Chances are, you’ve heard of Pendlay rows. But, are you doing them? You should. If you don’t know how to do these rows or why they’re so good, we’ll give you the info you need.
Pendlay rows are not really performed as often as they should be when you consider that they are the most effective row you can do. This is a true compound lift that places the greatest amount of emphasis on your latissimus dorsi (lats). It also targets many other upper body muscles.compound lift that places the greatest amount of emphasis on your latissimus dorsi (lats). It also targets many other upper body muscles.
If you truly want to develop back strength and muscle definition, then you really need to start doing the Pendlay row. With that said, some people are still not convinced. That’s why we will get into the finer details as to what makes it an amazing movement to include in your training program.
What Are Pendlay Rows?
The primary muscles being targeted with this move are your upper and lower back, arms, hips and abs muscles. Basically, the muscles in these groups are getting some type of significant contractions. Of course, the lats are the primary muscle in focus with Pendlay rows.
People often assume there is only one type of barbell row. The truth is that there are two main types. One is called the Yates row. This is the one that is the most commonly performed. It’s also the least effective of the two. You may also see this classified as bodybuilding rows. This is said as a nod of respect to Dorian Yates who brought the concept of barbell rows to life.
However, Coach Glenn Pendlay reinvented the barbell row to be effective at targeting the entire region of your lats. He accomplished this by minimizing the amount of smaller muscle help to encourage maximum back usage. Of course, you do still engage plenty of secondary muscles when doing the Pendlay row. But, they are not used nearly as much as with Yates rows.
When performing this exercise your head, back and hips should be as perfectly horizontal as you can possibly make them. The max amount your body can be angled above the hips is 15 degrees. Any further and it is considered cheating by minimizing range of motion during the pull.
It’s also worth pointing out that Yates rows target the lower section of your lats. That is not the best thing to do. You can’t focus on just one section of the lats as it is not sectioned off like your triceps and deltoids. So, in reality, hitting the lower region of your lats just wastes energy you could be using on better movements.
Let’s look at the Yates rows ineffectiveness for lat training further to understand why Pendlay rows are better.
Yates Rows vs Pendlay Rows
As mentioned, the biggest difference is the angle your body is in during the pull motion. When performing the Yates row, you are standing at a 45-degree or even greater angle. This basically causes you to be standing up straight by the end of your pull.
This lessens the time your muscles are under contraction, which literally means you cheated yourself. Sure, you can likely pull more this way, but that does not really help much. Your biceps get a lot of attention and that takes away the back emphasis from the pull.
The reason for this is because you perform them with an underhand grip. The Pendlay row should be done with your palms facing down, not up. As a result, your biceps are not used nearly as much.
Pendlay rows are also performed fully bent at the hips instead of leaving your body at an incline. When at an incline, you pull to your belly and always have the weight suspended in the air. However, Pendlay rows eliminated this concept by pulling directly from the floor to the lower portion of your chest. This is not an exact science as each person’s body is different, but it is within this region. Pulling directly from the ground is proven to be beneficial for lat training and deadlifts.
Another good reason for pulling directly from the ground is because of the explosive power this builds, like you would on inverted rows as well. Plus, you lower the chances of hurting your lower back by not pulling with a 45-degree lean. Essentially all the points of benefits are in favor of Pendlay rows.
How To Do Pendlay Rows
Doing this exercise the right way is crucial for preventing lower back injury and getting the most from your workout. What follows are the steps used to perform the Pendlay row with a bit of extra info to get you started correctly.
The barbell with weights should be on the floor without anything else holding it up.
Stand with your feet about medium-width apart. This is less than the width of squats. The middle of your feet should be directly under the bar with your toes pointed slightly outwards. The angle of your feet should be around 30 degrees out and firmly planted.
Grasp the bar with both hands palms facing down with a lesser width than the bench press. The bar is going to rest low in your hands close to your fingertips. Squeeze hard and use chalk or straps if needed.
Your wrists should be straight to prevent any pains from occurring. Your elbows will be locked from your arms being fully extended before each pull.
Head And Chest
Your head should be in line with your back in a neutral spine position. Your chest will naturally be down but not exaggerated any further. During the pull, your chest pushes back slightly to prevent rounding at your lower back.
You should be in a neutral spine position. Do not ever round or hyperextend your back.
Very serious injuries may occur.
