11 Highly Effective Pendlay Row Alternatives (With Pictures)

the 11 best pendlay row alternatives

The Pendlay row is one of the best exercises for developing upper body rowing power, which is why it’s commonly programmed in both powerlifting and weightlifting programs. 

Nevertheless, the Pendlay row can place stress on the low back and requires great hamstring mobility compared with other upper body pulling movements. The challenge or inability to do a Pendlay row shouldn’t keep you from developing your rowing power though.

So, if you lack mobility or seek more options to improve rowing power output, there are many exercises to choose from that utilize various types of equipment that are equally effective.

The 11 best Pendlay row alternatives are:

In this article, I will explain why each of these exercises are great pendlay row alternatives, how to successfully do them, and a few tips on who would benefit from them most.

As well, I have included banded, cable, machine, and barbell exercises in case you have a preference using certain equipment or you have a limited selection of equipment.

What Makes a Good Pendlay Row Alternative

A great Pendlay row alternative will accomplish one of the following:

  1. Target similar muscle groups that are worked in the Pendlay row.
  1. Improve power output of the back muscles.

Let’s look at the nuance of the Pendlay row.

Muscles Used In Pendlay Row

the muscles worked in the pendlay row

The muscles worked in the Pendlay row are:

  • Latissimus Dorsi
  • Posterior Deltoids
  • Trapezius
  • Erectors
  • Rhomboids

Similar to the barbell row, the Pendlay row targets the lats, traps, rhomboids, erectors, and rear deltoids. However, the torso angle is much more parallel to the ground, which achieves a more direct line of travel to the top of the lift.

Takeaway: An effective Pendlay row alternative will primarily target the lats, traps, rhomboids, erectors, and rear deltoids.

Curious to know how powerlifters train their back muscles?  Read my article on How Do Powerlifters Train Back (3 Must-Do Workouts).

Increased Power Output

Due to the static starting position of the Pendlay row, high power output is necessary when initiating the pull. 

Strengthening one’s ability to produce a high rate of force development can provide tremendous carry over to other powerlifting and weightlifting movements.  

When I say “produce a high rate of force development”, I’m referring to the body’s ability to recruit muscle fibers quickly.

Rowing power is something that is often neglected in programming, which is why I have provided many alternatives to choose from to improve power output of the row.

Takeaway: A good Pendlay row substitute will require a high rate of force development and improve power output.

Curious to know the differences between the Pendlay row and barbell row?  Check out my article on Pendlay Row vs Barbell Row: Differences, Pros, Cons.

Pendlay Row Alternatives: 11 Exercises

1. Banded Rows

Banded rows can be done anywhere and improve power output similar to the Pendlay row, which make this a great at home and on-the-road alternative.

As the length of the band increases then the resistance of the band increases as well. By emphasizing the acceleration of the rowing movement throughout the length changes of the band, rate of force development and power output can be improved.

Just make sure you perform this movement with the intention to move the band quickly.  

How To Do It

  • Anchor a band to a sturdy rail or side of a squat rack.
  • Assume a split stance or a quarter squat.
  • Using an overhand grip grab the band about shoulder width apart.
  • Row the band towards your lower chest until you make contact.
  • Utilize a quick and forceful pull to emphasize power of the row.
  • To complete the repetition reach forward until elbows are at full extension.

Pro Tip

If there are weights available to you and the banded row is not producing enough resistance, then you can add a dumbbell or kettlebell to add additional resistance. However, the addition of a dumbbell will increase the difficulty and change the nature of the exercise.

2. Deadstop Dumbbell Rows

Deadstop dumbbell rows allow you to generate high power output, while targeting similar musculature of the Pendlay row. Furthermore, this makes the deadstop dumbbell row a great substitute to the Pendlay row.

As mentioned in my article on t-bar row alternatives, dumbbells allow you to move in greater ranges of motion to target the muscles of the back to a greater degree. A greater range of motion can be beneficial for shoulder health and improving the quality of back contraction during the exercise.

Additionally, the deadstop dumbbell row is a unilateral (single-armed) exercise that can help improve any imbalances that might be lingering in the background of your training. 

I always recommend to my clients to implement a good mixture of unilateral and bilateral exercises to be a well-rounded lifter.

How To Do It

  • One knee will be bent on the bench and placed in front of the hip while the opposite leg will be slightly bent firmly planted onto the ground under the opposite hip.
  • You will firmly grasp the head of the bench to secure yourself into a stable position.
  • You will let the dumbbell sit low in your hand as you wrap your thumb around the handle.
  • The starting position of the dumbbell will be on the floor, which will require you to generate a forceful pull to overcome the dead weight of the dumbbell.
  • When you initiate the row you will focus on driving your elbow behind you while pulling the handle aside your hip. 
  • This is almost like pulling a lawn mower, at full flexion you want the elbow to be at a 90 degree angle.
  • At completion of a rep, you will guide the dumbbell down until your elbow is at full extension.

Pro Tip

A controlled lowering of the deadstop dumbbell row can increase time under tension to get a better feel in the muscles of the back. Eccentrics (or tempo training) are a great tool in building control and targeting the muscles of the back to a greater degree.

