Yates Row vs Pendlay Row: Differences, Pros, and Cons

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The bent over row and its variations have been a staple exercise for years.

Bodybuilders and powerlifters will waste no time in telling you how amazing the row is.

There are several variations of the bent over barbell row, two of which are the Yates row, and the Pendlay row.

Both exercises are similar, but there are subtle differences.

Each variation has its advantages, and its disadvantages, and depending on your goals and preferences, one might be better for you than the other.

So, what are the differences between the Yates row vs Pendlay row? Yates rows involve a higher trunk angle than Pendlay rows which require a flat back. The overhand grip of Pendlay rows targets the back more than the underhand grip of Yates rows which targets more biceps. The power output and tempo is specific to hypertrophy and slower through a smaller range of motion.

Let’s go through exactly what each of these exercises are, how to do them correctly, and the common mistakes people make when doing them.

Yates Row vs Pendlay Row: Differences 

The Yates Row and the Pendlay Row look very similar at first.

It’s only once you try them out for yourself that you realize the subtle differences between the two exercises. Here are a few of them.

1. Trunk Angle

The most obvious difference between the Yates row vs Pendlay row is the angle of your torso.

In the Yates row, you lean down to a 45 degree angle. Whereas, the Pendlay row requires you to have a flat back, with your upper body being parallel to the floor.

2. Power Output 

Although the Pendlay row does help to build strength, they are primarily performed to increase the power output of your muscles.

This is in contrary to the Yates row that focuses more on hypertrophy and building strength. Therefore, the power output of the two exercises differs, even though they both target the same muscles.

3. Tempo

Because the Pendlay row is a power focused movement, the tempo is unique.

Unlike the Yates row that requires a slow and controlled movement, the Pendlay row uses a quick explosive movement in the concentric part of the rep to build power in the upper back.

4. Grip And Muscles Used

The Yates row uses a supinated (underhand) grip. This removes emphasis away from the forearms and wrists, and onto the biceps.

On the other hand, Pendlay rows are performed using a pronated (overhand) grip to enable you to row the barbell whilst in a horizontal position.

This targets the biceps much less, and instead requires more of the upper back muscles.

5. Range Of Motion

The range of motion is much shorter in a Yates row compared to the Pendlay row.

Your torso is inclined and the bar comes up from your knees to your abdomen, unlike in Pendlay rows where you are lifting the bar from the floor to your chest.

What Is A Yates Row

The Yates row also has origins to a bodybuilder. Specifically, Dorian Yates, the legendary 6 time Mr. Olympia created this exercise to build a perfect back. He believes in high intense training and the row he invented mimics that motto.

How To Do Yates Rows

The Yates row appears almost identical to a bent over barbell row to the average person. I’ve found many clients in the past get confused between the two, but there is a difference. In the bent over barbell row, the lifter leans forward until their torso is horizontal to the floor. With the Yates row, you bend so your torso sits at a 45 degree angle. It also uses an underhand grip.

Here is a step-by-step guide on how to correctly perform a Yates row.

Step 1: Stand with your feet hip width apart, with the loaded barbell sitting above the middle of your foot, close to your shins.

Step 2: Hinge at the hips to bring your torso forwards to a 45 degree angle over the bar.

Step 3: Grip the barbell with both hands shoulder width apart, using an underhand grip.

Step 4: Contract your lats, engage your core and take a deep breath in, before pulling the bar up to just below knee level. This is the starting point of the exercise.

Step 5: Keeping the spine neutral throughout, pull your elbows back to bring the bar up to your torso, somewhere in the middle of your sternum and your hips.

Step 6: Pause for a second and focus on squeezing your lats and keeping your elbows tucked in by your sides.

Step 7: Lower the bar back to the starting position until your arms are fully extended.

Step 8: Repeat for the number of reps and sets in your program.

