10 Pendlay Row Alternatives For a Stronger Back


Pendlay Rows Alternatives

Pendlay Rows are one of the best exercises for building a stronger, more explosive back. If you’re an Olympic lifter or an athlete that wants to improve their upper body explosiveness, Pendlay Rows can be an amazing addition to your training.

However, as great as I may think they are, there may be situations where you need an alternative for Pendlay Rows.

Maybe you don’t have access to a barbell or maybe you already have too much posterior chain work in your program and need something more ‘low-back friendly’.

Whatever the reason, if you need some Pendlay Row alternatives, you’re in the right place. I’m going to share with you my 10 favorite substitutions and hopefully, at least one is a good fit for you no matter your equipment or circumstance.

This article contains affiliate links. If you buy something using these links I may earn a commission.


Alternatives for Pendlay Rows


I’ve tried to include as much variety in this list as possible. There are exercises that incorporate various different pieces of equipment and there are movements for lifters of all levels of experience.


Barbell Bent Over Rows


Barbell Bent Over Rows

Barbell Bent Over Rows and Pendlay Rows are often confused because of how similar the two exercises are. While they share an almost identical movement pattern, the intent of the two exercises is where they differ.

Pendlay Rows are explosive with a focus on power whereas Bent Over Rows are more controlled with a focus on strength and hypertrophy.

Equipment Needed

Step-by-Step Instruction

  • Approach the barbell and take a shoulder-width stance. Your shins should be almost touching the barbell.
  • Hinge at the waist and bend the knee until you can grab the barbell. Use a pronated grip (Knuckles facing the floor). I will talk later about the supinated grip (palms up) in this movement.
  • Always keep a flat back, and a neutral spine, and keep your eyes focused slightly down about 1 foot in front of you.
  • Take a deep breath, brace the abdomen, and pull the bar in until it makes contact right about the belly button.
  • Pause for about 1 second. Squeeze the shoulder blades and lock in the rep.
  • Slowly return the barbell back to the starting position (weights about 1-2 inches off the ground).

Coaching Points

The initial setup and stance for Barbell Bent Over Rows should be specific to the lifter’s deadlifting and Olympic lifting goals. Having identical setups and grips will be great for the lifts to carry over to the compound movements.

I would highly recommend this movement to any lifter or athlete. It develops strength in the posterior chain and can be overloaded over time easily.

I typically recommend the pronated grip here for athletes. Especially athletes that are cleaning and snatching as the pronated grip will carry over to cleans and pulls.

However, there is some benefit to the supinated grip for general lifters and bodybuilders. The supinated grip will engage more of the biceps and can be a great time under tension movement for hypertrophy.


DB One Arm Row


One Arm Row

The most popular alternative to Barbell Bent Rows is probably the One Arm Row.

Equipment Needed

  • Dumbbells
  • Bench (optional)

A bench is helpful, but not totally necessary. Bracing one arm against the rack or even on your leg can work as well.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Grab a dumbbell and a bench*.
  • Place the dumbbell next to the bench and set yourself up.
  • If rowing with the right arm, place the left knee and left hand on the bench. Keep the right foot flat on the ground.
  • Make sure the back is flat (neutral) to slightly arched.
  • Brace the core and pick the dumbbell up.
  • Row the dumbbell up, keeping the elbow close to the body as the dumbbell raises.
  • Squeeze the back at the top of the rep and then lower the dumbbell down until the arm is fully extended.
  • Repeat for the designated number of reps and then switch sides.
One Arm Rows without a Bench
Just do NOT brace yourself on an actual dumbbell on a rack as they WILL flip off the rack on you.

*One Arm Rows do not have to be done with one knee on a bench. You can keep both feet flat on the ground and lean forward and brace yourself with your off-hand on something sturdy. You can even lean your off forearm on your leg for support if necessary.

Coaching Points

The most common mistake I see athletes make when doing One Arm Rows is not maintaining a flat back. The back should stay engaged and slightly arched – similar to the starting position of a Power Clean. Do not let the back round as this can cause unnecessary stress on the spine.

Also, do not twist and turn while rowing. You’re not starting a lawn mower. If you need to use your whole body to twist and rock the weight up then the dumbbell is too heavy. Lower the weight and maintain proper form.

Finally, make sure to give yourself enough room to ‘spread out’ and get into a good position.

Often times I see athletes place their off-hand too close to their knee on the bench and/or place their grounded foot too close to the bench. This leads to them being too cramped, making it difficult to achieve proper positioning.


Inverted Rows


Inverted Rows are one of the best, and most overlooked, horizontal rows you can do in the weight room. They place zero stress on the low back and can be modified to be good for both beginners and challenging for advanced lifters.