3. Deadstop Chest Supported Rows

The deadstop chest supported row forces you to isolate the muscles of your back, while taking your lower back out of equation. This makes the chest supported row a good variation to the Pendlay row.

Place blocks or a sturdy surface on each side of the incline bench to rest the dumbbells between reps. This will allow you to lose tension between each rep, to then subsequently regain tension and do a forceful pull. 

This forceful pull will help improve rate of force development similar to the Pendlay row.

How To Do It

  • Prior to lying down for this movement, you will place a dumbbell on each side of the incline bench.
  • You will lie down on an incline bench, with your leg slightly bent, and your heels coming off the ground.
  • You will let each dumbbell sit low in your hand as you wrap your thumb around the handle.
  • Prior to the initiation of each pull, the dumbbell will be placed on the legs of the bench or small blocks placed at lockout.
  • From this position you will forcefully sweep the elbows back as you aim the DBs to be in line with the lower stomach.
  • At the completion of a rep, you will guide the dumbbell down until your elbow is at full extension and place them on the blocks or legs of the bench.

Pro Tip

Changing the angle of the incline will change the muscles of the back that are targeted. A steeper incline will target the upper back, while a lower incline will target the muscles of the mid back.

4. Deadstop T-Bar Rows

The t-bar row exercise can promote greater density and thickness of the same back muscles that are used during the Pendlay row. This makes the t-bar row a good Pendlay row alternative.

How To Do It

  • Upon starting this exercise, feet will be hip-width apart.
  • To build tension, act as though you are closing your armpits, when grabbing the handle bar.
  • This variation will have the bar at a static starting and between each rep.
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together, while keeping your chest up.
  • Aiming for your lower chest, you will forcefully sweep the elbows back.
  • To finish the repetition, return the plate stack to the ground and then break tension.
  • Upon initiating the next repetition, rebuild tension once again.

Pro Tip

45 lbs/20 kilo plates might be problematic for proper execution of this exercise. Instead load the bar with 25 lbs/10 kilo plates to improve the quality and range of motion of this exercise.

5. Deadlifts

deadlifts are the most fundamental exercise in improving power output in the back which makes it the best alternative to the pendlay row

Deadlifts are the most fundamental exercise in improving power output in the back which makes it the best alternative to the Pendlay row.

While deadlifts prove to be extremely challenging to learn, there are so many benefits in proper execution and loading of this exercise. Deadlifts increase density and thickness of the back while improving one’s ability to generate force through the ground.

Check out my article to learn whether deadlifts are considered a back or leg exercise.

How To Do It

  • The conventional deadlift will start with the feet hip width apart.
  • You will then drive your traps down, squeeze your shoulder blades together, and bring your chest forward.
  • Make your arms as straight as possible, while reaching towards the barbell.
  • With a rigid torso, you will sit the hips back, until the completely extended arms reach the bar.
  • You will then pull all the slack out of the bar.
  • Act as though you are breaking the bar, then sit back with the bar.
  • This should create a wedge effect, which you will then stand up with the bar.
  • At complete extension, you will be squeezing the muscles of your butt, hamstrings, and quads.  

Pro Tip

There are many deadlift variations that exist to improve one’s ability to generate power:

Read my article on Which Type Of Deadlift Is Hardest?

6. Banded Deadlifts

the bands in the banded deadlift promote acceleration through the upper half of the pull

The banded deadlift is included into this list because the added bands promote acceleration through the upper half of the pull. The bands make this a good Pendlay row alternative to increasing strength and power of the back.

For this exercise, you’ll need continuously looped resistance bands. Here is a set of high-quality bands on Amazon (click here to check today’s price) that will last you years of solid use.

How To Do It

  • Set up will require two bands to be anchored to over each side of the bar 
  • Similar to the conventional deadlift, you will start with the feet hip width apart.
  • Again building tension by driving your traps down, squeezing your shoulder blades together, and bringing your chest forward.
  • Make your arms as straight as possible, while reaching towards the barbell.
  • With a rigid torso, you will sit the hips back, until the completely extended arms reach the bar.
  • You will then pull all the slack out of the bar.
  • Act as though you are breaking the bar, then sit back with the bar.
  • This should create a wedge effect, which you will then stand up with the bar.
  • As you are pulling the weight you will accelerate against the banded resistance.
  • At complete extension, you will be squeezing the muscles of your butt, hamstrings, and quads.  

Pro Tip

The banded deadlift is especially beneficial if you have a sticking point on the deadlift in the lockout

7. Rack pulls

rack pull is beneficial for increasing muscle mass of the back, making it a good pendlay row substitute

Unlike the conventional deadlift, the rack pull stops just short of the mid-shin. This exercise is beneficial for increasing muscle mass of the back, making it a good Pendlay row substitute.

How To Do It

  • Set the pins of the rack at the height of the mid-shin.
  • Build tension by squeezing your shoulder blades together.
  • Set your grip just outside of your thighs or further out if preferred.
  • Load the glutes and hamstrings, while building tension on the upper back.
  • Drive your feet though the ground, as you stand up with the weight.

