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How to Do A Renegade Row: Videos & Variations (2020)

renegade row banner image

Ever saw someone doing a renegade row in the gym and wondered if you have the strength to master it? You do! You just need to know how to do it properly. Luckily, we’ve got you covered.

What is a renegade row, and how do you do it? Find out below!

We’ve covered:

  • What is a Renegade Row?
  • How to Do Renegade Rows
  • Renegade Row Muscles Worked
  • Sets, Reps & Weight
  • Renegade Row Variations
  • 7 Renegade Row Benefits

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What is a Renegade Row?

man doing a plank row

A renegade row is an exercise that combines two classic movements – the dumbbell row and the plank.

The dumbbell row is a popular exercise that really works the back and the biceps. There are a couple of different variations of rows, all of which are an effective way to build muscle and strength in your back, particularly the lats and the traps. If you’re a regular in the gym, then chances are you’ve done some kind of row variation beforehand.

The plank is another exercise that we’d be very surprised if you haven’t tried! The plank is the go-to core exercise, not everyone’s favourite because it can be pretty brutal, but definitely not one to skip.

If you’re bored with the plank, you aren’t alone. By no means are we suggesting that you never do a plank again, but the renegade row is a brilliant exercise to switch up your regular gym floor routine.

You won’t just feel the burn in your core, this exercise is a brilliant back workout too thanks to the row element. We’ll discuss the renegade row muscles worked in more detail shortly, as well as more of the benefits of this exercise. But first, here’s how to do a renegade row!

 

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How to Do Renegade Rows

Set-Up and Equipment                                                           

For this exercise, all you’ll need is a pair of dumbbells and an exercise mat. When it comes to choosing a set of dumbbells, start off light – this is a difficult exercise so it will be hard to manage. We also recommend that you use a pair of hex dumbbells that have a flat side.

Starting Position 

Dumbbell renegade row starting position

  • Get into a press-up position with a dumbbell in each hand.
  • Position your arms so that your shoulders are directly over your wrists.
  • Move your feet so they’re shoulder-width apart.
  • Check up on your form – your body should form a straight line from your heels to your head.
  • Tighten your core muscles and to ensure that your body doesn’t twist during the exercise.

Execution

Alternating renegade row image

  • Keeping the dumbbell close to your body, row the weight up your body towards your ribcage until your elbow is pointing upwards.
  • As you row, keep your body still and avoid twisting your torso.

press-up row position 3

  • Return your arm to the ground and then repeat the movement with the opposite arm.

In terms of how many reps & sets of renegade rows you should do, we’ll discuss our recommendations in detail shortly.

But first, check out our OriGym trainers’ video demonstration of the dumbbell renegade row.

Sets & Reps

For the renegade row, you can repeat the movement with the same arm for the entire set, or you can switch arms for every rep. We prefer the alternating renegade row, but the choice is yours.

In terms of how many sets and reps of renegade rows you should do, that’s really determined by your exercise goals. If you’re training purely to build strength, you should use a fairly heavy weight and stick to low reps. For example, 5 reps for 5 sets.

If you’re working towards a sculpted physique, the best way to build muscle is to use a moderate rate (between 50 and 75% of your one rep max) and stick to 8-12 reps for 3-4 sets.

Anything more than 12 reps will have you on your way to increasing your muscular endurance. If that’s your goal, great!

How Much Weight Should You Use?

a pair of dumbbells

Now that you know how many sets and reps you should do, we guess that your next question is what weight you should use? Again, that depends on your goals. Basically, the amount of reps you choose to do determines how much weight you use.

If you’re doing 5 reps, choose a weight that you can just about manage all 5 reps with. By that, we mean you should be able to execute the entire set with good form, but the last 2 reps should be tough.

For a set of 8 reps, you’ll have to go for a slightly lighter weight. Again, find a level of resistance that you can maintain good form with for the entire set but keep it tough enough that getting through the last 2 reps is hard work.

The same goes for the dumbbell renegade row, and for all of the variations. You can find our exercise guides to those variations just after we talk about the muscles worked during this exercise.

Renegade Row Muscles Worked

So, we guess your next question is ‘what muscles do renegade rows work?’. Well, you’re in the right place!

