There are two main types of barbell rows – the conventional ‘bodybuilding’ row and Pendlay rows. The first one is seen quite frequently in the gym. The lifter bends over at an angle of about 110 – 120 degrees and starts pulling the barbell upwards towards the chest. On the other hand the Pendlay row, which is named after the U.S. weightlifting coach Glenn Pendlay, requires that the lifter bends over at almost a 90 degrees angle. Every rep is treated like a deadlift – it starts from a dead stop and ends when the bar has touched the lower chest/upper abs region.
The question today is: Which one of the two is the better back exercise?
The Conventional Barbell Row Sucks
The main problem with conventional barbell rows is the fact that people almost feel obligated to cheat. Seeing a properly performed barbell row is rarer than seeing a proper deadlift and squat. Whenever somebody is doing barbell rows at one point they turn the exercise into air-humps. The range of motion is cut to a minimum so that more weight can be lifted. The result is a jerky motion and poor range of motion. For the most part if you are doing barbell rows in a similar fashion, you’re wasting your time.
Use The Pendlay Row To Fix Your Form
Many of the form issues observed during the execution of barbell rows are actually fixed by by the Pendaly row version. Every rep is treated as a deadlift which increase the quality of the performance. Also, the lifter is required to touch his chest/upper abs with bar on every rep. This helps in preserving proper range of motion and results in more muscular stimulation.
Truth be told, conventional barbell rows offer zero benefits compared to the Pendlay row. Zero. The only thing that’s different is that you can do more weight thanks to cheating.
Yates Rows – The Worst of Them All
The conventional barbell row may suck, but his younger brother the Yates row sucks even harder. It’s essentially a bastardized version of the row. The lifter is almost standing up and is literally touching his lower abs with the bar. That’s how short the range of motion is. The Yates row could be considered the equivalent of the 1/3 bench press a.k.a. bench press lockout.
Sometimes All Barbell Rows Suck
The barbell row may be a solid barbell exercise but there are situations when you would do better without it.
The main problem with the barbell row is that it fatigues the lower back which can take away from your deadlifting and squatting efforts. Both exercises require strong lower back and cannot be done when the muscle group is tired. Performing a lot of barbell rows on top of your other compound movements can over-work the lower back. This is why many people skip barbell rows altogether and stick to deadlifts, pull-ups, chest supported rows, T-bar rows, Hammer Strength machine rows…etc. There are many variations of the barbell row which take the stress off the lower back.
What about reverse grip barbell rows?
Reverse grip barbell rows are a stupid exercise too. The main issue is that the reverse grip places a lot of stress on the bicep tendon and you risk tearing it apart. The barbell row allows you to lift a lot of weight and when your are holding the bar with an underhand grip it’s easy to shift a lot of stress to the tendon of the biceps, especially if you like to turn the barbell row into air-humping. It’s better to use overhand grip (palms facing you) in order to protect the area.
When should I do barbell rows – before or after deadlifts?
If you are going to do barbell rows and deadlifts on the same day, it’s better to first do the deadlifting part. The idea is quite simple – in order to deadlift a lot weight in a correct fashion you need a fresh back. If you do barbell rows first, your lower back will be already cooked before your deadlift. Barbell rows after deadlifts are easier to tolerate, although you may still experience pronounced lower back fatigue and pain.
My bench press is much stronger than my barbell row. Is that normal?
Yes, it’s ‘normal’. The bench press is a mechanically more advantageous movement. The triceps, the chest, the front delts and the back are heavily involved. Also, the bench press makes it much easier to take advantage of the stretch reflex at the bottom. Such thing can never happen when you’re doing Pendlay rows since each rep starts like a deadlift – no bouncing allowed. If your row is 80 % + of your bench press, you are doing well.