Deadlifts vs Rows

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Can Deadlifts be Replaced by Rows?

The simple answer is no, but to some degree, the answer depends on what kind of row and deadlift you are asking about.

Listen to the Podcast

For example: a Stiff Leg Deadlift has a number of similarities to the Pendlay Row.

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Stiff Leg Deadlift Technique
Stiff Leg Deadlift Technique

Most strength and conditioning coaches like myself would use them as analogous exercises. E.g. Stiff Deadlifts Exercise 4 on Week 1; Pendlay Rows on Exercise 4 on Week 2.

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Exercise Tubing Row Demonstration
Standing Rows vs Deadlifts

In contrast, a conventional deadlift is very different than a dumbbell bench row. They both work the back (rear delts), but the conventional deadlift works the entire posterior chain. It’s a compound, closed chain exercise. Whereas the bench row is better at isolating the rear delts, traps, and biceps. You might program a bench row after deadlifts, but to replace one with the other? No, because they are not the same, nor are they substitutes.

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Technique on the Bench Row
Bench Row vs Deadlifts

Deadlifts vs RowsAs I write a response to your question, I’m left wondering why would you want to try and replace the deadlift with a row? As an exercise, the deadlift is an elegant lift unmatched by nearly every other exercise. It is a raw power exercise that builds strength like none other. Yes, it’s a time investment to learn, but most good things are. About 5% of the people I teach at our gym can deadlift correctly when they walk in the door. Whereas 50% of new clients can execute a safe bench row without instruction. I have never seen someone do a Pendlay Row correctly (just an FYI.) Overall, the bench row is easier, less technical, and still a good exercise, etc. Is it a substitute for the deadlift? No. There is no substitute for the deadlift.

Podcast: Transcript

The deadlift is a posterior chain exercise that works really the entire back.  It’s a powerlifting movement.  It is similar in some ways to rows.  Rows also work the back.  But the major difference is rows is more of an accessory exercise.  They work rear delts. They work Biceps.  They work rhomboids.  Deadlifts work those also, but the deadlifts also work hamstrings and glutes.  And the Spinal Erector, the multifidus, other muscles in the lower back.

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Videoblog with Paul on Programming Deadlifts and Rows
Deadlifts vs Rows

So in some ways the deadlift is a more complete exercise.  However, you can only on do deadlifts until you have fatigue.  They are in some ways more dangerous because of the form requirements.  So usually you would start your exercises doing deadlifts, and then move onto something like a row.

Now, there are some deadlifts that are like rows.  For example, the stiff leg deadlift and the Pendley Row have a lot in common.  They both require you to maintain an active back position and really do work the back in terms of extension.

However, other kinds of exercises such as conventional deadlift versus the benchrow are completely different.

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