Pendlay Row Vs. Barbell Row: What Is The Difference?

September 16, 2021

The Pendlay row was named after legendary Weightlifting coach Glenn Pendlay. Since then, it has often been confused with a barbell row. However, these are two distinctly different exercises.

The Pendlay row always starts from the floor and is performed explosively pulling the barbell to the upper abs. The barbell row involves rowing the bar in a bent-over position without being returned to the floor each rep resulting in a constant tension of the back muscles throughout the set.

So why do these differences exist? What is the point of each exercise and why should you use the Pendlay or the barbell row?

Pendlay Row vs. Barbell Row Form Differences

While they are very similar exercises, the Pendlay and barbell row have subtle differences that make each of them better suited for certain goals. Let’s take a look at how to perform both.

How To Do The Barbell Row

The standard barbell row starts by deadlifting the weight so you are standing tall while holding the barbell with a double overhand grip. You can also use a double underhand grip which will place greater activation on the biceps while allowing you to tuck your elbows more. This may give you a similar lat activation but you won’t get the same mid and lower trap development.

Your grip will be relatively narrow. The grip you normally deadlift with would be sufficient. Once standing, perform a Romanian deadlift to be bent over with the barbell just below the knees. Your knees should be back (not fully straight) to allow space for the barbell to be rowed.

Your back angle will ideally be close to parallel with the floor. If you are too upright, you are essentially performing a Yates row and only targeting the upper back and traps.

Once you’re in position to start the row, keep your back neutral and think about pulling your elbows at a 45° angle to the side. You can pull either to your lower or upper abs. Lower abs will give you more lat activation while upper abs will give you more mid trap and upper back activation.

Pull all the way until you touch your abs. Then slowly lower the barbell back to the starting position so your arms are straight. Don’t let your hips sink or rise throughout the movement and keep your back at the same angle.

Common Barbell Row Mistakes

Using Too Much Momentum

The barbell row needs to be performed as strict as possible to make the most of the exercise. The goal is to build the muscles of the back and by using momentum, you are just swinging the weight and not maximally stimulating the muscle.

Rounding Your Back

The lower back should be in a lordotic posture (arched) with the mid and upper back in a neutral position with a big chest. By rounding the back, it will be near impossible to properly activate the lats when rowing.

Not Moving Your Shoulder Blades

It is no longer the early 2000s where it was once thought that rowing movements should be performed with retracted shoulder blades throughout the entire movement. Your shoulder blades must move with your arms and shoulders for maximum range of motion.

The shoulder blades and arms don't move in isolation. They move together so the same thing must occur when barbell rowing.

Not Controlling The Eccentric

Don’t just let the barbell drop to the starting position. Slowly lower it so you don’t take the tension off the back.

How To Do The Pendlay Row

The big difference with the Pendlay row is it always start from the floor. Your grip will be slightly wider and you will set up with your back parallel to the floor. The wider grip will help you get into this position. Keep a big chest to maintain a neutral back position.

From here, explosively pull the barbell to the upper abs or lower sternum area. Your hips and back angle should remain in the same position throughout the rowing motion. There is no need to control the eccentric phase as the Pendlay row focuses on the explosive pull.

Common Pendlay Row Mistakes

Lifting The Hips and Shoulders

By lifting the hips and shoulders, you take the stress of the rowing muscles and turn it into a hybrid deadlift. This can be great as a full-body power movement. But not so great for developing raw pulling power.

Setting Up Like A Deadlift

When you set up like a deadlift, your knees end up in the way. You can't pull the barbell vertically as it needs to go around your knees. The setup should be closer to a stiff leg deadlift but with bent legs.

Benefits Of The Barbell Row

Great For Overall Back Development

The barbell row doesn't just target the lats. You have to hold a bent-over position placing huge stress on the erector spinae, the large columns of muscle on either side of your spine. If you want a dense looking back, the barbell row will give it to you.

Lots Of Variation

You’re not limited to performing the barbell row how I’ve described in this article. You can move your grip closer or wider. Overhand or underhand. You can change your back angles. You can perform it from a dead stop position. There are many possibilities that can emphasize different areas of your back.

Can Be Done For Low Or High Reps

We know that muscle growth is stimulated among the whole spectrum of reps. The barbell row can be performed with heavy loads for sets of 6-10 and also for higher reps with moderate load for sets of 15-20.

Benefits Of The Pendlay Row

Pendlay Row

Develop Explosive Upper Body Pulling Power

The number of exercises you can use to develop explosive upper body pulling power is limited. The Pendlay row is one of those staples for horizontal pulling power.

Each Rep Is From A Dead Stop

Performing each rep from a dead stop develops what is known as starting strength. Being able to explosively pull without momentum or elastic energy purely targets the explosive adaptations to the muscles.

Which Is Better For Building Mass?

For building back mass, the barbell row is your best option. Having to hold a bent-over position while maintaining constant tension while controlling the eccentric phase will stimulate the most muscle. Because you can use such a wide range of reps, you could use the barbell row twice a week to target both ends of the spectrum. For example:

Day 1: 4 x 6-8 reps

Day 2: 4 x 15-20 reps

This way, you take full advantage of maximizing mechanical tension and metabolic stress so you maximize back hypertrophy.

Which Is Better For Strength And Power?

The Pendlay row is the best for strength and power. Because you are lifting explosively, you’re moving heavy loads quickly. The Pendlay row is best suited for the lower rep ranges. That is anywhere from 3-6 reps.

The Hybrid Pendlay And Barbell Row

I’m not a huge fan of the traditional barbell row for building mass. I prefer each rep to start from the dead stop position on the floor like a Pendlay row. Hence, this is a hybrid of both exercises. Starting from the floor gives you a larger range of motion for the row compared to a traditional barbell row.

Further, you don’t have the same stress on your lower back so if you have lower back problems, this is a better variation for you. For this hybrid row, I like to grip the barbell the same place as I would for the traditional barbell row and pull to my belly button.

Control the weight back down to the floor but don’t relax and lose tension like you would in the Pendlay row. Keep the tension in your back so the weights aren’t fully resting. This will light your lats up.

Are Pendlay Rows Bad For Your Back?

In my experience, Pendlay rows are easier on your back than barbell rows. You need to maintain a bent-over position while holding load for the barbell row whereas the weight is resting on the floor in the Pendlay row so you don't need to support it.

Should You Do The Pendlay Row Or Barbell Row?

If your main goal is to pack on size, use the barbell row or my hybrid variation above. If you are after strength and power to carry over to your deadlift or Olympic lifts, then get after the Pendlay row.

About the Author

I am a professional strength & conditioning coach that works with professional and international teams and athletes. I am a published scientific researcher and have completed my Masters in Sport & Exercise Science. I've combined my knowledge of research and experience to bring you the most practical bites to be applied to your training.

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