Barbell Row Vs. Pendlay Row: Benefits, Differences, Pros, and Cons.

 Written by 

Julien Raby

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When looking to take your back gains to the max, the Barbell and Pendlay Row are king. These two movements stay at the top of everyone’s list, and with reason. 

This article will cover the barbell row vs. Pendlay row: Benefits, differences, pros, and cons. Many people tend to confuse and mix these exercises because they are similar. 

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You’ll soon learn there’s a difference in the setup and the training goal for each. Some people will benefit more from the explosiveness of the Pendlay row, while others will gravitate to the muscle tension on the traditional barbell row.

Regardless, get ready to get swole and read on!

Barbell Row Vs. Pendlay Row: Differences

Setup

Although both rowing exercises are very similar, there is a slight difference in how the movement starts and finishes. 

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Both movements require a barbell, but the Pendlay row initiates the upward motion from the ground (dead stop), while the barbell row has the bar hanging in the air for its starting position.

This tiny variation produces a slight incline of the torso in the bent-over row compared to a more horizontal angle in the Pendlay row.

Training Goal

The barbell row is often used as a hypertrophy exercise because of constant tension throughout the range of motion.

Since the Pendlay row starts from a dead stop, it forces the body to exert more power and strength to move the bar up. For that reason, this movement is often used for those training goals.

Barbell Row: Benefits

The main benefit of the barbell row is muscle mass. As long as you keep a proper form and a heavy-loaded barbell, you should expect hypertrophy to triumph in all the muscles involved. This variation will give you a solid pump whether you’re using an overhand grip or any other.

Pendlay Row: Benefits

The Pendlay row’s most notable benefit is the ability to produce explosive power on its upward motion. This is an excellent tool for those looking to improve in this area or athletes that need to develop the fastest and more versatile upper body.

Barbell Row Vs. Pendlay Row: Muscles Worked

Barbell row and Pendlay row are very similar exercises that recruit virtually the same muscles throughout the range of motion.

Lats

The lats (latissimus dorsi) are fan-shaped muscles in the back of your body. It’s considered one of the broader muscles, extending from the spine to the ribs (side of your body).

Their primary function is to rotate the humerus (arm bone) internally and to extend the arm (bringing it down and back.) These two actions are responsible for almost all pulling activities like pull-ups, T-Bar, dumbbell rowing, etc. 

Trapezius

The trapezius has three portions: upper, middle, and lower traps. They are one of the most critical muscles in the back, extending from the base of the skull to the mid portion of the spine. 

The function of the traps is to stabilize and move the scapula

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Source: StrengthLog

The upper fibers can elevate the scapula and extend the neck. The middle traps medially retract the scapula, and the lower traps depress and aid the upper fibers in upwardly rotating the scapula (1)

Rhomboids

There are two rhomboid muscles: major and minor. Located in the back between your scapula and spine, they both play a crucial role in retracting, elevating, and rotating the scapula. These are vital functions needed to create a safer and stronger shoulder joint.

Rear delts

Deltoids are the shoulders muscles. They have three portions: anterior, medial, and rear (posterior) delts. The latter is in charge of keeping your shoulder blades back, limiting hunching, and reducing stress on the front of the shoulder, where most injuries occur.

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Both movements will target the rear delts independently of your grip, although the wider the grip, the more it will target them.

Biceps

The biceps are the muscles responsible for flexing the elbow and the supination and pronation of the forearm. Two heads form it:

– Long head (caput longum)

– Short head (caput breve) (2)

Almost every rowing or pulling exercise will target this muscle since the elbow flexion needs to happen to pull the bar toward the chest (concentric portion). Holding the bar with a supinated grip will do the trick if you want to bias biceps recruitment.

Grip

There is no pulling movement without a strong grip. Many individuals strengthen their grip separately to excel at rowing/pulling exercises like the bent-over and Pendlay rows.

However, performing these two exercises regularly will help your grip get stronger almost on its own. If you want to add more to grip training, you can always buy a pair of “fat grips” and attach them to the bar.

Pendlay Row: Pros

The Pendlay row is crucial for building upper body explosiveness and power as a compound exercise. The dead stop is the most significant difference compared to the standard barbell row.

Overall, dead-stop positions are a terrific way to improve raw power output in most individuals. A static starting position leaves the body with no choice but to generate as much power as possible to move the barbell upwards.

Pendlay Row: Cons

This variation may not be ideal for beginners with little to no experience with a barbell or rowing exercise (even with lighter weights). The explosive strength required might be too complex and risky for the inexperienced. 

Barbell Row: Pros

The barbell row keeps a constant tension on the muscles during the range of motion. This allows for an ideal hypertrophy window. You’ll experience a vital trunk muscle activation on top of the upper back muscles.

Adding this movement to your training routine will help you build a massive back, traps, and biceps without looking for much else.

Barbell Row: Cons

Contrary to the Pendlay row, the barbell row has the torso and spine hanging in the air while performing the movement. Although this is not inherently bad, it puts extra pressure on the core, which may not be ideal for specific individuals.

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Source: Steel Supplements

Not to say that they can’t progress to it, but that perhaps other variations are preferred as a start.

Barbell Row Vs. Pendlay Row: Common Mistakes

Both the conventional barbell row and the Pendlay Row have tremendous benefits, which could be hindered if you make these common mistakes.

Too Much Weight

The Pendlay and traditional barbell row both involve a hinged position on the hip. That setup puts the spine parallel to the floor, where it holds the most stress.

Too much weight on the bar, although beneficial in most cases, could also increase injury risk if your body (core muscles) is not ready to withstand such heavy weights. 

The safest and most sustainable way to make gains is to pick challenging yet safe loads with a correct position and a fuller range of motion.

Rounded Back 

The top priority for most individuals when lifting weights should be safety. A rounded back (turtleback) is a common mistake when performing rowing movements with a hinged hip, which could increase injury risk. 

Maintaining a neutral spine when performing these exercises is imperative to keep injuries at bay and enjoy working out at total capacity. 

If you notice your back rounding when doing any of these exercises, try lowering the weight first, then stick your chest out while keeping your neck neutral. Recording yourself doing the movement is also a great way to know whether you are rounding or not.

Moving Too Fast

One of the most essential ingredients for muscle growth is constant tension. Keeping a steady muscle activation throughout the range of motion will ensure the muscle fibers are getting sufficient stress.

Moving too fast would defeat this purpose. You’d lose muscle engagement, and most of the strength benefits from both these exercises. 

Aim for a strict form and keep it even with heavier loads. Soon you’ll notice your upper back strength going up through the roof.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Pendlay Rows Better than Barbell Rows?

Pendlay rows are not necessarily better than barbell rows. Although the movement pattern is virtually the same, the execution differs enough to consider them complementary instead of one instead of the other.

Should You Go Heavy On Pendlay Row?

Although many individuals can handle heavy loads on this movement, going heavy on the Pendlay row is not generally advised. Since this exercise stresses the lumbar spine, some people may be better off with heavy loads, keep it intermediate and emphasize technique and tempo.

Are Pendlay Rows Worth It?

Yes, Pendlay rows are worth it for almost anyone looking to gain muscle mass and build a massive back. Although it may not be ideal for beginners or individuals with back pain history, it can help strengthen the core. 

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About

Julien Raby is the owner of BoxLife. He owns a bachelor in literature and a certificate in marketing from Concordia. He's Crossfit Level 1 certified and has been involved in Crossfit since 2010. In 2023 he finally made it to Crossfit Open Quarterfinals for the first time. LinkedIn Instagram Facebook

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