Glen Pendlay was so modest when he came up with the idea for this row, he called the strict barbell row. He saw a weakness in the traditional barbell bentover row and set about to improve it with the Pendlay row. The legendary American weightlifting coach who unfortunately is no longer with us, came up with this exercise to improve his back strength.
And his back strength went through the roof. When he started doing them, he only managed 185 pounds for a set of 5. Then years later he did 315 for 10, 365 for 5, and 405 for 3. His back strength increased as did his squat, deadlift, and clean numbers.
Now you’ll benefit from this great row variation. Here we’ll go into what it is, how to do it, muscles trained, benefits, common mistakes, and some variations to keep you progressing. Let’s row to grow baby.
WHAT IS THE PENDLAY ROW EXERCISE?
The Pendlay row involves rowing the barbell from a dead stop position, as opposed to being in a bentover row in which the barbell hovers above the floor. Your torso is parallel to the floor and not 45 degrees like with the traditional bentover row. Being in this hinge position provides isometric strength for the lower back and hamstrings while strengthening the upper back and lats.
HOW TO DO THE PENDLAY ROW
- Set up as you would for the regular barbell deadlift from the floor. Feet underneath the bar, screw your feet into the floor, and stand up straight.
- Hinge down to the barbell and take an overhand shoulder-width grip.
- Squeeze your armpits together and bring your chest up. Your hands and shoulders should be in line with each other. This is your starting position.
- Explosively pull the barbell toward your sternum.
- Return the barbell to the floor and reset and repeat.
MUSCLES TRAINED BY THE PENDLAY ROW
The Pendlay row works multiple upper- and lower-body muscles due to pulling from the hinge position. Here are the major upper and lower body muscles trained by the Pendlay row.
- Forearms: Assists with elbow flexion during the pull and the gripping of the barbell
- Biceps: Helps with elbow flexion.
- Posterior Deltoid: Assists with shoulder extension when pulling the barbell towards your sternum.
- Rhomboids/Middle Trapezius: Otherwise known as the upper back. The scapula retracts and protracts when pulling and lowering the barbell.
- Latissimus Dorsi: shoulder extension.
Lower Body (Note- all these muscles are working isometrically to keep you in a solid hinge position.)
- Erector Spinae: Keeps the lower back in neutral.
- Hamstrings: Assists the glutes and lower back in keeping a strong hinge position.
- Hip Flexors: Its mobility allows you to get into the hinge position.
PENDLAY ROW BENEFITS
Besides giving you wings, there are a few other good reasons to perform the Pendlay row.
- Bigger and Stronger Back: With the Pendlay row, you have the potential to load the barbell with a heavier weight than most rowing movements for improved size and strength. Pulling from a dead stop you are briefly able to rest your grip, and this allows you to load the bar with relatively heavy weight.
- Improved Power and Explosiveness: The Pendlay row develops power and explosiveness from the floor because you’re pulling from a dead stop. When the stretch reflex is taken out of the muscle, like with the dead stop, you need to work harder during the concentric contraction.
- Lower-back Friendly: This is a friendlier bent-over row variation on the lower back due to the weight resting on the floor between reps and with the torso being parallel to the ground and not 45 degrees like with the conventional bent-over row.
- Better Big 3 Performance: Your upper and lower back muscles play an important role in keeping a neutral spine while performing barbell squat and deadlift variations. The upper back ensures the barbell stays close when you’re pulling from the floor. While barbell squatting, your upper back muscle provides a place for the bar, and keeping the back tight prevents your squat from turning into a good morning. Plus, an engaged upper back during the bench press gives you a solid base to press from because good upper back strength controls the bar path which allows for better form.
COMMON PENDLAY ROW MISTAKES
To get the best from the Pendlay row avoid these common mistakes which may crop up when you’re adding load. These mistakes make the exercise easier, and they take away its effectiveness.
- Your Torso Angle: Your torso angle starts almost parallel to the ground and that’s where it should stay. You may be tempted to raise your back and shoulder position relative to your hips but from the hip hinge position, this spells trouble for your lower back. Keeping a strong hip hinge and proper torso angle is important to keep this exercise as effective as possible. Nail your Pendlay row form with a lighter weight before progressing.
- Too Heavy too Soon: The dead-stop position takes a little bit of getting used to. When the stretch reflex is taken away, your muscles have to work harder to overcome inertia. This is good and bad. Good because you can use more load due to the partial rest and bad if you overload and then start using other parts of your body to lift the weight like mentioned above. When you have to raise your back angle and yank the weight up, it’s time to lighten the load.
- Don’t Chicken Wing It: The ideal angle for your upper arms to be away from your torso during the Pendlay row is around 45 degrees. This is not a hard and fast rule but one to experiment with to find what works for you. But “chicken-winging” or flaring your elbows out, puts your shoulders in a bad position and puts more focus on the biceps and shoulders and not the lats. So just don’t do it. It’s not cool.
SETS AND REPS SUGGESTIONS
The Pendlay row, although a total body exercise is best done as an accessory exercise after your main strength move for the day. Doing so allows you to focus your energy on building strength, the performing the Pendlay row afterward to shore up any back or pulling weaknesses.
- For Building Maximum Strength and Power: Do three to six sets of four to 6 reps with a heavier weight.
- For Hypertrophy: Do three to four sets of six to 12 reps with a lighter weight than above.
- Better Muscular Endurance: Perform two to three sets of 15 to 20 reps.
Pairing the Pendlay row with a core exercise that trains hip mobility and strengthens the spine or a pressing movement works well. A couple of examples are:
1A. Pendlay row 4-12 reps
1B. Half-kneeling Pallof press 12 reps on both sides
1A. Pendlay row 4-12 reps
1B. Bench press variation 6-12 reps
PENDLEY ROW VARIATIONS
When you need to make the Pendlay row a little easier, more difficult, or strengthen imbalances between sides, take these variations out for a spin.