The Pendlay row is a great exercise for developing strength and muscle mass in the back. Unlike the traditional barbell row, the PendIay row requires a full 90-degree hip hinge and begins each rep from a dead stop. This makes it an incredible movement for developing stability and starting strength, which can greatly impact your pulling power.
By the end of this article, you will understand how to perform the Pendlay row correctly and provide tips for avoiding common mistakes. We will also provide programming recommendations for athletes who want to use the Pendlay row as part of their training program.
I will cover:
- How to Do the Pendlay Row
- Pendlay Row Sets and Reps
- Common Pendlay Row Mistakes
- Pendlay Row Variations
- Pendlay Row Alternatives
- Muscles Worked by the Pendlay Row
- Benefits of the Pendlay Row
- Who Should Do the Pendlay Row
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How to Perform the Pendlay Row
For this exercise, you will need a barbell and plates.
Step 1: Place a loaded barbell on the floor. Step up to the barbell with a shoulder-width stance so that your sins are touching the bar.
Step 2: Bend your knees and hinge at the waist to lower yourself toward the bar. Grab the bar with a slightly wider than shoulder-width, pronated grip. The barbell should be directly beneath your lower chest.
Movement Tip: Your hips and hamstrings should feel a lot of tension at this point. If not, you likely have a rounded back. Stand back up and re-hinge, focusing on loading your hips and hamstrings.
Step 3: Brace your core as if you’re about to get punched in the gut. Don’t suck in, push out! Pack your lats and pull your shoulders down toward your hips. Now, use your lats to explosively pull the barbell to the lower portion of your chest. Think about pushing your elbows toward the ceiling.
Form Tip: Your upper body should remain perfectly parallel with the ground as the barbell rises. Resist the temptation to raise your back. Do not let your shoulders elevate or your hips come forward.
Step 4: Pause with the barbell touching your torso just below your chest for 1 – 2 seconds. Lower slowly, under control, returning the barbell all the way to the floor.
Step 5: Every rep starts with the barbell at rest on the floor. Do not let the bar bounce to help start the next rep, or stop shy of the bar hitting the floor. Repeat for your intended number of reps.
What Is the Pendlay Row?
If you’ve never heard of the Pendlay row – which is a close variant to the bent-over barbell row – then you’re probably leaving some gains on the table. Pendlay rows, developed by USA Weightlifting coach Glenn Pendlay (obviously), are a compound exercise performed with a fully parallel torso, overhand grip, and always from a dead stop.
They focus on back strength and muscular growth for pulling exercises such as snatches, cleans, and deadlifts.
The strict form of the row helps maintain proper form across all types of training, including weightlifting-specific movements and pulls.
The key difference between the Pendlay row and other rowing variations is that each rep starts with the barbell on the floor. This ensures that there is no momentum used to help lift the weight, which increases the time under tension and makes the exercise more effective for developing strength and muscle mass.
Muscles Worked by the Pendlay Row
The Pendlay row targets large muscle groups across your posterior chain. Getting stronger at these will benefit more advanced movements like deadlifts, squats, Olympic lifting, and even your bench.
Your lats are the large, fan-shaped muscles that pretty well run the entire length of your back. They are involved in scapular depression – bringing your shoulders down toward your hips – and arm flexion – pulling toward your torso.
Basically, anytime you pull something toward your body, you’re using your lats.
Just because your legs don’t move during this exercise doesn’t mean they aren’t getting worked.
Your hamstrings are biarticulate muscles – they attach at your hips and your knee – that are involved in hip extension and knee flexion. When you hinge at the waist you stretch your hamstrings.
During Pendlay rows, your hamstrings work isometrically to support your body in the hinged position. Trust me, you’ll feel your hamstrings the day after doing these.
Because you’re hinged over for the entire movement in this bent-over row variation, your spinal erectors work isometrically to support your torso and hold your position. This will strengthen your back and improve your deadlift setup and pulling position.
Benefits of the Pendlay Row
Add Pendlay rows to your routine and reap the following benefits.
Build a Bigger, Stronger Back
Many back-specific, or back-isolating movements don’t allow you to use much weight. Pendlay rows, however, can be loaded relatively heavily. This makes them an excellent back-isolating exercise for building strength and muscle mass in your back. And they force you to work through a full range of motion, which further maximizes hypertrophy.
And a bigger, stronger back will improve your performance on other exercises like squats and deadlifts.
Stronger Squats and Deadlifts
If you want to move any kind of weight, especially without pain or injury, your back needs to be able to hold position. You need to be able to brace through your core and maintain that position while supporting heavy loads.
The fully hinged position of the Pendaly row will help you learn how to properly set your back for these exercises. And because each rep is started from a dead stop, you’re forced to set and brace your core and low back before beginning every…single…rep.
