The Pendlay Barbell Row is a better foundational exercise for back muscle development than the Yates Row. Because the Pendlay Row has a greater range of motion and relies on positioning your back parallel to the floor, you activate more upper back muscles and engage them more completely. While the Yates Row is better at working the mid-back than the Pendlay Row, it does less for the upper back and more for the biceps. Because the Yates Row uses the biceps so heavily, it is not as efficient for building back strength as the traditional Pendlay Row.
Does the Barbell Row Build Muscle?
Both the Pendlay Row and the Yates Row are types of barbell row. Additionally, both are excellent for building muscle. Think of barbell rows as the equivalent of bench press for your back—they’re the go-to exercise for developing back strength. If you are performing a weight-training program, it’s essential to include at least one form of barbell row. The question is, what are the different types of barbell rows and which one should you focus on in the gym?
What is the Yates Row?
The Yates Row is a form of barbell row invented and popularized by bodybuilder Dorian Yates. This row requires a different grip and form than what most people think of as a barbell row. Here’s how to do it:
- Stand with feet hip-width apart.
- Grip the bar with an underhand grip (palms facing upwards). Your arms should be about shoulder-width apart.
- Stand with legs slightly bent and hips hinged so your back is at a 45-degree angle to the floor.
- Begin with your arms extended.
- Pull the bar towards your body just below the ribcage, bringing your elbows straight back.
- Once the bar touches your torso, slowly lower the bar until your arms are extended to the starting position.
This form of the row begins and ends with the bar off the floor. Throughout the exercise, your back should remain straight and angled at 45 degrees. Keep your eyes forward as you perform your repetitions.
What is the Pendlay Row?
The Pendlay Barbell Row has several key differences from the Yates Row. The stance, grip, and bar path are very different between the two exercises. To do the Pendlay Row:
- Begin with the barbell on the floor.
- Stand with your feet slightly more than hip-width apart.
- Bend at the knees slightly and hinge forward at the hips until your back is parallel with the floor.
- Keep your back straight and eyes down at the floor.
- Grip the barbell with an overhand grip (palms facing down) with your arms just outside your legs.
- Lift the bar from the floor, pulling your elbows straight up to the ceiling until the bar touches your torso.
- Lower the bar back to the floor and repeat.
One key for performing the Pendlay row correctly is to maintain a straight back throughout the row. This will prevent injury and help you target your upper back muscles.
What Muscles Do Yates Rows Work?
The Yates Row primarily works the middle of the latissimus dorsi (lats) and biceps muscles. This means that you’ll see strength and muscle development improvement in your back between your armpits and the tops of your hips. You’ll also achieve an arm workout. The underhand grip and halfway upright stance of the Yates Row moves the focus of the barbell row away from the upper back. Instead, it shifts the workout to the mid-back and the biceps.
What Muscles to Pendlay Barbell Rows Work?
The Pendlay Row primarily works the upper back, including the rear deltoids, rhomboids, and the upper portion of the lats. Think of this exercise as essential for working all the muscles from the base of your neck down to the bottom of your shoulder blades. The biceps are also activated as a secondary muscle, but to a much less significant degree than the Yates Row.
Yates Row vs. Pendlay Barbell Row: Head-to-Head
So, we know the Yates Row and Pendlay Row require very different forms and work different muscles. What does that mean for you? Which exercise should you incorporate into your regimen? We’ll take a look at which gives you a better workout, which is less likely to cause injury, and which exercise to choose based on your skill level as a weightlifter. Then, we’ll determine which exercise is best.
The Pendlay Row is a better pure back workout than the Yates Row. This is because the form puts your back parallel to the ground. This position, plus the overhand grip, specifically targets the muscles in the upper back. If you want to build your rear deltoids, upper traps, and rhomboids (the muscles between your shoulder blades), then you’ll get more out of the Pendlay Row than the Yates Row.
- Pendlay Row activates more back muscles than the Yates Row.
- The Pendlay Row targets the upper back muscles, including lats, rear deltoids, and rhomboids.
- The Yates Row is a hybrid back/arm workout
- The primary muscles used during a Yates Row are the middle portion of the lats and the biceps.
- The Yates Row is better for the mid-back, while the Pendlay Row is best for the upper back.
