Do you want to build a stronger back, but aren’t sure which movements will be most effective? Pendlay rows and barbell rows both recruit the muscles of the posterior chain.
Pendlay rows and barbell rows have similarities, but also some important differences.
Which one is best for building muscle?
Which variation generates more power?
Which row should you include in your program to meet your needs?
We’ll go over the key features of the Pendlay row and the barbell row, and which one you should be using.
Table of Contents
- 1 Pendlay Row vs. Barbell Row
- 2 Form Differences
- 3 Pendlay Row vs. Barbell Row – Pros and Cons
- 4 Pendlay Row vs. Barbell Row – When to Do an Exercise
- 5 Pendlay Row vs. Barbell Row – Muscles Used
- 6 Frequently Asked Questions
- 7 Other Exercise Comparisons
Pendlay Row vs. Barbell Row
Difference between Pendlay row and barbell row
The main difference between a Pendlay row and a barbell row is the starting position. In a Pendlay row, you pull the bar explosively from the ground for each rep. Pendlay rows involve a greater range of motion and more power. Barbell rows begin from a hinged position and place constant tension on the lower back.
Pendlay rows may have more benefits for explosive sports like powerlifting and weightlifting.
On the other hand, barbell rows are a bit more effective for building muscle because of the increased time under tension and the ability to handle more volume with this movement.
This is summarized well in this video from Konversion Fit.
To clarify, what is referred to as the “barbell row” in this article is also commonly known as the bent-over barbell row or 45-degree barbell row.
Pendlay rows and barbell rows target similar muscle groups but are performed differently. The Pendlay row is a variation of the conventional barbell row. The barbell row and the Pendlay row are similar movements that have a few important differences.
In a Pendlay row, you pull the bar explosively from the ground for each rep. Pendlay rows involve a greater range of motion and more power.
Barbell rows begin from a hinged position and place constant tension on the lower back. Barbell rows are an effective hypertrophy movement as they permit for greater volume and mechanical load.
How to perform a Pendlay row with proper form
A Pendlay row is a modified version of a barbell row. Its creator, Glenn Pendlay describes the movement as “simply a strict barbell row, done with the back staying at parallel to the ground. These rows contributed a huge help to making my back strong.”
The key difference when performing a Pendlay row over a conventional barbell row is your starting position.
- Stand with your loaded barbell in front of you on the floor. Your feet should be about hip-width and placed directly under the bar.
- Micro-bend your knees and hinge at the waist, pushing your hips back so that your back is flat and parallel to the floor.
- Reach down to hold the barbell with an overhand grip, with your hands just wider than your shoulder width.
- Engage your core and brace your back and shoulders to take excess slack out of the bar. Keep your shoulders pulled back throughout.
- Pull the barbell towards your torso with explosive force. Hinge at the elbows and drive them behind you as you lift the bar to your chest.
- Keeping the core activated and the back braced, release the barbell to the ground.
- Reset and repeat for each repetition.
Here is a useful video from Scott Herman Fitness showing some tips for the correct form for a Pendlay row and how to avoid some common mistakes.
Pendlay Rows – Common Form Mistakes
Here are some common mistakes when learning how to do a Pendlay row.
- Locking your knees. Maintain a soft bend in the knees throughout the movement to facilitate a flat back.
- ‘Bouncing’ the bar off the ground. Ensure the barbell comes to a dead stop before starting each rep.
- Driving the weight through the legs. Avoid recruiting your legs to pull the barbell towards you. Reduce the weight if you cannot complete the movement without pushing with your legs.
How to perform a barbell row with proper form
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart with your loaded barbell on the ground in front of you. Engage your core and reach down to hold the barbell with an overhand grip. Your hands should be just wider than shoulder distance.
- Deadlift the bar and stand tall with the barbell in hand and a soft bend in the knees. Maintain a micro-bend in the knees throughout.
- Pull your shoulders back and down. Hinge your hips back and lean forward until your back is tilted at about 45 degrees. Hold the bar close to the body throughout the exercise and keep your core activated.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together and pull the barbell up towards your trunk. Avoid swinging or rocking your back to create momentum. Keep the elbows tucked in close to the body rather than allowing them to flare out.
- Keep your core braced and slowly release the barbell to the starting position. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions before lowering the barbell to the ground.
For a visual aid, here’s Alex Bromley from Empire Barbell:
Barbell Rows – Common Form Mistakes
Here are some common mistakes when learning how to do a barbell row.
- Using momentum. As you start to fatigue you may start to swing the back upward to generate momentum and lift the barbell. Engage the core and control the movement rather than using momentum.
- The back is too vertical. You should perform bent-over barbell rows with the back at a 45-degree angle. Standing too upright will shift the bar path and engage incorrect muscles to complete the exercise.
- Incorrect neck position. The neck is part of the spinal column, so it is important to keep it in a neutral position when performing a barbell row. Look at the ground a few feet ahead of you and tuck your chin to protect the natural curvature of the spine.
Pendlay Row vs. Barbell Row – Pros and Cons
Rowing movements are effective compound lifts for increasing muscle size and strength. Pendlay rows and barbell rows are both effective exercises for building strength and stability of the back muscles. The right type of row for you will depend on your goals and abilities.
