How to Do The Pendlay Row with Correct Technique

The Pendlay Row is a stricter and superior version of the Barbell Row that adds strength and muscle to your back, lats and traps like no other exercise. Pendlay Rows are named after Olympic Coach Glenn Pendlay MS USAW (the guy from whom I discovered the 5×5 method in 2003) after he described this variation of Barbell Rows on various forums more than a decade ago.

Here’s a free video of Glenn Pendlay explaining the Pendlay Row technique, and of one of his athletes Max Aita (Squats 665lb raw high bar, here 572lb for 27 reps over 7 sets) showing proper technique on Pendlay Rows. Watch and learn.

The big difference between Pendlay and Barbell Rows, is that the bar returns to the floor on each rep with Pendlay Rows, like with Deadlifts. By Rowing this way, you will strengthen your back, lats and traps more than with bodybuilding-style Barbell Rows. Obviously, a strong back is key to a big Bench Press. I highly recommend you to use this rowing technique on StrongLifts 5×5.

The following text and pictures are from Glenn Pendlay himself. Enjoy.

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How to Pendlay Row. Well, the best way to do them is to start with the bar on the floor every single rep. Your middle back will have slight bend to it. You pull the bar off the floor quickly with the arms, and by a powerful arch of your middle back. You finish by touching the bar to your upper stomach or middle stomach. At no time is there any movement of the hips or knees, no hip extension at all, all that bends is the middle back and the shoulders and elbows.

Unlike bodybuilding-style Barbell Rows, the bar always starts and returns to the floor on every single repetition with Pendlay Rows

Unlike bodybuilding-style Barbell Rows, the bar always starts and returns to the floor on every single repetition with Pendlay Rows

This is hard to do and you have to have good muscular control to do it, or you’ll end up straightening up at the hips along with the arching of the back. But if you can master doing them this way you will get a big back.

This works because the lats actually extend (arch) the middle back in addition to other functions, just like with glute-ham extensions compared to leg curls. You always get a stronger contraction when you move both the origin and insertion of a muscle, flexing it from both ends so to speak.

End position of the Pendlay Row

End position of the Pendlay Row


Pendlay Row vs. Barbell Row.
The bar returns to the floor after each rep. The Pendlay Row is actually best done as an explosive movement and the bar is moved fast. I have trained many people who could do this exercise with 350 or more lbs. I have done reps with 425, Ed Coan, who also knows how to do them properly, has done reps with over 500lbs without his back ever coming above parallel with the ground. That is stronger than Dorian Yates or Ronnie Coleman.

I did Pendlay Rows with Ronnie Coleman once, actually, and I was far stronger than he was. He could not do more than 350lbs strictly although he could do over 500lbs by standing almost all the way up at the completion of each rep. Ed Coan is probably the strongest person on these, although one power-lifter I trained did manage 525 for a double done strictly.

I have done EMG work on a large quantity of people for various Barbell Rowing techniques. And I’ve always found that Pendlay Rows activate the lats most completely. Look at an anatomy chart. If the scapula and upper-arms are held in a constant position, shortening of the lats WILL result in arching of the middle and upper back. I AM NOT saying that the lats are primarily responsible for upper back flexion. What I am saying is that they can assist in this. There is no doubt that Pendlay Rows performed as I describe them will activate the lats more completely than done any other way I have ever seen. And besides, even if you don’t buy the fact that they activate the lats better, you can always be content with the fact that your getting an erector workout.


Pendlay Row Technique.
Pendlay Rows look so simple I’m almost embarrassed to post pictures. And this kid is terrible at relaxing his upper-back at the start, but you can see that he is “scrunching” his upper back at the top, trying to arch the upper spine as much as possible, that’s really the key to get as much activation as possible, making the attempt to arch your back, upper-back specifically as much as possible at the top, without extending the hips.

Pendlay Rows always start with the barbell on the floor, and the bar returns to the floor on every single repetition.

Pendlay Rows always start with the barbell on the floor, and the bar returns to the floor on every single repetition.

You can see that his hip angle doesn’t change at all. The chest comes up because he is arching his back as he pulls, but the hips don’t extend. When you let the bar down, let the upper-back relax, and if possible bend the spine a little and let the shoulders come forward. Then as you pull the bar up, pull the shoulders back, arch the back, and pull with the arms all at the same time.

Keep your torso parallel with the floor and contract your upper-back as much as you can everytime you Pendlay Row

Looks simple, and really is simple to do once you do it once and see how it feels. with a guy like this who cant bend his upper-back that well, it doesn’t look much different than any other row. But again, it’s the effort to pull the shoulders back and arch the back as you pull that makes the difference. Even though there will be more spinal and shoulder movement in some people than others.

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Author Info: Glenn Pendlay is a world famous Olympic Coach of 97 national champions and the “hidden genius” behind StrongLifts 5×5. Glenn has so far produced more than 20 medalists in international competitions and his athletes have broken over 13 American records. For more info check www.pendlay.com.

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