I started the 5x5 SL program 2-3 months ago, and have had doubts about the quality of my barbell rows. I do them like Mehdi suggests: http://stronglifts.com/barbell-row/

Though I hear that it can be difficult to really feel it when you start out, I don't feel it in my back, but in my glutes, hams, and my quads, which I think is strange.

I tried doing Yates rows and felt it significantly more in my back.

Why would that be?

If I feel it more with Yates, should I do those instead, or is something still happening with the Pendlay rows even though I can't feel it?

  • Mehdi advocates Pendlay rows which is more of a power orientated variation of the barbell row. If you like a different variation, do that one instead. Just follow the same progression as you normally would.
    – Alex L
    Apr 21, 2016 at 3:49
  • I do Pendlays, but I have the same problem. Don't feel anything in my back.
    – pushkin
    Apr 21, 2016 at 4:13
  • That's what I already assumed. Mehdi also doesn't advocate conventional rows. So now I'm not sure which variation you're actually having trouble with.
    – Alex L
    Apr 21, 2016 at 4:21
  • I have tried both, and neither feels right.
    – pushkin
    Apr 21, 2016 at 4:34
  • Can you video yourself from multiple angles? It would help people diagnose your form.
    – John
    Apr 21, 2016 at 8:55

3 Answers 3


The barbell row is a beast. It depends how you are executing them. Are you stretching the back when you let the barbell down? By that I mean you should use the full range of motion.

I would recommend the following:

  • try to maintain a near 90° angle with your torso
  • let the arms fully extend and your shoulder blades too...
  • use a grip-width as you would do a bench press
  • pull the barbell to your belly and squeeze the shoulder blades together hard
  • if having the barbell at you stomach or chest, keep the weight there for a second, dont let it down immediately
  • try to 'feel' the muscle during the lift
  • Why bring up the fact that the angle at which you row the bar affects how the muscle is taxed just to say to stick to 90°?
    – Alex L
    Apr 22, 2016 at 22:12
  • It just seems a little contradictory in intent. Perhaps if you add why you recommend a perpendicular back angle as opposed to any others. Still a good answer though.
    – Alex L
    Apr 23, 2016 at 15:18

"Glenn Pendlay said, all Barbell Rows should be Pendlay Rows because it’s more effective."

Upper-back: You must pull your shoulder-blades back at the top to get the bar to your chest. This works your broadest back muscle that give you a v-shape: your lats ((latisimus dorsi). It also works your traps, rear shoulders and all the small muscles of your upper-back.

Read more: http://stronglifts.com/barbell-row/#Common_Issues

edit: Why should you not switch to Yates Rows while on stronglifts?

  • Targeting the “lower lats” is a waste of time. Your lattissimus dorsi is one muscle that runs from your arm to your lower back. How low it attaches to your spine depends on your genetics. Yates Rows can’t change your lat attachments. Yates Rows can’t turn tendons into muscle. The only thing you can do is increase the size of your lat muscles as a whole. The best way to train your lats is with heavy Deadlifts and Barbell Rows. Deadlifts force you to keep the bar close using your lats. Barbell Rows force you to lift the weight using your lats. Strengthening your lats increases their muscle size. It gives you a v-shape because your lats are your broadest back muscle. Your genetics determine the final shape of your back. But combined with a healthy self-esteem, you’ll be happy with the result.

  • Yates Rows are indeed easier than Barbell Rows. The underhand grip on Yates Rows uses more biceps. This makes Yates Rows easier for the same reason Chinups are easier than Pullups. More muscles working is more strength. But few wrists and elbows can handle an underhand grip on Yates Rows. They’ll usually hurt, especially if you grip too wide and lack flexibility. Dorian Yates stopped rowing underhand after tearing his biceps.

  • Yates Rows are also easier because the range of motion is shorter. Your torso is incline and the bar touches your belly. On Barbell Rows the bar starts on the floor and your torso is horizontal. You must move the bar over double the distance to hit you chest.

  • Barbell Rows use more muscles and strengthen them over a longer range of motion. That’s why they’re harder but also more effective to gain strength and muscle.

  • Barbell Rows are a more natural movement than Yates Rows. Barbell Rows are similar to rowing on a boat. Your torso stays perpendicular while you row the resistance to you. Your torso moves slightly back and forth to add momentum. This helps your upper-back and arms row the weight. You wouldn’t row a boat by keeping your torso incline like on Yates Rows. You row like on Barbell Rows because it’s more effective.

  • You can’t use your hip muscles on Yates Rows. Your back starts incline and remains incline for the duration of the set. Your upper-back and arms have to lift the weight alone. With Barbell Rows each rep starts on the floor. You can open your hips to get the bar moving. This helps your upper-back and arms handle heavier weights. And as long as your torso doesn’t rise more than 15°, it won’t take work away from these muscles.

  • Yates Rows are stressful on your lower back. Your torso stays incline the whole set. Your lower back must stay neutral to avoid compression of your spinal discs. If your trunk muscles get tired mid-set, your spine will bend. This can cause injury. Barbell Rows are safer because each rep starts on the floor. Your lower back gets a break between reps. And you can set it neutral and tight to avoid lower back rounding on your next rep. Barbell Rows are safer and more effective. Don’t do Yates Rows. Do Barbell Rows

    Read more: http://stronglifts.com/barbell-row/#Barbell_Row_Variations

  • I concentrated on pulling my shoulder blades back, and definitely felt it more. Thanks!
    – pushkin
    Apr 25, 2016 at 23:23
  • No problem, there are lots of tips on his website on making sure your form is correct.
    – John
    Apr 26, 2016 at 6:04

I'd recommend doing Yates rows if you can feel it in your back. Right now it sounds like your method of doing Pendlay rows is not working for you. Doing Yates rows will not affect StrongLifts negatively.

People are being helpful suggesting how to fix your form to make Pendlays work for you, but frankly you need to weigh up the pros and cons of even going down that route.

Pros of fixing form and doing Pendlays: you can do a slightly strength oriented movement. Not much else really.

Cons: you have to spend time and effort working on form, not progressing, you may not ever "get" the correct form anyway so the time could just be wasted.

If your goals are just to get bigger and stronger, don't bother with Pendlays. Just do Yates.

  • I couldn't disagree more with your final point: Pendlay Rows use more muscles and strengthen them over a longer range of motion. That’s why they’re harder but also more effective to gain strength and muscle.
    – John
    Apr 28, 2016 at 14:45
  • @JJosaur I disagree with the magnitude of your assessment. Net effect of doing Pendlays over Yates for someone looking to get bigger and stronger over the course of a beginner program: not a lot. Theory is well and good, but practically some people are too focused on majoring in the minors, especially when a trainee is already having some technique issues and does not have a coach to hand. And even more especially with a move like Pendlays which requires controlled explosive action and some people just can't seem to get without overloading their lower back/hips.
    – hamza_tm
    Apr 30, 2016 at 4:49

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