Pendlay Rows


pendlay-rowsPendlay Rows are a back exercise used by the very successful Olympic weightlifting coach Glenn Pendlay in training his athletes. These are essentially a strict barbell bent over row where each rep starts with the bar resting on the floor.

He often uses this exercise in training to help strengthen all the back muscles as well as other important muscles in the core and forearms needed for completing the Olympic lifts.

The deadstop rep method used removes the stretch reflex and all momentum making the Pendlay Row a true show of starting strength (similar to the military press vs. a normal overhead press or even the Anderson Squat vs. a normal squat).

Since Glenn Pendlay specializes in Olympic weightlifting, it’s not surprising that he advocates that each rep of a Pendlay Row be performed explosively.

These are not slow controlled continuous tension bodybuilding type reps but rather power type reps to force rapid but short muscle contractions. Explode the weight up, then put it back down and reset.

So, the main differences between Pendlay Rows vs. a normal barbell bent over row are that the weights are returned to the floor between each rep. Because of this, the upper body needs to remain near parallel with the floor during each rep. The reps are also completed in an explosive manner to emphasize power and strength.

Benefits of Pendlay Rows

  • Since the bar is rested on the ground after each rep, the lower back doesn’t have to support the weight continuously as it would during a normal bent over row where the weight remains suspended in air through the whole set.

    barbell-bent-over-row

    The barbell does not touch the ground in a normal barbell bent over row.

  • The Pendlay Row can reinforce good rowing form. Because the bar starts on the ground, the upper body has to stay parallel to the floor during the rep. Bad form (such as rounding the lower back) can quickly lead to an injury.
  • The Pendlay Row is a great exercise for strengthening the lower back and core. Since each rep is explosive, the upper body must quickly resist the powerful downward force from the weight at the start of each rep.
  • The Pendlay Row is also good for increasing grip strength. Again the explosive reps require greater strength in all muscles at the start of each rep to maintain a strong muscle contraction.
  • Explosive reps are also better at stimulating the Type II muscle fibers, which have the most growth potential.

How to Do Pendlay Rows

  1. Start with a weighted barbell on the floor as you would during a normal barbell bent over row.
  2. Proper lower back position is very important to prevent injury. Given the explosive nature of the reps, any rounding of the lower back will only get worse when the rep starts. Always keep a straight (neutral) spine.

    arnold-barbell-rows

    The Australian Oak rounding his back a little too much.

  3. Drop the hips and push them back to maintain a flat lower back. If you don’t have the flexibility to do this, you better work on that FIRST before doing any Pendlay Rows.
  4. Grab the bar with a normal double overhand (pronated) grip, just slightly wider than a normal grip. You may need wrist straps if your grip strength is not enough. The explosive reps make it easier for the bar to rip out of the hands.
  5. You want the upper body to be as close to parallel with the floor as you can. For most people, an Olympic barbell loaded with at least a 45 pound weight on each side will put the bar at the right height.
  6. If you’re tall or have short arms, you may need to place the bar or blocks or in a power rack to get the right height. If you’re short or have long arms, use smaller weights on each side of the barbell so it sits closer to the floor.
  7. NOW, don’t just jerk the bar off the floor. Start a Pendlay Row rep like you would in a deadlift rep by tensing the muscles first.
  8. Although each rep starts with the muscles in a “relaxed” position, you want to tense all muscles right before the actual rep. If you don’t pre-tense the muscles, you can limit muscle recruitment and increase the chance for injury.
  9. Squeeze the bar tightly and tighten the core/hip/leg/glute/lower back muscles while pulling the shoulder blades back to further engage the lat (back) muscles.
  10. If you pick the correct weight, the bar will come off the ground and accelerate (move faster) as the weight comes towards the upper body.
  11. If the weight is too heavy, the rep will be less explosive and the bar will slow down during the rep.
  12. As with a normal bent over barbell row, the knees will be in the way as the barbell is pulled. This will naturally cause the elbows to move out away from the body as the barbell is pulled toward the upper ab area. The slightly wider than normal grip will help reduce strain on the wrists.
  13. To complete the rep, lower the barbell back to the ground. You don’t just drop the weight but you also shouldn’t try to lower it slowly.
  14. Unlike the normal bent over barbell row, you will actually rest the weights on the ground and briefly reset (without letting go of the barbell) before completing the next rep.

As with Olympic lifts and other power type exercises, each rep is to be completed explosively. This generally means low reps using multiple straight sets (something like 10 sets of 3 reps or 5 sets of 5 reps).

These are not typical bodybuilding sets that are taken to failure. However, the short sets also mean a short time under tension which is generally best for building strength and power.

Although not recommended, you can increase time under tension and use the Pendlay Row more for muscle building with slightly higher rep sets (as long as you can maintain proper form).

Just remember – muscle fatigue generally causes bad form (especially in the lower back) which can lead to injury. This fatigue can come from either doing too many total reps in just one set or over the entire workout itself.

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