Renegade Rows Part II: 50 Variations You’ve Never Done
Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.
Last week I highlighted the technique cues, benefits, and physiological mechanisms involved with the renegade row. See Part 1 Here. However, renegade rows can be regressed, progressed, and modified to target various muscle groups and movement patterns. Here are 50 of my favorite renegade rows and variations thereof.
Rotational Renegade Rows
One of the most simple yet effective renegade row modifications is the rotational variation.
The rotational component allows a more supinated grip position in the top contracted position which maximizes intramuscular tension and shoulder centration and packing of the glenohumeral joint. In contrast, the pronated grip in the bottom position allows maximal eccentric elongation and stretching of the lats.
Not only does this provide a very strong hypertrophy stimulus for the entire upper back and lats, it helps optimize scapulohumeral rhythm and glenohumeral joint mechanics. In other words, it reinforces proper shoulder function and positioning. Additionally, the rotational forces create additional torque on the torso and spine thereby requiring greater activation throughout the entire musculature of the core and abs to resist these rotational forces.
These can also be performed with a barbell as shown here by my awesome client and national level figure competitor Leslie Petch. Just be prepared for some serious core activation as these are inordinately brutal.
Quadruped Bird Dog Renegade Rows
This renegade quadruped bird dog row, as the name implies, combines two of my favorite and most brutally difficult exercises, the quadruped bird dog row and the renegade row.
The degree of core stability, anti-rotation, balance, motor control, shoulder stability, spinal rigidity, hip alignment, and overall core activation produced from this one is some of the most intense you'll ever experience. To reap the benefits of this there are 4 key factors you'll want to implement into your technique.
First, don't allow the weight to touch the floor throughout the exercise. In other words there will be continuous constant tension fashion.
Second, try to perform all of the movements slowly and with a pause in an eccentric isometric fashion.
Third, make sure the entire body from head to foot (particularly of the elevated leg) maintains a straight line that's parallel to the floor.
Fourth, focus on getting as tall on the toes and ball of the foot as possible on the loaded leg rather than sitting back on the heel. When the heel drops close to the ground this subtle but common compensation patterns eliminates much of the tension to the core.
If you’re looking to further increase the difficulty of this drill, you can also elevate your feet on a bench or box as shown here by Leslie.
In fact, performing any renegade row with the feet elevated significantly increases the intensity as there are greater extension forces acting on the spine not to mention a larger range of motion in the upper body.
Renegade Plank Rows
The renegade plank row is one of the most challenging combination core and back exercises you'll ever perform as you're essentially combining the single arm plank and the renegade row into one unique movement. In fact, moving from the hand to the forearm further increases the activation of the core particularly the rectus abs and transverse abs. Originally demonstrated by Dean Somerset this brutal exercise will improve your posture, full body stability, mental toughness, conditioning, and overall muscularity. Rather than rushing through the set try performing these in a slow eccentric isometric fashion using slower tempos. Read more about eccentric isometrics here.
If you’re looking to truly brutalize the abs and isolate the core musculature even further, try performing only a handful of reps (even just 1 or 2) but using extended eccentric isometrics as I show here.
While the core plays a key role in stabilizing the spine during renegade rows, the act of rowing the weight upwards and moving into shoulder extension causes the lats and upper back to be just as prominently involved in the act of resisting rotation as that of the core musculature. When the weight is held in the bottom position as shown here, the lats and middle back cannot be relied on as heavily to resist rotation thereby placing a majority of anti-rotation responsibilities on the core.
In fact, during renegade rows the phase of the lift where the core is must heavily engaged is in the bottom stretched position just above floor height. It’s at this position where force vectors responsible for resisting rotation on the spine and core are at their peak. It’s also where the lats and upper back contribute very little to anti-rotation and instead act mainly to stabilize the shoulders and keep them from excessively protracting.