Your hips will be a bit high in comparison to deadlifts. You should not have your hips too low because you risk hitting your knees when bent.
The Pendlay Rows Pull
When you have gotten in the perfect starting stance, get ready for the pull. Take a deep breath in and hold this air in throughout the movement. Pull with your elbows and keep the momentum going until they go back past your torso. The bar should touch against the lower portion of your chest. Allow gravity to pull the weight down and breathe in.
Correcting Pendlay Row Form And Performance Issues
The Pendlay row can be a great exercise to perform. Of course, it can also be a difficult one in terms of execution. The issue many face with this exercise is that they hit their knees during the pull. This means either your hips are too low or the bar is positioned too far back like a deadlift. Don’t forget: You are not trying to pull against your body. With that said, the bar will still be close to your shins.
Another issue is lowering your chest during this movement. This can cause lower back pains. This occurs because you are trying to cheat the pull even if you do not know it. Prevent this by pushing your chest back to the slight angle we discussed. Lower back pains often occur because the pull is too long. This happens when the bar is actually low to the floor from using small plates like 25 and 35-pound plates. You want to use plates that are similar to 45 pounders.
Hyperextension of your lower back is when you over-exaggerate an arch in your spine. Weight belts can help with this issue and prevent lower back pains, but people often use them for the wrong reasons. Masking poor performance with a belt is just not going to help. Weight belts have their usefulness, but you should only start using them after you get form down without it. Fix the arch issue by tightening your abs during the pull to prevent pushing your upper body back.
Lastly is the issue of loss of grip while performing the movement. This occurs due to weak grip or your palms getting sweaty. You can’t fix this with a mixed grip like when your perform deadlifts. One option is to use chalk to fix the slippage due to sweat. Straps are fine too since you are working on your back, not grip strength.
There Are Other Ways To Cheat With The Pendlay Row
This is not meant to give you ways to actually cheat the movement, but rather info to correct issues so you gain from the exercise. We covered lowering your chest to reach the bar, but another cheat method is angling your body back each pull.
It is pointless to pull the weight like a Pendlay row and then pull your body up to the Yates incline version. What this does is shorten the range of motion to where you touch the bar close to your belly again. If you have to do this, lower the weight instead of shortening the pull distance.
Another common cheat is using your knees to complete the Pendlay row. This is accomplished by having your knees bent and your hips in a high position when pulling. But before you pull, you lock your knees making it similar to a deadlift. After this, you allow your knees to bend during the pull so that your torso is lower to touch the bar. In the end, you basically cheated the movement in two different ways. Keep your form throughout the entire exercise and do not make changes to make a portion easier.
When To Perform The Pendlay Row
Not everyone is going to be rushing out to perform this exercise. The movement definitely benefits those training for powerlifting and bodybuilding competitions.
Powerlifters benefit because it greatly strengthens their entire back and hip muscles. The form of the Pendlay row also carries over to other compound exercises such as the bench press. This is due to the horizontal flat back that we have discussed.
Bodybuilders benefit because it helps develop wide lats and give the v shape look. The compound benefits also help encourage muscle definition by performing more reps with moderate weight settings.
People looking to just strength train and maintain health may like this exercise, but many avoid it due to the execution involved. The risk of injury is greater than performing a mix of lat pulldowns and seated rows.
Older people with little lifting experience should just steer clear of this exercise. The potential for hip or lower back injury is just too high and it can be very dangerous for seniors.
Incorporating Pendlay Rows Into A Back Workout
This is not an isolation exercise like lat pulldowns. It can be used as a heavy resistance workout. Basically, you could rotate between deadlifts and Pendlay rows each week when choosing your primary core lift.
You can follow up this exercise by performing other back and biceps movements to create a complete workout revolving around it. For example, perform Pendlay rows followed by seated rows and reverse flyes. This will give you a perfect well-rounded workout and it leaves you with extra energy for your biceps exercises as well.
Never start a new exercise with heavy lifts. Take the time to get proper form down using light movements that only focus on doing things the right way. When you finally feel comfortable doing Pendlay rows you should start adding weight.
With this info you should be able to make the sound decision on which compound row to incorporate into your gym workout. Yates rows may have been a good idea at the earlier stages of muscle development, but Pendlay rows are the version to follow if you are past that point.
By Brian Pankau, CPT