Improve Your Strength Potential with the Pendlay Row

The Pendlay row is great for any athlete or active person looking to develop more strength in their back. The concept of having a stronger back appeals to many as it’s both great for your health, and has a solid carry over for the world of sports.

This is not just a basic row that you will commonly see at the gym unless somebody has been doing their research. Usually the main reason is because it takes more focus on your form to execute and not as much weight can be performed initially.

What is a Pendlay Row?

This exercise is named after a well-known weightlifting coach who noticed significant results performing this movement. A Pendlay row is essentially a strict barbell row with an explosive power to it. Strict as in you move your upper torso as little as possible to activate your back with more emphasis.

The strict pull comes directly from the floor unlike other rows and is treated much like a deadlift. Each repetition fully rows up and goes back down to the floor.

Although this is a row variation, the outcome from utilizing this as part of a program reaps results as a compound lift opposed to isolation. Compound meaning multiple large muscle groups are being activated.

The hinged position while keeping your torso parallel with the floor activates your hamstrings, core, and glutes as well as supports the pull. This is unlike most row variations that mainly use just the back and biceps for the pull to be accomplished.

Primary muscles being targeted are your lats, traps, spinal erectors, and deltoids. Strength development is the biggest benefit, but muscle gain and power derive from executing the Pendlay row with proper form.

How to Execute Pendlay Rows

Execution is key with this row variation. Improper lifting has two different outcomes:

  • Less development of strength and muscle when you lift your torso above parallel. Going too high up cheats the lift and makes it just an ordinary barbell row.
  • Rounding your back and not maintaining a neutral spine position poses risks to the lower back and shoulders. Brace firmly with your diaphragm to prevent this.

Be smart when it comes to a new movement and use less weight than you normally would for rows. The strict aspect prevents you from rowing the same amount as your normal bent variations.

Pendlay Row Form

Start by loading the weight plate(s) onto the barbell and leaving it on the floor. Think of it as setting up for a deadlift.

  1. Approach the loaded barbell standing feet shoulder-width apart and the bar hovering over the middle of your feet. Foot placement may be narrower for some depending on body mechanics.
  2. Grasp the barbell with a hook grip i.e. palms facing down around thumbs length away from the outside of your shins. Depending on arm length you may need to grip slightly wider.
  3. Take the slack off the bar by placing tension on the bar slightly pulling and stiffening your arms. Taking the slack off should not cause the weight to move from the floor yet. Most barbells will make a clicking sound when slack is removed.
  4. Drop your hips and bend knees into the hinged position much like the deadlift. This allows your back to be in a neutral spine position.
  5. Breathe into your diaphragm and engage your lats by extending your thoracic spine. All while still keeping the slack off the bar.
  6. Immediately explode to execute the row after you have braced and engaged your lats. The bar path will trace your body, but not drag against it like deadlifts do. Elbows will open and do not fully stay close to your sides.
  7. Endpoint for the concentric phase will be the bar reaching your midsection around your belly button. This stopping can differ due to how your body is structured such as long legs, short arms, etc.
  8. The eccentric phase is lowering the bar back to starting position. For power and strength, the control is not necessary and weight goes right back down, but if muscle gain is your goal then resist the moderate weight taking an extra second or two to complete.

Extra Tips:

  • Your hands are too close if your elbows are tucked in making the pull harder with extra range of motion.
  • If it’s hard to row but the weight is not too heavy for your back, then grip strength is low. Wear wrist straps to focus on the lift more than losing grip.
  • Consider bracing support with a lifting belt when the weight gets heavier.

Programming the Pendlay Row

You can use this exercise virtually for any type of training program, the only difference being the overall volume. Basically, how much weight you choose for sets and repetitions determines the outcome. Muscular endurance and growth develop better when programmed with 4×10-12 reps.

Those wanting a strong torso and power would want heavier weight loads. This means the sets would range from 3-5 sets and repetitions as well. For example, sets x reps could be: 3×3; 3×5; 5×3; 5×5.

Anyone who competes in competitive strength sports such as weightlifting and powerlifting benefit greatly with a stronger back and the power output from this.

The normal day you would perform Pendlay rows is back day since this is a back dominant exercise. An example would be deadlifts first, and then this row follows as an accessory lift. Quite common for powerlifters.

Weightlifting requires that explosive strength for snatches and cleans, and their torso definitely needs to be stronger as loads get higher. Programming for this sport would be on a power clean based day or one focused on the posterior chain.

Athletes who deadlift often for competition prep need a break from the lift at times. This exercise would fall in place as the primary lift for the day if heavy, and then follow up with back isolated movements.

You can see that there are lots of ways to incorporate this row variation into a workout program, the only thing you need to know is what your goal is.

First Focus on Your Form Before Load

There is no reason to become injured performing this lift because you went into this with too much weight racked onto the barbell – especially if you just did deadlifts. The posterior chain would already be fatigued and not on maximum strength.

Use 20-30% less resistance than you would for normal barbell bent rows. Your back will be much safer and capable of getting stronger to reach those larger weight amounts!

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