Incline Renegade Rows
For many clients, the basic renegade row can be too intense to begin with. With that said, one of my favorite regressions of the basic renegade row is the incline renegade variation. Similar to the above exercises these can be performed either on the hand (easier variation) as shown by my awesome client Young Han or on the forearm (the more challenging variation)
For those looking to master the quadruped bird dog renegade row variation, the incline plank position is also incredibly conducive for learning them as shown by Leslie.
Renegade Rows On A Stability Ball
Performing renegade rows on the stability ball not only requires incredibly smooth mechanics and precise rowing technique but it also crushes the core musculature more so than most ab exercises you’ll ever attempt. The level of motor control, full body stability, and intramuscular tension from head to toe is difficult to replicate with any other variation. Here’s my awesome client Leslie showing how it’s done with 2 variations.
The forearm version targets the core and abdominals slightly more whereas the hand version targets the shoulder stabilizers to a greater extent.
Table Top Renegade Rows
Although renegade rows are some of the most effective combination back and core stabilization movements many lifters allow their torso to twist and rotate excessively as a means of cheating their way through the movement and taking tension off the core. To fully exploit all the benefits of renegade rows it’s imperative that the torso and spine stay relatively square parallel to the floor while resisting rotational forces. Fortunately, implementing the tabletop method by placing a plate on the back helps eliminate these issues.
Besides placing even greater tension on the core musculature, implementing the tabletop technique into renegade rows forces the lifter to use precise form and proper execution, as even the slightest bit of rotation and twisting will cause the weights to slip off the back. Read more about the table top method here.
Ring Renegade Rows
If you’re looking to deload the spine while also increasing instability from head to toe, try performing renegade rows on Olympic rings as Leslie shows here. Just be prepared to brace every muscle in your body as the level of stabilization needed to dial these in is incredibly high.
Bear Crawl Renegade Rows
If you’re looking for a unique and incredibly brutal method for spicing up your renegade rows try performing them from a modified bear crawl position as demonstrated by my awesome client and national level figure competitor Leslie Petch.
Similar to bear crawl ab rollouts, these do wonders for eliminating excessive lumbar extension that many individuals struggle with on renegade rows and anti-extension exercises due to the more compact position. They also crush the upper back and lats not to mention just about every muscle in the body. Similar to the other variations highlighted above, these can also performed from a planking (forearm position). Read more about bear crawl exercises here.
Bear Crawl Bird Dog Renegade Rows
As if renegade rows weren't hard enough, here are 4 very unique and advanced variations that combine the bear crawl, the bird dog, and the renegade row together to create some devastatingly brutal combinations.
I'm going to go on record as stating that these are some of the most difficult core stabilization exercises I've ever attempted period. Most core drills involve either high levels of intramuscular core tension (aka ab squeeze) or high levels of instability/balance. These have both features (to the maximum I might add) as you'll be forced not only to brace your core and abs with every fiber of your being, but literally every muscle from head to toe will be required to be fully engaged to maintain balance and control of the moments. If you have a weakness, energy leak, imbalance, asymmetry, or any area of dysfunction these will expose it almost immediately as it will probably be impossible to perform. In fact, once you can successfully perform these its safe to say that you've more or less mastered your movement mechanics and motor control. Although the first two variations can involve moderate loads (I'm using a 50 pound dumbbell but typically use 80-100 on renegade rows).
It's important to note that these really are not upper back exercises as the rowing feature is simply used to further challenge the core. In other words these would not substitute for heavier row or upper back movement. Think of these as the most intense and difficult core & ab exercises you probably can't do especially the last 2 variations (the ring and stability ball versions) which are insanely difficult.
Offset Angle Renegade Rows
Unfortunately many individuals perform renegade rows with excessive rotation, twisting, and shifting of their torso. While a very slight degree of rotation is acceptable when rowing the weight into the top position, as this can produce a stronger contraction through the back, excessive twisting simply minimizes tension to the core not to mention to the upper back and lats. Although there are several ways to eliminate this one of my favorites is the offset angled protocol. Simply place your feet on 20-35 degree angled decline bench and perform renegade rows as demonstrated by my awesome client and national level figure athlete Leslie Petch.
