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September 06, 2022 9 min read

On Sept. 5, 2019, the world of weightlifting and powerlifting lost one of the best coaches of all time. Glen Pendlay, an American Olympic Weightlifting Coach, helped hundreds of competitive athletes reach their peak since he started coaching in 1996.

His value as a weightlifting expert will live on through his invention of the Pendlay row.

The Pendlay is a barbell-type row that makes bent-over rows  safer and more effective.

Unlike the barbell row in which the barbell remains off the floor throughout the rep, the Pendlay row is a dead-stop lift every time.

WHAT MAKES THE PENDLAY ROW BETTER THAN THE BARBELL ROW?

Coach Glenn Pendlay determined that most exercisers failed to get good results from the barbell row because it is not performed with a safe and strong torso position.

Moreover, keeping the barbell in the air leads to the exercise being executed by jerking or using the leg muscles to heave the bar up.

In contrast, with the Pendlay row, each rep starts with lifting the weight off the floor.

Lifting the barbell from the floor ensures it is being lifted with muscle power instead of momentum. Relying on muscle power makes the Pendlay dead-stop row an excellent back builder.

It is easy to do regular barbells improperly. You may manage to lift more weight, but a sloppy technique will mean the target muscles are left unstimulated.

WHICH MUSCLES DO PENDLAY ROWS WORK?

 

Pendlay rows work the muscles in both the primary and secondary muscle groups

PRIMARY MUSCLE GROUPS

The Pendlay row primarily works muscles in the upper and mid-back, including the rhomboids and lats.

  • The latissimus dorsi originates in the mid and lower back.
  • These muscles connect your upper arms to your torso. They are the wing-shaped muscles on the side of your upper back.
  • They are the largest muscles of your back and play a significant role in lat pull-ups, pull-downs, and other pulling, or rowing exercises.
  • The rhomboids’ location is in your upper back. They contract and bring your shoulder blades together at the top of each Pendlay row rep.

    SECONDARY MUSCLE GROUPS

    The Pendlay row is an excellent compound exercise that works secondary muscles throughout your body. While the Pendlay row is a back exercise, it incorporates muscles throughout the body.

    The secondary muscles include:
    • The middle trapezius forms the central part of the diamond-shaped muscle covering your upper back. The middle traps work with your rhomboids to pull your shoulder blades together.
    • The posterior deltoids are the rearmost of the three shoulder or deltoid muscles.
    • The biceps brachii is the primary muscle on the front of your upper arm, typically called the biceps.
    • The erector spinae are the muscles of your lower back.

      Furthermore, Pendlay rows also involve the muscles in your core, glutes, and legs.

      These muscles work statically or isometrically to stabilize your body and hold you in position while you do the Pendlay row, with your glutes, hamstrings, and other leg muscles playing a significant role to stabilize your body in the bent-over position.

      THE PROPER WAY TO DO PENDLAY ROWS

      For this exercise, you will need a barbell and some weights.

       

      Starting position:

      • Load your barbell with light to medium-heavy weight plates and set it up on the floor.
      • Place your feet shoulder-width apart and step forward to where the barbell is over the bridge of your feet. If you stand too close, the barbell might catch your shins or knees.
      • Hinge at your waist and bend your knees slightly, lining up your back parallel to the floor.
      • With your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width, grab the bar with an overhand grip.

        Action:

        • With slightly tucked elbows, brace your core, contract your lats, and drive your elbows back and up, bringing the barbell from the floor toward your lower chest.
        • When you reach the chest, squeeze your lats and pause for a second before you bring the barbell down slowly, placing it on the floor.
        • At this stage, you are back in the starting position.
        • Maintain the tightness in your back and core, and repeat.

