Any good exercise regimen strategically targets every muscle group in the body to develop strength and build power. When it comes to hitting your back muscles, your routine should include deadlifts, lat pulldowns or pullups, and some variation of a row.
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If you don’t know much about the different types of rows, you might be wondering whether it even makes a difference which type you decide to add to your program. It absolutely does!
Below, we’ll overview two of the more common row exercises, Pendlay rows and bent-over rows, and the cases for and against each of them. Check it out!
What are Pendlay Rows?
Pendlay rows are truly just a modified version of the original bent-over row. Performing the row requires a weighted barbell and attention to detail when it comes to keeping proper form.
Pendlay Row Muscles Worked
What makes the Pendlay row so great is it’s a compound movement that works a tone of muscle groups.
Primary Muscles Worked
- Lats (latissimus dorsi)
Secondary Muscles Worked
- Rear deltoids
- Middle trapezius
The primary muscle worked during a Pendlay row is the latissimus dorsi, or “lats” for short. These are the large, V-shaped muscles on the sides of your back that give you that coveted “wingspan” look.
Additionally, this exercise targets your rhomboids, the smaller muscles in the middle of your back that help with posture and shoulder stability.
But the benefits of the Pendlay row don’t stop there – it also engages secondary muscles, like your biceps, forearms, and core. This combination builds some serious upper body and core strength.
How To Do Pendlay Rows in 6 Steps
- Stand in front of the barbell and align your midfoot under the middle of the bar. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart with the knees slightly bent. Also, your shoulders should be directly above your hips, and your head and neck should be in a neutral position.
- Bend your hips and knees to lower your body towards the barbell. Your shins should be vertical, while your chest should be parallel to the floor.
- Next, grab the barbell using an overhand grip. Your hips should be above your knees with your shoulders pulled back, and the barbell plates should remain on the floor. This will be your starting position for every repetition.
- Pull the barbell towards your lower chest. Your elbows should go behind you and be about 45 degrees away from the upper body. Let your upper arms be aligned with your body.
- While maintaining your body shape, straighten your elbows to allow the barbell to travel back to its original position on the floor.
- Once the barbell is on the floor, repeat the movement for the next repetition.
Pendlay rows – Common form mistakes
Here are some common mistakes to avoid as you do pendlay rows:
- Bouncing the barbell as it drops. The bar should come to a dead stop before starting the next rep.
- Don’t lock your knees. Slightly bend your knees to help you maintain a flat back.
- Letting your legs do all the work. Don’t use your legs to pull the barbell. This primarily a back exercise. If you can’t engage your back, consider reducing the weight.
Pendlay Row Benefits
1. They’re a great compound exercise.
Targeting the back muscles is great, but Pendlay rows are capable of training much more. In addition to your rhomboids, traps, lats, and erector spinae (which are all back muscles), Pendlay rows also hit your biceps and rear deltoids.
The massive number of muscles targeted is a result of the form the exercise requires. Not only are you contracting the muscles of your back and biceps when bringing the bar to your chest for each rep, but you’re also maintaining the flexion of your back muscles to keep your back straight and level during the exercise.
2. It demonstrates greater fitness.
The major difference between Pendlay rows and other types of rows is the greater range of motion and power needed to perform them. With a stiff back and a heavy barbell, you’ll need to exert more power to be able to bring the bar all the way to your chest and return it back to the floor.
The distance you must pull the barbell with a Pendlay row is much greater than other types of rows and you have less of an ability to use the momentum from a previous rep to fuel your next rep. This means you need more power for the Pendlay row if you want to do it properly.
Pendlay Row Cons
1. It requires a near-full range of motion.
While this could be seen as a benefit of the exercise, it’s not ideal for anybody with back, shoulder, or elbow injuries to perform Pendlay rows. Because you’re beginning the exercise from the floor and almost locking your back and elbows at different points of the exercise, you’re prone to further injury.
The range of motion also requires you to use more power with each rep. For an already weak joint or muscle, this could prove to be a bit painful when the weight gets too heavy.
What are Bent-Over Rows?
Bent-over rows are perhaps the most basic and popular back exercise performed with a barbell. The form required for this type of row is a bit difficult to maintain at a heavier weight and often results in cheating form, so select your weight accordingly.
Bent-Over Rows Muscles Worked
These are the muscles worked during bent-over rows:
- Latissimus dorsi
- Posterior Delts
- Teres Major & Minor
Bent-over rows primarily target your lats (latissimus dorsi), but it also hits your rhomboids, trapezius, posterior delts, teres major and minor, and infraspinatus. All of these muscles work together to help you pull the weight towards your body and maintain proper posture during the exercise.
Your lats, in particular, are responsible for pulling your arms down and back, while the other muscles mentioned help to stabilize your shoulder blades and provide extra support.
How To Do Bent-Over Rows
Since bent-over rows are a compound exercise that work your back, you need to perform them properly to ensure you don’t mess up your back (that would be bad).