Essentially this position is creating additional rotational forces on the torso and rowing arm. Not only does this light the core up more so than just about any movement you’ll ever perform but it also prevents excessive rotation and twisting. For example if you’re rowing your right arm, the natural tendency is to twist and rotate the right side of the torso up towards the ceiling. However, the offset angled position prevents this as the right side of the torso is being pushed aggressively towards the floor throughout the set.
Don’t be surprised if you have to substantially decrease the amount of weight you typically handle during renegade rows. In fact, I suggest starting with single arm planks using the offset angled decline bench before progressing to these constant tension renegade rows. Read more about Offset Angle Training here.
Landmine Renegade Rows
The landmine provides a unique way for performing a number of different variations of the renegade row each of which provides it’s own specific attributes. Here are 4 of my awesome clients including NFL athlete Jarius Wynn, Leslie Petch, Ben Lai, and Todd Weiland showing how it’s done. Learn more about the benefits of each of these landmine renegade row variations here.
Overcoming Isometric Renegade Rows
If you’re looking for a unique and advanced method to ramp up your neuromuscular activation during renegade rows look no further than this barbell suitcase overcoming isometric variation. As you pull harder and harder against the immovable benches not only does this increase motor unit recruitment throughout the entire back, your core must activate more and more intensely to resist rotation and stay square to the floor.
With this specific combination you're actually using a relatively light/moderate load of around 40- 60% of your 1RM. For most individuals the empty bar will provide more than enough tension not only in the top position, but just enough tension in the bottom eccentric/stretched position to pre stretch the lats and activate the muscle spindles. This helps the lifter fine-tune their mechanics through enhanced proprioceptive feedback.
Ultimately, the goal with this movement or any other overcoming isometric is to pull against an immovable setting (in this case the two benches) with maximal effort to induce a post activation potentiation effect. As you pull you should feel the muscles around the entire core and upper back activate to a greater and greater extent each passing second until it finally peaks at 3-5 seconds. At that point perform the eccentric portion of the row to activate muscles spindles/intrafusal muscle fibers and pre-stretch the working muscles, which research has shown decreases the onset of fatigue and improves kinesthetic awareness/proprioception. As a result, the lifter is able to maintain higher quality of movement and higher power output on subsequent reps without deterioration of form or excessive fatigue being the limiting factor.
Renegade Wall Rows
Renegade Rows are already plenty challenging. However elevating your feet on a wall as demonstrated by my awesome client Leslie Petch turns the movement into one of the most demanding full body exercises you'll ever attempt.
Besides crushing the core and upper body, your legs must work overtime to press aggressively against the wall (using your quads, glutes, hip flexors, and hamstrings) otherwise you'll simply slide down the wall. Be prepared for a full body burn as well as intense conditioning and heart rate elevation.
Trap Bar Renegade Rows
Performing renegade rows on a trap bar, as shown by my awesome client Todd Weiland, not only forces the lifter to resist a forward rolling effect thereby increasing extension forces that must be resisted, there is also a rotational rolling effect that must be resisted. As a result, this contributes even further to the already incredibly high levels of rotary stability and anti-rotation.
The degree of core strength, spinal rigidity, motor control, shoulder stability, and full body tension needed on these are through the roof. Just make sure to start off with the single arm plank variations on the trap bar first. Once you master those then progress to lighter renegade rows.
The trap bar can also be combined with the landmine station to produce a very unique stimulus on the lats and core
Renegade Rows on Slide-Board
Here are several of my NFL athletes including Marquell Beckwith, Julian Williams, and Tyson Graham as well as collegiate football player Andrew B.M. and soccer athlete Alexis performing an anti-sliding renegade row.
One of the most common errors during renegade rows is allowing the heels to drop rather than staying tall on the balls of the feet. When the heel drops close to the ground this subtle but common compensation patterns eliminates much of the tension to the core not to mention it often contributes to lumbar extension and shoulder elevation.
Placing the feet on a slide-board requires the lifter to stay tall on the balls of their feet as sagging towards the heels will cause the lifter to slide backwards. This combination not only cleans up renegade rowing mechanics (not to mention technique on planks and pushups) but it also crushes the core and muscles around the lumbopelvic hip complex. Read more about slide board exercises here.
