8 Best Dumbbell Exercises for Upper Body Reading How to Do The Pendlay Row for Building an Impressive Back 12 minutes Next Close Grip Vs. Wide Grip LAT Pulldown: Which Is Better?
pendlay row exercise

When it comes to building a strong and impressive back, few exercises are as effective as the Pendlay Row. This explosive compound movement adds thickness, power, and functional strength in a way that strict isolated rows just can’t match.

The Pendlay Row is great for hammering your lats, traps, rear delts – and even your biceps. It moves heavy weights through a long range of motion. That’s why strongmen and intelligent bodybuilders love this exercise so much.

If you want to level up on your back training game, you must start doing the Pendlay Row regularly. 

Here you will know:

  • What is a Pendlay Row?
  • Mastering Proper Pendlay Row Form
  • Pendlay Row Sets and Reps
  • Pendlay Row Variations to Explore
  • Pendlay Row Alternatives
  • Pendlay Rows Muscles Worked
  • What Makes the Pendlay Row So Brutal?
  • Pendlay Row Vs Barbell Row
  • Common Mistakes
  • Conclusion
  • FAQs

What is a Pendlay Row?

Pendlay Row

A Pendlay row is a strength training exercise designed to target the muscles of the upper back, lower back, and core. It is named after weightlifting coach Glenn Pendlay, who popularized the movement as a variation of the traditional bent-over row. In a Pendlay row, the lifter starts in a bent-over position, typically with the torso parallel to the ground, and pulls a barbell from the floor to the lower chest or upper abdomen in a controlled manner. The exercise emphasizes proper form and explosive pulling motion, making it an effective compound movement for building back strength and muscle mass.

Mastering Proper Pendlay Row Form

  1. Start by standing with your feet hip-width apart, toes pointed slightly outward. Position the barbell on the ground in front of you.
  2. Bend your knees slightly and hinge at your hips to lower your torso until it is nearly parallel to the ground. Keep your back straight and chest up, and grip the barbell with an overhand grip, hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  3. Brace your core and retract your shoulder blades to stabilize your upper body.
  4. Engage your lats and drive your elbows toward the ceiling, pulling the barbell up to touch your lower chest or upper abdomen. Keep the movement controlled and avoid using momentum.
  5. Pause briefly at the top of the movement, then lower the barbell back to the starting position with control, allowing it to touch the ground between each rep.
  6. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions, maintaining proper form throughout the exercise.
  7. Once finished, carefully return the barbell to the ground and stand up with control to complete the set.

The traditional pendlay row is known as the king, but it doesn’t mean you can’t modify or adapt the exercise according to your needs. You need to keep on shocking your back in order for it to continue growing.

Pendlay Row Sets and Reps

For Strength & Power:

  • 5 sets of 3-5 reps
  • 4 sets of 2-4 reps
  • 6 sets of 2-3 reps

Using heavier loads in lower rep ranges allows you to maximize force production and power output on pendlay rows. This strengthens the movement pattern.

For Hypertrophy:

  • 4 sets of 8-10 reps
  • 3 sets of 10-12 reps
  • 5 sets of 6-8 reps

Moderately heavy loads in this mid-rep range maximize time under tension and muscular damage for growth stimulation in the back.

For Muscular Endurance:

  • 3 sets of 15-20 reps
  • 4 sets of 12-15 reps

Using lighter loads for higher rep pendlay rows increases capillary and mitochondrial development in the back muscles.

No matter the rep range, focus on pulling with maximum intent and control on each rep rather than bouncing or swinging the weight.

Higher rep pendlays in particular demand strict form to keep the movement strict. Don't sacrifice technique for higher loads.

Pendlay Row Variations to Explore

Dumbbell Pendlay Row

Use individual dumbbells which are heavy instead of the barbell and alternate sides, allowing each dumbbell to hang between reps. This gets rid of imbalances.