Muscles Used In Yates Rows

The Yates row primarily targets your major back muscles including:

  • Latissimus dorsi
  • Trapezius muscles (Upper and mid)
  • Rhomboids
  • Biceps

This exercise also targets a bunch of secondary muscles such as the core, spinal stabilizers, glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings that are involved in stabilization of the body whilst you are bent over.

Common Mistakes In Yates Rows

The Yates row is pretty simple to do, but because it is so similar to the bent over barbell row, there are a few common mistakes that I’ve seen many people do in the gym.

1. Using An Overhand Grip

The first mistake is probably the most common one. Because the Yates row is so similar to the barbell bent over row, people easily get them confused.

The Yates row should be performed with a supinated (underhand) grip, which shifts the focus away from the forearms and wrists, and more on the lats and biceps. However, a lot of people use a pronated (overhand) grip, which turns the Yates row into a standard bent over barbell row.

2. Using A Limited Range Of Motion

All exercises should be done through their full range of motion, otherwise you are not getting the most out of them. Doing half-reps in the Yates row reduces the intensity of the exercise, reducing the muscle growth signal.

Using this limited range of motion therefore decreases your strength gains and limits the muscle growing benefits of the exercise. Make sure you are lifting the bar right up to your torso, and fully extending your arms at the end of the rep to get the full range of motion.

3. Pulling With The Arms

Another common mistake in the Yates row is pulling with the arms. This removes tension from the upper back, making the exercise less effective.

Instead of allowing your arms to come out to the side when you lift the bar, keep your elbows tucked by the sides of the body. Also, try to keep your shoulder blades depressed and your traps relaxed.

4. Using Momentum To Pull The Bar Up

Using momentum to pull up the bar is a common mistake I see in ‘ego lifters’. Those who want to lift more weight than they can handle usually resort to loading the barbell too heavy, and swinging the bar up and down.

As you go through the reps, it’s easy to start bouncing and using momentum to get more reps in, but try to keep your core engaged and your torso still. The movement should be coming from your shoulders and arms.

If you’re struggling to lift the weight without excessive movement, lower the weight. It’s better to lift with correct form using a lighter weight than swinging all over the place trying to lift a heavier weight!

Benefits Of Yates Rows

Some of the benefits of Yates Rows are:

  • Back strength. The Yates row is great to build strength and grow your upper back muscles. It’s one of the few exercises that use a supinated grip, making it a good option if you want to target your biceps.
  • Activation. This rowing variation is also great if you want to focus on mind-muscle connection to activate your lats and rhomboids, because you can slow down the tempo. This is more difficult with a Pendlay row.
  • Weight. You can use more weight on the barbell with this exercise because your trunk is higher up and doesn't directly impact your lower back. 

Cons Of Yates Rows

Some of the cons of Yates Rows are:

  • Shrugging. Incorrect form could lead to a shrug and cause you to only use your upper traps. The shrugging could prevent you from using the right muscles and lead to injury. 
  • Lower back. Although not as direct as the Pendlay row, the Yates row can be an issue on your lower back especially if you have pre existing pain. Lower the weight here to prevent exacerbation or injury.

What Is A Pendlay Row

The Pendlay Row is a variation of the barbell row created by USA weightlifting coach Glenn Pendlay. He created it for better strength in weightlifting specific movements such as pulls and snatches.

How To Do Pendlay Rows

The Pendlay row is a bent over row variation where the barbell starts on the floor. The movement is performed with a flat back, so your torso is parallel to the ground. The barbell is brought up from the floor to contact the torso with each rep.

Here is a step-by-step on how to do Pendlay rows.

Step 1: Stand in front of a loaded barbell with your feet hip width apart.

Step 2: Hinge at the hip and bend at the knees to lean your torso forwards.

Step 3: Grab the barbell with an overhand grip at slightly wider than shoulder width apart.

Step 4: Lift your glutes and lower back so that your torso is horizontal and your back is flat.

Step 5: Take a deep breath and engage your core. Leading with your elbows, lift the barbell up towards your torso. Hold your breath during each rep to help keep your upper body stable.

