Updated: May 3, 2020
The renegade row is designed to target the upper back as well as the core. While this exercise targets both muscle groups used during a plank and a dumbbell row, it also develops anti-rotational core strength, which is essential for balance, coordination, and even fall-prevention.
Upper back: latissimus dorsi, rhomboids
Abdominals / Obliques
Who Should Perform This Exercise
Level of Difficulty: Intermediate
A variety of people would benefit from this exercise. However, it does require a base level of core strength to perform correctly. For proper form, you must be able to hold your body in a plank position, while supporting all your bodyweight with one arm at a time. If you can hold a plank with good form for at least 30 seconds, you are a good candidate for the renegade row.
As a compound exercise, the renegade row is a great exercise for the entire upper body and core. Holding a plank during this exercise requires the engagement of the deep stabilizing abdominal muscles, spine, shoulders, and hips. Performing a simultaneous row targets the upper back, arms, and shoulders.
A unique benefit of the renegade row, and for many the most challenging aspect, is the anti-rotational engagement of the obliques. As one dumbbell is drawn up toward the chest, the same-side hip will attempt to twist toward the ceiling, unfortunately, reducing the focus on the upper back. Not what we're looking for.
Resisting the "twist" with core control keeps the work where we want it to be -- the upper back -- and provides all the benefits of anti-rotational strength.
Anti-rotational strength is very beneficial for functional fitness. Many lower back injuries occur when the spine is pulled out of alignment, either during an everyday or unexpected motion . For instance, your lower back could become injured while bending down to pick up an object, causing your spine to twist unexpectedly, resulting in pain. However, anti-rotational core strength helps keep your spine in alignment during this type of movement, protecting your lower back from this pain and injury.
How to Perform the Renegade Row
Equipment needed: Set of dumbbells.
Place the dumbbells on the floor about shoulder-width apart, with the handles of the dumbbells parallel to one another, and easy to grasp when in plank position.
Start on your hands and knees in a tabletop-like position, gripping one dumbbell with each hand. Hands should be aligned beneath your shoulders, and knees should be under your hips.
Step out to a full plank position, and support your body with your hands and the balls of your feet. Important: Check your form — Does your body form a straight line from head to toes? Is your core engaged and tight? Are your feet approximately hip-distance apart? Do you you balanced and strong? Great -- Time to row.
Inhale and shift your weight slightly to your left side so more of your weight is supported by your left palm. Your body should not twist -- Both hips and shoulders should stay squared to the floor.
Squeeze your right shoulder blade toward your spine and draw the dumbbell held in your right hand toward your chest, bending your elbow behind you, while exhaling on the lift. How's your form at the top of the movement? Are your hips and shoulders still be squared to the floor? Is the dumbbell pulled up all the way to your right shoulder? Is your right elbow pointing up and toward the back?
Slowly lower the dumbbell to the floor, and return to the starting position.
Switch sides by shifting your weight to the right side and repeat the exercise, drawing the left dumbbell to your left shoulder. This is one full repetition.
Complete the desired number of repetitions and exit the exercise by lowering your knees back to the floor before releasing the dumbbells and sitting up.
Common Form Issues
Sticking Your Bottom Up - The most common "cheat" in a plank exercise is sticking one's bum up into the air vs. creating a straight line with their body from head to toe -- reducing the challenge to your core muscles.
Swaying Your Back - Another planking "cheat" is swaying your hips and dropping them lower than the straight, invisible line between your heels and shoulders. This can cause undue stress on your low back.
Craning or Dropping Your Neck - Failing to keep your neck aligned with your spine. Either you crane your neck to face straight ahead, or you drop your neck so your head falls forward between your arms. Both issues compromise spinal alignment.
Twisting Your Hips - The main mistake associated with the renegade row is the alignment of your hips. Instead of squaring your hips as you draw the dumbbells toward your chest, your same-side hip will twist up, and eliminating the the anti-rotational strength benefits.
Easier (for core): Perform the exercise from a modified plank position.
Easier (for shoulders): Perform the exercise without dumbbells
Harder: Instead of dumbbells, use kettlebells. The uneven distribution of kettlebell weight make the exercise more difficult to control, adding to the core stabilization and challenge of the movement.
~Dolores Harrell, CHC, CPT, CN, TES