The Pendlay row is a phenomenal assistance exercise for CrossFitters, Olympic weightlifters, and powerlifters.
It develops pulling strength, size, and power in your upper body muscles which can translate to your snatch, clean, pull-ups and more.
When it comes to incorporating the Pendlay Row into your training, you want to make sure you are performing the correct movement.
There are subtle differences between the Pendlay variation and other similar barbell and dumbbell exercises.
In this guide, you’ll learn what a Pendlay Row is, the benefits of adding it to your training, the Pendlay Row vs. a normal barbell row, and how to add Pendlay Rows to your CrossFit training.
What Is A Pendlay Row?
Pendlay Row Technique
The Pendlay Row focuses on one explosive pull from the floor with a horizontal torso at the beginning of each rep.
From the floor to the bottom of the sternum or mid-belly, the bar moves quickly to the top of the rep, and then is released back to the ground.
The athlete then lets the bar settle before performing another rep.
Unlike other variations of the row, there is no tension as you lower the bar back to the ground. Your hands simply guide the bar back to the ground.
Glenn Pendlay originally programmed it this way so athletes could be more explosive throughout the first part of the movement and preventing fatigue from keeping tension on the way down.
Pendlay Row Benefits
The main benefits of Pendlay Rows are increased strength, explosiveness, and muscle hypertrophy of the upper body pulling muscles.
For CrossFit athletes, you can expect your cleans, snatches, pull-ups to improve from incorporating Pendlay Rows into your training.
Less frequent movements like the sumo deadlift high-pull and slam ball exercises will also benefit from Pendlay Rows.
For Olympic weightlifters, the Pendlay Row will develop increased power in your upper body that will translate over to the first and second pull of the snatch and clean.
The Pendlay Row will also help develop your upper back muscles, which will benefit powerlifts like the benchpress and back squat.
Pendlay Row vs. Barbell Row
There are 2 main differences between the Pendlay and barbell row.
The first is that there is no tension on the descent of the bar back to the floor between reps in the Pendlay Row.
When performing barbell rows, you should keep tension throughout and control the movement to the floor.
For this reason, barbell rows may help increase muscle hypertrophy due to increased fatigue in the muscles. But without a doubt, Pendlay rows will help you become more powerful than the traditional barbell row.
The second difference between the Pendlay and barbell row is the angle of your torso. The bar starts and ends on the floor for each Pendlay row, with a completely horizontal back.
In the barbell row, your back will be at a slight angle, which means more work for your legs and lower back. The bar does not touch the floor between reps.
Pendlay Row With Dumbbells or Barbell?
While you can perform the Pendlay Row with dumbbells, it will be to your benefit to try them with a loaded barbell first.
The bar will be about a foot off the ground for each rep, which is the right height for you to keep your back parallel with the floor.
Dumbbells will require you to travel further to the floor during each rep. If you have shoulder or bicep problems, dumbbell Pendlay rows may be a good substitute for the barbell variation because you can hold them with a neutral grip.
The picture below features the romanian deadlift, but shows a neutral grip with the dumbbells close to the body.
What Muscles Are Worked With Pendlay Rows
In the Pendlay Row, you are developing muscular strength, hypertrophy (size), and power in the lats, traps, biceps, and rhomboids.
All of these muscles contribute to the first and second pull of Olympic lifts like the clean and snatch, as well as pull-ups.
Because of the powerful nature of the exercise (and static start from the floor), you are also working muscles in your core and lower body through stabilization.
Adding Pendlay Rows To Your CrossFit or Strength Training Routine
As Pendlay Rows are a good assistance exercise, think about adding these at the beginning or end of your workout.
Whether you train at home or at a CrossFit facility, you can receive all of the benefits of Pendlay Rows with only a few extra sets per week.
For CrossFit athletes, try adding 3 sets of 8-10 Pendlay Rows to your post workout routine or accessory work. Somewhere around 55-60% of your 1RM clean is probably a good place to start.
Perform these after you have recovered from a WOD. Rest about 90 seconds per set, and try adding 5-10lbs per week for 6-8 weeks.
For strength sports like powerlifting or Olympic weightlifting, double the number of sets, and decrease the number of reps per set.
Add these in on bench press days or after your heavy Olympic session for the week. 70-75% of your power clean should be a good place to start.
Try something like 6 sets of 2-3 reps with the same weight. Rest 2-3 minutes per set and add 5lbs per week.
In any case, focus on being explosive from the floor. Don’t even try to lower the bar, just let it go back to the floor.
The faster you move the bar, the more power you will develop in your upper body.
The Pendlay Row is a phenomenal exercise for adding strength, muscle, and power to your upper body.
If you aspire to be competitive as a CrossFit athlete or Olympic weightlifter, you will benefit from adding these to your routine.
The main differences between doing Pendlay and regular barbell rows are your torso angle and descent of the bar.
With Pendlay Rows, focus on being quick from the floor and letting the bar drop to the ground with no tension. Always keep your back horizontal to the floor.
Adding Pendlay Rows to your routine will help develop your biceps, rhomboids, traps, and lats. Simply add these in after your WOD or heavy weightlifting session for the week and give it about 6 weeks of consistent effort.
Treat these like a compound assistance exercise that will benefit all your other main lifts.
It will only take about 6 weeks of incorporating the Pendlay Row into your training to see results!