Step 6: Make sure your shoulders do not rise during the rep. Your elbows should travel up behind the line of your body and stay tucked into your sides. Keep your spine neutral throughout.

Step 7: Pause and squeeze your lats and rhomboids before returning the barbell back down to the starting position. The bar should touch the floor between every rep. You can lower the barbell more quickly than you lift it, but make sure it is controlled.

Step 8: Repeat for the desired number of reps and sets.

Muscles Used In Pendlay Rows

The Pendlay row is a pulling movement that targets several of the upper back muscles.

Similar to the Yates row, the primary muscles used in the Pendlay rows are:

  • Latissimus dorsi
  • Trapezius muscles (Upper and mid)
  • Rhomboids
  • Posterior deltoids

This exercise also targets secondary muscles such as the core, biceps, forearms, spinal stabilizers, glutes, quadriceps and hamstrings to stabilize the whole body as you are bent over.

Common Mistakes In Pendlay Rows

The Pendlay row is a unique exercise that requires a very specific technique, which makes it easy to get wrong. Here are some of the most common mistakes I’ve seen people make in Pendlay rows.

1. Standing Too Upright

The Pendlay row should be done with a flat back. By this, I mean your torso should be parallel to the floor. This allows for you to powerfully pull the bar up to your body.

However, many people do not lean down far enough when doing Pendlay rows. Standing too upright shifts the exercise to more of a bent over barbell row. It’s much harder to focus on explosive contraction when you are stood. Not only this, but you are at risk of injuring yourself if you try to lift a heavy weight with incorrect form.

To make sure you’re able to get the maximum power output possible, lean forwards until your upper body is horizontal.

2. Rounding Your Back

Similar to the first mistake, rounding of the back is another mistake I often see in Pendlay rows. As I mentioned, your whole torso should be horizontal.

When the weight starts to get too heavy or you start to get fatigued, you might find your upper back starts to round. Alternatively, if you haven’t learnt the correct form for the exercise, you might be rounding your lower back without even realising it.

To avoid these mistakes, keep your core engaged, and activate your lats to pull your shoulders back and down.

3. Not Setting The Bar Down Between Reps

The Pendlay row has a very specific movement pattern. The idea is to explosively pull the bar up, then quickly lower it back down to lightly touch the floor before doing the next rep.

A lot of lifters make the mistake of not setting the bar down between reps. Doing so makes it much harder to perform powerful reps, because you are having to make a dead stop in the air. But touching the bar to the floor allows for a quick re-set, ready for your next rep.

4. Not Lifting The Bar In A Straight Line

Unlike with the Yates row or bent over barbell row, the bar travels in a vertical line with the Pendlay row.

As you lift the bar off the floor, it should travel in a straight line up to your abdomen.

5. Lifting With Your Arms

 I mentioned this as a common mistake in Yates rows, but this is also seen in Pendlay row. Lifting the bar with your arms usually occurs when people are trying to lift too much weight. As a result, they bring their arms too far out to the side and use a bouncing motion to get through the reps.

This is dangerous and can put you at risk of injury. Not only this, but it also makes the exercise way less beneficial. Choose a lighter weight and focus on your form and technique instead.

Benefits Of Pendlay Rows

Some of the benefits of Pendlay Rows are:

  • Hypertrophy. Pendlay rows are great for building back hypertrophy using the rights reps and sets. Specifically, it targets the the lats and the erector spinae.
  • Explosiveness. With the specific training of the Pendlay row, your athletic performance and lifts will explode. You will be able to train for deadlifts and bent over rows better with this exercise. 

Cons Of Pendlay Rows

Some of the cons of Pendlay Rows are:

  • Lower back. Due the flat back, the Pendlay rows can cause lifters lower back pain when lifting the weight off the floor. If you have a pre existing injury, your lower back will be much worse with this exercise. 

Which Is Better For You?

The question of which is better really depends on you. For a start, think about which you prefer, and consider which you find easier to get right. If you’ve tried the Pendlay row, and find it difficult to do with correct form, switch to the Yates row to build upper back strength.