Pendlay Row Benefits
Here are some of the advantages of Pendlay rows.
- Pendlay rows build explosive strength and power. Starting each repetition from a dead stop on the ground means you need to generate more power to complete the rep.
- Pendlay rows are difficult to ‘cheat’. As the bar is static when you initiate each rep, you can’t rely on momentum to shift the weight.
- Greater range of motion. Pulling each rep from the ground causes the bar to travel in a wider range of motion.
- Less strain on the hamstrings and lower back. Pendlay rows require less stabilization from the lower back, allowing you to isolate the upper back muscles.
Pendlay Row Drawbacks
Here are some of the disadvantages of Pendlay rows.
- You may not be able to lift as heavy. The static starting position in a Pendlay row may limit the total weight you are safely able to lift.
- Tall people may struggle to maintain a neutral spine. If you have long limbs or poor mobility, you may struggle to reach the barbell from its starting position on the ground. This may cause you to round the back more than is desirable to reach the barbell.
Barbell Row Benefits
Here are some of the advantages of barbell rows.
- Barbell rows allow for more volume. Most people will be able to do a larger set of barbell rows compared with Pendlay rows. Training volume is a key factor for muscle growth, making barbell rows effective for hypertrophy.
- Greater ability to overload the lats. You will likely be able to lift more weight in a conventional barbell row. This can help increase mechanical tension and stimulate hypertrophy.
- Greater variability. You can modify barbell rows to target specific muscle groups by changing your grip, stance, and starting position. This allows you to target the muscles of the back from multiple angles.
- Increased postural stability. Barbell rows require you to maintain a hinged position for the entire set. This increases time under tension and can improve posterior chain strength. Barbell rows are a great accessory lift for deadlifts.
Barbell Row Drawbacks:
Here are some of the disadvantages of barbell rows.
- Greater risk of using momentum to cheat. Barbell rows are performed from a bent-over standing position which allows you to swing your back to generate momentum. This can prevent you from engaging the correct muscles or getting the full strength benefits.
- Places greater strain on the lower back. The loaded hinged position in a barbell row places strain on the lower back muscles. This can pose an injury risk, or limit how many reps you can safely perform whilst keeping a neutral spine.
Pendlay Row vs. Barbell Row – When to Do an Exercise
When to do a Pendlay row
If you want to build explosive power, the Pendlay row is the exercise for you. Pendlay rows are best suited to lower rep ranges, usually between 3 and 6 reps per set.
Pendlay rows can help you to improve your static strength by preventing momentum. Pendlay rows are a good accessory exercise for Olympic weightlifting movements like the snatch or the clean and jerk.
Pendlay rows can help you to improve your strength for other movements like the squat and deadlift by developing your back muscles. Glenn Pendlay originally incorporated the “strict barbell row” or Pendlay row to improve his strength in his trunk and break through a strength plateau in his squat.
When to do a barbell row
The conventional barbell row may be a better option for bodybuilders and individuals who want to lift heavy, build muscle, and take sets closer to failure.
Barbell rows can also improve your posture by placing constant tension on the erectors. This increased time under tension helps stimulate more hypertrophy than the Pendlay row.greater potential to stimulate maximal hypertrophy.
Pendlay Row vs. Barbell Row – Muscles Used
The Pendlay row and the barbell row mainly target the lats, posterior deltoids, erectors, rhomboids and traps.
Pendlay Row Muscles Used
Pendlay rows recruit multiple muscles in the back, primarily targeting the latissimus dorsi. Pendlay rows also engage the rhomboids, biceps and teres minor/major to move the shoulder and elbow joints.
Pendlay rows engage the muscles of the upper back to a greater degree than the lower back.
Barbell Row Muscles Used
Conventional barbell rows also recruit multiple back muscles. They are slightly more effective at recruiting the lower lats, erectors, and posterior deltoids.
Barbell rows place a greater total strain on the lower back muscles than a Pendlay row, as they help maintain the 45-degree angle of the back throughout the movement
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Pendlay rows and barbell rows the same?
No, Pendlay rows and barbell rows are not exactly the same.
Pendlay rows are a variation of a barbell row in which the weight is reset on the ground for each rep. Barbell rows are a category of movements that can have varying grips, stances, and back angles. The most common type of barbell row is the conventional, bent over standing row. In the conventional barbell row, the weight remains off of the ground throughout the set, which places constant tension on the stabilizing back muscles.
Are Pendlay rows worth it?
For athletes that utilize explosive movements, like powerlifting and weightlifting, Pendlay rows are a good accessory for building upper back strength.
Pendlay rows have unique benefits not found in a conventional barbell row. Pendlay rows can help you develop more power and explosive strength. Pendlay rows target several muscles in the back and are effective at isolating the muscles of the upper back.
Should I do Pendlay rows or barbell rows to build muscle?
If you want to maximize hypertrophy for your back, the conventional barbell row may be the better choice for you.
Conventional barbell rows permit greater mechanical load, so you can take them closer to failure.
Pendlay rows are effective at stimulating strength and explosive power. Pendlay rows may be a better choice for people with lower back or mobility issues.
Other Exercise Comparisons
If you enjoyed this article, check out our other comparisons of popular exercises.