A lot of old school fitness coaches emphasized on compound moves that recruited multiple muscles instead of isolating single muscle groups. Many of these moves also offered overlapping benefits for both, Olympic style lifting and bodybuilding.
Remarkably, we are now witnessing a revival for many of these moves. One of these, is the Pendlay Row. The Pendlay Row looks very similar to the regular barbell row, barring a few critical differences that is.
When athletes see someone perform the Pendlay row, they start to wonder whether this is a good replacement for the barbell row or makes for a worthwhile accessory lift.
Some of the recent traction is also because of a lot Olympic lifting videos of the Pendlay Row going viral on social media. However, when you are not an elite strength athlete, are you really getting the most bang for your buck by performing this movement?
That's what we are going to find out today.
The Pendlay Row vs. The Barbell Row — Form Differences
Before we get into the granular details, let's identify the difference in form in these two lifts.
The Pendlay Row, also known as a JS Row or even a Speed Deadlift by many coaches, is basically a touch-and-go variation of the barbell row. This means that you do not lower or pause at any point during the lift. You pull the bar all the way from floor to your lower chest, hinged at the waist with your back parallel to the ground, and then immediately return it back down in one fluid move.
The Barbell Row on the other hand, requires you to lower the bar in a 3-4 second count. You lower it until that your arms are almost fully extended and pause before initiating the next pull. Think of it like a pulsing move rather than an explosive one.
On sites like Reddit, you can find posts from years ago arguing which row is the better, we will discuss both of them and compare both exercises in detail
How to do Pendlay Rows
The Pendlay Rows is an explosive, dynamic move that's part deadlift and part barbell row. Here's how to execute this move with perfect form.
Step 1 - The Pendlay Row is similar to the deadlift when it comes to form. Set up by positioning your shoulders directly above the barbell and your knees bent at about 45 degrees. Keep your hips low, almost like you're in a half-squatting position.
Step 2 - Hinge at the waist, keeping the shoulders retracted and chest up. Your back should be parallel to the floor.
Step 3 - Pull the bar off of the floor, retracting your shoulder blades and keeping the elbows high. Pause for a second at the top position with the barbell under your chest.
Step 4 - Return the barbell to the ground quickly while maintaining a tight core. Think of it as one fluid motion.
// note for builder add these tables to the article https://strengthlevel.com/strength-standards/pendlay-row/lb
How to do Barbell Rows
The key difference in the Barbell row is the pace and the controlled lifting. The Barbell row is a 3-4 second count movement. It's a slow, controlled movement that takes the muscles through a full range of motion from contracted to fully lengthened. It is a great Pendlay row alternative Here's how you perform this move with perfect form.
Step 1 - Stand with feet hip-width apart with a loaded barbell on the floor. Bend over, hinge at the hips and grasp the bar using an overhand or underhand grip. Lift the bar until its 2-3 inches off the floor. This is your starting position.
Step 2 - Make sure that your shoulders are stacked right above or even past the bar so you don't have to work it so hard during the pull. Stabilize your posture by lightly contracting the muscles of your upper back, lats and core.
Step 3 - Initiate the Pull: Keeping your arms almost fully extended, use your back to pull the bar off of the floor. Pause for a second at the top position with the barbell under your chest.
Step 4 - Lowering slowly, bring the bar back to your starting position. You do not lower it to the ground.
What are the differences between Pendlay row and Barbell row?
Glenn Pendlay, the Olympic coach after whom the exercise is named, focused primarily on Olympic styled lifting.
So, the primary difference in the Pendlay Row and the Barbell row is that the move is aimed more at developing strength, rather than a focus on hypertrophy. That's not the only one though.
The Range of motion
The Pendlay Row requires you to lift the bar off the ground from a dead stop position. You literally rip the bar off of the floor and bring it all the way up to your chest for a stand-still rep before lowering it back down again, all the way to the floor.
This means that the range of motion for all muscle groups involved is much higher. The Barbell Row on the other hand requires you to lower the bar all the way down to almost fully extended arms, but then return it back up to the chest again. This means you have limited range of motion. Your arms are never fully extended.