The core and the back are the main muscle groups worked during this exercise. More specifically, the renegade row targets the traps and lats in your upper back, as well as the rectus abdominus and the obliques in your core. Another of the main muscles worked by renegade rows is the biceps.

That’s not all! Renegade rows also require a lot of work from the rest of the core muscles as well as some other muscle groups. Particularly, you’ll feel the burn of this exercise in your arms and shoulders.

As well as the biceps, this exercise recruits the triceps, anterior deltoids, and forearms. The other secondary renegade row muscles are the rhomboids and the serratus.

Renegade row muscles highlighted

Here’s the full list of renegade row muscles worked:

  • Traps
  • Lats
  • Obliques
  • Rectus abdominus
  • Biceps
  • Triceps
  • Forearms
  • Rhomboids
  • Anterior deltoids
  • Erector Spinae
  • Serratus 

Renegade Row Variations

The renegade row is a deceptively difficult exercise. We have no doubt that you’ll have no problem getting the hang of the technique, but you might be surprised at just how much strength and stability is necessary.

For that reason, this exercise is pretty challenging. If you find that you’re struggling, the kneeling renegade row is a good alternative if you’re looking for a variation that’s a little easier.

If you’ve mastered this exercise, well that’s pretty impressive. You can find our exercise guides for some advanced renegade row variations just a little further on!

Kneeling Renegade Row

The renegade row requires a lot of core strength and stability. If you can’t yet manage the exercise as explained above, try out this easier (but definitely not easy) variation – the kneeling renegade row.

Set-Up and Equipment 

Grab a pair of dumbbells and an exercise mat. Again, we recommended that you avoid over-estimating your strength because this exercise can be tough. You’ll find it much easier using a set of dumbbells with a flat side as opposed to rounded weights.

Starting Position

Kneeling renegade row starting position

  • Kneel on the exercise mat (If this is uncomfortable, grab an ab mat or an exercise towel to kneel on).
  • Holding a dumbbell in each hand, reach forwards and rest on your hands with your arms extended.
  • Position your hands shoulder-width apart and ensure that your shoulders are directly above your wrists.

Execution

Kneeling renegade row picture showing row position

  • Row one of the dumbbells up and back, keeping it close to your body.
  • The weight should move towards your ribcage and your elbow should move back so that it’s pointing upwards.
  • As you row, your body should remain still and facing the ground. Contracting your core muscles will help you to keep your form.
  • Return the weight and then repeat the row with the opposite arm.

Kettlebell Renegade Row 

man doing kettlebell renegade row

The kettlebell renegade row is a more advanced variation of the original renegade row exercise.

Using kettlebells adds an extra challenge to the movement because the centre of gravity is further away from you than it is when you use a dumbbell. Because the centre of gravity is shifted, your muscles have to work even harder to stabilise the weight.

Academic researchers, for example Crawford (2011), have explained that kettlebells are “highly effective for strength-training” hence their popularity has boomed over the last decade or so.

If you’re interested in more of the science behind how kettlebells work for a more powerful and effective workout, check out the full article from Crawford.

Not only are there kettlebell renegade benefits for building muscle, but kettlebell training is also a great way to mix up your standard workout routine to keep things interesting and challenging. Whether you’re growing tired of the dumbbell renegade row or you want to challenge yourself with a progression exercise, you need to give this a try. Here’s how!

Set-Up and Equipment

For this renegade row progression, you’ll need an exercise mat and this time a set of kettlebells.

Starting Position

Kettlebell renegade row  starting position

  • Place two kettlebells on the exercise mat, shoulder-width apart.
  • Get into a press-up position, resting on your toes and holding on to the kettlebells to hold your body weight.
  • Fully extend your arms and move your feet so that they’re shoulder-width apart.
  • Engage your core muscles and ensure that your body forms a straight line from your heels to your head. 

Execution

image of Alternating Renegade row kettlebell

  • Row your arm backwards as you would for a dumbbell renegade row, keeping the weight close to your body.
  • Return the weight to the floor and then repeat the row with the opposite arm and then repeat for the recommended sets & reps below.

