Barbell Row vs. Pendlay Row for Strength Building: How Do They Differ?

Barbell Row vs. Pendlay Row for Strength Building: How Do They Differ?

One of the best exercises for building a strong back is the barbell bent-over row. Barbell rows are also a way to strengthen and hypertrophy the muscles in your back without building bulk. If you have problems executing deadlifts, barbell rows are also a substitute for working your back muscles.

But there’s another variation on a barbell row that you may be less familiar with. It’s called the Pendlay row, named after Glenn Pendlay who developed this compound exercise.  Let’s look at how the Pendlay and a standard barbell row differ and why you might want to also include the Pendlay row in your strength-training routine.

Barbell Row vs. Pendlay Row: Similarities and Differences

The barbell row is a compound, full-body exercise that targets the posterior muscles of the body. The primary muscle group targeted by the barbell row is the latissimus dorsi (lats), which runs from your lower back through to the middle of the armpit and down to the elbow. These large muscles, known as the lats, are responsible for adduction of your arms, as when you do a pull-up and flexion and extension of your upper arm at the shoulder joint.

Lats aren’t just for weight training. From a functional perspective, you use your lats when you reach for something on a high shelf. Barbell rows also work the rhomboids, the muscles that bring your shoulder blades together, and the muscles that support your spine, like the erector spinae. To do a barbell row:

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart with a barbell in front of your body.
  • Bend down and grab the barbell with an overhand grip.
  • Using a hip hinge movement, elevate the barbell to the height of your knees.
  • Slowly and with control, lift the bar to the base of your chest and hold for a few seconds.
  • Lower the barbell toward the floor until your arms are in full extension. (Without placing the bar on the floor)
  • Keep repeating.

The barbell row is one of the best mass-building exercises for the back. It hits your upper, middle, and lower back muscles, as well as your biceps and forearms. You’ll work your biceps more if you switch to an underhand, or supinated, grip. It’s also an effective exercise for targeting your posterior deltoids, a muscle group that gets less stimulation than the anterior and middle deltoids. Additionally, barbell rows work your core, as your core muscles help stabilize your body when you raise and lower the barbell.

The Pendlay Row Builds Power

How does the Pendlay row differ from a barbell row? A Pendlay row involves the same sequence and movements as a barbell row except with the Pendlay row, you place the barbell down on the floor at the end of the sequence rather than holding it above the floor, as with a standard barbell row. So, you pick up the bar from the ground when you do a Pendlay row.

Since you’re starting from the ground when you do a Pendlay row, it has certain advantages over a standard barbell row. Lifting the barbell from the ground requires you to generate more power than a standard barbell row does. So, doing this row variation helps you improve power performance in a way that a standard barbell row does not.

Both standard barbell rows and Pendlay rows build strength and hypertrophy your back muscles, but the Pendlay row wins additional accolades for building upper body power. Since you’re lifting the barbell off the floor, the range of motion for a Pendlay row is greater than for a standard barbell row where the bar never touches the ground. It’s like a standard barbell row with a greater range of motion and where you must generate strength quickly to lift the barbell off the floor. This makes it ideal for power development.

The Pendlay Row is More Challenging

The Pendlay row is also a more advanced exercise. Don’t try it until you’ve mastered a basic barbell row and can do it with good form. But if you’re interested in developing greater power (and strength too) in your back and lower body, the Pendlay row is the ideal row variation for doing so.

You will discover that it’s harder to complete as many reps with Pendlay rows as opposed to a standard barbell row. You might be able to do 8 to 10 reps of a standard barbell row while you might encounter significant fatigue after only 4 to 6 reps with a Pendlay row.

Why is this important? Fewer reps can limit your hypertrophy gains since you can do less volume. So standard barbell rows may have an edge for muscle hypertrophy. However, Pendlay rows excel for building explosive strength and power. The muscles you work are similar for both rows, but the range of motion is greater for the Pendlay row.

The Bottom Line

Standard barbell rows, because you can do more volume, are your best choice for hypertrophying the muscles in your back but if you’re trying to build raw strength and power. There are also benefits to Pendlay rows, with their greater range of motion and the requirement that you generate power. If you’re trying to build a more powerful upper and lower body, Pendlay rows are a way to do that.

No matter which row variation you choose, Pendlay or standard barbell rows, you’ll build back strength. They Pendlay barbell row will also improve your posture and performance on other lifts, particularly pull-ups and clean and snatches. Adding a different row variation will also challenge your muscles in a new way and help you avoid frustrating strength-building plateaus. As with standard barbell rows, focus on form over using a heavy barbell. With the exercise being more challenging, sloppy form is more likely to lead to injury. Make sure you’re not rounding your back when you do either type of barbell row.


“Latissimus dorsi: Origin, insertion, innervation,function | Kenhub.” 19 Jul. 2022, .kenhub.com/en/library/anatomy/latissimus-dorsi-muscle.

Jeno SH, Varacallo M. Anatomy, Back, Latissimus Dorsi. [Updated 2022 Apr 5]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: .ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK448120/

“Pendlay Row | Exercise.com.” .exercise.com/exercises/pendlay-row/.

Related Articles By Cathe:

Why You Should Vary the Grip When You Do Barbell Rows

6 Mistakes You’re Making with Barbell & Dumbbell Rows

The Pros and Cons of Various Types of Barbell and Dumbbell Rows

Are Dumbbells an Effective Substitute When You Don’t Have Barbells?

How Balanced is Your Back Training?

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