You can lift more weight with Pendlay Rows than barbell rows because the movement is explosive and there's no pause at any point during the lift. The caveat is that your total reps will be lower.
The Barbell Row on the other hand allows you to do more reps because you generally don't lift as heavy as you do with the Pendlay row.
Time under tension
The Pendlay row as we mentioned is designed to improve your force output. You are lifting the barbell off the floor, which means there's no momentum involved. So you are forced to engage more muscle fibers with each rep, with an explosive bout of strength.
That said, you will return the bar to the floor in each rep, which reduces muscle overload and therefore, time under tension for the muscles.
With the Barbell Row on the other hand, you don't have to lift as heavy. But your time under tension is mores because of the pause at the top position and the fact that you dontdeload the bar ever. So, the barbell row holds an edge over the Pendlay if you are focusing strictly on muscle hypertrophy.
Carry Over to other compounds
Another reason why Glenn Pendlay emphasized on the Olympic style weightlifting exercises is because of the carry over to other compound moves. The better you are with your Pendlay Rows, the more explosive you will be when performing any other weightlifting exercise like the deadlift or the squat.
It's important to understand that it takes years for lifters to perfect their power output, especially if you are new to lifting weights.
The Barbell row on the other hand, offers slightly lesser carry over benefits. It's still a terrific compound move in its own right, and it definitely works when you are trying to build muscle mass. But when compared to the Pendlay Row, the Barbell row doesn't bring as many gains when it comes to other compound moves like squats or deadlifts.
Because the Pendlay row focusses more on explosive lifts, it rarely pushes your body into overdrive. That does not mean that you can do these everyday. You are lifting heavy weights in an explosive manner after all. So, you need to allow for ample recovery time between each workout session involving the Pendlay Row. But it will still be easier to recover from.
The Barbell row on the other hand will increase the time under tension for your muscles. Also, with more reps, there's a likelihood that your muscles will be pushed into overdrive.
So, your body will generally require more recovery time with the Barbell row than the Pendlay row.
Advantages & Cons of the Pendlay Row
The Pendlay row is witnessing a revival of sorts as more coaches are looking to recruit Olympic-style lifts into their programs. Here's a look at some of the pros and cons of this move.
- The Pendlay row is basically an explosive form of the barbell row where you develop brute force to lift the weight off the ground with perfect form. It is an excellent exercise for both, form development and strength building.
- From hinging at your waist to bracing your core, there is a strong emphasis on perfect form.
- You will develop both, concentric as well as static strength, which will greatly improve your ability in other Olympic lifts such as the Clean and Jerk, Deadlift and Snatches.
- It's a great accessory move that adds some variation to your workout.
- If you have hit a plateau in strength development, this will help you break out of it.
Despite being an absolute monster move for your upper body, the Pendlay Row has some drawbacks you need to understand.
- It's not a beginner-friendly move. Due to the reasons we mentioned above, your form needs to be on-point with very little margin for error. Otherwise, you are looking at injury.
- You need to have proper back strength and hamstring flexibility to be able to pull this off.
Advantages and Cons of the Barbell Row
The Barbell Row is a more mainstream move as compared to the Pendlay Row. Here are some of its pros and cons to help you understand the move better.
- The Barbell Row is a phenomenal exercise for building upper body size. It has an edge over the Pendlay Row for overall muscle development.
- By focusing on slower reps (5-6 seconds) and more time under tension, the Barbell row helps you build a strong foundation for pulling exercises.
- It is more beginner-friendly than the Pendlay Row.
- Because of its focus on slower reps, you will be able to better recruit the large muscle groups in your upper body, thus making it an extremely effective workout for building mass.
- That said, even the Barbell row is not devoid of a few drawbacks that you need to understand before including this exercise into your workout routine.
- It is more taxing on the lower back because you are never de-loading the weight during the exercise.
- It requires more postural stability than then Pendlay row for this same reason. Be it hamstring flexibility, or a strong core, it's next to impossible to perform this move without having an iron grip on your postural muscles.
- It's not the best option for athletes looking to develop max power output. The reps are slow and the movement is controlled.
Which Exercise Harder for beginners?
