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Develop a Huge Back with The Pendlay Row

Whether for strength or aesthetics, the Pendlay row should be a staple back exercise in your training.

The Pendlay Row is a barbell back exercise originally named after American weightlifting coach Glenn Pendlay. It is a rowing variation popular with strength athletes for its ability to develop the lats, upper and lower back muscles.  

Pendlay was a USA Weightlifting Level 5 Coach and coached some of America’s top lifters for over 20 years.

Learn how to do this exercise, what exact muscles it targets, the benefits and how to include it in your training below.

What is a Pendlay row

The Pendlay row is a row variation that targets the major muscles in your back. This popular bodybuilding exercise is also great for muscular development and, as a pulling movement, can aid in strength gain for pull-ups, deadlifts, cleans and snatches.

Once you start the exercise, only your arms move, while the muscles on your back and core are contracted.

Unlike traditional barbell bent-over rows, Pendlay rows start and finish on the ground, require more explosiveness, and activate a wider variety of muscle groups. The exercise also allows you to lift more weight than a traditional barbell row.

Read more: Dumbbell Row: Who Should Do It, Benefits, & Mistakes to Avoid (Plus 5 Workouts)

Pendlay row form

Here’s a step-by-step guide to learn how to perform a Pendlay row with good form:

  1. With a barbell on the ground in front of you, bend down until your upper body is parallel with the ground.
  2. The bar should be about a fist from your shins, your knees are slightly bent.
  3. Taking a slightly wider grip on the bar, ensure you contract your lower back and engage your midline.
  4. Explosively pull the bar up between your upper stomach and lower chest area, tightening your upper back but keeping the same hip angle from the start of the exercise.
  5. Maintaining an engaged core, bring the barbell back down all the way to the floor. Make sure this part of the exercise is controlled – you should still be working your back muscles taking the barbell down to the initial position.
  6. Ensure your posture is right and amend the position of your back, hips and feet if necessary and repeat.


The width of your grip during Pendlay rows should be such that you are put in the right starting position, with your torso parallel to the floor. Everyone will take a slightly different grip, going wider or closer, depending on their proportions.

Whichever works for you, ensure your back stays parallel to the ground.

Pendlay rows common faults

Common faults include:

  • Rounding your back: this can be a dangerous fault and lead to lower-back injury. Make sure you set up right and always keep your back engaged in a neutral, flat position.
  • Standing too upright: while you’ll still target your back muscles, by performing the exercise with your chest anything other than parallel to the ground will leave out a bunch of muscles you could be targeting.
  • Using momentum and lifting with the arms: the Pendlay row relies on strict form and the activation should come from the back muscles. This fault is common with athletes attempting to lift too much weight, so choose a lighter weight and ensure your form is on point.
pendlay rowSource: Photo courtesy of CrossFit Inc.

Pendlay row muscles worked

Primarily the Pendlay row focuses on building the following muscles:

Latissimus Dorsi

The primary muscles targeted by this exercise are the latissimus dorsi, the largest muscles of the back. The lats are activated during most pulling exercises such as deadlifts, pull-ups and rowing.


The rhomboids are located in the upper back and are contracted at the top of the exercise, when you bring your shoulder blades together.


The trapezius muscle helps stabilise the shoulders and extends from the lower neck, across to the shoulders and down the spine. The middle and lower traps are activated throughout the row.  

Other muscles

Secondarily, Pendlay rows also target the biceps, hamstrings, and deltoid muscles.

What are the benefits of performing Pendlay rows

  • Develop a well-rounded back: whether you want to build your back for aesthetics or strength, the Pendlay row is a great exercise to develop both. The position means more muscles are activated than with standard bent-over rows and achieving the full range of motion can maximise back hypertrophy.
  • Enhance your lifts: any lifts that requires pulling will benefit from the Pendlay row, as it develops your pulling strength, develops back stability, and teaches you explosivity from the ground in a straightforward exercise.
  • Improve your posture: a strong back is not only beneficial for sports but also day-to-day life. By strengthening your lats and other back muscles you can improve your posture and prevent pain and injuries.

How to increase Pendlay row

If you want to increase the weight of the barbell during the Pendlay row you should work in heavy sets of 3-6 reps, as this is the best range to develop basic strength. Once you feel you have built a solid strength base you can move on to heavier sets of 1-3 reps.

This will increase your strength and help you practice for the very specific condition of lifting your heaviest weight, but is not recommended as a long-term technique for hypertrophy because the low repetitions per set mean the stimulus to the muscle can be relatively low before you hit fatigue.

Read more: Rep Ranges Explained: Learn How to Boost Your Strength and Hypertrophy

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