Foam Roller Renegade Rows
Placing the feet on top of the foam roller as shown here by collegiate quarterback Drew Dinsmore, also produces a similar effect to the slideboard as it forces the athlete to stay tall on the balls of the feet as well as slow the entire movement down.
The foam roller can also be used to enhance upper body stability. Placing the foam roller width wise requires the lifter to stabilize the foam roller in an anteroposterior fashion thereby aggressively activating the lats and upper back to keep the roller from sliding forward. In contrast, placing the foam roller longitudinally as shown here by Leslie provides greater mediolateral instability that the lifter must control by firing their shoulder stabilizers including the muscles around the rotator cuff and rear deltoids.
Chaos Renegade Rows
If you’re really looking to take the instability component a step further, try performing chaos renegade rows as shown here by my awesome bodybuilding athlete Ben Lai.
These require incredibly high levels of core recruitment as well as shoulder stabilization and full body motor control as anything less will make it literally impossible to maintain any semblance of balance and control.
Renegade Rows with Reactive Neuromuscular Training (RNT)
Another common problem frequently witnessed during renegade rows is poor lat activation as a result of improper postural alignment and faulty shoulder mechanics. In other words many folks tend to elevate their shoulders, round their upper back, and rely predominantly on their arms, traps, and shoulders to row the weight.
Using reactive neuromuscular training (RNT) in the form of horizontal band resistance not only improves shoulder mechanics and spinal rigidity, it forces the lats and upper back to be engaged. That’s because it literally requires the individual to keep their shoulders packed and depressed throughout as excessive elevation or protraction will make it nearly impossible to lock these in. Additionally the lats must work overtime as you have both a horizontal and vertical force vector acting on the shoulder thereby producing a stimulus that mimics both a row and lat pulldown.
Additional Movement Patterns
One of the unique features of the single arm plank position employed during renegade rows is that it can be modified not only to perform horizontal pulling motions and rows but also to perform just about every upper body movement pattern including chest presses, lat pulldowns, pullovers, shoulder raises, bicep curls, tricep exercises, lever rows, chest flyes, and more. However, some of these do require the use of cables and bands to produce the necessary force vectors and loading modalities.
Additionally, these drills are excellent not only for killing 2 birds with one stone (as you’ll be performing an intense core drill while also knocking out a primary upper body movement pattern) but the renegade position actually helps clean up various forms of dysfunction and technique aberrations throughout the upper body. These will be highlighted with each specific variation and movement.
Renegade Chest Presses
If you’re looking for a unique exercise that not only crushes the entire core musculature and abdominals but also blasts the chest, shoulders, and triceps, look no further than the renegade chest press with band resistance. Here are 6 unique variations including bird dog variations, bear crawl variations, ring variations and bear crawl bird dog variations as I demonstrate alongside several of my clients including Leslie Petch, Ben Lai, and Elizabeth Yates.
Besides acting as a great 2 in 1 exercise, the renegade chest press provides 4 unique benefits for cleaning up horizontal pressing mechanics and chest pressing technique.
1. Most individuals lack ample core activation during chest presses. Not only does this compromise force production and power output, it also places undue stress on the involved joints and connective tissues as the targeted muscles cannot perform their appropriate roles without ample spinal rigidity. The renegade chest press teaches the lifter how to fire their core while performing horizontal presses.
2. Lack of core activation not only compromises upper body mechanics but it also places undue stress on the lumbar spine and low back. In fact, it’s quite common for many lifters to have excessive lumbar extension during chest presses. The renegade chest press helps resolve this as it teaches heightened levels of core activation while performing presses thereby minimizing lumbar hyperextension.
3. Most lifters have a tendency to overextend their arm and excessively protract their shoulders when finishing the concentric phase of the press. The renegade chest press resolves this as it not only feels very unnatural to overextend in the contracted position, but the fist will actually hit the floor. This teaches the lifter to pack and centrate the shoulder joint into the most biomechanically sound position while keeping constant tension on the chest.