It’s also important to take into account your goals. When your goal is to work on improving your power, opting for Pendlay rows will be more beneficial than Yates rows. If you want to improve strength, either of these exercises will be great.

When you want to focus on improving your mind-muscle connection and feeling that ‘squeeze’ in your lats, the Yates row could be a better choice than the Pendlay row, as it allows for slower, more controlled reps.

If you’re sat there still wondering which is better for you, try both!

That old adage of ‘you won’t know unless you try’ definitely applies here. Next time you’re in the gym, grab a barbell and give them both a go. You might find you have a strong preference for one over the other, and if you don’t, then program them both into your routine for maximum gains.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Should I Program These Exercises?

For both the Yates row and the Pendlay row, I suggest to do 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps. You could also do lower reps between 6-8 with Pendlay rows to focus on power.

What Is The Difference Between The Bent Over Barbell Row And The Yates Row?

The barbell bent over row is performed with an overhand grip, unlike the Yates row that uses an underhand grip.

Both exercises target the upper back muscles, but the Yates row targets the biceps more than the bent over barbell row.

Pendlay rows are a great exercise to enhance power. The explosiveness concentric movement is not seen in other rowing variations. They target the upper and mid back to build thickness.

What Can I Do Instead Of The Yates Row Or Pendlay Row?

Here is a list of great rowing exercises you can do in place of the Yates row or Pendlay row.

  • Bent over barbell rows
  • T-bar rows
  • Dumbbell rows

Exercises that use a pulling movement are also great replacements.

  • Pull-ups
  • Lat pull down machine
  • Seated row machine
  • Dumbbell pull overs
  • Cable lateral pull downs

What Are Some Pendlay Row Variations?

Alongside the rowing variations that I spoke about in the question above, you can also do a unilateral Pendlay row. Using one arm at a time helps to balance out the muscles, and can help you perfect your rowing technique.

You could also try using an underhand grip. This is an uncommon variation, but it’s great to target the biceps more than an overhand grip. I wouldn’t do this unless you’re a fairly advanced lifter, and have good form with this exercise.

Are These Exercises Good To Gain Strength In Other Lifts?

Both the Yates row and the Pendlay row can build strength in your posterior chain, which translates into your other lifts.

Other compound exercises like the deadlift, the snatch, and the clean and jerk can be enhanced by working on your rows. They also work on your core, which is used in most gym exercises.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to the Yates row and the Pendlay row, the question of ‘which is better’ comes down to what you’re trying to achieve.

The Yates row is great to build strength and hypertrophy, and is less advanced. The Pendlay row is more difficult to get right, and increases power and explosiveness.

They both have their benefits, and their drawbacks. I recommend trying to both, and seeing which you prefer. If you find that you love both of them, do both!

Regardless of which you choose Yates row vs Pendlay row, be sure to check your form to stay safe and injury-free.

References

[1] Evans TW., et al. Comparison of Muscle Activation Between Back Squats and Belt Squats. J Strength Cond Res. 2019 Jul;33 Suppl 1:S52-S59. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000002052.

[2] van der Tillaar R., Andersen V., and Saeterbakken A. Comparison of muscle activation and kinematics during free-weight back squats with different loads. PLoS One. 2019 May 16;14(5):e0217044. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0217044. eCollection 2019.

DISCLAIMER: This article is for intended for educational purposes only and not as an individualized exercise prescription, therefore no one can be held liable in the occurrence of injuries, damages or monetary losses as a result of the information.

About The Author

Athina Crilley

Athina Crilley is a Biochemistry graduate and a qualified health, nutrition, and recovery coach. She believes that health and fitness is a lifestyle and should be enjoyable. Athina currently works with online clients to achieve their goals and creates helpful and informative content online through her podcast and social media platforms. She has also written and published a book all about her struggles and recovery from an eating disorder called ‘Diaries of An Anorexic’.

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