The renegade row is a free weight resistance training exercise often featured as part of a WOD routine or athletic training program because of its convenience and effectiveness at building the upper back.
However, due to its rather poor range of motion or a host of other issues relating to the performance of the renegade row, exercisers may choose to substitute it with an alternative exercise that presents a different set of drawbacks instead.
Fortunately, quite a number of possible alternatives to the renegade row exist - most of which do not have the same problems as the former exercise, as well as a few being superior to the renegade row in terms of training effectiveness and specificity.
Apart from the short range of motion involved in the renegade row due to the exerciser’s positioning on the floor, several other issues are an unfortunate feature of this exercise and likely the main cause of its substitution within a training program.
One of the most common complaints about the renegade row has to do with the plank-like position it places the lifter in, directly limiting the time under tension per set as the exerciser’s core musculature acts as a limiting factor, even if they are capable of rowing significantly more weight.
Furthermore, the bilateral nature of the renegade row combined with its poor range of motion can easily lead to the development of muscular imbalances if the exerciser’s training program is poorly made or if their form adherence during the renegade row is subpar.
Even in cases where the exerciser finds no issue with the renegade row but simply wishes to improve their training, substituting said renegade row with an alternative exercise of greater specificity or intensity will often fulfill their needs.
Replacing the renegade row with an alternative exercise can result in the exerciser receiving several benefits that they would not have otherwise.
These mostly revolve around greater mind-muscle connection and specificity of training stimulus, as the plank position of the renegade row not only draws exertion away from the primary mover muscles due to synergist muscle recruitment, but also requires mental focus that could otherwise be directed to dynamic movement instead.
Such an improvement in specificity of training stimulus will result in greater muscular hypertrophy and strength developments as the muscle groups are worked to a more intense degree.
Apart from greater specificity, substituting the renegade row with an alternative exercise can also reduce the risk of the exerciser “cheating” by rotating their hips or legs during the movement, forcing the exerciser to fully exert their muscles in a manner that ensures results are achieved.
As the renegade row is a resistance exercise meant to target the upper back, biceps brachii and anterior deltoid head muscles, any potential alternative exercise must also present a similar type of training stimulus and muscle activation pattern.
In particular, the exerciser will wish to choose an alternative exercise that targets the latissimus dorsi, trapezius, rhomboids, biceps brachii and anterior head of the deltoids, as it is these muscle groups that act as the primary mover muscles and therefore the main target of the renegade row.
There is also the case of core muscle activation, as the renegade row is performed in a plank position that forces the exerciser to stabilize their body through their abdominal muscles.
Lifters wishing to completely recreate the benefits and muscle activation pattern of the renegade row can also choose to utilize an alternative that activates the core muscles in a similar manner, although this is not altogether required as the core activation of the renegade row is more of a secondary effect.
A proper renegade row alternative should not only share the same muscle group activation pattern as the renegade row itself, but also fulfill the same role that it holds within the exerciser’s training program.
In most cases, this simply requires that the alternative exercise activate the back muscles and the biceps at a moderate level of intensity - though in certain athletic training programs, the renegade row may function as part of a full-body anaerobic circuit, or as a core training exercise in a Crossfit WOD routine.
As such, athletes or participants in more specific training modalities that use the renegade row as more than just simply a muscle building exercise should seek to match the alternative’s function with the original purpose of the renegade row within their workout.
Apart from a similarity in purpose and muscle group activation, a suitable alternative to the renegade row should also feature a comparable kinetic chain and set of biomechanics - except in the case of the exerciser having injuries or poor mobility, of which would defeat the purpose of substituting the renegade row.
Additionally, though it is not a necessity, the substitute exercise having similar equipment and space requirements can also be a bonus.
Substituting the renegade row with a barbell-based alternative will provide the benefit of bilateral muscle recruitment, resulting in a greater amount of weight lifted and a more balanced movement overall.
However, this approach also comes with the drawback of exacerbating any muscular imbalances that may be present, as well as requiring different equipment than what the renegade row originally uses.
A variation of the barbell snatch that removes the lower body from the equation in favor of greater back muscle recruitment, the seated muscle snatch is one possible alternative to the renegade for that not only shares a similar set of muscles worked, but also the capacity for developing explosive upper body strength.
In particular, the seated muscle snatch not only matches but even surpasses the deltoid muscle activation of the renegade row, leading to quicker and greater developments in the shoulders while the limiting factor of core muscle endurance is mostly eliminated.
However, usage of the seated muscle snatch as a renegade row alternative will require significant alteration in the structure and order of the training program, as its significantly more intense activation of the deltoid muscles can lead to injury and overtraining if too much exertion is placed therein.
If the exerciser wishes to retain the unilateral muscular activation that characterizes the renegade row, there are few exercises as suitable as the single-arm landmine row, of which also shares the nearly prone position of the renegade row, thereby activating stabilizer muscle groups in the lower back and thorax.
Not only does the single-arm landmine row replicate this effect, but so too does it build upon it by placing the object of resistance at an angle away from the torso, thereby activating the posterior deltoid head and latissimus dorsi to a greater extent.
This activation, of course, is alongside the full back muscle recruitment that is a natural part of all weighted row exercises.
Unfortunately, the landmine single-arm row is rather equipment intensive in comparison to the renegade row, requiring a landmine attachment, barbell, set of weight plates and enough space to perform the movement safely - presenting one possible caveat to such a substitution.