Unlike the Pendlay Row, the Yates Row isn’t a pure back workout. The 45-degree angle of the back, combined with the underhand grip, uses the biceps and middle portion of your back to move the weight. The Yates Row also has a shorter range of motion, meaning it won’t activate the upper back muscles as fully. If you want to build the mid-portion of your back, below your shoulder blades, the Yates Row is superior to the Pendlay row. However, it’s not the best pure back workout.
Both the Yates Row and Pendlay Row will not cause injury if performed properly. They’re both safe workouts. Although some claim that the Yates Row can cause tears in the biceps tendons, this is typically only a risk factor when lifting extremely heavy weight. Let’s look at the stress placed on the back instead. Because of the 45-degree angle of the back during the Yates Row, some lifters may suffer lower back injury from the strain placed on the erector spinae. Back injury can also occur during the Pendlay Row if you lever backward instead of relying on your arms and upper back muscles to move the weight.
- Both the Pendlay Row and Yates Row are safe exercises when performed correctly.
- Some lifters claim that the Yates Row can cause biceps tears.
- Avoid levering your back to move the weight during all types of barbell rows to prevent injury.
- Perform a slightly modified Pendlay Row to further eliminate the risk of back injury.
One big benefit of the Pendlay Row is that it can be modified to reduce the risk of lower back injury. By moving your feet slightly closer together and bending forward, you can brace your stomach against the tops of your thighs. By tensing your stomach muscles in this stance as you perform the Pendlay Row, you relieve dangerous stress on your lower back, resulting in a very safe barbell row variation.
Better for Beginners
The Pendlay Row is a foundational exercise that beginning lifters should master before incorporating the Yates Row. The Pendlay Row builds crucial upper back muscles. These should be developed as part of a total body workout program.
- The Pendlay Row is an essential exercise for beginners to master when building strength.
- Because it targets the upper back more effectively than any other exercise, beginners should choose the Pendlay Row over the Yates Row.
- The Yates Row has less focus on back muscles than the Pendlay Row, making it a less suitable foundational exercise.
The Yates Row is less useful for beginning lifters because it is an exercise that targets fewer back muscles. As a foundational exercise, the Yates Row lacks a focus on a single muscle group since it is a hybrid back/arms workout.
Better for Experienced Lifters
The Pendlay Row is an essential lift for any serious athlete. It works wonders for the upper back. However, if you’ve plateaued with the Pendlay Row or aren’t seeing increased definition in your mid-back, it’s time to begin working the Yates Row into your routine. By replacing 50% of your Pendlay Row lifts with Yates Rows, you can develop better overall strength by building your mid-back.
- Yates Rows are great for building overall back strength and breaking plateaus encountered in your Pendlay Row training.
- Replace 50% of your Pendlay Row workouts with Yates Rows to develop overall back strength.
- By crosstraining with the Yates Row, you’ll see improvement across deadlifts, Pendlay Rows, and a variety of other compound exercises.
The Yates Row serves as an excellent accessory and crosstraining exercise. The similarities between the Yates Row and the deadlift mean the Yates Row can help increase your deadlift performance as well as your success at the Pendlay Row. For an advanced lifter, the Yates Row is well worth the effort.
Should You Do the Yates Row or the Pendlay Row?
If you’re a beginning lifter, start with the Pendlay Row, not the Yates Row. The Pendlay Barbell Row does a far better job isolating essential muscles in the upper back, leading to balanced muscular development. If you’re an experienced lifter, add the Yates Row to your routine to target the mid-back muscles the Pendlay Row misses.
- Beginners should choose the Pendlay Row over the Yates Row.
- Experienced lifters should incorporate the Yates Row to target specific points of their physique.
- For upper back strength and definition, choose the Pendlay Row.
- If your goal is building a stronger mid-back, perform the Yates Row.
If your goal is a sculpted upper back, including the rear of your shoulders, the Pendlay Row is the better exercise for you. If instead, you want to build a wider mid-back and craft that V-shape bodybuilders are known for, the Yates Row will help you achieve this. Both exercises are good choices, depending on your experience and goals.
Is the Yates Row Better than the Pendlay Row?
The Yates Row and Pendlay Row are both useful exercises, but the Pendlay Row is an essential back exercise second only to the traditional deadlift. The Yates Row won’t provide as much benefit for your back muscles as the Pendlay Row. This is because the Yates Row relies heavily on the biceps to move the weight, taking the stress off the back. If you have to choose one, perform the Pendlay Row.