Press Up Row

If you’re really feeling up for a challenge, why not give the press up row a go? This advanced variation adds a press-up into the exercise, so the renegade row push up benefits for building core muscle and stability are pretty significant.

This progression involves all of the same muscles as the standard exercise, with extra work for your chest and triceps. 

Set-Up and Equipment

Find an exercise mat and grab a pair of dumbbells, set up the dumbbells at the top of the mat shoulder-width apart.

Starting Position

Press-up row starting position

  • Get into a press-up position with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Position your shoulders directly above your wrists.
  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand.
  • Contract your core muscles and ensure that your body is straight from your heels to your head.

Execution

image of man holding renegade row push ups

  • Lower your body down into a press-up, keeping your elbows close to your body (letting your arms flare out during a press-up is a mistake that a lot of clients make, watch the tutorial below to make sure your press-up form is correct).

press-up row position 3

  • Push yourself back up to the original starting position.

Renegade pushup row dumbbell row movement

  • Perform a row with one arm.
  • Return to the starting position.
  • Perform another press-up.
  • Row with the opposite arm.

If you enjoyed these progressions, why not combine the kettlebell renegade row and push up rows– using kettlebells and adding a push up into the movement. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it!

Renegade Row Burpee

Another renegade row progression includes a burpee. Love them or hate them, burpees are a brilliant exercise that works a ton of muscles and include a huge cardio element. 

This variation will have all of the renegade row benefits (which we’ll discuss in detail shortly), as well as the benefits of intense cardio exercise. For that reason, this variation is a brilliant tool for fat burning as well as muscle building.

What are you waiting for? Here’s what you need to do!

Set-Up and Equipment 

Grab a pair of hex dumbbells and an exercise mat. Put the dumbbells at the top of the mat, shoulder-width apart.

Starting Position

renegade row starting position

  • Get into a press-up position with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Rest your weight on your toes and your hands, which should be holding the dumbbells.
  • Tighten your core muscles to keep your body straight.

Execution

alternating renegade row movement

  • Perform a row, bringing you the dumbbell towards your ribcage and keeping your arm close to your body.
  • Return the weight to the ground and perform a row with your opposite arm.

renegade row burpee progression

  • To perform the burpee, let go of the dumbbells and jump your feet towards your hands.
  • Jump straight up and extend your arms.

renegade row burpee final movement

  • Jump back down, placing your weight on hands so that you can kick your legs back to the press-up position.
  • Grab the dumbbells and repeat the movement.


Renegade Row: Our Top Tips

checklist for renegade row tips

Here are our top tips for getting the renegade row right. All of our tips are based on avoiding the most common mistakes that people make during this exercise.

We don’t want you to make those mistakes, so bare these things in mind and you’ll be able to get the most out of renegade rows.

Keep Your Back Flat

Just like with a plank, you need to ensure that your back stays flat for the duration of renegade rows. That means keeping your hips still and your bum flat so that your back doesn’t curve.

The most common mistakes with the plank and renegade row are letting your hips drop causing a dip in your lower back or moving your glutes up higher than the rest of your body. If you find yourself doing either of these, then you need to pay more attention to your form! Good form means you’ll get the most out of the exercise and it will ensure your safety.

Ensure that you keep your core and your glutes engaged throughout the entire movement, this will help you to keep your form and will protect your lower back from unnecessary strain.

Stick to Our Recommended Reps & Sets 

man doing a sit-up

For the majority of gym-goers, hypertrophy is the main goal. Hypertrophy basically means increasing the size of the muscles. So, anyone who wants to build a muscular physique should be training in the hypertrophy rep range, which is 8-12 reps per set.

When it comes to core exercises, most people are aiming to increase the size of their muscles. But those who haven’t trained with a PT will often do 50 or even 100 reps of crunches in hope of sculpting a six-pack – this is one of the most common mistakes of the average gym-goer.

The muscles in your core are just like any other muscle, so anything more than 12 reps isn’t going to benefit you if your goal is to increase the size of your muscles, also known as hypertrophy. You might think that more reps will mean more results, but that’s not strictly the case. 

Instead of racking up a ridiculous number of reps, here’s what you should be doing according to the findings of a strength and conditioning research study by Schoenfeld (2010):

A hypertrophy-oriented program should employ a repetition range of 6-12 reps per set with rest intervals of 60-90 seconds between sets.