Equipment Needed

  • Barbell*
  • Squat Rack

*I generally do Inverted Rows with a barbell in a rack, but if you have rings they work great as well.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Start by placing a bar on the rack about waist height.
  • The higher the bar is placed, the easier the rows will be. The lower the bar is placed, the harder the rows will be. (Just make sure to leave yourself enough room to fully extend your arms at the bottom of the rep)
  • Set the bar on either the J-Hooks or the Safety Bars
  • Lay down underneath the bar.
  • Grab the bar with an overhand grip, brace the core and make sure your body is fully extended – including your legs.
  • You should be positioned to where when you pull yourself up towards the bar, the bar touches the same spot on the chest as it would for bench press. Slide up or down to adjust accordingly.
  • Now, keeping your body in a straight line, pull your chest up to the bar and lower back down until your arms are fully extended.
  • Repeat until all reps are completed.

Coaching Points

There are two common mistakes that I see all the time when it comes to Inverted Rows.

One, athletes I coach love to either pull their face to the bar or even raise their chin up and over the bar like a pull-up. These are both wrong.

You should think of the Inverted Row like a reverse bench press. Keep your head back, chest out and pull your chest directly to the bar. Pull the shoulder blades down and back at the top of the rep and squeeze the back.

The second mistake I see all too often is tired athletes that start to look like they’re doing the worm. They start rocking and rolling their entire body to try to get their chest up to the bar. Don’t do this! Maintain a rigid body posture and continue pulling yourself as high as you can each rep.

Inverted Rows are sometimes referred to as Inverted Pull-ups and/or my personal favorite, Aussie Pull-ups. If you see one of those names in a program or workout, they are most likely referring to the same exercise.


Hex Bar Rows


If you have a Hex Bar (or Trap Bar as they are also called) and you’re not already doing Hex Bar Rows then you are missing out. Simply stand inside your hex bar, grab the handles and row exactly the same as you would for Barbell Bent Rows.

The same thing that makes a hex bar great for Trap Bar Deadlifts also makes them great for rows. Because the weight on the bar sits back closer to your midline it will take a little of the stress off the low back.

Plus, just a simple change of equipment can add some much-needed variety to a workout program.

Pro Tip: Hex Bars can vary quite a bit in weight. Take that into consideration when planning how much to load onto the bar for rows.


Landmine Row


Landmine Rows

Landmine Rows are another great Barbell Row alternative.

First, don’t blow past this option because you don’t have a landmine attachment. You can make a landmine attachment yourself pretty easily with nothing more than a tennis ball.

Equipment Needed

  • Barbell
  • Weight Plates
  • Landmine Attachment

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Setup your landmine attachment.
  • Load the open end of the barbell with the desired amount of plates.
  • Grab the barbell toward the plate side using your hands or a cable attachment.
  • Use a shoulder-width stance, bend the knees, braced core and flat back.
  • Pull the plates up off the floor and begin rowing by pulling the bar toward you.
  • Most often you will be able to row until the weight plates touch your chest.
  • Control the eccentric portion of the lift back to arms extended and repeat.

Coaching Points

Using a cable attachment for Landmine Rows has its pro and cons. It makes the setup more comfortable and convenient to row, but if you place metal straight on your barbell it can scratch it up. Keep that in mind if you’re planning on using one.


Hammer Machine Iso Rows


Ah, the Seated Hammer Row machine. I have zero machines in my garage gym, but the one machine I would buy if I ever find one at a decent price is a Hammer Iso Row Machine. It is hands down my favorite.

Equipment Needed

  • Hammer Strength Iso Row Machine
  • Weight Plates

How To

  • Start by either standing or seated* with your chest against the support pad.
  • Reach forward, grab the handles and then brace your core and set your posture.
  • Row the handles toward your chest, quickly pause at full contraction and then slowly lower back to arm’s length.
  • Repeat until all reps are completed.

Coaching Points

If doing rows seated, adjust the seat to the proper height so your chest is against the pad and you can row comfortably. For taller lifters, you can also do Hammer Seated Rows standing as well. Lower the seat out of the way and find a comfortable position for your feet to stand.

The rowing motion shouldn’t change whether standing or seated.

By far the biggest mistake I see with Hammer Rows is athletes I coach think that because there is a pad to support their chest, they don’t need to have good posture. This is wrong. You should still have the same posture – back and core engaged – as you would if you didn’t have a pad supporting you.


Single Arm Snatch


Single Arm DB Muscle Snatch

Equipment Needed

  • Dumbbell

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Grab a dumbbell and stand with feet about shoulder-width apart.
  • Put a slight bend in the knee, brace the core and set the back – shoulder blades pulled back, lats engaged, chest out.
  • Hinge forward by pushing the hips back and let the dumbbell slide down right in between the knees, coming at a stop just below the knee.
  • You are now in the ‘power position’.
  • From here, drive the feet through the floor and aggressively extend the hips, driving the shoulders up and slightly back.
  • As you reach triple extension of the hips, knees and ankles – use a quick, powerful shrug and allow the elbow to break and begin the pull with the arm.
  • Keep the dumbbell close to the body as it travels up.
  • Once the dumbbell reaches the highest point of the pull, rotate at the elbow to catch the dumbbell overhead while simultaneously dropping the hips into a quarter squat and shift the feet slightly out.
  • Finish the rep by standing tall and lowering the dumbbell down to the shoulder first and then back to the starting position under control.
  • Repeat until all reps are completed and then switch arms.