4. Another common mistake on chest presses is allowing the elbow to move too far past the plane of the torso and over-stretching the shoulder and pectoral. To maintain high levels of core activation and spinal rigidity the lifter will be required to terminate their end ROM at an approximately 90 degree joint angle otherwise the exaggerated motion will rotate their torso causing them to lose optimal positioning.
Renegade Shoulder Raises
Not only does the renegade shoulder raise blast the rear deltoids and upper back but it absolutely torches the core. Here are 6 variations each from different clients and athletes including NFL athlete Julian Williams, Ben Lai, Leslie Petch, Michael Horner, Bonnie Shea, and Todd Weiland.
As you raise the dumbbell farther away from your center of mass the weight pulls more and more on your core creating strong rotational forces and extension forces on the spine that the lifter must resist.
In addition, the renegade rear delt lateral raise is the perfect drill for teaching a lifter how to properly perform rear delt or bent over lateral raises as it’s nearly impossible to cheat this movement. Most individuals perform lateral raises with excessive momentum and body English. By maintaining a renegade plank hold position while performing rear delt raises you’ll be forced to eliminate momentum and dial in your mechanics.
Lastly, you’ll be forced to terminate the top end range of motion at the appropriate point as going excessively high (a common mistake made even by advanced lifters) will cause the lifter to lose their core tightness and positioning. To successfully hold the renegade plank you’ll be required to use optimal range of motion as shown in the several video clips above.
Renegade Overhead Shoulder Press
One of the most common issues lifters struggle with during overhead pressing and vertical pressing motions is excessive lumbar extension and weak core activation. The renegade shoulder press represents one of the most simple yet effective methods not only for resolving this issue and fixing overhead pressing technique but also for blasting the deltoids and abdominals with one functional exercise.
When combined with a quadruped bird dog as I show here the level of core activation and rotary stabilization is through the roof. Just be prepared to brace every muscle from head to toe do maintain control of the movement. Also shoutout to Kelvin King Jr. who’s also performed similar variations. Definitely check out his page as he’s always providing high quality content.
Renegade Chest Flyes
The renegade chest fly is a surprisingly intense chest isolation exercise that also happens to blast the core as demonstrated by my awesome client Eric McIntyre.
Originally when I first attempted these I was sure I would feel the core more so than the chest. However I was pleasantly surprised that my pectorals gave out well before my abs. In fact, each of my clients and athletes reported the same effect. There’s likely several reasons for this.
1. Most lifters use excessive momentum and body English when performing chest flyes. The heightened instability from the renegade position requires the lifter to use smooth and controlled chest fly mechanics thereby blasting the pectorals with constant tension.
2. Because of the intense core activation and rotary stability required to lock in the core, not only does this translate to increased full body tension but it also helps clean up chest fly mechanics and form aberrations. This helps to ensure the lifter relies on targeted musculature of their pectorals to perform the movement rather than compensating with the shoulders and or arms.
3. Excessive protraction and shoulder elevation is another common issue during chest flyes as this minimizes tension to the chest. The renegade chest fly helps reinforce proper shoulder packing, retraction, and depression (due to the unstable single arm plank), thereby maximizing pectoral recruitment with minimal tension on the shoulder joint.
4. Another common mistake on chest flyes is overstretching in the eccentric position. However, the increased spinal rigidity produced from the heightened core recruitment helps the lifter tune into the optimal stopping point and natural ROM which happens to be much more compact than what most coaches teach.
Renegade Biceps Curls
The renegade position is not only conducive for blasting the biceps due to the constant tension in the top contracted position but it also crushes the core as shown by 3 of my NFL football athletes including Marquell Beckwith, Mazi Ogbonna, and Julian Williams. That’s because the farther the weight/arm moves away from our center of mass towards the head, the greater the level of extension forces that are placed on the spine and torso.
