Renegade Rows and Bent Over Rows are two popular exercises that are used to target the muscles of the back, shoulders (posterior delts), and arms. While both exercises are effective at building strength, they differ in several ways.
Bent Over Row is a classic exercise that involves standing with a slight bend in the knees, hinging forward at the hips, and rowing a barbell towards the body. Bent Over Rows primarily target the lats, rhomboids, traps and biceps.
Renegade Rows, on the other hand, is a unique exercise that presents challenges most rowing exercises do not. This movement involves assuming a plank position with two weights in the hands and rowing one arm up at a time while maintaining stability with the opposite arm and core. Renegade rows work not only the back, but also the shoulders, biceps, and core.
In this article, I will go over the technique and benefits of both exercises. Then I’ll directly compare the two exercises to help you decide which is a better fit for you based on your training goals and experience.
- Grab one dumbbell in each hand and assume a pushup position with feet about shoulder width apart.
- Make sure the core is braced and row one dumbbell up.
- Lower the dumbbell under control and return to the starting pushup position.
- Alternate rowing each arm until all reps are completed.
Try to limit rotating the torso as much as possible. It’s natural to want to open the torso toward the side of the arm you’re rowing with – try to fight against this and stay as square as possible.
The wider your feet, the easier it is to stay balanced while you perform the movement. Try to keep feet about shoulder-width apart.
Benefits of Renegade Rows
Renegade Rows target several muscle groups simultaneously, including the back, shoulders, biceps, and core. This exercise is particularly effective at engaging the stabilizer muscles of the core, which helps improve overall core strength and stability.
They also can help increase overall strength and muscular endurance in the back, shoulders, and arms.
Renegade Rows require maintaining balance and stability while performing the exercise, which can improve coordination and balance.
Since Renegade Rows are a full-body exercise, they can also elevate heart rate and provide a cardiovascular benefit.
Looking for exercises that can be used as a sub for Renegade Rows? Here are my favorite Renegade Row alternatives.
Barbell Bent Over Rows
- Bumper or Iron Plates
- Lifting Straps (optional)
- Approach the barbell and take a shoulder-width stance. Your shins should be almost touching the barbell.
- Hinge at the waist and bend the knee until you can grab the barbell. Use a pronated grip (Knuckles facing the floor). I will talk later about the supinated grip (palms up) in this movement.
- Always keep a flat back, and a neutral spine, and keep your eyes focused slightly down about 1 foot in front of you.
- Take a deep breath, brace the abdomen, and pull the bar in until it makes contact right about the belly button.
- Pause for about 1 second. Squeeze the shoulder blades and lock in the rep.
- Slowly return the barbell back to the starting position (weights about 1-2 inches off the ground).
The initial setup and stance for this movement should be specific to the lifters deadlifting and Olympic lifting goals. Having identical setups and grips will be great for the lifts to carry over to the compound movements.
I typically recommend the pronated grip here for athletes. Especially athletes that are cleaning and snatching as the pronated grip will carry over to cleans and pulls.
However, there is some benefit to the supinated grip for general lifters and bodybuilders. The supinated grip will engage more of the biceps and can be a great time under tension movement for hypertrophy.
The setup here is very similar to the Deadlift. With that in mind, always remember to keep a nice neutral spine. DO NOT ROUND YOUR BACK.
Another common mistake is I have seen lifters go too heavy and therefore need to “hitch or yank” into a lock in position. Never sacrifice your form for more weight. You will get hurt eventually.
Some potential benefits of Barbell Bent Over Rows include:
- Building hypertrophy and strength in the upper and lower back and arms.
- Improving posture by strengthening the muscles that support the spine.
- Increasing grip strength, which can be useful for many sports or activities like rock climbing.
- Improving athletic performance, such as in sports that require upper body strength and power.
Renegade Rows vs Bent Over Rows: Which is Better?
Now, let’s look at the two exercises side-by-side and discuss if one is better than the other for some specific training goals.
Better For Developing Size and Strength: Bent Over Rows
If talking about pure strength and hypertrophy, being able to move more weight (with similar movements) yields better results.
I believe that holds true with Barbell Bent Over Rows being better at developing strength and muscle mass.
That doesn’t mean Renegade Rows don’t have their benefits. Renegade Rows are better for core stability, shoulder stability, balance and coordination. But, having to maintain balance on one arm while rowing with the other is not the most advantageous position for pure strength.
Better For Beginners: Renegade Rows
This may be a bit of a surprise given how technically difficult Renegade Rows can be for a beginner. And, yes, Renegade Rows can take some time to get the hang of.
However, my concern with Bent Over Rows is that if they’re not done with proper form – a good body position and a braced core – they can lead to injury. I would rather a beginner start with an exercise like Trap Bar Deadlift or Goblet Squat to learn those body positions and then start to incorporate Bent Over Rows.
I’ve just spent the last section of this article comparing which is better – Renegade Rows or Bent Over Rows. The truth is (assuming you have the necessary equipment) there is no reason you shouldn’t have both in your strength training program.
Both exercises have their own unique benefits that they can add to your training. And, by incorporating both movements periodically in your long-term strength plan you can add variety and keep your workouts fresh.
So, my suggestion would be instead of trying to decide which exercise is better, focus on how to utilize both Renegade Rows and Bent Over Rows in your strength program.