Written by Shannon Bradshaw
What’s the difference between the Pendlay Row and the Barbell Row? While the two are similar in application and benefits, there’s much that separates them. So which one is better for you? There’s no single answer but let’s go over the differences so you can best decide which one belongs in your program.
The set up for the Pendlay row will be very similar to the barbell row, but the execution is different.
One of the biggest differences between the two lifts is the starting position for each. The barbell row has you lower the bar until your arms are fully extended, but the weight remains in the air. With the Pendlay, you return the bar to the ground between each rep.
Because you’re rowing from a dead stop, the Pendlay row also requires a fuller range of motion. With the barbell row, the bar is already off the ground when you start lifting. The Pendlay row requires more power, making it an excellent strength and power option. You’ll do fewer reps with the Pendlay row since you may use more weight.
Both have you consistently hinged over (though the barbell row has you supporting the weight for the entirety of your set). This loaded hinged position will really tax the lower back, making it an accessory exercise for deadlifts.
Both moves work your back muscles; middle trapezius, lower trapezius, latissimus dorsi, infraspinatus, and erector spinae — so there’s no difference in the muscles worked. However, the barbell row is more typically suited to hypertrophy (building muscle mass) programming.
This is because you’re able to do more reps with the bent over row than the Pendlay row; when it comes to building lean tissue, volume is key. If muscle mass is your goal, the bent over row is a great option.
As we discussed before, the fuller range of motion and dead stop reps make the Pendlay row more difficult to perform more reps. The Pendlay becomes a great strength-building exercise as you start each rep on the floor. This means you’ll need explosive power to get the barbell toward your chest since you don’t have momentum working for you the way you do with the barbell row. This also makes it harder to cheat on each rep. The Pendlay row is great for building explosive strength.
The Pendlay row is also a great lift builder because the bar starts on the floor, similar to any powerlifting or Olympic lift you might be trying to improve, increasing static and concentric strength, both of which are needed during the snatch, clean & jerk. For powerlifting, Pendlay rows can also aid in the back squat and deadlift, as they increase lower and upper back strength.
How to Program Each
Depending on what your goals and training breakdown is, the rowing motion should be a part of a balanced program. If you incorporate powerlifting moves into your training regimen, place your row of choice after the deadlift. If you’re not deadlifting then make this your first lift of the day.
Basically, you want to perform the heaviest and core lifts first to ensure you can lift as much weight as possible. Here’s the deal - both exercises are useful and have a place in your program. Which variation you use comes down to whether you want to gain muscle or get more powerful.
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