Coaching Points

The two biggest mistakes that I see with Single Arm Snatches are not keeping the dumbbell close to the body on the way up and letting the dumbbell ‘yank’ the shoulder down as it comes back to the starting point.

The dumbbell should travel close to the body all the up until it gets about head height, then rotate the elbow, drop the hips and catch. Don’t allow it to swing forward out away from the body.

The second technique flaw is not staying braced through the return of the dumbbell to the starting position, oftentimes from being in too big of a hurry to knock out reps. Letting the dumbbell, especially the heavier you get, yank the shoulder down at the bottom of the rep is asking for trouble.


Resistance Band Rows


Resistance Band Row

Band Rows aren’t going to replace Barbell Rows for developing strength, but they can work great in a pinch if you’re traveling. Even if you don’t have something sturdy you can attach the resistance band to, you can always wrap them around your feet if need be.

Equipment Needed

  • Resistance Band

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Find a secure anchor point for your resistance band. Ideally, I would suggest a squat rack, but it could also be a sturdy piece of furniture or even a door handle.
  • Stand* facing the anchor point, with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold the resistance band with an overhand grip**, with your hands shoulder-width apart.
  • Engage your core and keep your back straight as you pull the resistance band towards your chest, bending your elbows and squeezing your shoulder blades together.
  • Slowly straighten your arms, returning to the starting position.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Coaching Points

*Resistance Band Rows can also be done seated as well. It doesn’t really change anything for the row itself but will alter the amount the core is involved in the movement.

**Can also be done with more of a neutral grip with the palms facing each other. This grip actually makes it easier to keep your elbows close to your body.

Avoid rounding your back or hunching your shoulders as you perform the exercise.


Seated Cable Row


Seated Cable Rows

If you have access to a seated cable machine, Seated Cable Rows can work as a solid horizontal row option. For this exercise, you’ll need one of the close-grip attachments. If you don’t have a close grip attachment, use a tight underhand grip on the straight bar

Equipment Needed

  • Cable Pulley Machine

How To

  • Begin by setting up a cable machine with the desired weight. Adjust the seat of the machine so that it is at a comfortable height for you to sit on.
  • Sit on the bench and plant your feet firmly on the ground (or foot plate). Grasp the handle attached to the cable with an overhand grip, making sure that your arms are extended straight in front of you.
  • Engage your back muscles and pull the handle towards your body, bringing your elbows back as far as you can. Keep your chest up and your back straight throughout the movement.
  • Hold the contracted position for a moment, then slowly return to the starting position.
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps. Make sure to breathe evenly and keep good form throughout the exercise.
  • When you are finished, carefully release the weight back onto the stack and return the handle to its starting position*.

Coaching Points

*Don’t be the person that just lets go of the handle at the end of your set and allows the weight stack to just come crashing down. It just tears up the machine.

Keep your core braced and maintain a static upright posture. Don’t confuse Seated Cable Row with a rowing machine. You shouldn’t be rocking back and forth through the movement.


Chin-Ups


The last exercise on the list isn’t a horizontal row like Barbell Bent Rows, but it’s too good of an exercise to leave off. When in doubt, subbing Chin-Ups for pretty much any back exercise is never a bad idea.

Equipment Needed

  • Pull Up Bar (Either as part of a rack or a wall-mounted bar)
  • Weight belt (For weighted variations)

Step-by-Step Instruction

  • Approach the pull-up bar and grab the bar with a supinated grip (palms facing toward you).
  • Use a bench to get to the bar if it is too high.
  • Squeeze the bar and engage the core muscles and do not cross your legs.
  • Engage the upper back and pull up until your chin is over the bar.
  • Pause for 1 second with your chin over the bar.
  • Slowly lower yourself back to the starting position.
  • Repeat until all reps are completed.

Coaching Points

Take your time and master the chin-up. The benefits of doing sound chin-ups will pay dividends for your shoulder health and the potential to maximize your upper body strength.

I would highly recommend this movement to any lifter or athlete. It provides all the benefits of an upper-body pulling movement with little to no risk.

Final Thoughts

I love Pendlay Rows as an exercise to improve explosive pulling, but sometimes Pendlay Rows are just not an option.

Whether you’re lacking proper equipment or are just looking for a different movement to add some variety to your program, I hope at least one of these alternatives I’ve listed here is a good fit for you.

Share This

Ryan Horton

Horton Barbell was created by Ryan Horton who has served as a Sports Performance Coach for almost 20 years. My mission is to create a training resource to help as many coaches and athletes as possible maximize athletic potential.

Recent Posts