exercise, it works all the muscles in your back and core. This means that doing either variation is time efficient, as you’re working multiple muscles at once. Both help improve posture, as well as strengthen and stabilize your postural muscles. The bent-over row and Pendlay row also both build back strength, but the Pendlay Row is superior for building upper body power, and the ability to generate force quickly.
The reason? The Pendlay Row combines a slow eccentric (lowering) phase with a faster concentric (raising) phase to maximize muscle activation and growth. The fast concentric phase of the Pendlay role helps you build upper body power, while the bent-over row with its slow and consistent tempo increases time under tension, making it better for muscle hypertrophy.
For both types of rows, it’s important to maintain proper form to avoid injury and maximize the effectiveness of the Pendlay Row. Keep your back straight and parallel to the ground and avoid rounding your shoulders or swinging the barbell. It is also a good idea to start with a lighter weight and gradually increase the load as you become more comfortable with the movement.
- The Pendlay Row uses a greater range-of-motion, as you pick up the bar from the ground with each repetition.
- The Pendlay Row offers an advantage over the bent-over row for developing explosive strength or power due to the more explosive nature of the concentric portion of the exercise.
- The Pendlay Row builds power applicable for pulling movements like cleans and snatches. So, it can improve your performance for exercises that require pulling.
- The Pendlay Row is easier on your back since you don’t have to support the barbell throughout the entire exercise. Instead, you place it back on the floor, taking some of the stress off your back.
Think of the Pendlay Row as your secret weapon for developing explosive upper body power and for improving your performance with pulling exercises. But there’s no reason not to include both bent-over and Pendlay Rows in your strength-training routine. Bent-over rows have an advantage for hypertrophy, due to the constant tension, while the Pendlay Row helps you build power.
- A Comparison of Pendlay Row Vs. Bent-Over Row. Fitnessexpertawards.com. Published June 8, 2018. Accessed December 24, 2022. https://fitnessexpertawards.com/pendlay-bent-over-row/
- “Pendlay Row: The Best Back Exercise You’re (Probably) Not Doing.” https://www.transparentlabs.com/blogs/all/pendlay-row-guide.
- “Pendlay Row Exercise: Form, Benefits, & Alternatives – Health Web Magazine.” 23 Sept. 2022, https://www.healthwebmagazine.com/nutrition-fitness/pendlay-row-exercise/.
- “Arm Exercises | Bent-over Row – American Council on Exercise.” https://www.acefitness.org/resources/everyone/exercise-library/12/bent-over-row/.
- Fenwick CMJ, Brown SHM, McGill SM. Comparison of Different Rowing Exercises: Trunk Muscle Activation and Lumbar Spine Motion, Load, and Stiffness. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2009;23(2):350-358. doi:10.1519/jsc.0b013e3181942019.