How to do Pendlay Rows (The Ultimate Back Exercise)

By Nader Qudimat
Last Updated August 21, 2019
7 Comments

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 tends to 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
  • Best routine to use pendlays with
  • 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.

pendlay rows

It’s similar to the “traditional” back row.

Instead of standing upright, 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.

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, deadlifts 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.

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 heavier weight and you'll look like a beast doing them. 

But the lats will not be fully engaged.

There'll barely be any muscle contraction.

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

We've all seen that one guy (or girl) in the squat rack with a ton of weight but barely moves with it. 

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?

Remember your physique should do the talking, not your ego-lifts. 

I'm not against traditional bent over rows as you'll see me doing them like in my workout below but besides the T-Bar row, it should be one of the main lifts for the back.

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 erector muscles are huge in the size and thickness.

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 with the flexibility they've built.

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.

Take a deep, belly worth of oxygen before you pull the barbell and exhale once you lower the weight. 

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”.

Pull with the elbows.

Lead with them.

And you can use this visualization for any back exercise. 

Imagine your hands are hooks and your elbows are pulling. 

It might be 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.

If you can't help cheating with heavier weight, try reducing the weight and placing the exercise near the end of your workout.

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 your form and lats before performing your sets.

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

Forget ego and drop it at the door.

You’re here to build some thick back muscle that is going to make you look like a beast from the back.

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

Part of the reason why Pendlay rows aren't as popular as it should be is because it's a difficult exercise and it isn't easy to show off with it as traditional rows. 

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 big lifts like deadlifts and pull ups, depending on your program and how you feel doing them.

Ideally your routine should always start with warm up for both the muscles and central nervous system. 

Then before you jump into your workout, build a mind to muscle connection with a smaller exercise like pull overs, single arm pull downs / ins, etc. 

Focus on squeezing the lats as if there was a pencil between your shoulder blades. 

I usually change around the order every 2-3 weeks. 

For example: one week I’ll do them in the beginning of the workout, the next week I’ll do it after the 2nd or 3rd lift, you get the picture.

The later you put this lift in your workout, the less weight or reps you'll be able to do due to fatigue. 

An example back routine with pendlay rows could look like:

  • Warm up with mobility (5-15 minutes)
  • Lat pull overs or lat pull downs (3 sets of 10 reps)
  • Pendlay rows (4-5 sets of 4-6 reps)
  • Single arm dumbbell rows (3 sets of 8 reps)
  • Pull ups (3 sets of 8-10 reps)
  • Medium, wide, narrow grip pull downs (1 set each for 8-10 reps)

Take 2-3 minutes between sets for pendlay rows and about 1-2 minute for the other exercises.

Try incorporating pendlay rows as a compound lift with any of the programs listed here

Remember this is not a high repetition exercise.

To get the most out of them, keep the rep range between 4-8.

If you can go for 10 or 8 perfect reps, you can probably add more weight (5-10lbs more) and start from 4 reps.

It’s better to start with 10 repetitions with light weight so you can adjust your form and practice it.

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.

You can also include these rows in push pull programs like this one.

Watch Pendlay Rows In Action



7 thoughts on “How to do Pendlay Rows (The Ultimate Back Exercise)”

  1. Thanks for posting this Nader, this looks super effective! I have this page bookmarked for when I fully recover.

  2. Great post, Nader.

    I love the broad range of benefits of this lift. For weightlifters it’s great for increasing lat and lower back strength, for powerlifters it allows for more specific training of the hips and back (perfect for deadlifting), and for CrossFitters it can help barbell lifts and injury prevention. It’s definitely a good lift for diversifying upper body training.

    • Hi Jordan,

      Thanks for stopping by. I agree, this variation of row is amazing. I was making the common mistake of doing only Yates row but have benefited more from Pendlays.

      I’m a fan of Barbend btw 🙂

  3. I just started doing these and…WOW is my back sore. I do deadlifts all the time so I never would have expected these to be that much different than normal rows but wow does that stop at the bottom make a huge difference.

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