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Pendlay Row Guide (2024) | Form, Benefits, Muscles, and Mistakes

The Pendlay row is an awesome rowing variation for lifters wanting to improve their strength and explosive power. This back exercise entails rowing a barbell from a dead-stop position.

I’m constantly programming Pendlay rows for my clients when the goal is building power off the floor and lat strength. I like the Pendlay row because it also has a stability component.

The Pendlay row can be a great exercise for lifters wanting to improve their strength and power. This exercise will help you develop your lats, upper back, and traps.

How To Pendlay Row

Nail your setup

To set up properly for a Pendlay row, you’ll want your stance to be about hip-width apart if not a little wider. Essentially, you want your stance to make you feel anchored and stable while rowing so find what works best for you.

Once you’ve nailed your stance, hinge the hips backward and think about getting your torso around parallel with the ground in a tabletop position.

How To Pendlay Row Step 1

I typically cue the torso to be “parallelish” with the ground because, with all of our different anatomies, you may find that it’s comfortable to have your torso up a little bit more, so feel free to play with your positioning.

Brace and row

Keep tension in your hips and think about using them as an anchor and bridge for your lower and upper body. The hips play a key role in ensuring that your torso position stays relatively static when you’re rowing.

Your grip should be just outside of your knees and shoulders. To check your grip, row an empty barbell to your chest. Ideally, your forearm should be straight without the wrists having to bend to achieve your full range of motion.

How To Pendlay Row Step 2

Brace and start to initiate your Pendlay row while focusing on keeping the torso in a similar position as it started in as you row.

Pull the bar to the chest and lower

With your braced position row the barbell up to the chest or close to it depending on your range of motion capabilities. I like to cue keep the elbows around 45 degrees to get more lat involvement with your row.

Another cue that is really useful is to think about, “Elbowing someone behind you,” this cue will help you make sure you’re using the back muscles to row the weight and that you’re not compensating by bending the wrists.

How To Pendlay Row Step 3

Once you hit your end range of motion, control the weight on the way down. Ideally, you want the barbell to land in a similar position that it started in. FYI, as the weight gets heavier, the torso will move a little more — this is normal.

Pendlay Row Benefits

If you’re starting to use Pendlay rows in your workout program, then it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with some of their benefits. The benefits that come along with Pendlay rows can help suggest when you’ll want to perform them.

1. Great for Building Rowing Power

The ability to be powerful through different ranges of motion can be useful for sports, daily life, and building a well-rounded body. The Pendlay row can be great for teaching you how to row explosively, especially from a horizontal context.

Pendlay Row Benefit Power Development

Since you’re starting Pendlay rows from a dead-stop position, you’ll have to train how you brace the row based on the intensity you’re using. This can be great because it will you build your ability to develop power through the upper body.

The Pendlay row can be an awesome exercise to explore for sports athletes and any lifter that wants to improve their ability to move fast while rowing and pulling things into them.

2. Awesome for Building the Back

Outside of being great for improving power production, the Pendlay row great can also be a great back builder. I likely don’t need to say this, but you can never go wrong with bigger and stronger lats and traps, and bigger upper back muscles.

Pendlay Row Benefit Muscles Worked

A strong back has a ton of applications for sports athletes, strength sports athletes, and daily life. With a stronger back, you’ll be able to navigate most situations that require some element of rowing or back strength with relative ease. 

The Pendlay row can be useful for training the lats, and traps, and it will benefit the smaller muscles used in the upper back and the erectors as they work with the hips to help you stabilize the torso and hips when you row.

3. Useful for Building Strength Off of the Floor

The ability to be “strong off of the floor” with exercises is a skill. Strength off of the floor means how we brace and use our body to initiate movement with our lifts from dead-stop positions.

We need strength off of the floor when doing things like deadlifts, snatches, and clean & jerks, to name a few. The Pendlay row is great for improving this skill because you’re going to be forced to maintain a relatively static position while moving heavier loads.

Pendlay Row Benefit for Athletes

For example, as you increase weight with your Pendlay rows you’ll realize that you start to use more momentum to efficiently move the weight. This momentum, and more specifically, controlling it while maintaining your form is a skill.

Every lifter can get better at controlling their body while using a desired amount of momentum to produce force and power. The Pendlay row can be another piece of the puzzle to help you train this athletic trait.

