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Master the Kettlebell Renegade Row with 5 Progressions and Variations

By Greg Brookes
Kettlebell Renegade Row

The kettlebell renegade row is an advanced unilateral exercise that will work deep into the back muscles while at the same time conditioning the core muscles.

Kettlebell training offers very few horizontal rowing movements to counterbalance all the pushing exercises so becoming familiar with the renegade row is well worth your effort.

There are many variations of the traditional renegade row and using the correct progressions will ensure that you do not compromise the movement and achieve the best results possible.

It is worth noting that you can use a pair of dumbbells to perform the dumbbell renegade row in the same way as the kettlebell variation. I would however recommend using hexagonal dumbbells to prevent them from rolling during use.

Let’s break things down so you can start using this effective kettlebell exercise:

Kettlebell Renegade Row Benefits

The main benefits of the renegade row are:

  1. Improves core stability for injury prevention
  2. Develops horizontal rowing strength in the back muscles
  3. Balances horizontal pushing and pulling movements
  4. Promotes core rotational strength from shoulder to hip for sports
  5. Strengthens lower back postural muscles (erector spinae)
  6. Stabilises the shoulder muscles for pressing strength

The renegade row is an important exercise to master because it is unlike any other kettlebell exercise and is vital for balancing out the whole body.

What Muscles does the Kettlebell Renegade Row Work?

The renegade row is a full-body exercise that develops strength for moving heavy loads while at the same time conditioning the core muscles for safer movements.

The muscle groups used during the renegade row:

  • Rectus Abdominis (abdominal muscles) and Transverse Abdominis
  • Internal obliques  external oblique muscles
  • Bicep muscles
  • Tricep muscles
  • Pectoral muscles
  • Latissimus Dorsi muscles
  • Trapezius muscles
  • Rhomboid muscles
  • Deltoids muscles and more…

The renegade row is predominantly a horizontal pulling exercise but also includes horizontal stabilisation and can include horizontal pushing too.

How to Perform the Kettlebell Renegade Row

Kettlebell Renegade Row Exercise

The kettlebell renegade row is performed from a high plank position with both hands on the kettlebell handles.

The entire body needs to be kept tight and in straight alignment from the shoulders down to the heels.

It is vital that the hips are not allowed to drop down towards the floor thus putting adding pressure on the lower back.

From the static plank position row the kettlebell back and towards the right hip or left hip, pulling from the elbow NOT the hand.

The shoulders should be kept away from the ears so all the muscle activation is directed into the mid back rather than the upper back and neck muscles.

Keep the rowing action slow and deliberate, using a full range of motion, pausing at the top of the movement before lowering the kettlebell back down towards the floor slowly.

Warning: bad rowing technique or unstable kettlebells can lead to the kettlebell falling over sideways and trapping the fingers.

If you are worried about the kettlebells falling over then please use only one kettlebell as detailed below. Alternatively, you can use a set of dumbbells to reduce the risk of injury.

Kettlebell Renegade Row Cues

  • Squeeze the buttocks / glutes tightly together
  • Brace the abs and get tight
  • Squeeze the kettlebell handle tight
  • Pull with the elbow
  • Pause at the top of the movement and squeeze the shoulder blades together
  • Lower the kettlebell slowly with control

Watch a video of the kettlebell renegade row below:

5 Kettlebell Renegade Row Variations and Progressions

The kettlebell renegade row is an advanced exercise with a lot of moving parts and things to think about.

Good anti-rotational core strength is necessary just to perform the basic rowing motion from the starting position.

I encourage everyone to work through the following progressions in order to prevent injury and better condition themselves.

1. Renegade Row With Body Weight Only

Shoulder Taps Exercise
The kettlebell renegade row starts by holding the plank in the top body position on the hands.

You need to develop your strength in this top position in order to better cope with the addition of a light weight kettlebell.

If you can’t hold this plank correct position for at least 30 seconds then your kettlebell renegade rows are going to get ugly.

The shoulder tap exercise (see image above) is the perfect way to develop the baseline level of core strength necessary.

First, begin in the top push-up position and squeeze your buttocks tight.

Keep your core muscles braced and maintain a straight line from shoulders to heels.

Step 1: Maintain the top position without your hips falling towards the floor for 30 seconds.

Step 2: Progress to lifting alternate hands up slowly and touching the opposite shoulder.

Step 3: Perform 60 seconds of shoulder taps keeping your body in a perfectly straight line.

Watch a video of the shoulder taps exercise below:

2. Renegade Row with One Kettlebell

Kettlebell Renegade Row with One Kettlebell
Once you are solid and stable in the top push up plank position, as detailed above, then you can progress to adding one kettlebell.