Pendlay rows will also improve your posterior chain strength, which will carry over to better performance on squats and deadlifts.
Building Pulling Power
The Pendlay row is a valuable exercise because it helps build both concentric (lifting) and static (holding) strength. Both are essential for your power and explosive lifts like the clean & jerk, snatch, squat, and deadlift, and help you overcome sticking points in those movements.
The Pendlay row also develops both upper back and lower back strength, which is essential for supporting weight in the power lifts.
Pendlay Row Tips
Don’t let your hips move throughout the movement. Focus on locking your hips and loading your hamstrings, and then feel them throughout the movement. If you’re new to this movement your legs will actually probably start shaking before you end your set!
If you still can’t keep your back parallel with the floor and your hips/hamstrings loaded, lower the weight and build up gradually.
Start each rep from a dead stop. You don’t want to bounce the weight off the floor. This can increase the risk of injury to your low back due to the very quick loading and unloading when bouncing the weight, and negates one of the main benefits of the movement – generating force from the very beginning of the movement.
These are intended to be a very strict movement. So keep them that way to maximize their benefits.
Common Errors With the Pendlay Row
The Pendlay row is challenging – and it’s supposed to be! Even though it’s a row, you’re not going to be able to use the same amount of weight you do with its barbell cousins.
You have to maintain a solid core and hip hinge throughout each entire rep. There’s no room for sloppy form or energy leaks with this movement.
And you can’t cheat. Which is the point of this movement. With the standard barbell row, and even the dumbbell and kettlebell variations, there’s a huge tendency to extend the hips and help the barbell up.
So watch for and avoid the following common mistakes with the Pendlay row and reap the benefits!
Increasing Your Back Angle – Even Momentarily
I’m not opposed to cheating – most of the time. Cheat reps can be a great way to push past failure and boost your gains. When used correctly.
Cheating with an unsupported hip hinge – not a good idea.
Your core should stay braced and tight through each entire rep. Brace your core as if you’re about to get punched in the stomach. And your torso should stay parallel with the ground.
The two most common mistakes people make here are either:
- lifting their torso, bringing the shoulders above the hips and driving the hips forward as the barbell raises, and then lowering their torso back to parallel as they lower the bar, or
- jerking their torso up when they initiate the lift, just for a second, and then bringing their chest back down to meet the bar
The movement of the bar should be done only by your lats, upper back muscles, rear delts, and arms.
Squeeze your shoulder blades to initiate the movement, and keep tension on your glutes and hamstrings at all times.
Flaring Your Elbows to the Side
Your arms don’t need to be tucked all the way into your sides throughout the lift. But they shouldn’t be in line with the barbell either.
Flaring your elbows out wide over the bar places your shoulders in extreme internal rotation, which can cause unnecessary stress on the joint. Especially with the amount of weight you’ll be able to lift here. It also places more of the emphasis on your arms and rear delts, instead of on your lats.
A 45-degree angle is a good rule of thumb for most. If you have longer arms, your elbows will tend to flare a little further out – those with shorter arms will tend to have their elbows tucked a bit more. But about halfway between your sides and fully over the bar works for most.
That position will be strong, safe, and comfortable.
If you’re splaying your elbows out to the sides, or yanking the bar, lower the weight until the issue goes away. You can also try telling yourself to bring your elbows to your pockets or to pull the bar to your hips.
Using Too Much Weight
If you can’t raise the bar to your torso without jerking or lifting your shoulders/back, you’re probably going too heavy.
The Pendlay row is a humbling experience for most. But it forces you to use the intended muscles.
Instead of focusing on lifting more weight each time, focus on increasing the number of reps you can do from week to week. I like to program these with rep ranges, like 8-10, instead of a specific number. As long as you’re in the range, even if you can only perform 8 reps per set, you’re good.
When you can perform 3-4 sets at the highest number in the range, increase the weight for the next week. Then stay with that weight until you can perform all of your sets at the highest number in the range again.
Concentrate on moving with perfect form. You’ll be adding plates in no time, and your traditional rows will get stronger as well.
Who Should Do the Pendlay Row
Everyone. No – seriously. They’re a solid exercise with a ton of benefits, and they are easily modified if you have mobility issues. They’re simply too good to not include in at least one training block.
Olympic, Strength, and Power Athletes
Olympic lifters can use the Pendlay row to help with the second pull of the snatch and clean. By strengthening your back, you’ll be able to generate more force to initiate the lift.
A strong back is key for any strength athlete. The Pendlay row will help strengthen your entire posterior chain, from your glutes and hamstrings to your erectors, lats, and traps.
Powerlifters can use the Pendlay row as an assistance exercise for the squat and deadlift. It will help increase lower-body strength while teaching you how to maintain a strong back position – which is key for those lifts. And Pendlay rows are incredible for increasing stabilization in the hinged position, which will help develop a stronger deadlift.
