The renegade row fits well into most strength and conditioning programs, which is why so many people adopt it to strengthen their back and core muscles.
Weighted rowing from a plank position increases cardiovascular fitness, strengthens muscle groups, and builds core stability and postural control, and you only need light weights to see the benefits.
While the move is known to target your back and core muscles, you may also be targeting muscles throughout your body. To do this, simply hold two weights — this might include the best adjustable dumbbells or kettlebells — and row one arm at a time back from a high plank position. If you’re currently trying to figure out what that looks like, fear not, because we cover how to do Renegade Rows from beginner through advanced level, the benefits, and a variation to try.
Renegade Row: Benefits
The move is in the compound exercise camp because it doesn’t isolate a muscle group, making it a great addition to functional training workouts.
Renegade rows strengthen the muscles responsible for posture, including the core, hips and lower back. The rowing variation also targets the deeper stabilizer muscles that help you balance and coordinate, as well as your back and biceps, during the pulling motion.
Famously, the plank exercise activates most muscle groups in your body using isometric contraction (without muscle lengthening or shortening), so you get a lot of bang for your buck by squeezing as many muscles as possible throughout. .
One of our fitness writers did 40 renegade lines a day for a week—here’s what happened.
How to queue for renegade
We recommend starting with light weights and only progressing if you can nail the movement without swinging your hips from side to side or dropping them toward the floor. Avoid lifting your butt above shoulder height and bring your elbow higher than your back.
- Start in a plank position with a weight in each hand
- Engage your core
- With control, bring one arm back toward the hip until the elbow is slightly higher than the torso, then slowly lower it to the floor below the shoulder to the starting position
- Switch sides
- Keep your hips aligned and avoid twisting your body.
Working one side at a time requires your body to work harder to keep you stable and prevent torso rotation. Try to consciously contract as many muscles as possible, including your glutes and quads, and drop your knees to the mat for an easier variation.
Start with 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps on each side, increasing the weight or reps as you build strength. For an example of how we use them, check out this 5-move compound exercise routine.
Renegade’s Row: Variations to try
Dumbbell renegade rows are probably the most popular, but you could substitute dumbbells for kettlebells, which are harder to keep stable on the floor and even harder to actually row. Many people prefer to practice their knees before moving into the high plank position.
The best progression of the renegade row is to increase the load or add another exercise to the mix. You could combine a row to the side with a burpee (here’s how to do a burpee correctly) or a devil press (see below) to make the exercise more difficult and introduce cardiovascular training into your high-intensity conditioning workouts.
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If you don’t have a lot of weight available, another option is to row longer. This adopts the time under tension method, making the muscles work harder by slowing down the exercise.
During an unsupported single-arm row, the slower movement challenges your body to stay balanced, which feels much more difficult to perform.
Renegade: Common Mistakes
These are the most common mistakes we notice.
Swing your hips
If the weight is too heavy, your hips will swing outward. Always keep your chest and hips parallel to the floor by squeezing your belly, glutes and quads.
Limited row range of motion
You will notice a lack of back muscle engagement if you don’t row back far enough and your arms will end up doing most of the heavy lifting. Renegade rows are an exercise for the whole body. If you could look sideways in the mirror, you should be able to see your elbow paddling over your back.
Try to guide each line toward your back pocket rather than your armpit.
Throwing the line
Throwing the weight back while rowing means you’re lifting too heavy. The row should be controlled and smooth as you push your elbow towards your hip, pausing at the top before lowering your back.
Remove the ego and lift adequate weight. Tighten your lats (the large muscles that run along the sides of your back), which ensures you’re getting the right amount of engagement through your muscles and activating your back properly.
Pulling the arm back will encourage the body to rotate outward, which detracts from the efficiency of renegade rows. To target muscle groups correctly, these are controlled movements.
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