Here are the basic steps how to do a bent-over row:
- Stand in front of the barbell with your midfoot aligned under the middle of the bar.
- Your back should be at a 45-degree angle, and your hips and knees should be slightly bent.
- Next, lower yourself and pick up the barbell with an overhand grip.
- Raise the barbell to your chest and then return it to knee level to finish the rep.
Bent-Over Rows – Common Form Mistakes
Avoid these common mistakes when doing barbell rows:
- The back is too vertical. Your back should be at a 45-degree angle when doing bent-over barbell rows. A straight back will shift the barbell’s path and engage the wrong muscles for this exercise.
- Using momentum. Avoid swinging your back to generate momentum to lift the barbell.
- Bad neck position. Your neck is part of your spinal column, making it important to keep it in a neutral position as you do barbell rows. Prevent curvature of your spine by tucking your chin and looking at the floor a few feet ahead of you.
Bent-Over Row Benefits
1. There’s more than one way to do them.
What’s great about the bent-over row is how many different ways you can perform it. You can add a bench, replace the barbell with a dumbbell, or even adjust the angle of your back depending on your skill level and strength.
The number of variations available makes this exercise incredible for beginners as well as advanced weightlifters. You can also keep your workouts interesting by alternating the type of row you perform from workout to workout when you get bored.
2. It’s a great exercise for beginners.
Nearly all beginner exercise programs include bent-over rows as a major back exercise. If you start with a lighter weight, it’s incredibly easy to adapt to the required form and build-up your current back strength.
With that said, you can begin to transition to more complex back exercises once you begin to build more strength and power. This exercise is a great stepping stone toward more advanced exercises but realistically can stay in your exercise program forever (if you wanted) without having to slap on a lever powerlifting belt.
Bent-Over Row Cons
1. It’s easy to cheat!
You might want to avoid bent-over rows because they’re more conducive to cheating. Because there is less of a focus on keeping a straight back, you’re more likely to arch any portion of your back to be able to lift a heavier weight.
Though you might feel more satisfied with the amount of weight you’re lifting, this can eventually lead to injury if performed this way consistently or at too heavy of a weight. Performing an exercise with improper form doesn’t do much in the way of building strength and muscle either.
Pendlay Rows Vs Bent-Over Rows: 3 Key Differences
Range of motion
Pendlay rows have a greater range of motion compared to bent-over rows. With pendlay rows, the barbell returns to the ground after every rep. With bent-over rows, the barbell’s range of motion stops at your knee level without touching the floor until the set ends.
When doing pendlay rows, your upper body is parallel to the ground, and your back is flat. In contrast, your upper body is fixed at a 45-degree angle with bent-over barbell rows.
With pendlay rows, you’ll use an explosive movement to lift the barbell from the floor, allowing you to lift heavier weights compared to bent-over rows where there’s momentum to aid your lift.
Pendlay Row Vs Bent-Over Rows: Which is better?
When it comes to hypertrophy, we think bent-over barbell rows are better than pendlay rows due to the difference in volume, which is key to building muscle.
The dead stop reps, larger weights, and fuller range of motion of pendlay rows make it harder to perform more reps compared to bent-over rows.
As for developing strength, we think pendlay rows do a better job than bent-over rows. Pendlay rows require explosive power to raise the bar as there’s no momentum to help you, unlike bent-over rows.
Pendlay rows are more like a powerlifting move, which probably makes it better at strengthening your main lifts compared to bent-over rows.
Pendlay Rows vs Bent-Over Rows Conclusion
Pendlay rows and bent-over rows both target the major muscles in the back and can prove to be a driving force in developing back strength and larger muscles.
So, which is our winner?
Not only do they target the back in general, but they also hit almost every muscle in the back and a few minor muscles elsewhere. When comparing the form for each of the exercises, Pendlay rows actually require significantly more power, range of motion, and full-body strength than regular bent-over rows and you’re less likely to cheat.
All in all, you get more bang for your buck when you add Pendlay rows to your routine.
Pendlay Rows vs Bent Over Rows FAQs
Are Pendlay rows and Bent-Over Barbell rows the same?
No, pendlay rows and bent-over rows are similar but not the same. The three key differences between the two exercises are the range of motion, your body position, and the movement pattern.
Are Pendlay Rows or bent-over rows better?
Bent-over rows are better for beginners and pendlay rows probably better for more experienced lifters. Bent-over rows don’t require as much strict form to perform and reap the lat-building benefits.
Are Pendlay rows harder than bent-over rows?
Although pendlay rows and bent-over rows are similar movements, pendlay rows are a bit harder because you’ll need explosive power to lift the barbell. Also, pendlay rows have a greater range of motion, and there’s no momentum to help you as the barbell comes to a dead stop after each rep.
Do Pendlay rows work the same muscles as barbell rows?
Yes, pendlay rows and bent-over barbell rows work the same primary muscle, which involves the latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, trapezius, and rear delts. They do provide different emphasis across those muscle groups.