GAIN MUSCLE

How to Do Pendlay Rows (The Ultimate Back Exercise)

by Nader Qudimat
Updated October 11, 2021

Pendlay rows are what they are today because of the great late coach, Glenn Pendlay.

He didn't intend to create his own exercise.

He was recommending to use a flat back when rowing, and returning the barbell to the ground between each rep.

This type of row targets the lats, upper and lower back muscles.

Being more demanding than regular rows, because you need to lift the bar from the ground between each rep.

Like any row, pendlay rows improves your posture, strengthens your hips and muscles.

But without the possibility to jerk or using momentum makes this row a better exercise for developing the back.

They are also referred to as dead stop barbell rows.

So how should you implement these rows and why should you use them?

That’s what we’re digging into…

What You Will Learn In This Post

  • Pendlay Rows vs Traditional Rows
  • Why Pendlay Rows
  • The Muscles it Works
  • How to Do Pendlay Rows
  • Best Routine to use Pendlays With
  • Videos of Pendlay Rows
  • Where to Place this Exercise for Best Results

Pendlay vs Traditional Rows

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Why Pendlay Rows

Bodybuilders, powerlifters, and even crossfitters will find a place for pendlay rows. 

This type of row is important, whether you’re building a strong back or to work on specific weak points to make them strong points for other lifts.

Bodybuilders: 

For bodybuilders it’ll help build a strong, well developed back. 

With the correct volume, weight, and muscle contractions at the best time of your workouts, pendlay rows will help with hypertrophy.

Both types of rows, traditional and pendlay, can increase muscular hypertrophy. This is emphasized with correct hand placement, back angle and strict form. 

Using momentum to row the bar may be useful in some cases to help increase growth and muscular damage but not always. 

Because of its strict form, it can increase lat strength and help develop the back further than traditional row.

Strength Training

To be strong, traditional strength is not enough.

A decent program would have both styles of rows, traditional and pendlay rows, and both variation of rows should be cycled in at least for 4-5 weeks and prioritized over any other row.

You should determine what you’d like to improve by using a specific type of row.

It could be improving overall strength, or a specific position has a weak point that you’d like to improve on.

If staying tight with deadlifts or squats, pendlay rows can help improve this. But if you’re after overall strength and mass, using various rows at different angles can help.

Specificity to Powerlifting and Weightlifting Movements

For weightlifting, pendlay rows are a top priority for those weak positional strength in the hamstrings and back.

This strict form of rows can increase concentric and static strength, which are both important for various weightlifting movements like the snatch and clean. For squats and deadlifts in powerlifting, the pendlay rows will help increase both upper and lower strength. It’ll help with lean muscle mass and general strength training.

This is also an important lift for crossfitters because of its strict, isolated form, it can work on weak points that are often skipped on.

The Muscles It Works

While you may not see the muscles row work, it’s often the most important but yet neglected exercise that most people leave as a low priority.

When you look at the mirror, you may only see your chest, arms and abs but your back is the most noticeable when you’re being looked at from behind.

A small back with a big chest is not only strange but it’s what causes injuries as this a fairly common muscle imbalance.

Your row should be nearly as strong or stronger than your bench press.

Upper Back

Rowing the bar means you’d need to engage your shoulder blades at the top of the contraction. This is what will contribute to the v-shape that is known as your lats (latissimus dorsi), as well as your rear delts, traps and the smaller muscles of your back. This look will compliment your chest as your shoulders will look more round and your physique will look complete.

Lower Back

Whether you’re rowing with a strict form like the pendlay rows or with a more upright position, your lower back is worked to keep your back in a neutral position. Your back may try to bend because of the weight of the bar but resist this and keep your back as neutral as possible.

Hips

Since your hips must remain in the same position, barbell rows will help strengthen them through static contractions. With traditional rows, hips would be strengthened through dynamic contractions as it would have some movement. But pendlay rows would require hips to remain neutral.

Abs

To help keep your back neutral, your abs will work and it will become stronger as you progress with rows. With the right diet, it’ll be more visible.

 

Arms

When you grip the bar and row it, your forearms are worked. Flexing your elbows to lift the bar will work your biceps and your triceps are worked as they stabilize the shoulders

Barbell rows are an example of a compound exercise that works multiple muscles, whether you see them working or not, they will help pack on mass on the upper body.

With a strong row with good form, you’ll have all your back muscles worked and developed better than someone who just hits their back with several isolation exercises.

This simple compound exercise will work your whole back and provide better development than any isolation exercise

How

Pendlay rows require a strict form but although it helps isolate your entire back, it’s still a compound exercise that will help pack muscle and strength. 

The bar should start from the ground, as if you were about to do a deadlift.

  1. The barbell should be set on the ground, stand with your feet at shoulder width apart. Your feet should be about 30 degrees pointed outwards. The bar should be at mid foot. And they should be flat on the floor throughout the movement. 
  2. Grip the bar at shoulder width. Your hands should be completely wrapped around the barbell. There shouldn’t be any wiggle room and grip the bar with a double overhand grip. Push the bar into the top of your palms, not in the middle. You can use straps, but only after the warm up sets and after your grip fails or your grip won’t improve. If you find your back bends during the rows, try experimenting with a narrower grip although you will struggle with the usual weight as the range of motion would increase. 
  3. With explosive force, pull the bar towards the base of your chest. That should be right around the top of your belly. Engage your shoulder blades, as if you were about to hold a pencil between them for a second. Return the barbell to the starting position, with control. 
  4. Repeat, but return the barbell to a complete stop on the ground between each rep. 

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.

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

Watch Pendlay Rows In Action

Check These Guides Out…

by Nader Qudimat

Forged by the iron and cold steel, Nader takes his knowledge and hulks it up into this site.

Having to be stuck as a 110lb skinny guy in the early days, he has had no choice but to keep improving himself until he cannot.

Click here to check out his 12 year transformation: Natural 12 Year Transformation

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