Although the core gets pummeled, don’t be surprised if you feel your biceps getting thrashed as you’ll be forced to slow the movement down while using strict mechanics to dial in your positioning. Just be forewarned, the quadruped bird dog variation shown by Julian is quite advanced, as shown by his timely tuck and roll maneuver at the end of the video.
Renegade Lat Pulldowns
Performing renegade rows on a cable station (or using resistance bands) actually mimics a lat pulldown or pullup motion more so than a rowing exercise. That’s because the force vector is applied in a vertical overhead fashion just as it would be when performing lat pulldowns and pullups. The unique angle of pull not only blasts the lats and upper back but it also places additional extension forces on the spine as tension wants to pull the hips forward and down. Throw in the quadruped bird dog position and the entire musculature of the core must work overtime to resist spinal extension and rotational forces.
Similar to other rows and pulldowns I’ve posted in the past, The rotational component allows a more supinated grip position in the contracted position which maximizes intramuscular tension, shoulder centration, and packing of the glenohumeral joint. In contrast, the pronated grip in the stretched position allows maximal eccentric elongation and stretching of the lats.
Not only does this provide a very strong hypertrophy stimulus for the entire upper back and lats but this helps optimize scapulohumeral rhythm and glenohumeral joint mechanics. In other words it reinforces proper shoulder function and positioning. Additionally the rotational forces create additional torque on the torso and spine thereby requiring greater activation throughout the entire musculature of the core and abs to resist these rotational forces. This is a great drill for overhead athletes as well as anyone with shoulder and low back issues.
Renegade Lever Rows
Nearly a decade ago, expert strength coach Max shank introduced lever rows to the fitness community demonstrating a variety of standing hip hinge positions (similar to a bent over row) that involved isolation of shoulder extension while moving the arm in a front to back motion. In fact the movement and activation pattern is quite similar to pullovers and straight arm lat pulldowns. However, this same concept can also be applied to the single arm plank position by performing renegade lever rows as demonstrated by several of my clients including Todd Weiland, Leslie Petch, Elizabeth Yates and Mitch Gartenburg.
Besides taxing the lats, rear deltoids, upper back, and triceps, and shoulder stabilizers, these also blast the entire musculature of the core and abs as you resist extension and rotational forces acting on the spine. To isolate the lats, focus on moving primarily at the shoulder joint while maintaining a semi-fixed and locked elbow joint throughout. In contrast, you can also modify these to target the triceps similar to a kickback motion by moving primarily at the elbow joint as shown by my awesome client Mitch.
Mini Band Renegade Rows
Here I have my awesome client and NPC figure competitor Leslie Petch performing a brutal renegade row variation with a mini band. Here’s why this is so effective.
Most individuals will neglect lower body, hip, & foot alignment during renegade rows. This oftentimes leads to poor core activation which will compromise the mechanics of the entire movement thereby negating many of the benefits of renegade rows. Fortunately, the mini band directly remedies this. Here’s what I mean. You’ll often see one or both feet externally rotated (pointed out like a duck squat) which ends up externally rotating & circumducting the hips (opening the hip excessively). This over extends the hips, directly causing the hips, low back, & pelvis to sag towards the floor which in turn makes it nearly impossible to engage the core not to mention placing undue stress on the spine.
You’ll also commonly see the heels sag towards the ground when this occurs - another common mistake. To prevent this & to maintain tall hips & hollowed core with tall feet, we want the hips internally rotated while simultaneously trying to abduct the hips. This should create intense activation of the glute medius (outer hips). As a result the heels should be pushed out laterally which will prevent the toes from rotating out. This causes the feet to be perfectly parallel to each other, tall, & perpendicular to the floor. This also helps centrate the hip joint to the point that this literally feels like a natural chiropractic adjustment. Unfortunately this can be difficult for many lifters.
However, the mini band provides the perfect cueing & RNT (reactive neuromuscular training) stimulus to produce this exact neuromuscular & biomechanical outcome previously described. As an added bonus it prevents the lifter from using an excessively wide foot stance - a common cheating strategy.
Learn more about implementing renegade rows into your routine with my Complete Templates training program.