Build a Big Back and Strong Core at Once With the Renegade Row

The renegade row accomplishes two tasks at once, making it a versatile and effective training tool.

There’s some truth to the expression less is more. But sometimes more is more, and when it comes to exercise selection, the renegade row is a prime example. This movement combines a plank with a dumbbell row for a hybrid exercise that trains the back and core. It’s also very scalable, so whether you’re a beginner or a weathered gym rat, there’s more than likely a renegade row variation out there that can help you tackle whatever training adaptations you’re aiming to accomplish.

In addition to being a good muscle-building and strength-building movement, the renegade row improves midline stability and coordination when moving external loads. In this article, we’re going to dive into how to properly perform renegade rows, their benefits, mistakes, variations, and how you can use them in your program for various training adaptations. 

Renegade Row Video Guide

You can also check out this video tutorial, featuring former BarBend Training Editor Jake Boly, for more renegade row tips.

How to Do the Renegade Row

Here’s an in-depth, step-by-step breakdown of how to do the barbell bench press optimally. 

Step 1 — Set Your Base

Renegade Row Step 1

Assume a plank position, with your hands gripping a pair of dumbbells (ideally hexagonal dumbbells that won’t roll). Set your feet wider than shoulder-width, so you’re more balanced. (You can also move your feet in or out to make the move harder or easier.) Brace the core, squeeze the glutes, drive the heels into the ground, and brace your entire body. 

Form Tip: Keep the knees straight and flex the glutes to increase stability. 

Step 2 — Initiate the Row

Renegade Row Step 2

Keeping your core tight, row one of the dumbbells to your side. Lead the row with your elbow and keep rowing until the elbow passes your torso. Be sure to maintain a neutral spine and keep your glutes engaged. 

Form Tip: Try not to let your torso twist too far away from the side you’re rowing the dumbbell. If it does, use a lighter weight. 

Step 3 — Control the Eccentric

Renegade Row Step 3

At the top of the row, control the weight back to the ground, maintaining your strong braced posture. If you’re swinging the dumbbell or hiking up the hips, then scale back the weight.

Form Tip: Keep tension on the weight as you lower it, and be sure not to let the body fall to the same side. 

Benefits of the Renegade Row

Not sold on the renegade row just yet? Here are three main benefits that you can gain from adding this exercise to your training toolbox. 

Improve Midline Stability

Midline stability refers to your ability to stay tight and neutral during any exercise. Really, it’s a fancy synonym for the ability to brace. More midline stability means you’ll reduce your injury risk slightly during moves like deadlifts and back squats. You’ll also build more ab strength.

The renegade row challenges — and therefore improves — midline stability as your body will fight to stay stable throughout the entire exercise. To hold the plank alone requires a lot of core strength, but then to row a dumbbell without falling over requires that all of your muscles (your quads, glutes, lower back, core, and arms) are braced. 

Increase Upper Back and Lat Hypertrophy

As the name implies, there’s a rowing component to the renegade row. So, your back will get bigger and stronger. That said, you won’t be able to row as much weight compared to with a barbell or with single-arm rows, so if hypertrophy is your goal, go for more reps to increase your muscle’s total time under tension.  

It’s Very Accessible

The renegade row is a move for every gym-goer. You don’t need much equipment to do it — making it a great home gym movement — and it can be made easier or harder almost instantly with minimal adjustments. Want to take it up a notch? Narrow your feet or add a push-up after each row. Want to make it easier? Widen your stance or elevate your hands even more.

Muscles Worked by the Renegade Row

The renegade row is going to produce a stimulus for multiple muscles. For example, every muscle involved in the isometric bracing process will receive some benefit similar to how a plank produces benefit for the core, glutes, quads, and everything that is being maximally contracted to maintain position. The prime movers involved in the renegade row are very similar to what is used during the dumbbell row, and these muscles include: 

Lats and Rhomboids

Like any row variation, the back and rhomboids will work to pull the load into the body and stabilize the scapular region while doing so. However, if you are after maximal back growth, you may want to opt for a row variation less depending on core strength and balance to allow for more loading and volume.

Rectus Abdominals and Obliques

The abdominals and obliques are used in the renegade row as stabilizers and anti-rotational muscles. While performing the row, the lifter may try to rotate the body to lift the load, in which these muscles will be working to resist poor positioning and develop strength.

Who Should Do the Renegade Row?

Below we will discuss what types of athletes can benefit from the renegade row and why.

