Add Renegade Rows to Your Workout for a Strong Core and Back
So you can hold a plank for a minute, maybe more, and you’ve also mastered the bent-over row. That means it’s time to up your game! Enter: renegade rows.
Combining a plank and row, as you do with this move, gives you one super effective exercise that will work your core and back—both imperative for strong cycling.
The renegade row is a “very effective exercise,” says Darci Revier, C.S.C.S., director of education at the National Exercise Trainers Association (NETA) and NETA-certified cycling instructor. “It’s very functional for core training, as well as providing stability and balance.”
Katie Pierson, a certified indoor cycling instructor and certified personal trainer, regularly progrmes the renegade row into her group fitness classes. The exercise, she says, packs a one-two punch of strength and stability work and is a “really, really beneficial exercise for cyclists.”
Curious to try renegade rows for yourself? It’s an advanced movement, so you do need to learn a few form tips. Here, expert advice for doing the renegade row correctly, plus the best variations to try, and all the benefits you’ll reap by adding it to your routine.
How to Do Renegade Rows, the Right Way
You’ll need a set of dumbbells to perform renegade rows. Start with a light weight—lighter than what you’d use for a traditional bent-over row. Then follow the below steps.
- Start in a high plank position with feet hip-width apart, shoulders above wrists, and each palm gripping a dumbbell on the ground. Body should form a straight line from head to heels.
- Pull shoulders down and back away from ears. Engage glutes, legs, core, and shoulders to create total-body tension. This is the starting position.
- Without moving the rest of your body, slowly pull right elbow up and back, keeping elbow close to side. Pause when the weight is at the ribcage.
- Slowly lower the weight back down to return to starting position.
- Perform the same movement on left side.
- Continue alternating, making sure hips stay square to the ground and you maintain total-body engagement.
What are the benefits of renegade rows?
The rowing portion of the renegade row is a back exercise, something cyclists should always incorporate into their training to counteract the forward-leaning position they hold on the bike, which tends to tighten the chest and shoulder muscles. “Any sort of rowing activity is beneficial to cyclists just to create that muscular balance,” explains Revier. This muscular balance will, in turn, help cyclists maintain more ideal posture, both in and out of the saddle.
But the renegade row isn’t just a back exercise—it’s a full-body move that works your shoulder and chest stabilizers as well as your core muscles, including your rectus abdominus (six-pack muscles), transverse abdominis (deep core muscles), and internal and external obliques (muscles on the sides of your midsection), says Pierson.
There are a lot of benefits to this total-body engagement. “Any time that you’re in a plank position, it is training your whole body to work as an integrated unit,” says Revier. It may not seem obvious, but that has a carryover to cycling. “When you’re on the bike, it’s not just your legs that are working,” says Revier. Effective endurance cycling requires the whole body—including your legs, core, and upper body—to work together. And moves like the renegade row can help train that total-body coordination.
As mentioned, another benefit of renegade rows is the core stability challenge. That’s because in the plank position, you have to really engage your core muscles in order to maintain good form and isolate the back muscles needed to perform the row, explains Revier. Core stability is also what keeps your hips from rocking.
Knowing how to stabilize your core in this way can help you move optimally and with reduced risk of injury in tons of different scenarios, whether you’re pedalling up a steep hill on your bike, or carrying a bag of heavy groceries to your car. “A lot of times we’ve got to stabilize our core so that the muscles that we want to activate appropriately are in the correct position to do so,” explains Revier.
Additionally, the renegade row is a unilateral exercise, meaning just one limb is performing the movement at a time. Unilateral exercises are great for identifying weaknesses and imbalances that exist in the body from side to side, says Revier. Once you’ve pinpointed these weaknesses and imbalances, you can gradually work to correct them with targeted exercises.
Are there any common mistakes people make when doing renegade rows?
The first mistake people typically make with the renegade row: Losing strong plank positioning. This can happen when people focus solely on moving the weight and inadvertently let their hips sag, their glutes hike up, or their shoulders move toward their ears or no longer over the wrists.
Another common form error is allowing the body to rotate as you perform the row—for example, letting your left hip lift as your left arm rows. This can happen if your weight is too heavy or if you don’t have enough core stability to do the move correctly. If that’s the case, drop to a lower weight and work your way back up by practicing the move.
Other mistakes include letting the elbow flare out to the side (instead of keeping it hugged close to the body), shrugging the shoulders up towards the ears (instead of pulling them down and back), and walking your hands too far forward so that your wrists are in front of your shoulders (instead of stacked directly beneath). All of these will target the upper traps and shoulders, rather than have you activate the latissimus dorsi and rhomboid muscles of the mid back.
If you find yourself struggling with any of the mistakes listed above, consider lowering your weight, slowing down the movement, and being mindful of each component of the exercise. You may also need to modify the exercise so it’s better suited to your fitness level, like placing your knees on the ground.
How do you modify or progress renegade rows?
If the traditional renegade row feels too intense, make it easier by performing the movement with just your bodyweight—simply mimic the rowing motion with your hands instead of holding dumbbells.
Another option? Keep the weight but drop to a kneeling plank position and execute the move from there.
If that’s still too challenging, perform the exercise on your hands and knees in tabletop position. This position still demands total-body control but it’s less core-intensive, explains Revier.
On the flip side, you can crank up the intensity of the renegade row by placing your feet closer together. This increases the stability challenge since you have a more narrow base of support, explains Revier. You can also grab a heavier set of weights.
How often should you do the renegade row?
The typical recommendation for any strength training activity is two to three sets of about eight to 10 reps, says Revier. With the renegade row, however, you may want to start with just one set of eight to 10 reps before gradually increasing the volume, because it is a more advanced movement.
If that rep count feels like too much, do however many reps you can while maintaining good plank positioning, says Revier. “It might not necessarily be that I feel like my shoulder fatigued or my back fatigued, but if that plank is broken down, that’s where we want to stop,” she says.
You can incorporate the renegade row into your routine as often as you would any other strength training exercise; it would fit well into any full-body strength training routine that uses dumbbells, says Revier.
The one caveat: Make sure you give your muscles enough recovery time in between strength sessions that target the same muscle groups. Two or three days of downtime is the general rule of thumb.