Pendlay Row Muscles Worked

The Pendlay row will work a lot of the core back muscles used when rowing. However, you can change what muscles you hit in the Pendlay rows by changing your elbow position. For this article, I’m going to discuss the muscles used when doing normal Pendlay rows.

What muscles are used in Pendlay rows?

Pendlay Row Muscles Worked

 

Pendlay Row Muscles Worked

  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Erectors
  • Traps
  • Lats
  • Biceps
  • Forearms

*bolded indicates a higher degree of involvement

If you flare your elbows out higher then you run the potential of targeting more upper back and if you keep the elbows tighter to the body then you’ll potentially get more lower lats.

Pendlay Row Mistakes

When programming Pendlay rows, whether it’s for strength, power, or hypertrophy, you’ll want to make sure you avoid the following mistakes to get the most out of this exercise.

1. Gripping Too Narrow

Probably the biggest mistake that I see lifters make with Pendlay rows is gripping too narrow on the barbell. When you grip too narrow, your wrists will laterally flex at the top of the movement.

Pendlay Row Mistake Bending the Wrists

Gripping too narrow not only leads to missing out on back growth and gains but it can also be super uncomfortable on the wrists. I typically recommend establishing a grip that is just outside of your knees

Another way you can check out grip width is to row an empty barbell to your chest. Are your wrists straight with your forearms or are they bending? If they’re straight then you’re likely on the money with your grip.

2. Standing Too Narrow Or Too Wide

Another mistake that I see lifters make with their Pendlay row is standing too narrow or too wide. If you stand too narrow then you may sacrifice your balance which can then take away from your power and strength production.

Pendlay Row Mistake Stance Width

If you’re standing too wide, then you run the risk of knocking your knees which can also hinder performance from a power and strength production context.

When in doubt, start with setting your stance around hip-width then adjust from there based on what feels best. Whatever helps you feel balanced and strong is likely going to be the best stance width for your Pendlay rows.

3. Standing Too Close to the Barbell

Stemming from the stance mistake above, another mistake that I see lifters make is standing too close to the barbell. If you’re standing too close then your knees will get in the way of your row.

Pendlay Row Mistake Too Close to Barbell (1)

For example, your stance should not look like your deadlift stance when looking down at the barbell. As a rule of thumb, I often tell lifters to position the barbell so it’s around the end of the toes, then adjust from there based on what feels best.

Once you perform more reps and play with different intensities you’ll likely gravitate towards a foot position that naturally feels best.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Q:
What is a Pendlay row?

A:
Pendlay rows were popularized by the late and great weightlifting coach Glenn Pendlay. This barbell row variation entails lifters keeping their torso parallel with the floor, then rowing a barbell off of the floor from a dead-stop position.

Q:
What does Pendlay row work?

A:
Pendlay rows train the lats, traps, and provide a passive benefit to the erectors and hips as the work to stabilize the hips and torso. This rowing variation can also be great for working on explosiveness and power.

Q:
How much do I bend the legs to Pendlay row?

A:
In the Pendlay row, you'll want to bend the legs and hinge the hips to a point in which you can get your torso relatively parallel to the ground. Let your torso position dictate how much you need to bend the legs and hinge the hips.

Q:
What works better Pendlay rows or bend over rows?

A:
The Pendlay row and bent over row are both great in certain context as they have different applications. The Pendlay row can be great for building strength and power while the bend over row can be great for focusing on hypertrophy.

Takeaway Thoughts

If you want to build your rowing strength and power, then the Pendlay row can be an awesome exercise to explore. This variation forces you to produce force from a dead-stop position.

Whether you’re a beginner or a weathered strength athlete, there’s likely a Pendlay row application that could be beneficial for your training goals and context.

If you have additional questions about Pendlay rows, drop a comment below or reach out to me personally via Instagram (@jake_boly or @that_fif_friend).

Jake Boly, CSCS, MS Sports Science

Jake Boly, CSCS, MS Sports Science

Jake Boly is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of That Fit Friend. He's often regarded to as a go-to resource in various performance shoe communities. He’s been formally reviewing shoes and training gear for over 7 years and has hand-tested over 400 pairs of shoes. Jake is known on the internet and YouTube for blending his review process with his educational, strength sports, and personal training background.

Jake has a Masters in Sports Science, a Bachelors in Exercise Science, a CSCS, and he's been personal training for over 10 years helping hundreds of clients get stronger, lose weight, and accomplish their goals. He uses his exercise science brain and personal training background to make curated and thoughtful review content on the fitness gear he's testing.

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