There has always been a debate about which exercise is the best for your back development, but we all know the undisputed champion is the barbell row, and there’s even an ACE study to prove its prowess .
However, there are several variations of the barbell row, including the Pendlay row.
In this article, I’ll pit the Pendlay row vs barbell bent over row to figure out which is the best; you’ll never be left wondering again.
Pendlay Row Overview
The Pendlay row is a variation of the standard barbell row. It was first developed by the popular US Olympic weightlifting coach Glenn Pendlay .
He felt the variation gave his athletes the edge and helped them develop incredible back strength. As the variation was new and unheard of, it became known as the Pendlay row. While it might look highly similar to the standard barbell row, it’s an entirely different movement.
To begin with, your body is virtually parallel to the floor (different from the barbell row), and each rep starts and ends with the barbell resting on the floor at a dead stop.
Pendlay believed the posture helps maximize your back muscle activation while improving your explosive power. The increase in explosive power transfers to other major lifts you might perform, such as Olympic lifts and deadlifts.
If you’re looking to increase your Olympic lifts, adding the Pendlay row to your program would be a good place to start.
Performing this movement increases your back’s static and concentric strength & power, which is perfect for explosive movements like the clean and jerk or power cleans. But, you’ll still benefit from the Pendlay row if you want to increase your traditional lifts like the deadlift.
When I’m training athletes, I find adding this exercise into their program significantly increases their base strength and helps them overcome any sticking points they have.
If you compare the Pendlay row vs barbell row, you’ll notice there are some advantages to using the Pendlay row over the barbell row. However, some disadvantages are worth mentioning.
- Recruits all back muscles.
- Develops lower back strength.
- Improves your ability to generate force quickly.
How To Do It:
- Start with the barbell on the floor.
- Walk up to the barbell and place your toes under the barbell, feet hip-width apart.
- Hinge your hips while keeping your back straight.
- Grab the barbell with an overhand grip.
- Take a deep breath and explosively lift the barbell to your lower chest.
- Let gravity take the barbell back to the starting position.
- Repeat the movement and complete your set.
Tips From A Trainer!
Don’t try to control the eccentric part of the movement (the lowering phase); focus on the concentric part being as explosive as possible.
When it comes to loading your barbell, you’ll want to keep the weight below your 1RM. I always recommend using around 60-75% of your 1RM for maximal results.
Performing the Pendlay row doesn’t require much equipment, and all you need is an Olympic barbell and a set of Olympic weighted plates.
This makes the Pendlay row a fantastic exercise to perform in your home or garage gym.
If you want an exercise that needs minimal equipment but will give you the most bang for your buck, the Pendlay row is an excellent choice of exercise.
Barbell Bent-Over Row Overview
The standard barbell bent-over row is an extremely popular compound exercise performed by many gym-goers.
Whether you’re a bodybuilder, powerlifter, Olympic lifter, CrossFit enthusiast, or a regular gym-goer, you’ll get fantastic results using this exercise. I’ve always found the barbell bent row is an excellent exercise for beginners as it helps develop not only their upper back strength but their lower back too.
The world-famous bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger was a huge fan of the bent-over row and used it to develop huge v-shaped lats and a thick upper back. Its back-building potential is one of the reasons the exercise is so popular.
When you perform the bent-over barbell row, you hold your body in a hinged position almost parallel to the floor. It’s similar to the Pendlay row, but the barbell doesn’t touch the floor between reps and is performed in a slower and more controlled manner.
During the barbell row, you work your back muscles eccentrically and concentrically. This causes more DOMS as they’re primarily caused by the eccentric loading phase of an exercise.
If you compare Pendlay vs barbell row for muscle growth, you’ll get far better muscular hypertrophy from the barbell row.
This is because you get slower contractions in your back muscles (time under tension), and the range of motion is increased.
Pair these with higher rep ability, and you have muscle-building potential. Another aspect to consider when looking at the barbell row is the range of variations there are.
For example, you can switch your grip between overhand and underhand or even adjust the angle of your body. By adjusting your grip, you change the primary muscles targeted. A regular overhand grip focuses on your traps and rhomboids, while an underhand grip moves the focus to your lats.
However, even though the barbell row is an excellent exercise to add to your program for your back development, there are some pros and cons you should consider:
- Improves upper back hypertrophy and strength.
- Reinforces spinal control and increases body awareness.
- Has good application to deadlifts and other pulling movements.
How To Do It:
- Place your feet under the barbell, hip-width apart.
- Take an underhand or overhand grip.
- Straighten your back and lift the barbell to hip level.
- Hinge your hips to around 45 degrees.
- Lift the barbell in a controlled manner to your stomach and back down.
Tips From A Trainer!
If the weight you have on the barbell is causing you to lose positioning, such as dropping the chest or flaring the elbows, then drop the weight and really prioritize your form.
Pendlay Row Vs Barbell Bent Over Row - Which Is The Better Exercise?
1. Execution & Technique
There are some similarities when comparing the Pendlay row vs bent over row for form, but both movements are entirely different.
The Pendlay row begins and ends on the floor, whereas the bent-over barbell row doesn’t touch the floor between reps and keeps constant tension on your back. The continuous tension might not suit lifters who suffer from lower back pain, and you might be best suited using the Pendlay row.
