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Having a strong and well-developed back not only helps you perform various physical activities effectively but it’s important for maintaining good posture and preventing back pain. The Pendlay row is a great exercise to incorporate into your routine. This barbell row variation was popularized by legendary weightlifting and powerlifting coach Glenn Pendlay.

This guide will teach you the muscles involved in Pendlay rows, the benefits and common mistakes associated with Pendlay rows, how to properly perform the Pendlay row, and give you ideas to complete your back workout.

What Muscles Do Pendlay Rows Work?

The Pendlay row is a compound exercise that works multiple joints at the same time:

Primary Muscles

  • Latissimus dorsi: This is the largest muscle in the back that starts under the tail end of the trapezius and goes all the way down to the sacrum, and out onto the posterior iliac crest. It also has some fibers arising from the lower four ribs, and occasionally from the tip of the scapula. The lats are powerful adductors of the humerus and depressors of the scapula.
  • Rhomboids:  Muscles located in the upper back in between the scapula. They support and draw the scapula superomedially, and rotate the glenoid cavity.
  • Erector Spinae (spinal erectors): These muscles run along more or less the length of the spine, from the sacrum and hips to the base of the skull, and make up most of the lower back. They straighten, rotate, and stabilize the back, and along with the glutes help maintain good posture. The spinalis muscle is the smallest and closest to the spine, the longissimus muscle is the intermediate and the largest of the three columns, and the iliocostalis is the outer muscle of the erector spinae.

Secondary Muscles

  • Rear Deltoids: These muscles are located in the posterior part of the shoulders and assist the latissimus dorsi in extending the shoulder. The deltoids are important in preventing the dislocation of the humeral head when a person carries heavy loads.
  • Biceps (biceps brachii): These muscles are on the front of the arms. They are involved in forearm and elbow movement, shoulder flexion, as well as arm abduction, and adduction.
  • Trapezius: These triangular muscles extend from the cervical to the thoracic region on the posterior part of the neck and trunk. They support the spinal column to remain erect, assisting in good posture.
  • Forearms: Located in the upper limbs between the elbows and the wrists. These muscles help pronate, flex, abduct, and adduct the hands.

Benefits of Pendlay Rows

  • Strength: Pendlay rows increase your strength since you can lift heavy loads with this exercise.
  • Power: This move helps you gain power since you are lifting the weight fast in the concentric part of the exercise.
  • Hypertrophy: Pendlay rows help you increase muscle mass and get a thicker back since you are increasing your strength.
  • Endurance: Being in a bent-over position keeps your muscles under tension for long periods, increasing muscle endurance.
  • Better Posture: Pendlay rows strengthen your back muscles which helps keep your spine in alignment. This helps improve your posture, prevent injuries, and gives you a more confident look.
  • Decrease or Eliminate Back Pain: This exercise keeps your back healthy and strong, which helps you to prevent and deal with back pain.
  • Versatility: You don’t need heavy equipment to perform these rows – You only need a barbell, making them highly versatile.
  • Lower Back Stability: Having your back parallel to the floor, strengthens and stabilizes your lower back. This movement requires a lot of muscular control, which is great for your back muscles.

How to Do Pendlay Rows

  • Have a barbell on the floor and stand with your feet hip-width apart, with your toes under the bar.
  • Slightly bend your knees as you hinge forward from the hips and bend over until your upper body is parallel to the floor. You should maintain a nearly straight line from the hips to the top of the head – do not lift your head and look forward.
  • Tight up your core and grab the barbell with an overhand grip – slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, keeping your upper arms tucked in close to your torso.
  • The movement starts from the floor with every repetition. Pull the bar up toward your abs, leading with your elbows and squeezing your shoulder blades together. The bar should touch your stomach. Your upper body should remain stationary throughout.
  • Pause for a second or two at the top of the movement.
  • In a controlled manner, slowly lower the barbell back down and allow it to touch the floor. Reset your core and repeat.
  • Perform 3 sets of 8-12 repetitions if you are looking to get strong and build muscle. Perform 2 to 6 sets of 6 or fewer reps (with 2 to 5 minutes of rest in between) if you are looking to gain strength.

You can also perform Pendlay rows with 2 dumbbells at the same time or alternating dumbbells.

Pendlay Rows Mistakes

Now you know how to perform Pendlay rows with the correct form. Next, let’s look into the most common mistakes associated with the exercise:

  • Rounding Your Back: You should maintain your back slightly arched and not rounded. Rounding your back can put a lot of stress on your back and lead to back injuries or pain. This may indicate that you have poor core stability. If you don’t seem able to perform Pendlay rows with proper back alignment, learn and practice this exercise with a lightweight and only increase the load when you have mastered it with proper form.
  • Shorting the Range of Motion: You use a short range of motion when you don’t lift the bar up all the way up to your torso or do not go all the way down to the floor. This exercise requires a big movement. Aim to bring the barbell all the way up and lower it all the way down until it touches the floor.
  • Not Engaging the Back: You need to keep your back engaged at all times. As you bring the weight up, you should squeeze your shoulder blades together in order to keep your muscles engaged. Do not use your legs or lower back to lift the weight.
  • Using Momentum: Even though the Pendlay row helps you to increase power, it requires you to stay steady. Nothing moves during the movement except the arms and the retractors in the upper back. Do not bounce or use momentum to lift the bar. If you are unable to keep your upper body still, you may need to lower the weight.

Pendlay Row Video Tutorial

Exercises for a Back Workout

You can complete your back workout by performing the following exercises:

As you can see the Pendlay row is a wonderful full-body exercise. It offers tremendous benefits associated with hypertrophy, strength, power, and endurance. Now that you know how to properly perform reverse lat pulldowns, you can avoid the most common mistakes and enjoy their benefits.

Remember, whether you want to lose weight, tone your body, or gain strength or size, all muscles must be trained.

Lift, Burn more Fat, Get Stronger, and Live Healthier!

To a Fitter Healthier You,

Adriana Albritton

The Fitness Wellness Mentor

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