The Renegade Row is the Ultimate Test of Core Strength

STACK interviewed Dr. Seedman for this article, which originally appeared on on 2/4/16.

There's an ever-growing list of new and effective core exercises. At the same time, others fall out of style—we're thinking of Crunches and Sit-Ups.

Even the traditional Plank seems to be fading in popularity, while exercises that offer a greater strength challenge than an endurance challenge are quickly coming into favor.

One such exercise that recently got our attention is the Renegade Row. After a few discussions with Dr. Joel Seedman, an exercise physiologist and owner of Advanced Human Performance (Atlanta, GA), I incorporated it into my training program, and I have to admit, it's a fantastic core exercise.

The Renegade Row is the name given to what is technically a High Plank Dumbbell Single-Arm Row. Here's how to perform it:

  • Set up two dumbbells parallel to each other about a foot apart.
  • Assume a push-up position with your hands grasping the dumbbells instead of flat on the ground. Position your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Tighten your core, and keep your back flat and hips square to the ground.
  • Pick up the right dumbbell and row it to your side.
  • Slowly lower the dumbbell and repeat. Perform a set on the opposite side.

Seems simple enough, right? However, appearances can deceive. Your core has to do some serious work to enable you to perform the Renegade Row correctly.

Before you even begin the exercise, you're holding a high plank position, which is a challenging version of a Plank. This is an anti-extension core exercise, meaning it trains your abs and other core muscles to prevent your lower back from extending.

As soon as you lift a dumbbell off the ground, the exercise gets much more intense. It pulls down your shoulder, and your opposite hip wants to shoot up into the air to make it easier on your core.

To perform the exercise properly in the plank position with your hips level and square to the ground, your core muscles work to keep you in the exact same position as when both dumbbells are on the ground—but now you only have one arm for support. In addition to the  anti-extension component discussed above, it also works anti-rotation, meaning your core muscles prevent your torso from rotating.

Basically, everything in your core along with muscles in your shoulders, back, chest, hips and even quads should be firing to keep you in the proper position.

"The Renegade Row is an indication that everything in your body is firing and firing proportionately," says Seedman.

This exercise is particularly beneficial for athletes, or anyone, for that matter, because we rarely ever work with both arms and legs at the same time in sports or everyday life. There's usually some sort of asymmetrical force or movement, such as what occurs when you throw a ball, push off against someone with one hand or even open a heavy door.

The Renegade Row strengthens the core for precisely these kinds of situations.

Ideally, you should be able to perform Renegade Rows with two dumbbells that equal your body weight. Sound insane? It kind of is, but if you can achieve it,  you can be confident your core strength is at an elite level.

Please don't go crazy and try this exercise with a heavy weight right off the bat. It might feel awkward and sloppy at first with any weight at all. That's why it's best to follow this progression when building up your Renegade Rows:

  • RKC Plank
  • Body Saw
  • Single-Leg Body Saw
  • Single-Arm Body Saw
  • Renegade Row with no weight
  • Renegade Row

Of course, as you would with any other exercise, it's important to gradually increase the weight. You might be able to use a reasonably heavy weight, but if your form isn't clean—as in Dr. Seedman's demo above—use a lighter weight or an easier exercise variation.

We advise performing this exercise one or two times per week in your core workouts for 3-4 sets of 5 reps each side. Your performance and health will thank you.