The Pendlay row can also be used as part of a peaking cycle for any athlete competing in a weight class sport. By increasing your lean muscle mass, you’ll be able to move up a weight class while still maintaining (or even improving) your power-to-weight ratio.
Bodybuilders/General Physical Preparedness Athletes
GPP athletes can use the Pendlay row to help increase work capacity while in a hinged position and build a strong, muscular back. If you don’t have an incredibly strong core that can support your while moving through different planes of motion, there’s no way you’ll stay healthy in sports like CrossFit and GRID.
Pendlay rows are a perfect addition to any upper/lower split. By including them in your routine, you’ll be able to increase the volume (sets x reps x weight) on your other lifts while still giving your back the attention it needs.
And if you want to bring up lagging muscles for aesthetic or bodybuilding purposes, like your rear delts or traps, Pendlay rows are a great exercise to include. Just make sure you don’t sacrifice form for ego when adding weight to the bar.
Don’t complete in anything? Just want to be in shape and enjoy exercising? Pendlay rows will strengthen your core, build strong back muscles, stretch your hamstrings, and improve your posture.
But you do need to have sufficient flexibility and know how to hinge properly. This is why I don’t usually recommend these to brand-new lifters.
If you’re a newer lifter, master the chest-supported and seal row first, while building your mobility, flexibility, and hinge mechanics.
Programming the Pendlay Row
The Pendlay row is a great mass and strength-building exercise, but you’ll generally program it as a second or third exercise during your workout, or during your workout week if you’re doing whole body workouts. Remember that these are not traditional rows, so keep your form perfect and don’t elevate your back.
For Building Strength: perform 4 to 5 sets of 4 to 6 reps. If you can perform 4 sets of 6 reps, increase the weight or weight or add a 5th set next week. Work to continuously increase your capacity from week to week until you stall out.
For Developing Muscle Mass: perform 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps. Just like building strength, try to increase volume or load each week.
For Muscular Endurance: while Pendlay rows can be used to build muscular endurance, this definitely isn’t my favorite way to use them. But, if that’s your thing, try 2 to 4 sets of 15 to 20 reps with very short rest periods.
Pendlay Row Variations
Once you’ve mastered the standard Pendlay row – or if you need to modify the movement, give these variations a shot.
Tap-and-Go Pendlay Row
Pendlay rows should be performed with exceptional form, and without bouncing off the floor.
However, “cheat” reps can be a useful tool for experienced lifters. They allow you to push sets beyond failure. To eke out a few extra reps to force new growth.
Tap and Go reps are the only style of reps I recommend that deviate from perfect form. And only for experienced lifters, and only when you have stalled with this movement and need an extra push to keep progressive overload going.
These are NOT bounced reps. To properly perform touch and go reps you very lightly tap the plates on the floor and then immediately turn around and pull hard to your torso. Bounce reps defeat the purpose of the movement and open you up to unnecessary injury.
Rep out as many good reps as possible, touching the bar on the ground and allowing for a monetary rest so that each rep begins with a dead-start. Then toss in a few touch-and-go reps to push beyond your limits.
Pendlay Row from Blocks
Not everyone has the mobility or lower back strength to get into or maintain a 90-degree hip angle (torso parallel with the floor). If that’s you, we can modify the movement by placing the barbell plates on blocks (or stacks of plates).
By raising the bar off the ground, you reduce how far you have to bend over. You still get most of the benefits of the Pendaly (starting each rep from a dead-stop, eliminating momentum, pulling higher, and hitting more mid-back muscles), but in a more comfortable starting position.
This variation is also handy if you have certain sticking points. If you’re weaker at the end range of motion – finishing the pull – this variation will allow you to lift more weight in that specific range.
Deficit Pendlay Row
This is exactly the opposite of the Pendlay row from blocks. Standing on a weight plate or short block increases the range of motion, making the movement harder and further stretching your hamstrings and glutes.
Along with the tremendous stretch these cause, you also get the benefit of increased time under tension (TUT).
Pendlay Row Alternatives
Pendlay rows are amazing, but the more movements you master the better your muscle growth and strength, and the more fun your training will be.
The seal row places your upper body parallel with the ground, but without the need to support it. This minimizes the stress on the back, hips, and hamstrings, and places all of the focus on your back muscles.
Set up two stacks of weight plates, usually 2 to 3 plates high, and set a flat free weight bench on your two stacks. You should be able to fully extend your arms.
Now, row your dumbbells, kettlebells, or barbell toward your chest. When it hits the bench, try to pull your upper body through the bench using your back muscles. Squeeze for a full second, and then lower the weight.
You can do these with the weights held completely off the ground, causing a great stretch in your lats in the fully extended position, or allowing the weights to touch the ground and beginning each rep from a dead-stop, like a Pendlay.