Schoenfeld explained that a moderate range of reps is the optimal training plan for those with aesthetic-based exercise goals. So, stick to our recommended reps and make sure that you have an adequate recovery time in-between sets.

If you’ve mastered our reps and sets and want to make the exercise more difficult, you can find a renegade row progression above. Alternatively, you can use more weight or add in an extra set – as long as you have a rest time of around 60-90 seconds between each set.

Don’t Twist Your Body 

woman doing a renegade row with correct form

Specific to a renegade row, keeping your hips and shoulders still is something that is vital in order to do it properly. When rowing the weight up, it is easy to turn your body towards the weight because this makes the movement a lot easier.

But, by making it easier the exercise isn’t working your core muscles or benefiting the development of your back anywhere near as much as it could be. Fighting the urge to rotate at your hips and your shoulders will ensure that you really feel burn in your upper body and will make the exercise a lot more effective.

Keeping your core muscles engaged will help you use these muscles and keep your torso still.

The best way to avoid this mistake is to concentrate on rowing the weight back rather than up. To do this, focus on the movement of your elbow towards your ribs rather than the movement of the dumbbell.

Start with Light Weights 

different sized dumbbells

The more weight you use, the harder your muscles will work and the stronger you’ll get, right? Not exactly. More weight won’t translate into more results if you’re comprising your form for a bigger set of dumbbells.

If you use too much weight, your body will try to cope by twisting your torso to make the load seem lighter – this is exactly what you should avoid. If you find that you can’t row the weight without twisting, chances are you need to grab a lighter pair of weights.

Baring all of the above tips for your form in mind, refer back to our section on ‘How Much Weight Should You Use?’ to use as a guideline.

Renegade Row Benefits 

Now that you know how to do renegade rows perfectly, check out all of the reasons why this is the exercise missing from your workouts. Here are the benefits! 

A Good Core Workout 

muscular man to show renegade row benefits for hypertrophy

Performing a row in a plank position means that this exercise requires a lot of work from the core stabilising muscles. If you perform the renegade row properly, you’ll really feel the burn in your core – especially the obliques and the rectus abdominus.

The rectus abdominus is otherwise known as your abs, so if you’re working towards a six-pack, the renegade row is a good exercise to master.

If you’re more concerned with building functional strength, there are still renegade row benefits suited to your goals. Training the rectus abdominus improves your overall athletic performance, particularly in sports that involve jumping up high. 

Working the obliques is really beneficial for building core stability, you can read more about that a little further on in this post!

Strengthen Your Upper Body

woman doing a pull-up

The muscles in your arms and upper back are all heavily involved with this exercise. When you add a push up into the movement (the press-up row, demonstrated above), your lats are worked even harder and your chest muscles get involved as well. 

Because of the benefits for building upper body muscle, renegade rows have aesthetic benefits for a defined torso and transferable benefits for functional strength. Building functional strength will improve your ability to do various tasks in daily life that may involve lifting, pushing, or pulling objects. So not only will you look strong, you’ll be able to show off your strength, too!

Benefits of A Compound Exercise

Above we answered, “what muscles do renegade rows work?” and you’ll see that the answer involves a range of different muscles from different muscle groups, including the core, back, and arms – making the renegade row a compound movement.

Compound exercises save you precious time in the gym by working different muscles at the same time rather than training them individually. Think of it this way, rather than doing rows and a plank, you can combine the two in one killer exercise. 

There are also benefits of compound movements for boosting your metabolism. Working multiple muscles at the same time puts a lot of demand on your muscles which increases your energy expenditure, burning those calories and encouraging weight loss.

Builds Core Stability

woman holding a plank row

The role of your obliques is to help you bend sideways and twist your torso. Renegade rows require a lot of work from your obliques in order to stabilise your upper body and keep your torso still throughout this anti-rotational core exercise.

Without initial core strength and stability, you might struggle to get the hang of how to do renegade rows properly as you’ll find your torso twisting towards the weight as you row. If this is the case, use a slightly lighter weight to build up the strength of your obliques.

