Exercise Spotlight: Pendlay Row

Bring an old classic out of the archives as your new substitute for heavy bentover rows

Ask any lifter who’s spent a number of years in the trenches, and they’ll tell you that their training results didn’t come with the complete absence of any hiccups, setbacks or injuries from lifting. The longer you spend training, the more you can come to expect this as inevitable. That’s definitely my story just as much as the next person’s.  For that reason, my training has evolved in a way that still allows me to train hard, and even go heavy – without as much risk due to minor modifications.

I remember being in my early 20’s and doing bentover rows with over 200 pounds for reps. The form was respectable too; an aligned, slightly extended spine the entire set, with some allowable toprock on each rep.

These days, because of some discogenic back issues that spawned from squats, the bentover row hasn’t been as friendly. I can still do them, but I have to be more careful – especially in the instant of directional change of the barbell (the transition from the eccentric to the concentric of the next rep). That means I have to dial things back in the weight lifted category, even though my actual back musculature is strong enough to lift it. There are worse problems to have, but this would be much more frustrating if I didn’t learn of an alternative that allows for heavier loads to be moved.

Enter the Pendlay Row

Popularized by Glenn Pendlay, this variation creates one crucial difference that can be a game-changer for people with back issues (or looking for more strength in their bentover row exercise): It kills the transfer of forces by creating a deadstop at the bottom of each rep.

There’s really not much more to say. Since the bar gets to settle on the floor, it allows the lifter to focus on the concentric rep (pulling phase) more exclusively, while taking the time between reps gives the lifter a chance to reset the spinal position and tighten up the back musculatures for a good brace.  For lifters who don’t have the flexibility or mobility to pull from the floor with a flat back, this offers up an opportunity to raise the surface using low platforms, blocks, or plates to pull from.

All of this will give a lifter a capacity for pulling the heaviest weight they can, while the erasure of momentum and energy transfer makes each rep much more honest and true to the extent of their actual ability, without being aided by kinetic forces.

Pendlay Row: Coaching Cues

  • Select a weight that equals what you’d typically bentover row for 10 reps. This is a good starting point and allows you to gauge just how strong you are from the floor.
  • Stand over the bar with a deadlift foot stance and positioning. The bar should be right over the middle of your feet.
  • With a flat back, hinge at the hip and grab hold of the bar. You can choose between overhand or underhand grip as each provides unique benefits.
  • Get tight, squeeze the slack out of the bar, and row the weight strongly into the lower ribcage.
  • Lower the weight quickly (but still under control) to the floor. It should crash on the ground exactly where it began – right over the mid foot, and not further forward.
  • Focus on sets of 6-10 reps.

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