While the pendlay row and barbell row both contribute to the development of the upper back, minor differences in time under tension and power generation change the context of these exercises.
So, what is the difference between the pendlay row and barbell row? The pendlay row is incorporated to improve the strength and power of the back. On the contrary, the barbell row is utilized to build the musculature of the upper back and posterior chain. Pendlay rows are used by weightlifters and powerlifters. Barbell rows are used by bodybuilders.
Whether you are training for strength or size, you could incorporate one of these exercises over the other.
In this article, I will explain the differences between these rowing movements, when to program for each, which exercise is best for you, and how to achieve optimal training protocols when incorporating the pendlay row or the barbell row.
I did a similar article to this on the T-bar Row vs Barbell Row where I analyzed the differences, pros, and cons.
The Differences Between A Pendlay Row and A Barbell Row
As we become more advanced as lifters, we need to carefully consider the rowing variations we implement into our training program. While the pendlay row and barbell row can contribute to the development of strength and size in the back, circumstantially you might benefit from incorporating one over the other.
The pendlay row requires a great amount of power due to the static starting position on the floor, where you then forcefully pull the bar towards the lower chest.
The static starting position of the pendlay row increases the necessity of rate of force development and power output as you initiate the pull.
Because of this, there are brief periods where the tension in the upper back is lost between reps and needs to be reproduced to generate a forceful row.
Between each repetition, you must recreate the lost tension that is produced in your back to ensure an effective rep.
The pendlay row is a classic exercise that bolsters the power and strength in your ability to pull weight off the floor.
The barbell row requires constant tension and total body stabilization as the bar is sitting in your hand throughout the duration of the lift.
Compared to the pendlay row, the barbell row requires greater time under tension of the erectors, lats, and entire posterior chain to accomplish a sequence of repetitions.
Thus, the barbell row will generate greater muscular damage and hypertrophy, and as a result, produce strength and size in the muscles of the back.
Unlike the pendlay row, greater versatility is commonly seen in the barbell row to produce different forms of muscle activation and development (i.e. changing grip and torso angles).
Curious to know how powerlifters train their back? Read my article on How Do Powerlifters Train Back? 3 Must-Do Workouts.
Pendlay Rows vs Barbell Rows: Pros and Cons
Pendlay Rows Pros
- The pendlay row improves power output. The fixed starting position of the barbell in this variation, promotes greater rate of force development in moving the loaded barbell to the end position.
- The pendlay row has greater carry over to the bench and deadlift. Rate of force development is a key component to exercises such as the bench and deadlift. Incorporating the pendlay row will help promote the strength of these main exercises.
- The pendlay row requires rebuilding tension of the lats between reps. Setting the lats for the pendlay row is very similar to squat, bench, and deadlift. For this reason, improving this skill can have great carry over to building tension in any lift.
- The pendlay row reinforces technique and execution. Proper technique and execution is imperative to successfully accomplish this exercise. For this reason, the pendlay row can build the technique of other exercises as well.
- The pendlay row is easier to recover from. Because this is a power exercise, the pendlay is done with less repetitions and overload of the musculature of the back. This allows for greater volume and recovery in training, which then can allow for more sets and reps of other back exercises in your training protocol.
Pendlay Rows Cons
- The pendlay row is not the best exercise for building muscle in the back. Unlike other back exercises, the forceful pull of the pendlay row does not provide as much overload in the muscles of the back.
- The pendlay row requires hamstring and hip flexibility. To achieve the starting position of this exercise, one must hinge at the hips until the entire torso is perpendicular to the ground. If you lack mobility, the starting position of this exercise can be difficult.
- The pendlay row is more challenging than the barbell row. Due to the fixed starting position, there is less weight that can be lifted from the floor
Barbell Rows Pros
- The barbell row requires constant time under tension. For this reason the barbell row allows for greater muscular and structural development in the muscles of the back.
- The barbell row requires greater rigidity of the postural muscles. Due to the constant tension and load that the weight places on your posterior chain, posture must be maintained. Consequently, this can promote the development of the postural muscles such as the lats, erectors, glutes, and hamstrings.