Unlike the previous two alternatives mentioned in this article, the upright row instead focuses on the smaller muscle groups involved in the performance of the renegade row, that being; the serratus anterior, the lateral and anterior deltoid head, the brachialis along the forearm and the biceps brachii - all while also recruiting much of the upper back.
This makes the upright row the perfect substitute to the renegade row for the purposes of replicating much of its secondary mover muscle and synergist muscle recruitment - creating a particularly cohesive pull-muscle workout when combined with another back muscle targeting lift as well.
However, due to the mechanics and form of the upright row, the exerciser will experience somewhat greater tension being placed on their shoulder and elbow joints, thereby increasing the risk of injury if improper form adhesion or excessive loading is a factor.
One manner of recreating the unilateral movements of the renegade row is by using a dumbbell-based alternative, of which will also result in greater synergist muscle recruitment due to each side of the body having to self-stabilize independently of the other.
In addition to such a benefit, the renegade row is also normally performed with dumbbells as well - requiring that no additional equipment be acquired in order to perform a substitute exercise.
For an alternative that uses the same equipment as the renegade row, replicates its unilateral movement and trains much of the same muscle groups (save for the lower back) in a dynamic manner.
As the single arm dumbbell power snatch activates the deltoids, abdominal muscles, gluteal muscles, trapezius, biceps brachii and trapezius to a significant extent, it is only the latissimus dorsi and the musculature of the lower back that is relegated to an isometric recruitment capacity - creating a possible alternative for exercisers wishing to reduce their back muscle volume in their workout.
In addition to these benefits, the single arm dumbbell power snatch, as its name implies, builds significant explosiveness and muscular power in the exerciser, creating a functional movement suitable for carryover to many athletic activities.
When choosing to substitute the renegade row for the single arm dumbbell power snatch, exercisers will find that the significantly higher exertion of the latter exercise combined with its reduction in back muscle training stimulus will require some alterations in their training program.
These changes will primarily involve an increase in back muscle isolation exercise volume alongside a reduction in total volume per set of the dumbbell power snatch, unless otherwise required by the exerciser’s goals.
The dumbbell bench YTW is an exercise that places the exerciser in a similar position to the renegade row, though without the involvement of the core muscles as the bench supports their trunk and therefore allows greater contraction of other primary mover muscles instead.
The dumbbell YTW recruits such muscles as the trapezius, posterior deltoid head, rhomboids and latissimus dorsi - perfectly matching the muscular activation pattern of the renegade row, save for the erector spinae and biceps brachii.
In terms of biomechanics and kinetic movement pattern, the dumbbell bench YTW utilizes shoulder joint rotation alongside scapular retraction at a full range of motion, making it not only excellent at developing all the same muscle groups as the renegade row, but also as a possible rehabilitative exercise if performed at a lower intensity.
As this particular substitute recreates the intensity, movement and muscle group activation of the renegade row, very little alteration in the training program will be required apart from the addition of more core muscle isometric recruitment volume, if so desired by the exerciser.
One possible alternative to the renegade row that requires little to no equipment is that of the archer row; an exercise functionally similar to the inverted bodyweight row but with the semi-unilateral muscular activation of the renegade row, all supported by the core muscle activation and moderate intensity shared by either exercise.
As the bodyweight archer row imparts the same muscular activation pattern, exercise intensity and mechanics as the renegade row - programming it into ones workout will not require any alteration in total volume or exercise order, save for if the archer row is not as intense as the renegade row originally was, thereby requiring additional volume be added to the former exercise.
The cable high row is most often used as a secondary compound exercise meant to develop the teres major, latissimus dorsi muscles and many other muscles that make up the upper and middle back - much like the renegade row.
Due to the machine-based nature of the cable high row, a reduced recruitment of stabilizer muscles normally activated by the renegade row will be present, especially in such muscles like the lateral deltoid head and the pectoral muscles.
Inversely however, this equates to greater and more targeted activation of the trapezius, lats and various other primary mover muscles; creating a substitute exercise that excels in specificity and recruitment, as is needed in bodybuilding or for athletes with areas of weakness.
When substituting the renegade row with the cable high row, a greater amount of volume per set may be required due to the reduced intensity and exertion induced by the latter movement - though no other alteration in the workout itself will be required.
1. Unknown author. (2021) “Full Body/Integrated Exercises Renegade Row” ACE American Council on Exercise Retrieved on (30/07/2022) from: (https://www.acefitness.org/resources/everyone/exercise-library/355/renegade-row/)
2. Paine R, Voight ML. The role of the scapula. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2013 Oct;8(5):617-29. PMID: 24175141; PMCID: PMC3811730.
3. Lehman GJ, Buchan DD, Lundy A, Myers N, Nalborczyk A. Variations in muscle activation levels during traditional latissimus dorsi weight training exercises: An experimental study. Dyn Med. 2004 Jun 30;3(1):4. doi: 10.1186/1476-5918-3-4. PMID: 15228624; PMCID: PMC449729.
4. Ekstrom RA, Donatelli RA, Soderberg GL. Surface electromyographic analysis of exercises for the trapezius and serratus anterior muscles. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2003 May;33(5):247-58. doi: 10.2519/jospt.2003.33.5.247. PMID: 12774999.