There are more ways to row a barbell than one.

There’s a good chance that, if you want an ultra-strong, V-tapered back, you’ve done your fair share of barbell rows. And that’s because the move is a strong one that lets you row with heavy weight. That heavy weight is key to building back size and strength.

But there’s another, more heavyweight barbell row you can do. Meet the Pendlay row, a favorite of Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S.

The Pendlay row builds on the barbell row, but instead of forcing you to keep the bar above the ground for a full set (and taxing your lower back, too), it has you reset the bar on the ground after every rep. This has its strengths. “By resetting the bar every rep, you’re sparing your grip strength,” says Samuel. “You’re also giving yourself a chance to reset your entire body for every rep and row with explosion and power.”

The reset permitted by the Pendlay row is key, because it allows you to do something else: Reset your core and glutes. During standard barbell rows, it can be challenging to maintain core and glute tension over an entire set. But keeping your abs tight is key to protecting your lower back. The Pendlay row solves that problem. Between every single rep, you lower the bar all the way to the ground. “During this time,” says Samuel, “you can reset everything. Tighten your abs, squeeze your glutes, and reset your shoulder blades by pointing the pits of your elbows forward.”

That keeps your form tighter. Along with the brief rest between reps, you then get to pull with something else missing from standard barbell rows: Power. “Because we’re resetting between each rep and tightening our body,” says Samuel, “we can focus on pulling as fast as possible. Doing this with tight form can build back strength and muscle.” Think of explosively lifting the weight, keeping it in a completely perpendicular line with the ground, says Samuel.

Challenges of the Pendlay Row

While the Pendlay row sets you up to row explosively, it also presents challenges. The biggest of these is to your hip mobility. The hip hinge is a fundamental position in strength training, and it’s the proper way to bend to pick up any weight from the ground. It’s also a position that can take time to master.

“Plenty of people do not hip hinge correctly,” says Samuel. “Too often, we simply bend at the waist to pick up a weight. We shouldn’t do that, and we should always push our butt back slightly when we bend at the waist. This is the hip hinge. And this is a position you must own when you do the Pendlay row.”

Too often, people simply bend at the waist and bend their knees slightly when they get into position for a Pendlay. Instead of doing that, you want to insure you bend at the waist and push your butt back at the same time. “Your starting position in the Pendlay should have your hips ever-so-slightly below your shoulders,” says Samuel. “That will help protect your lower back.”

Depending on your build, this may or may not be a comfortable position for your body. But if it’s not, there are options.”

Two Pendlay Row Setups

The Classic Pendlay Row

The Sumo Pendlay

This move from Samuel is a perfect alternative if you battle tight hips.

The Pendlay Row can fit into your workout in a variety of ways but it should always be an exercise that you do early on. “You’ll want to be fresh for this, so you can go heavy with it,” says Samuel. So think of it as your first exercise on a back or pull day, or as an early exercise in an upper body day. “Don’t do this as a finisher,” says Samuel. “Your body won’t have any power left to accelerate the weight, which is something you want to get out of the Pendlay.”

For more tips and routines from Samuel, check out our full slate of Eb and Swole workouts. If you want to try an even more dedicated routine, consider Eb’s All Out Arms program.

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