- The barbell row allows for a greater range of variation. Due to the nature of this exercise, one can change grip and starting position to effectively change back muscle activation. Using an overhand or underhand grip, and placing the torso more or less horizontal to the floor.
- The barbell row can be done with greater rep ranges. This exercise is typically done for strength and muscle building purposes. This allows you to achieve greater overload by hitting higher rep ranges of 6 – 12 repetitions.
- The barbell row can potentially target more back muscles. The start and end position of this exercise is less defined which allows you to increase or decrease range of motion to achieve different back muscle activation.
The barbell row was named one of my Top 12 Deadlift Accessories (click to check out the others that made my list).
Barbell Rows Cons
- The barbell row is more limited by leg and lower back strength. To get into the starting position, you must be able to stabilize the load with the glutes, hamstrings, and erectors. From this position, you must maintain rigidity of the spine to achieve subsequent repetitions.
- The barbell row can put excessive stress on your lower back. When suffering from lower back pain the barbell row can add to the pain. Especially when done improperly, this exercise puts constant tension and stress in the lumbar spine.
- The barbell row is a slower movement. Contrary to the pendlay row, the barbell row will require constant tension and slower repetitions. This could be a con if you are looking to improve power output and rate of force development.
Have extra time after your back routine? Find out if you can add some shoulder exercises by checking out: Can You Train Back and Shoulders Together?
Pendlay Rows vs Barbell Rows: Muscles Used
The pendlay row and barbell row recruit these muscles of the back similarly:
- Latissimus Dorsi
- Posterior Deltoids
These exercises target the back similarly however, due to the nature of these exercises, each of these muscles are targeted to a different degree.
The barbell row requires greater tension and postural stability to successfully accomplish a set. Because of this, the barbell row will target each of these muscles at a more constant rate and to a greater degree.
The barbell row can be done with palms up, palms down, or with a wider grip to target the lats and depth of the muscles differently.
While the pendlay row targets these muscles similarly, there is less time under tension which produces less muscular damage. This is due to the fact that submaximal loading is used to generate high power stop-and-go movements towards the apex of the repetition.
If you seek to target the lats, traps, erectors, rhomboids, and posterior deltoids the most, then the barbell row will be your best bet in this department.
Pendlay Rows vs Barbell Rows: Programming Differences
As we dig through the literature, there are different outcomes to incorporating these exercises into your program. Prescribing different reps, sets, intensity, and total volume are required to achieve the most bang for your buck to ensure optimal programming.
Pendlay Row: Training For Power
Power training is often associated with maximizing rate of force development. This style of training utilizes lower reps and higher set ranges.
Programming pendlay rows for power will typically require you to utilize submaximal loading. Anywhere from 50-70% of your 1 RM with the goal of achieving maximal speed and explosivity in the pendlay row.
A paper by Cronin and Slevert (2012) expands on the transference of lifting submaximal loads with the goal of high speed towards building maximal strength.
When striving to lift more weight, there is a relationship between velocity and maximal strength. If we can move heavier loads faster, then the cap on maximal strength increases as well.
Here is an example of how one would program pendlay rows:
- 4 sets x 4 reps @60% of 1RM
Barbell Row: Training For Strength/Hypertrophy
Strength and hypertrophy style training typically induce greater breakdown of the muscle fibers while moving heavier barbell rows for more reps.
One would implement barbell rows for greater reps and greater intensities to induce structural changes by improving size and strength. More size, will in turn, lead to greater motor units to recruit from when performing maximal strength exercises.
This style of training with barbell rows is often associated with moderate to high rep ranges with moderate to high set ranges.
Programming barbell rows for strength and hypertrophy require you to implement moderate to heavy intensity loading. Anywhere from 60 – 80% of your 1 RM with the goal of achieving muscular fatigue and strength.
Here is an example of how one would program barbell rows:
- 3 sets x 8 reps @75% of 1RM
Looking to improve your deadlift technique? Check out 18 Exercises To Improve Your Deadlift.
Barbell Rows vs Pendlay Rows: Combining Strength, Hypertrophy, and Power
Daily undulating periodization (DUP) is a newer phenomena that espouses the idea of incorporating a variety of loading throughout the week.