          Recommended repetitions:

          Aim to complete 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps. As you become comfortable with the Pendlay row,  you can challenge yourself by changing up your rep ranges and sets. However, it also depends on your goal —

          • Improved Muscular Endurance: Perform 2 to 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps.
          • For Hypertrophy: Do 3 to 4 sets of 6 to 12 reps with a lighter weight.
          • For Building Maximum Strength and Power: Do 3 to 6 sets of 4 to 6 reps with a heavier weight.

            WHAT ARE THE COMMON PENDLAY ROW MISTAKES?

            1. Standing too upright

            The Pendlay row relies on strict form, making it an excellent back exercise. However, many exercisers change their stance as they progress through the rep range.

            That is often a sign of them trying to lift too much weight, forcing them to use momentum instead of muscle power to do the Pendlay row.

            Choosing manageable weights allows the lifter to maintain the bent-over position with the back parallel to the floor.

            Maintaining the correct stance also reduces injury risks and provides optimal gains.

             

            2. Using arm muscles to lift the barbell

              The Pendlay row is meant to build muscles in your back, not your arm muscles. Too many lifters bow their wrists to pull the weight up using their arms.

              This is also a sign of too much weight on the barbell. As a result, they use arm strength to gain momentum, causing a “bounce” at the top of each rep.

              This mistake can damage your wrists and your back, instead of doing what the Pendlay row is meant to do — safely stressing your back muscles.

              Selecting a lighter weight and focusing on the proper form is key.

               

              3. Arching the back

                A rounded back is another common Pendlay row mistake, that typically happens when setting up for the starting position.

                However, it can also happen if you fail to maintain contractions in your back in between reps.

                It is crucial to keep your chest up and your spine neutral with your back in a flat position throughout all your Pendlay row reps.

                Compromised body positions increase injury risks while holding the back flat maximizes the effectiveness and safety of the Pendlay row.

                WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF THE PENDLAY ROW?

                Including the Pendlay row exercise in your workout regime has multiple benefits.

                 

                Build strong back muscles

                While doing the Pendlay row workout, you develop much more than your back muscles.

                Hypertrophy (muscle building) also improves and tones other muscles used in the dead-stop row. Included are the lats, trapezius, and rhomboids.

                With bigger stronger backs, athletes can perform better, while they also score better posture and balance.

                Full-body muscle activation

                The Pendlay row requires no more than a barbell, weight plates, and body stability to do the lifts. With those ingredients, you can activate almost all muscles for each successful barbell lift, providing overall fitness, stability, and balance.

                In contrast. most other effective exercises to strengthen back muscles need support from benches, ropes, cable machines, and more.

                Furthermore, the muscle strength you get from  Pendlay rows helps you do other full-body exercises.

                With strong lats, traps, rhomboids, deltoids, and erector spinae strengthened by the Pendlay row, other compound exercises can be a breeze. Not to mention the improved forearms, grip, core stabilizers, glutes, and hamstrings.

                With the Pendlay row included in your workout regime, your well-conditioned body muscles will help you perform pulls, deadlifts, standard barbell rows, lat pull-downs, hammer curls, power lifts, bench presses, squats, etc.

                PENDLAY ROW VARIATIONS

                Although the standard Pendlay row is an excellent exercise, the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (JSCR) says that  exercise variety is crucial for making optimal progress.

                Below are a few Pendlay row modifications and variations you can use to spice up your workouts.

                1. DUMBBELL PENDLAY ROWS

                Although dumbbell rows make the exercise harder, they allow your muscles to work through a larger range of motion.

                 

                Using dumbbells is beneficial if you need to identify and fix right-to-left back strength imbalances. Balance is not only important for aesthetics, but if imbalances are ignored, they could also increase injury risks. (If you don’t have dumbbells, you could even use kettlebells.)

                How to perform dumbbell Pendlay rows:

                • Place two dumbbells on the floor in a shoulder-width position with their handles parallel to allow you to use palms-in or a neutral grip.
                • Stand between the dumbbells with slightly bent knees.
                • Use the same stance as for the Pendlay barbell row. Bend at your hips, lean forward, and reach down to grab the dumbbells.
                • Brace your abs and keep your back flat and your torso parallel to the floor.
                • With bent arms, pull the dumbbells right up to your ribs. Pull your shoulders back and keep your upper arms close to your sides.
                • Lower the weights back down to the floor, reset, and repeat.