Chest Supported Row
The chest-supported row is exactly like the seal row, except you set an adjustable free-weight bench to a 45-degree angle. Straddle the bench and lay your chest on the upper pad.
Now row the dumbbells or barbell toward your low chest. Similar to the Pendlay and Seal row, these minimize or completely eliminate the ability to cheat, forcing your back and arms to do all the work. Because you are supported by the bench, you can actually handle quite a bit of weight, and you get the added bonus of not placing any unnecessary stress on your lower back.
Bent Over Barbell Row
Can’t have an article on rows and not mention the most common of all row variations – the traditional barbell row. These can be done with your hands pronated – the standard row – or supinated – the underhand barbell row, also known as the Yates row.
These are performed just like the Pendlay row, except your upper body will be inclined to a 30 to 60-degree angle and you won’t touch the plates on the floor at the end of each rep.
You have a bit more ability to cheat, which can be helpful for pushing past failure. Just don’t abuse that privilege. Pushing beyond failure is one thing. Trying to show off is another, and may lead to injury.
And because you have to support the barbell weight for the duration of your entire set, your lower back gets even more work and will thicken up in no time.
Double Kettlebell Pendlay Row
This double kettlebell Pendlay row – which can also be performed with dumbbells – allows you to work on each side independently. This is great for correcting or avoiding imbalances.
This can also be a more comfortable row for many people because the barbell isn’t there to pull your body forward, forcing your low back to hold position.
Set the kettlebells on the ground and stand between them. Hinge at the waist so that your torso is parallel with the ground, and row the KBs to your sides.
You can even try doing one side at a time or alternating, which will force your core into overdrive as it works against rotation. Or try isometric holds. Row one kettlebell up and hold it there while the other arm raises to your body. Now leave the second arm at the top position and row the first arm down and back up.
Recommended Barbells and Plates
If you’re working on investing in your own home gym, a good barbell and set of plates are a great place to start. Here are my recommendations and ones I own personally.
Titan Fitness 245-Pound Cast Iron Plate Set – Steel for strength! These are great if you don’t plan on dropping your weights.
Rogue Fitness Cast Iron Olympic Plates – These are high quality and slightly less expensive than bumper plates. Again, great if you’re not going to drop them.
Rogue Crumb Bumper Plates – Crumb bumpers are amazing for home gyms! They are incredibly durable and are much quieter than typical bumper plates. And, if you plan on training outside at any point, these are the plates you need.
Titan Fitness 230-pound Economy Bumper Plate Set – This is the first brand-new set I ever bought.
Titan Fitness 230-Pound Elite Bumper Plate Set – This set is more expensive than the last, but they are incredible.
I use each of the barbells listed below on a regular basis. They are incredible all-purpose barbells at great prices.
Again Faster Team Barbell 2.0 – This is the barbell I have and use at home. I love it. You can get this in both 20kg and 15kg versions.
Rogue Bar 2.0 – This is an incredible all-purpose barbell, and is one of the bars used at the CrossFit Games. In my humble opinion, this is the best barbell that most people can buy (along with the Bella bar for women).
Rogue Bella Bar 2.0 – Modeled after the Rogue Bar 2.0 but designed for women with a 25mm shaft and 15kg (33lb) weight. This is an incredible all-purpose barbell and is the bar the women use at the CrossFit Games.
Rogue Ohio Bar E-Coat – You can’t beat a lifetime guarantee against bending! If you lift incredible amounts of weight, look at this for your next bar. And I really like the feel and look of their new e-coat bars.
Pendlay Rows Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Difference Between Pendlay Rows and Bent-Over Barbell Rows?
The starting position is the most noticeable difference between the two. With the Pendly row, your torso is perfectly parallel with the ground. When performing bent-over rows your torso will be angled, usually 30-45 degrees.
And, because Pendly rows start each rep with the barbell on the floor and a more extreme hip hinge, they have more specific carryover to deadlifts.
Can You Use Dumbbells or Kettlebells for Pendlay Rows?
This kind of depends on who you ask. Some purists say that the Pendlay row must be completed with a barbell. Personally, I tend to focus more on the specific movement pattern of any exercise to answer questions like this. Can you mimic the exact movement of a Pendaly row with dumbbells or kettlebells? Absolutely!
So I say, yes…you can. I just like to specify when writing programs. I’d just write these up as Dumbbell Pendlay Rows.
Conclusion: the Pendlay Row
The Pendlay row is an excellent exercise for developing strength, muscle mass, and stability. It is a variation of the bent-over barbell row, with a more parallel starting position and greater carryover to deadlifts. You can perform Pendlay rows with dumbbells or kettlebells if you want, as long as you maintain the exact movement pattern. If you’re up for a routine or exercise change anyway, definitely consider adding these in!