By incorporating barbell rows for strength/hypertrophy and pendlay rows for improvements in power output, there can be a mutual increase in structure and rate of force development.
Implementing this concept of DUP we can have a day where we are doing pendlay rows for high sets, lower reps, and lower intensities to promote power, while having a day for barbell rows where we do high repetitions, moderate sets, and moderate loads to promote strength/hypertrophy.
Here is an example of how one would program pendlay rows and barbell rows:
- Day 1: 4 sets x 4 reps @60% of 1RM
- Day 2: 3 sets x 8 reps @75% of 1RM
Want to expand on your programming abilities? Read my article on DUP for Powerlifting.
Pendlay Rows vs Barbell Rows: How to Perform
How To Do The Pendlay Row?
- Ensure your feet are hip-width apart as you are standing in front of the bar.
- Proper posture requires you to drive your traps down, retract your shoulder blades, and exaggerate a forward chest position.
- Sit back with the hips until the entire torso is completely parallel to the floor.
- As you grab the bar, make sure that grip width is similar to how you would do bench press.
- From this position, generate tension in the lats and erectors by “closing your armpits’ and “breaking the bar”.
- While maintaining tension, you will initiate a forceful pull directed towards the upper abdominal/lower chest region.
- In a controlled fashion, you will return the bar to the ground to the static starting position and release tension on the bar.
- You will then rebuild tension and initiate the next rep.
How To Do The Barbell Row?
- Ensure your feet are hip-width apart as you pick up the bar.
- Pull your shoulders down and back while pushing your chest forward to maintain proper posture.
- From this position you will sit your hips back until the torso is somewhat parallel to the ground.
- At complete elbow extension, make sure that your shoulders are over the bar.
- You will then sweep your elbows back while rowing the barbell towards your upper abdomen/lower chest.
- Upon completion of the repetition, you will then lower the barbell until elbows are at complete extension
Which Exercise Is Best For You?
Depending on your weaknesses and goals, the pendlay row or barbell row can prove to be more beneficial within your training program.
When To Use The Pendlay Row
- Whether you are an athlete, powerlifter, or olympic lifter and want to become more explosive on the bar and in the field.
- Achieve greater specificity and want to improve your deadlift, clean and jerk, or snatch.
- If you want to implement greater diversity into your training program.
- If you are a more advanced lifter who’s training has become more stagnant.
When To Use The Barbell Row
- If you want to improve strength and postural stability in all of the lifts.
- If you want to achieve greater time under tension and build muscle.
- Beginner and advanced lifters looking to build total body muscle and strength.
When To Do Both?
- If you want to improve strength, power, and hypertrophy.
- If you want even more variety in your training protocol.
- If you have the room in your training protocol to implement both.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some frequently asked questions for the pendlay row and the barbell row:
Are Pendlay Rows Better?
Depending on your goal, pendlay rows can be just as beneficial as the barbell row. As mentioned earlier, pendlay rows can promote power output and rate of force development if you are a less explosive lifter.
What Exercise Can Replace The Barbell Row?
Depending on your goal, there are a variety of rowing exercises that can take the place of the barbell row. Exercises such as the t-bar row, seated row, and chest-supported row prove to be much safer and less technical variations of the barbell row.
Are Barbell Rows Bad For Your Back?
Any exercise done incorrectly can prove to harm the integrity of different joints and muscles in your body. To combat this, make sure you build an emphasis in maintaining tension throughout the duration of this exercise.
What Muscles Do The Pendlay Row Work?
The pendlay row is still a type of barbell row, this means that it targets the lats, erectors, rear delts, and traps similarly. However, there is less time under tension placed on the muscles of the back due to the stop-and-go nature of this exercise.
These are both great exercises that can be implemented into your programming simultaneously to improve power, strength, and size.
If you do not have space in your training, I would recommend assessing the stage and block of your programming and implement a variation accordingly.
If your goal is strength and size then implement the barbell row; however, if your goal is to improve power output, then the pendlay row will be your best bet.