Exercises that improve core stability and involve your obliques have a number of benefits. A stable core (which requires strong obliques) is preventative of lower back injuries. That’s because the internal and external obliques support your lower back during bending and twisting movements, for example during a sport like tennis which mimics the movement pattern of oblique twists.

Furthermore, core stability is associated with improved balance and better posture.

Accessible for All Fitness Levels 

two friends doing renegade rows

The renegade row is a versatile exercise that can be made easier or more difficult depending on individual fitness levels. The kneeling variation is perfect for beginners who don’t quite have the core stability to hold the plank position. Alternatively, you can try a renegade row without weights to get used to the movement.

As demonstrated above, there are also a variety of renegade progressions for anyone who wants to add to the challenge. Having the option to switch between dumbbells and kettlebells or adding a burpee or a push-up into the movement are examples of ways that you can switch up the standard exercise. 

Not only is it great to have an exercise that you can start off with as a beginner and make more difficult as your fitness increases, but having variety in your exercise routine is also a bonus! In fact, we’d go as far as to say that exercise variety is essential for success, as it challenges your muscles and stops you from getting bored.

Boredom is a real deal-breaker for a lot of people in the first few weeks of their fitness journey. If you try and stick to the same exercise routine every time you go to the gym, chances are you’ll find it repetitive and your motivation will take a nosedive. 

In fact, a study from the University of Florida found that

If you vary your exercise routine, there’s a significant increase in enjoyment that leads to greater adherence.

Build Back Muscle

muscular back

Although renegade rows require a lot of work from your core stabilising muscles, they still have significant benefits for building other muscles in your upper body. This exercise will especially work your lats, the large muscles in your back which help with shoulder stability and shoulder and arm movements.

By working on your upper body strength with the renegade row, you’ll see improvements in other exercises that involve a lot of the same muscles. For that reason, the renegade row can work great as an assistance exercise for other movements that isolate specific muscles or areas of your body.

For example, working the lats and making them stronger will add to the amount of weight you can use when performing a Pendlay Row. In turn, this will boost the results you see from this exercise, meaning a bigger and stronger back.

As an added bonus, strengthening the lats and working some of the other muscles in your back, such as the traps and the rhomboids, will stop you from slouching and improve your posture!

Increased Time Under Tension

timer

The renegade row is tough, in order to get the exercise right you have to take your time and concentrate on a number of factors. Those include keeping your torso stable and concentrating on rowing the weight in the correct direction.

A set of renegade rows takes a fair bit longer than other exercises, such as the standard bent-over row. Because the set takes longer, your muscles are under tension for an increased amount of time.

Various researchers in the field of physiology have found a positive association between time under tension and muscle growth. For example, a study by Burd et al. (2012) found:

These results suggest that the time the muscle is under tension during exercise may be important in optimizing muscle growth.

You can find the full study here.

Therefore, the renegade row benefits for muscle growth are arguably more significant than exercises that do not require the muscles to stay under tension as long. With this exercise, there is also the opportunity to further increase time under tension by taking longer on each row. This is one of many variations of the renegade row which makes it possible to make the exercise more difficult. 

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References

Burd, N. et al. (2012). Muscle time under tension during resistance exercise stimulates differential muscle protein sub‐fractional synthetic responses in men. The Journal of Physiology. 590 (2), pp. 351-362.

Crawford, M. (2011). Kettlebells: powerful, effective exercise and rehabilitation tools. Journal of the American Chiropractic Association. 8, pp. 7-13.

Schoenfeld, B. J. (2010). The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 24 (10), pp. 2857-2872.

 

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Written by Abbie Watkins

Fitness Content Executive, OriGym

Holding an MA Marketing Communications and Branding as well as a BSc Psychology from the University of Liverpool, Abbie’s experience encompasses the retail, hospitality and fitness industries. Since joining OriGym, she has become a qualified Personal Trainer, taking particular interest in Group Exercise. Abbie’s main focuses cover staying up to speed with YouTube fitness influencers, identifying successful and innovative content formats. She has contributed to various publications, including the Daily Express. Beyond OriGym, she describes herself as a ‘work-hard, play-hard’ type going on scenic runs and upbeat exercise classes, and often found on the front row of a Saturday morning spin class.