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The Pendlay Row [Exercise Guide]

Pendlay row

Barbell rows are one of the best ways to build strength and muscle in your back. There are many interesting variations, one of them being the Pendlay row. Today we’re going to take a look at this exercise, its’ advantages, and different variations.

What Is A Pendlay Row?

The Pendlay row is a bodybuilding exercise that primarily targets your back muscles like lats, rhomboids, trapezius, and rear delts, but also works your lower back and hamstrings. It is named after Glenn Pendlay, a famous Olympic weightlifting coach in the USA who invented this exercise. This exercise is a great way to build strength and muscle mass in your upper back and become a viable alternative to other rowing exercises like a barbell row or t-bar row.

How To Perform The Pendlay Row

To perform the Pendlay row you will need a barbell that is heavy enough for you to reach failure in around the 10-12 rep range. If you’re a beginner, consider using a lighter weight and focus on mastering the technique first.

To do the exercise:

  • Step 1. Stand straight with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Bend your torso forward by hinging in your hips until your upper body is almost parallel to the ground. Make sure that your lower back is straight and bend your knees slightly.
  • Step 2. Grab the barbell bar with both hands with an overhand grip a bit wider than shoulder-width apart.
  • Step 3. Keep your core braced and bring the barbell up towards your chest while squeezing your shoulder blades together.
  • Step 4. Pause for a moment at the top and then slowly bring the weight back to the floor.

If you want to use this exercise primarily to build muscles, then focus on performing 3-4 sets and doing 10-12 reps in each set.

Benefits Of The Pendlay Row

Bigger And Stronger Upper Back

One of the biggest benefits of this exercise is that allows you to build a bigger and stronger upper back. Because of the nature of the exercise that allows you to put the weight on the floor between the reps, you can add more weight to the bar which will help you develop more strength and muscle mass. And besides that, you will also work your core as well as some other posterior chain muscles like your low back muscles and hamstrings.

A Great Way To Build Power

You can also perform the Pendlay row in a way that focuses more on developing power. Because between each rep of the exercise the weight is put on the floor, there isn’t much momentum that you can take advantage of. That will force your muscles and nervous system to work harder during the exercise.

If you want to turn this into a power training exercise, focus on doing the first half of the exercise in a fast manner. You will also need to adjust the weight, lower the rep count to 3-5 reps per set and increase the rest period to 3-4 minutes between sets to turn this into a power-building exercise.

Better Posture

Just like other standing barbell rowing exercises, the Pendlay row is a great way to train your rhomboids, upper and lower traps, and spinal erectors. These muscles often get weak in people who spend a lot of time sitting and not working out. By adding the Pendlay row exercise to your workout routine you will be able to counteract that and train those muscles which will help you develop a better posture.

5 Pendlay Row Variations

1. One-arm Dumbbell Pendlay Row

You can perform this with a dumbbell of your preferred weight. Set the dumbbell on the floor and keep your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees slightly and keep your torso almost parallel to the ground. Lift the weight with one hand and then put it back on the ground again. That’s one rep.

2. One-arm Kettlebell Pendlay Row

You can do the Pedlay row with a kettlebell as well. The mechanics of the exercise are almost identical. Make sure to hinge your hips until your torso is almost parallel to the ground, bend your knees, and maintain a neutral low back. Pick the kettlebell with 1 hand and perform a rowing movement. Then put the kettlebell on the group for a second and perform the exercise again.

3. Smith Machine Pendlay Row

This variation is quite similar to that of the original barbell version of the Pendlay row. The only thing that is different in this variation is that it uses the Smith Machine and hence the bar moves through the guide rails. So, the barbell follows a fixed path when you row it. There are some Smith machine bars that travel through angled rails. This can make the exercise even more challenging than it originally is.

4. Underhand Grip Pendlay Row

You can perform the exercise with two types of grips. One that is already mentioned above i.e. the overhand grip and another one is the underhand grip. The underhand grip can make a noticeable difference in the muscles you are targeting. With this grip, you will engage your biceps a lot more. And because with the underhand grip, you will naturally keep your arms closer to your torso, this can lead to a stronger contraction of your lats and shift the focus slightly lower from your upper back to your mid-back.

5. Overhand grip Pendlay Row

The overhand grip, as mentioned above, is the original grip which is used more often. The overhand grip will keep the main focus on your upper back, rear delts, and your lats. It engages the biceps a lot less than the underhand grip Pendlay row variation. This exercise variation will also work your forearms, low back, and hamstrings.

You can choose any one of these five variations to perform the Pendlay row exercise. It completely depends on what tools you have or your preferences. A good idea is to alternate between the variations from time to time to give your muscles a little shock and keep them “guessing”.


1. Pendlay Row Vs. Barbell Row: What’s The Difference?

These exercises are quite similar, but there are some differences between them. First of all, the position of your upper body is different. With the Pendlay row, your torso is almost parallel to the ground whereas when doing a barbell row, the torso is angled slightly higher at about a 60-degree angle.
Secondly, because the barbell has to come all the way down to the floor, the Pendlay row offers a greater range of motion.
And lastly, the dynamics are different between the 2 exercises. When doing the Pendlay row, the bar has to go all the way to the ground which forces you to generate more power to pick it back up since there is no momentum you can leverage. This is not the case with a regular barbell row.

2. Pendlay Row Vs. Traditional Deadlift: What’s The Difference?

The traditional deadlift targets the hip, glutes, back, abs, and hamstrings. But the Pendlay row targets your back muscles mainly strengthening your upper body. While some beginners may find these two exercises similar to each other, they are not. Besides the targeted muscles, there are many more differences between them. The ways the exercises are performed are completely different from one another. In the case of the Pendlay row, you have to keep your legs and back completely fixed in one place while moving the arms only. But in the case of a deadlift, you have to bend to hold the barbell and come back to the starting position with the barbell. Then you have to bend again with the barbell to touch the floor and again come back to the starting position with the barbell.

3. Pendlay Row Vs. Romanian Deadlift: What’s The Difference?

The main difference between the Pendlay row and Romanian deadlift is the muscles they target. While the former one targets the back muscles, the deadlift targets your hamstrings more and glutes too. Also, the postures of performing the two exercises are different. You have to keep your back fixed in a particular position parallel to the floor for performing the rowing exercise. With the Romanian deadlift, you have to bend and then straighten your back again with every rep.

4. What Muscles Does The Pendlay Row Work?

The Pendlay row primarily works your lats, rhomboids, and rear delts, while also activating your biceps, glutes, hamstrings, and forearms.


As you can see, the Pendlay row is a great back exercise that can help you not only develop strength and muscle mass but can also be used as a power-building exercise. Try to incorporate it into your workout routine and see for yourself how many benefits this exercise has.