Pro Tip

If you watch a video of your 1 rep max, you can see where the bar slows down. If you set the blocks or rack height to start at the point in which you were slowest you can strengthen the weak points of your deadlift. 

8. Clean Pulls

Clean pulls are an effective exercise in improving power output, which make it a great Pendlay row alternative.

Olympic lifters and powerlifters alike can benefit from doing clean pulls. Clean pulls utilize submaximal loading while generating as much force as possible into the shrug.

Any Olympic weightlifting movement is considered highly technical though, so this wouldn’t be my first choice if you’re a novice lifter, or someone who doesn’t have hands-on coaching when learning this exercise.

How To Do It

  • Feet will be hip width apart.
  • Hips will be set a bit lower than the deadlifts.
  • Grip width will be just outside of the thighs or wider based on preference.
  • Utilize hook grip where both hands will be over the bar with thumb under the fingers or straps.
  • Build tension in the upper back while loading the glutes and the hamstrings.
  • Control the speed of the bar up until you reach just under the knees.
  • Accelerate past this point, while driving the traps up, and the hips toward the bar.

Pro Tip

Rather than utilizing a hook grip, I would recommend using straps. This will make grip less of a limiting factor, allowing you to move heavier loads at a much faster rate.

Here I reviewed the Best Lifting Straps, there you can find a more in-depth opinion about which straps I prefer depending on the exercise.

9. Inverted Row

The inverted row is a bodyweight alternative that is less challenging than the Pendlay row.

The inverted row can be done to increase power output as well. We can angle the body in a more upright fashion to make it easier, while cueing to row as hard as possible. This will allow us to produce a high rate of force development while working the muscles of our back.

How To Do It

  • For this exercise you will place a barbell in the j cups just a bit longer than arms length of distance from the ground.
  • To change the difficulty of this exercise you can position the barbell lower or higher in the rack.
  • You will maintain a supine body position (face up) during the course of this exercise.
  • You will have an overhand grip on the bar with your hands placed similar to how they would be on the bench press.
  • Maintaining a rigid spine, you will pull your lower chest towards the bar until it makes contact.
  • During the lowering of the movement, you will guide yourself away from the bar until your elbows are at full extension.

Pro Tip

You can grab a friend to place a plate on you to increase the difficulty of the exercise. Otherwise, you can place a band on you and anchor them to two 80 lb dumbbells. Banded resistance can further promote rate of force development and power output similar to the Pendlay row.

10. Banded Barbell Row

The banded barbell row is a great exercise in increasing rowing power output, which makes it a good Pendlay row alternative. The banded resistance requires one to accelerate through the top half of the exercise to overcome the resistance of the band.

How To Do It

  • To set up the bands for this exercise you can either place the band under your feet and loop each side through the bar, or use one band anchored on each side of a platform and tie it around the bar with just enough tension.
  • Just like the barbell row, feet will be hip width apart as you pick up the bar.
  • Grip will be about shoulder width apart, but may be wider depending on your preference.
  • Standing with the bar, you will sit back until your torso is somewhat parallel to the ground.
  • Make sure your shoulders are over the bar before you initiate the pull.
  • You will then sweep your elbows back while rowing the barbell towards your upper abdomen/lower chest.
  • Focus on accelerating through the mid-half of the concentric of the barbell.
  • Upon completion of the repetition, you will then lower the barbell until the elbows are at complete extension.

Pro Tip

The banded barbell row can be done with varying degrees of resistance with different colored resistance bands. Starting with lighter resistances and working your way up towards heavier bands. 

The key is to move quickly and powerfully with light weights rather than slow with lots of weight.

11. Barbell Rows

the barbell row requires greater time under tension and loading of the stabilizers which can be beneficial for building the muscles of the back

Barbell rows are closest to the Pendlay row making it the most similar alternative. The barbell row requires greater time under tension and loading of the stabilizers which can be beneficial for building the muscles of the back. 

How To Do It

  • Similar to the Pendlay row, you will set up with your feet hip width apart.
  • Grip width will be shoulder width apart, but can be widened based on preference.
  • To get into position, you will sit back until your torso is somewhat parallel to the ground.
  • At the start of the row, shoulders should be over the bar with complete elbow extension.
  • Drive the bar towards the upper abdomen/lower chest.
  • During the lowering phase, guide the bar into complete elbow extension to lock out.

Pro Tip

Tempo rows can be done with a controlled eccentric to target the stabilizers and back muscles to a greater degree.

Final Thoughts

A great Pendlay row alternative will target the muscles of the back while improving rate of force development and power output.

Regardless of what you select, each of these provided exercises will give your programming variety and utilize different types of equipment.


About The Author

Javad Bakhshinejad

Javad Bakhshinejad was born and raised in the Washington Area. Currently, he is a student at Seattle University where he’s been pursuing an MS in Kinesiology, and has been a Strength Coach in the athletic department. He was a competitive bodybuilder for 8 years where he later transitioned to competitive powerlifting for 4 years. Currently, He has his own personal coaching business, where he works with powerlifters and bodybuilders.