It’s also worth mentioning that the Pendlay row doesn’t eccentrically load your muscles, so you’d expect to have less DOMS compared to the bent-over barbell row . This is perfect for athletes who need to keep DOMS at a minimal level.
To perform both exercises, you can use a free-weight Olympic barbell or a smith machine. A smith machine is a good option for beginners as it moves along a set path.
Related Article - Barbell Row Vs Dumbbell Row
2. Muscles Worked
When looking at the difference between barbell row and Pendlay row, the muscles used are one of the main factors.
During the Pendlay you primarily work your lats, rhomboids, and traps. However, when you perform the barbell row, your lower back and legs are needed to help keep your body bent over while it’s under load.
On the other hand, the Pendlay row loads your lower back far less as the barbell starts and ends on the floor, and it also only works your back concentrically during the lifting phase of the row.
If you have lower back problems, you might want to try using the Pendlay row.
Read Also - Barbell Row Vs T-Bar Row
Both exercises are complex compound movements that require you to use multiple joints to move the weight.
When you look at barbell row vs Pendlay, I’d say the Pendlay row is harder to teach and can be difficult for some gym-goers depending on their body’s proportions.
If you’re tall, you might find it challenging to maintain a neutral spine during the movement, which puts you at risk of injury.
However, during the barbell row, you can generally lift more weight which can cause you to sacrifice good form for ego lifting.
Avoid rounding your back and letting your form slip. These are the two most common issues with both lifts.
Learn More - How Much Does A Barbell Weigh?
4. Muscular Hypertrophy
When comparing the bent-over row vs Pendlay for muscular hypertrophy, there is only one winner in my eyes... the bent-over row.
The bent-over row is best if you’re looking to build your muscles. You place your back under tension for longer periods of time during the barbell row and can use more weight, allowing you to overload your back muscles.
You can also perform more reps with the barbell row, which is critical for building muscle. While the Pendlay row does promote hypertrophy, it’s not as effective as the standard barbell row.
5. For Full-Body Strength Gains
When it comes to the Pendlay row vs bent over for strength gains, the Pendlay row wins. As each rep starts from the floor and is from a dead stop, you need a lot of strength to pull the barbell towards your chest.
However, it could be argued the Pendlay row doesn’t stimulate your lower back and legs as much as the barbell row.
But, in my opinion, if you want to develop raw strength, the Pendlay row is superior. It’s an excellent exercise for powerlifters and Olympic lifters.
Related Article - Olympic Vs Standard Barbell
6. For Power
If you’re looking to develop power and are wondering what’s best between the Pendlay row or barbell row, you need to consider which exercise allows you to lift more explosively.
The Pendlay row is the most explosive version of the row there is. It requires you to generate a high velocity during each rep as you pull it towards your chest.
The high-speed reps give you the most power generation, making this one of the go-to exercises for powerlifters and Olympic lifters.
Unfortunately, the barbell row doesn’t allow you to generate as much power and isn’t as effective as the Pendlay row. If you want more power, choose the Pendlay row.
7. For Building Mass
Building mass requires a high amount of reps mixed with time under tension and load. With that said, the barbell row is the ideal exercise for mass building when you compare the Pendlay row vs the bent-over row.
The barbell row works your muscles concentrically and eccentrically, working your muscles through a large range of motion, giving it the edge for building mass.
However, I’m a massive fan of using both exercises to develop mass. The barbell row gives your muscles the stimulus they need to grow, while the Pendlay row increases your power output and overall strength.
While a combination is my preferred method, if you’re looking for mass, the barbell row wins this round.
Pendlay Row Versus Bent Over Row Questions
Initially, you’d think the Pendlay row wouldn’t help your deadlift much, but it’s highly beneficial. Pendlay rows help you increase your lower and upper back strength, which are key areas when performing a deadlift.
This row variation is brilliant at helping you break through the sticking points of many exercises and would make the perfect addition to your workout.
There are many exercises you can perform instead of the Pendlay row or barbell row. One of my favorite back exercises is the seated row, which recruits a huge amount of muscle fibers in your upper back.
Other exercises you could perform as an alternative are t-bar rows, chest-supported rows, and single-arm rows. Each one is an excellent substitute for the Pendlay row or barbell row.
When selecting the weight for your Pendlay row, you need to be aware of the load you’re lifting and the speed at which you can perform each rep.
A 2012 study found lifting lighter loads with high speed led to increased maximal strength development .
To give you a rough idea, most lifters will see the best results lifting at 60-75% of their 1RM. Try it out next time you perform Pendlay rows.
You can use either grip for your barbell rows; it depends on what muscle you want to work.
Overhand grip places more emphasis on your upper back muscles like your traps and rhomboids, while performing underhand grip rows uses more of your lats.
Personally, I perform both grip variations, so my entire back gets a workout. Ultimately, it comes down to what muscles you want to work and which variation you find most comfortable.
When it comes to barbell rows vs Pendlay rows, it can be confusing knowing which option is the best for you to use.
While it’s difficult to say which is better, in all honesty, it comes down to what your goal is.
If you’re looking for muscle mass and hypertrophy, I’d suggest using the barbell row. But, if you want power and strength, you’d be best choosing the Pendlay row.
Think about your training goals, choose between the Pendlay row or barbell row, and see how the movements benefit your training.