                2. ALTERNATING ARM PENDLAY ROWS

                This option allows your upper body to work hard, with less stress on your lower back.  Don’t overdo it with heavy-weight dumbbells, which will do more harm than good.

                If you alternate your arms, the non-working arm provides only limited support. Lifting one dumbbell at a time demands less lower-back support.

                How to perform alternating arm Pendlay rows:

                Use the same starting position as for the standard dumbbell Pendlay row.

                • Place two dumbbells on the floor in a shoulder-width position with their handles parallel to allow you to use palms-in or a neutral grip.
                • Stand between the dumbbells with slightly bent knees.
                • Use the same stance as for the Pendlay barbell row. Bend at your hips, lean forward, and reach down to grab the dumbbells.
                • Brace your abs and keep your back flat and your torso parallel to the floor.
                • Grab the left dumbbell with your arm bent at the elbow, and pull it up and into your side, while keeping your upper arm close to your body.
                • Lower the dumbbell back and place it on the floor.
                • Repeat the movement with your right hand.
                • Continue alternating arms through your rep range, but ensure you place the weight firmly on the floor each time. If you don’t start with a dead weight each time, you’ll start lifting the dumbbells with your motion instead of muscles.

                3. SINGLE-ARM PENDLAY ROWS

                Don’t fret if you have only one dumbbell. Using one dumbbell at a time to do the Pendlay row can work your lower- and upper back, and biceps. This modification even works your oblique muscles.

                Do this variation in the same way as the regular dumbbell Pendlay rows, except do one arm at a time. It is important to do the same number of lifts with each arm to avoid developing the muscles of one side more than the other. (Except when you are working on imbalanced muscles)

                MODIFIED PENDLAY ROWS

                 

                Many lifters find it almost impossible to avoid arching their backs when they do bent-over barbell rows. A rounded-back row motion puts excessive stress on the ligaments and spinal discs. Also, tight hamstrings make hinging forward to maintain a straight back tough to do.

                However, while you work on strengthening those muscles, you can still benefit from the benefits of doing Pendlay rows.

                How to perform raised weight Pendlay row:

                If you raise the height of your weights for the starting position, there is no need to lean so far forward. Raising the bar by only about 6-12 inches will take a lot of stress off your lower back.

                Place the weights on stacks of weight plates, on two sturdy steps, or on pins set low in the power rack.

                You can use this variation for dumbbell, barbell, and single-arm dumbbell Pendlay rows.

                While this modification can be beneficial, you should work on stretching and flexibility of your hamstrings to  reap all the benefits offered by proper Pendlay rows as Glen Pendlay intended.

                CONCLUSION

                As the saying goes among bodybuilders, “if you want your back to grow, you have got to row!”

                Lat pull-ups and pull-downs are great back exercises, but none will give you the optimal strength and size as rows will bring as a part of your back-training program.

                There are many rowing exercises to choose from, such as traditional barbell rows, cable rows, body rows, and chest-supported machine rows. However, Pendlay rows are deemed a great option. Add them to your training and your back will thank you for it!

                One truth that some lifters prefer to overlook is that the foods that you put in your body can determine how fast you can reach your muscle-building goals.

                Controlling calorie intake and the proper amounts of proteins, fats, and carbs is essential for muscle growth but could be overwhelming.However, all you need to know is available if you follow this link to our BODYBUILDING MEAL PLAN: WHAT TO EAT FOR MUSCLE GAIN. 

                Once you’re comfortable counting calories and understand the nutritional needs to achieve those sought-after Herculean features, and are looking to pack on even more lean muscle, you can find exactly what you're looking for here.