Trap Bar Pendlay Row

Put your feet inside a trap bar and row the whole unit like that. This further activates the quads as drivers and decreases back stress.

Single-Arm Dumbbell Pendlay Row

Row one dumbbell up to your side while supporting yourself on a bench with the opposite arm and leg – this will crush those obliques!

These are just some ideas that you can use as substitute exercises in place of or alongside traditional pendlays during workouts.

Pendlay Row Alternatives

Barbell Bent-Over Row

The classic bent-over barbell row hits the back in a similar way to pendlays, just with a stricter, non-explosive pulling motion. Great for really squeezing the lats.

Seal Row

Using a barbell or rope attachment anchored at a low position, you pull straight back towards your abdomen with an overhand grip. Puts less stress on the lower back.

Chest-Supported Row

Perform rows while bracing your chest against an incline bench to remove lower back involvement entirely. You can go heavier on this variation.

Pendlay Rows Muscles Worked

Pendlay Rows Muscles Worked

The pendlay row is an excellent compound exercise that works several major muscle groups in the back and surrounding areas. Here are the primary muscles worked during the pendlay row: 

Latissimus Dorsi (Lats)

As a horizontal pulling movement, the pendlay row heavily targets the lats, which are the largest back muscles. The aggressive stretch and contraction builds serious lat width and thickness.

Trapezius (Traps)

Both the upper and lower trapezius muscles have to contract forcefully to initiate the explosive pull and stabilize the shoulders during pendlay rows.

Rear Delts

The rear heads of the deltoids assist the traps in keeping the shoulders retracted and stabilized throughout the rowing motion.


The biceps work as a synergist to support the back muscles during the pulling portion, especially with an underhand (supinated) grip.


Holding and controlling the barbell weight requires serious grip strength from the forearm flexors and extensors.


Your entire core complex of abs and spinal erectors has to brace powerfully to maintain a neutral spine during the hip hinge and explosive pull.


The powerful leg drive needed to initiate each explosive rep works the quads, hamstrings, and glutes as secondary movers.

As a total-body exercise, the pendlay row leaves no muscle in the upper body untouched. It's an incredibly intense back-builder when done properly.

What Makes the Pendlay Row So Brutal?

Pendlay Row

On paper, the pendlay row may look like another basic row variation. But in practice, it stands out for a few key reasons:

Aggressive Horizontal Pull

Unlike a vertical pull-up or pulldown, the pendlay row has you aggressively pulling a heavy barbell horizontally into your body. The sheer force required sparks serious back engagement.

Full Range of Motion

The pendlay row involves lowering the barbell forward toward the floor between reps, offering a massive stretch in the lats. Your back has to work maximally to pull the weight through this extended range.

Heavy, Explosive Reps

Maximal weights and explosive pulling power is encouraged during pendlay rows due to the momentum involved. This overloads your back unlike slow, strict rows.

Full-Body Engagement

In addition to crushing your lats, pendlays hammer your traps, rear delts, biceps, and even legs as stabilizers and drivers of force transfer. No muscle is left untouched.

By combining heavy weight, highly challenging leverage, and total-body tension, the pendlay row is remarkably efficient at blasting every back muscle fiber into growth

Pendlay Row Vs Barbell Row

Aspect Pendlay Row Barbell Row
Starting Point Barbell on the ground Barbell at arm's length
Torso Position Extreme hip hinge, nearly parallel to floor More upright, 60+ degrees
Pulling Motion Explosive with leg drive Strict, less body English movement
Barbell Path Stretches lats at bottom Fixed path, no stretch
Loading Moderate weights, power-oriented Can use heavier maximal weights
Muscles Worked Emphasizes lats, traps, legs more Slightly moreback/biceps emphasis
Technical Difficulty More complex technique Easier to keep strict form
Lower Back Stress Higher compression forces Less compression on lower back


The key differentiating factor is the Pendlay row's use of an explosive hip drive and stretched eccentric range of motion to overload the lats in a unique way compared to a stricter bent-over row pattern.