That's subjective. But given the heavier weight, the full range of motion and the fact that the move is more demanding on a neural level, beginners may find it harder to perform the Pendlay row as compared to barbell rows.
The Barbell Row is useful for those just learning how to lift weights, because you can start off with lighter weight and it has a restricted range of motion. That said, it is crucial that you learn the form for each move regardless of which one you pick. If you find doing both of these exercises hard try building your upper body doing seated rows, close grip bench press, dumbbell presses or barbell presses you can also try negative pull-ups or assisted pull-ups to get a stronger upper body.
You are constantly hinged with your back parallel to the ground. The Barbell row requires you to be in a loaded position for as long as you perform the exercise. That can be taxing on your lower back. To ensure that you are able to execute the move staying free of injuries, master good form with lighter weight.
Which Is Better For Powerlifting?
The Pendlay row wins hands down. It's a much more effective weightlifting exercise for powerlifters because it assists the lifter with explosiveness from the floor to lockout position. That's useful in most powerlifting exercises like deadlifts and squats.
Every time you rest the bar on the floor, you will have to rebuild the tension in your back muscles. The latismus dorsi muscle in particular, will work overtime to lift the bar explosively and keeping it close to your body. This muscle plays a vital role in all compound weightlifting exercises.
Which one is better for muscle hypertrophy?
Muscle Hypertrophy occurs when you take your body to the point of failure or fatigue. And when you do that, microtears occur in the muscle which is the trigger for greater growth. The Barbell row by design allows you to go to failure much faster.
You will notice that your lats will be burning after a few reps of barbell rows. That's because they are under constant tension for as long as you perform the exercise.
You can increase the reps, your muscles are constantly under tension and you can do sets until failure, which is the key to hypertrophy. Both moves are good for muscle hypertrophy, but the Barbell Row allows you to do more work in less time.
Which Is Better For General Strength?
If you are not a powerlifter or an elite Olympic athlete, any differences in these two exercises for general strength development, might be too miniscule.
The Pendlay Row is a compound move that will allow you to push your body harder. You require an explosive bout of strength to lift the barbell off the floor with your waist hinged and a braced core.
The Barbell Row is more about endurance. You will notice that the explosive power required to lift the barbell is considerably less than what you need for a Pendlay Row. For a seasoned athlete, the difference in the two is significant. The Pendlay row is a clear winner.
But if you are a recreational lifter, it would be more helpful to perform either move with perfect form. The strength gains will come regardless.
Which Is Better For Mass?
Again, both forms of rows are effective for adding mass. However, because you can increase volume with Barbell Rows, they will allow you to place greater stress on your muscles, which is the key to increasing size in your back muscles.
So, the barbell row is the better pick when you are looking purely to add mass.
Do Pendlay rows build muscle?
Any rowing exercise, will definitely add muscle. But that's painting with broad strokes. What best defines added muscle for you? Are you a seasoned lifter with years of experience?
Then the Pendlay row is probably not going to do much for you. You need to mix it up with the barbell row too.
My Personal Opinion on which is better: Pendlay row or Barbell row
I too was intrigued when I came across the Pendlay row while training CrossFit. So much so, that I programmed a complete workout that centered on the Pendlay row.
I must say that it did help me immensely, but not in the way that I had imagined. So, I shifted focus to the Bent Over Barbell row for a few months. This helped me gain a clear understanding of the differences between the two and which one's the better pick. Here's my two cents.
Pendlay Row for Power
Pendlay Rows helped me improve the force that my muscles could produce, which in turn, improved my deadlifts as well as cleans. My Pendlay row workouts were at sub-maximal weights and low reps, with the focus on velocity and more sets.
I never lifted more than 80% of my 1 RM for Pendlay rows.
Barbell Row for Hypertrophy
I made the most muscle mass gains by implementing barbell rows in my workout. This move quickly became one of my favorite exercises for its sheer volume and the amount of work that you can put into it.
I focused on 60-80% of my 1RM and on moderately high rep and set ranges.
Can you do both?
Absolutely! This is what I do now. On one day, I focus on Pendlay rows with high intensity and low volume, whereas I reserve a day for the Barbell row with higher volume.
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