How to Do a Renegade Row

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Renegade row

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The renegade row (also known as a plank row) is almost a variation of the dumbbell row. It's designed to target the upper back and, like a plank, designed to target the core. The beauty of the exercise is that in addition to targeting both groups of muscles that are hit during the plank and the dumbbell row, it also develops anti-rotational core strength, which can help with balance, coordination, and even fall-prevention.

While the exercise is accessible for many people, it does require a baseline level of core strength to be able to perform it correctly with good form. You have to be able to hold a plank for the full duration of the exercise while alternating a dumbbell row with either arm. This means you must be able to hold your body in a plank position supported only by one arm at a time. If you can hold a plank with good form for at least one full minute, you should feel comfortable attempting the renegade row.

Here are some key facts about this exercise:

  • Targets: Upper back (latissimus dorsi, rhomboids), shoulders, triceps, abdominals, quadriceps, forearms, spinal erectors
  • Equipment Needed: Set of dumbbells
  • Level: Intermediate


The renegade row is an excellent exercise to target the entire upper body and core. The plank portion of the exercise requires the engagement of the deep stabilizing muscles of the abdominals, spine, shoulders, and hips, while the row portion of the exercise targets the upper back and arms, including the larger muscles of the upper back—the lats and rhomboids—as well as the biceps and shoulders.

What's unique to the renegade row, separate from the plank and row, is the anti-rotational engagement of the obliques. As you draw one dumbbell up toward your chest, your body's natural inclination is to twist upward. The same-side hip starts twisting toward the ceiling. This twisting motion reduces the focus on the upper back.

In order to perform the exercise with proper form, you must actually engage your obliques to prevent this twisting motion from taking place.

This type of anti-rotational strength is highly beneficial when it comes to functional fitness. Often, low-back injuries take place when the spine is pulled out of alignment during an everyday or unexpected movement. For instance, your low back might become injured if you bend down to pick something up from the floor, and your spine twists unexpectedly, causing pain.

Anti-rotational core strength helps keep your spine in alignment during this type of movement, ultimately helping protect your low back from potential pain or injury.

Step-By-Step Instructions

To perform the renegade row, all you need is enough space to hold a plank and a set of dumbbells.

  1. Place the dumbbells on the floor, positioned so that when you set up in a plank position, the dumbbells are roughly shoulder-distance apart and the handles of the dumbbells are parallel to one another.
  2. Start on your hands and knees in a tabletop-like position, gripping one dumbbell with each hand. Your hands should be aligned beneath your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
  3. Step your feet behind you to enter a full plank position, your body supported by your hands and the balls of your feet. Check your form here—your body should form a straight line from your heels to your head with your core engaged and tight. Position your feet so they're roughly hip-distance apart to offer more balance and support to the exercise.
  4. Inhale and shift your weight slightly to your left side so more of your weight is supported by your left palm. Your body shouldn't twist—make sure both hips and shoulders remain square to the floor.
  5. Squeeze your right shoulder blade toward your spine and draw the dumbbell held in your right hand toward your chest, bending your elbow as you draw the dumbbell toward you. Exhale as you lift the dumbbell. Check your form at the top of the movement—your hips and shoulders should still be squared to the floor, the dumbbell should be pulled all the way to your right chest/shoulder, and your right elbow should be pointing up and toward the back of the room.
  6. Lower the dumbbell slowly to the floor, returning it to the starting position.
  7. Shift your weight to the right side and repeat the exercise, this time drawing the left dumbbell to your left chest/shoulder. This completes one full repetition.
  8. 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 Mistakes

Most of the mistakes associated with the renegade row are those common with either the plank or the row. If you're familiar with these common mistakes and how to fix them, you shouldn't have a problem identifying and correcting the mistakes associated with the renegade row.

Sticking Your Butt Up

It's common for those with insufficient core strength to incorrectly do the plank exercise by sticking their butt up into the air, rather than creating a straight line with their body from heels to head. Granted, this is one of the most benign mistakes you can make, but it reduces the challenge to your core muscles, selling the benefits of the exercise short.

If you can, check your form in a mirror—if your hips aren't directly aligned between your shoulders and knees, creating a slight downward diagonal line from your shoulders to your heels, lower your hips by a few inches and continue the exercise.

Allowing Your Back to Sway

Another common form issue while performing a renegade row is also a mistake associated with the plank exercise. When you have weak abdominals and spinal erectors, your hips may sway, dropping low between the straight, invisible line formed between your heels and shoulders. Unfortunately, this one has the potential to cause more problems due to the stress it can place on your low back.

If you feel your hips drop progressively toward the floor, or if you look in a mirror and notice your back swaying low, try to fix the problem by re-engaging your core and drawing your hips up and in line with your heels and shoulders.

If you're struggling to keep your hips up and squared with the ground, lower your knees to the floor and continue the exercise in a modified plank position.

Craning or Dropping Your Neck

One more common plank-associated mistake is to fail to keep your neck aligned with your spine. This displays itself in two ways—either you crane your neck, so your eyes face straight ahead toward the wall in front of you, or you drop your neck down, so your head falls forward between your arms. The latter is more typical as you get tired, but both versions compromise spinal alignment.

Double-check your form between repetitions. Your entire spine should remain neutral, forming a straight line from the base of your neck to your hips.

Twisting Your Hips

The main renegade row mistake that is associated with the row portion of the exercise has to do with the alignment of your hips. As you draw one of the dumbbells toward your shoulder, it is important to keep the hips steady and level. Sometimes, it can be tempting to twist the hips (lifting one hip and lowering the opposite hip) to assist with lifting the weight. For example, the right hip might lift and the lower hip might drop to help you lift the weight in the right hand. Try to keep the hips stable as you row with the upper body.

Modifications and Variations

Need a Modification?

The most straight-forward modification of the renegade row is to simply perform the exercise from a modified plank position. Everything about the exercise remains the same except that you lower your knees to the ground and perform the exercise without having to support and control as much of your body weight with your abdominals and core.

Up for a Challenge?

Switch out your set of dumbbells for kettlebells or sandbells. The uneven distribution of weight provided by kettlebells and sandbells make the exercise slightly more difficult to control, adding to the core and stabilization challenge of the movement.

Safety and Precautions

Generally speaking, if you have the baseline level of core strength necessary to hold a plank for at least a minute, you should feel comfortable trying the renegade row exercise. The main precaution is to keep your core tight and engaged throughout the exercise to prevent your back from swaying, which can place unnecessary stress on your spine.

You may also find that the exercise feels uncomfortable on your wrists, elbows, or shoulders due to how much weight you're supporting with your upper body. This may be particularly true if you have a preexisting injury to one of these joints. If you experience wrist pain, check to make sure your wrists are straight and aren't hyperextended, bending backward toward your forearms. If they are, straighten them to reduce the stress on your wrist joints.

Otherwise, pay attention to any pain you're experiencing. If you ever experience a sharp or shooting pain, discontinue the exercise and try back and core-focused movements that don't require you to support your body weight with your arms, like the lat pull-down or the oblique twist.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

By Laura Williams, MSEd, ASCM-CEP
Laura Williams is a fitness expert and advocate with certifications from the American Council on Exercise and the American College of Sports Medicine.