Common Mistakes

Rounded Back

One of the most common errors is rounding the back during the movement. This can place excessive stress on the spine and diminish the engagement of the targeted muscles. Instead, maintain a neutral spine throughout the exercise, with a slight arch in the lower back.

Using Momentum

It's essential to perform the Pendlay Row with controlled, deliberate movements. Avoid using momentum or jerking the weight up, as this diminishes the effectiveness of the exercise. Focus on initiating the movement with your back muscles and maintaining control throughout the entire range of motion.

Improper Bar Path

The barbell should move in a straight line vertically, close to your shins, during the Pendlay Row. Some individuals tend to pull the barbell in an arc, away from the body, which shifts the emphasis from the back muscles. Keep the barbell as close to your body as possible throughout the movement.

Incorrect Elbow Position

Ensure that your elbows are pointed outward and away from your body during the rowing motion. Allowing the elbows to flare too much or tuck too close to the body can compromise the engagement of the back muscles. Aim to maintain a 45-degree angle between your upper arm and torso.

Neglecting Scapular Retraction

Scapular retraction plays a crucial role in the Pendlay Row. At the top of the movement, squeeze your shoulder blades together to maximize the engagement of the back muscles. Neglecting this important step reduces the effectiveness of the exercise and limits the benefits for your upper back.

Overloading the Weight

It's important to choose a weight that allows you to maintain proper form throughout the exercise. Using excessive weight can lead to compromised technique and increase the risk of injury. Start with a manageable weight and gradually increase it as your strength and form improve.

Neglecting the Lower Body

The Pendlay Row is a full-body exercise that requires stability and engagement from your lower body. Ensure that you maintain a stable stance with your feet firmly planted on the ground throughout the movement. Avoid excessive leg drive or shifting your weight from side to side.

Rushing Through the Repetitions

Quality over quantity is key when performing the Pendlay Row. Avoid rushing through the repetitions or sacrificing proper form for the sake of completing more reps. Focus on each repetition, maintaining control, and feeling the engagement of your back muscles.


Your back and upper body strength will be transformed when you come to know how to do the Pendlay Row. These include understanding the right way, activating muscles aimed at and using different variations which can help you achieve maximum results while minimizing chances of getting injured. Beginning with lighter weights, concentrating on posture and increasing them as one becomes stronger is important too. Hence any person who may be new or old in this field should adopt Pendlay Row as it will change their approach towards training back muscles leading to increased overall body power.


What muscles does the pendlay row work?

The pendlay row is a compound exercise that primarily targets the latissimus dorsi (lats), trapezius (traps), rear deltoids, and biceps. It also engages the core, forearms, and legs as stabilizers.

How is the pendlay row different from a regular barbell row?

The key differences are the more extreme hip hinge position, the explosive pulling motion using leg drive, the swinging pendulum path to stretch the lats, and the greater overall range of motion.

Is the pendlay row good for building muscle?

Yes, the pendlay row is excellent for hypertrophy and building a thick, wide back. The extended stretch overloads the lats through a full range of motion.

What grip should I use for pendlay rows?

An overhand/supinated grip is most common, but you can also use an underhand grip. Avoid a grip much wider than shoulder-width to prevent impingement.

How heavy should the weight be for pendlay rows?

Use a weight that allows you to maintain proper explosive form within your target rep range, whether training for strength or hypertrophy.

Can pendlay rows replace regular barbell rows?

They can, but it's often beneficial to rotate between strict barbell rows and the more explosive pendlay row variation within your training cycles.

Do pendlay rows put a lot of stress on the lower back?

They can if you use improper form. Make sure to really hinge from the hips and keep a flat, braced back to avoid excessive compression.

How many sets and reps should I do for pendlay rows?

3-5 sets of 5-10 reps is an effective rep range for muscle growth. Lower reps at heavier weights can be used for strength-focused blocks.

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