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How to do Pendlay Rows (The Ultimate Back Exercise)

By Nader Qudimat / Aug 30, 2014

The back can either make or break the display of ones physique.

A thick and strong back makes anyone look powerful and strong.

So why not do something you may not already do?

“But I do some nice heavy back rows!"

There are a dozen problems with conventional barbell rows including the fact that it’s very easy to cheat while doing them.

The pendlay rows will fix your form.

This exercise is rapidly gaining popularity as more people use them.

Pendlay rows will not only protect your lower back from pain but increase your overall muscle mass and strength.

10 back training tips for a bigger back. (right click, save as, or just click and open)

What You Will Learn In This Post

  • Why pendlay rows are better than traditional back rows
  • How to do pendlay rows
  • How to position yourself and row properly
  • Videos of pendlay rows
  • Where to place this exercise for best results

Pendlay Rows

Pendlay rows have been around for a while and it’s something that Arnold Schwarzenegger was always using for his back exercises.

It’s similar to the “traditional” back row but it is done from a dead stop position (from the floor) like the deadlifts.

It’s often not part of the programs you’ll find in magazines but rest assured it is recommended by some of the top Olympic lifting coach’s (Glenn Pendlay) as well as some of the top power lifters (Mark Philippi and Ed Coan).

This exercise will boost up your cleans, dead lifts and even squats.

While improving your overall strength, this will strengthen and thicken your back.

It will teach you to keep your back arched and tight.

The technique is quite simple but the lift is hard.

Expect to start with a lighter weight than what you would use for regular bent rows.

If you don’t row at all, I’ll get to the technique down below.

It’s a lift that is using in a pull, resting for a second and repeating it.

The barbell should rest on the floor between each repetition.

Your grip should loosen up by just a bit before re-tightening it again for the next repetition.

The time under tension may not be the same as the traditional row but you will make some serious strength and muscle gains with this exercise.

Traditional Technique

Dorian Yates was one of the greatest champions that ever but the exercise that he popularized isn’t exactly the best.

The range and plane of motion is crucial to ones success in muscle gains.

But in the 45 degree angle that the Yates row has, the trunk support is way too much to the contraction base.

Sure you could row more weights but the lats will not be fully engaged.

Imagine doing more weight for your legs or bench press but only half the form.

Okay your buddies look impressed in the gym but did you forget that you’re trying to sculpt up a thick back or did the ego take over?

The Proper Way

The row is meant to be done in a parallel position to the floor with the knees slightly bent.

This will remove the strain on the lower back.

This position will reduce the trunk support and overload the muscles of the back.

To make it even better, you can row from a elevated position so the bar is touching your toes.

This will increase the stretching of the muscle fibers.

This is a very important key with your rowing success.

Pin it to your mirror or to the barbell, keep your elbows slightly bent.

NEVER lock them because then your bicep muscles will take the load of the initial pull of the movement.

The reverse grip will increase the use of the bicep muscles. That's how Dorian tore his muscles, so stick with the pronated grip.

The "Arched Back"

By now you’ve learned the proper way of the barbell row and the full engagement of the lat muscles.

The “arched back” can be very misleading when it is recommended to do this in every exercise.

Power lifters are told to arch their back but there is no way to see any arch since their spinal erectors are going to be huge in the size and thickness of it.

Take a someone who can do yoga and has been doing it for years, there’s absolutely no point in telling them to arch their back since they can doing all kinds of movements with their back.

The safest way is to simply tighten your lower back, maintain a neutral spine, and avoid having your chin up towards the ceiling.

Keep your eyes directed on the floor or slightly up.

Elbows Back

Once you’ve got your back tight, flat and neutral, you’re ready to make some gains in the lats.

Pull the bar towards the upper part of your abs, or the lower part of your chest.

The barbell should be pulled with your elbows (this is key).

This is an important part because many people go wrong this part. “I can’t feel it in my back, only my arms”.

Well pull with the elbows.

Lead with them.

It might be very tempting to cheat once you move up in weight but this will just turn into a back extension exercise.

This exercise should be kept strict and they should be extremely hard.

Even if you feel that you must cheat, resist the urge and let yourself struggle through the last few inches of the repetition.

Instead Try This:

When you are struggling with the last few repetitions, squeeze your shoulder blades together and really feel it in your lats.

Pretend you’re given a pencil in between your back and you’re trying to squeeze into it.

If you do not emphasize the squeezing phase, you will be missing out on more than half of the muscle and strength gains in your back.

Force yourself to stay in position.

Visualize yourself before performing your sets.

Make sure you start without any weight at all so you can master the form.

You’re here to build muscle, not ego.

Soon you’ll find yourself walking around with a back so strong and thick, you’ll be wondering why more and more people aren’t doing this exercise.

10 back training tips for a bigger back. (right click, save as, or just click and open) 

Placing Them In Your Workouts

You can place them anywhere you want.

They can be done before or after deadlifts, depending on your program and how you feel doing them.

I usually place them in a spot where I’m not used to.

For example: one week I’ll do them in the beginning of the workout, the next week I’ll do it in the middle, you get the picture.

Remember this is not a high repetition exercise.

To get the most out of them, keep the rep range between 5-10.

If you can go for 10, you can probably do more than one set.

It’s better to start with 10 repetitions with light weight so you can get the form perfected.

As soon as you think you’re ready, you can do 5×5 for some nasty gains.

Play around with the sets and see what works with you.

Go for as much weight as you can pull without sacrificing your form.

Watch Pendlay Rows In Action


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Forged by the iron and cold steel, Nader takes his knowledge and hulk smashes it into this puny site.


Being an ex-hardgainer, he has no choice but to keep training until he has surpassed in every way imaginable.


You can follow Nader on Twitter (@DieselFitt).


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