Strength and Power Athletes

The renegade row has little direct application to the competition lifts. However, it can increase core strength, scapular stability and be used as a good general warm-up. That said, if someone is looking to increase back strength necessary for the deadlift or squat, you will find better results in doing movements like barbell rows, for example. Olympic lifters may also find greater scapular stability and strength, which could help shoulder health if done properly. This is often the main concern for athletes who support weight overhead. 

Fitness Athletes and General Population

The renegade row can be used to increase back strength and core stability when done properly. If you are having issues getting the results you are looking for (back strength, muscle growth, core stability, etc.) try, doing a proper dumbbell row, plank, and bent over row SEPARATELY. You’ll gain more out of them than combining all of them.  

Renegade Row Sets, Reps, and Programming Recommendations

Here are some set and rep recommendations for programming the renegade row into your training program. Note: These are just recommendations. Feel free to adjust the numbers below accordingly. 

To Gain Muscle

While you can gain muscle with renegade rows, it may not be the best muscle-building option as it creates a lot of instability, and you can’t use a relatively heavy load. For that reason, you should be sure to mix it into your back routine along with heavier back movements. You can start by performing three to four sets of eight to 10 reps per arm with heavy weight for the best results, using a slow tempo. Rest one minute between sets.

To Improve Muscle Endurance

Some lifters may want to train greater muscle endurance (for sport), in which higher repetition ranges and/or shorter rest periods are recommended. Do two to three sets of 10-20 repetitions with 45-60 second rest with light to moderate loads.

Renegade Row Variations

As mentioned above, one of the best benefits of the renegade row is how easy it is to scale and modify. Below, we’ve included three variations you can perform with the traditional renegade row. 

Row, Row, Push-Up

For this variation, you’ll perform your traditional renegade rows, then hit a push-up before completing a full rep. So each rep will consist of two rows and a push-up. This is a good variation if you are looking to increases upper body pressing strength and reinforce good pressing and pulling mechanics.

Kettlebell Renegade Row

The kettlebell renegade row is a great variation for lifters who want to improve how stable they are throughout the row. This variation can help anyone trying to really push their shoulder stability when performing the inverted row. 

Note: This variation should be reserved for advanced athletes as kettlebells can be unstable at times, so use implements mindfully!

Feet-Elevated Renegade Row

The feet elevated inverted row is an incredibly tough variation. Since you’re limiting two points of contact, the core and hips need to work extremely hard to maintain their braced posture.

Renegade Row Alternatives

Below are three renegade row variations that can be done to increase unilateral strength and hypertrophy or add variety to a training program.

Dumbbell Single-Arm Row

The dumbbell single arm row is a unilateral row variation that can increase back strength. Unlike the renegade row, the lifter can find great stability in the setup position, which allows for increased loading and back emphasis (as core strength and balance can be a limiting factor in the renegade row). 

This can be used as a regression for the renegade row or the main back developer if people lack the ability to gain size and strength with Renegade rows. Personally speaking, if the goal is back hypertrophy, this is one of the best dumbbell variations out there.  

Dumbbell Bird Dog Row

The dumbbell bird dog row is a row that targets the core and back, similar to the Renegade row. However, it offers slightly more stability and can be used to set the lifter up in a position that reinforces proper spinal alignment. I find this to be more beneficial than the Renegade row, as it allows for fewer movement faults and is harder to row the weight incorrectly.

Dumbell Plank Row

The dumbbell plank row can emphasize the row action while still developing core strength or as a regression for individuals who struggle to perform the Renegade row. To do this, you would assume a plank position on the bench and hold a dumbbell in one arm, making sure to maintain core stability and not rotate the pelvis.

FAQs

Can you do renegade rows with kettlebells?

Yes. However, you need to be careful not to allow the kettlebells to tip over, which can result in wrist injury or face planting into the floor. Ideally, you would perform these with dumbbells. If you do not have dumbbells, perform a bent over kettlebell row and pair that movement with a standard plank.

What is a renegade row push-up?

The renegade row push-up is a renegade row with a push-up added to it. Perform a row on both sides and then do a push-up rep. 

Are renegade rows better than regular rows?

It’s great for building more complete full-body stability, but there are better exercises to build back muscle and strength. You can’t load a renegade row too heavy and stability is a factor, so opt for barbell rows or single-arm rows if you want a bigger or stronger back. 

How many sets and reps of the renegade row should I do?

It depends, but here are some basic set and rep recommendations:

  • For more muscle: Do three to four sets eight to 10 reps.
  • For muscular endurance: Do three sets of 10 to 20 reps.

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