For this renegade row variation place one hand on a box, bench or parallette and the other on top of the kettlebell handle.

As a beginner your feet should be shoulder-width apart, as you become stronger you can reduce the space between your feet.

Brace your abs, squeeze your buttocks tight and row the kettlebell back towards your hip.

Pull the kettlebell up by using your elbow rather than your hand.

At the top of the movement squeeze your shoulder blades together and pause for 2 seconds.

Slowly lower the kettlebell back down towards the floor.

Practice: work up to 8 controlled repetitions on the left side and right side using good form. If you struggle with proper form then use a lighter weight.

3. Renegade Rows with Two Kettlebells

Kettlebell Renegade Row Exercise

The kettlebell renegade row with two kettlebells allows you to work alternate arms or one arm at a time.

Once you have mastered the renegade row with one arm this exercise is the next progression.

Your technique and foot position is exactly the same as with the one-arm renegade row.

Most importantly keep your core tight so your hips do not drop towards the floor and aggravate your lower back.

Keep your shoulders away from your ears and neck muscles relaxed.

Warning: during this exercise, it is easy for the kettlebell to fall sideways and crush your fingers, especially when you start to fatigue.

Practice: master rowing 5 – 8 reps with one arm before changing to the other side, once you are comfortable practice alternating sides.

4. Kettlebell Walking Renegade Rows

Kettlebell Walking Renegade Row Exercise
Kettlebell walking renegade rows are a more challenging variation of the standard kettlebell renegade row mentioned above.

This exercise variation is great for further developing the core muscles as they stabilise during movement.

The walking renegade row is performed in exactly the same way as the regular renegade row except the kettlebell is placed down in front of where you lifted it up from.

You will need to alternate arms as you row the kettlebell up, each time placing the kettlebell back down slightly in front of its original position.

As you place each kettlebell down move the foot on the same side forward to maintain good balance.

Don’t make one of the common mistakes of trying to move each kettlebell too far forwards, 3 to 6 inches is enough.

Keep your core muscles tight and don’t let your hips drop towards the floor.

Variations: kettlebell walking renegade rows can be performed forwards, backwards and sideways.

5. Kettlebell Renegade Row with Push Up

Kettlebell Renegade Row with Push Up
The kettlebell renegade row with push up allows you to balance out the pulling movement of the row with the pushing movement of the push up.

It goes without saying that you must first master the regular renegade row variation listed above before attempting this variation.

You will need good shoulder stability in order to maintain good alignment above the kettlebells.

Poor body alignment can result in one of the kettlebells falling sideways and trapping your fingers.

The kettlebell renegade row with push up is performed in two parts, first, you row and second you perform the push up.

Use total-body tension to keep your core muscles tight and your body in a straight line in order to stay balanced over the top of the kettlebells.

Move slowly and with control during the exercise.

Variations: depending on your strength and experience you can either perform push ups after each row or perform one row on each side.

What Kettlebell Weight to Use for the Kettlebell Renegade Row

The kettlebell renegade row is not an easy exercise, not only do you need the back strength to row the kettlebell up but you also need the core stabilisation strength to maintain good alignment.

The heavier the kettlebell you use the more you challenge your rowing strength but also your core stabilisation strength.

So although you may be strong in the standard row movement pattern you may not have the core stabilisation strength to match.

My advice, as with all exercises, is to start off lighter than you think and master the movements first.

For example, an athletic male with experience could start with a 12kg – 16kg (35lbs) and females an 8kg (17lbs) kettlebell.

Kettlebell Renegade Row Workouts to Try

The kettlebell renegade row can be used in a number of different workouts and training programs depending on your goals.

You can use the standard renegade row as part of a push pull workout:

Find out more: 3 Kettlebell Push Pull Workouts for the Upper Body

Alternatively, you can combine it with a full-body push exercise like the kettlebell thruster:

  1. Kettlebell Renegade Row x 5 – 8 reps each side
  2. Kettlebell Thruster x 6 – 12 reps each side
  3. Rest 60 seconds and repeat

Learn more: How to Master the Kettlebell Thruster

Conclusion of the Kettlebell Renegade Row

The kettlebell renegade row is an advanced kettlebell exercise that activates the back muscles as well as the core.

Beginners should start by mastering the stabilisation strength that is needed to hold the body in a straight line.

Above I have listed 5 variations and progressions of the renegade row: shoulder taps, one-handed rows, two-handed rows, walking rows and the renegade row with push up.

To achieve a safe and effective kettlebell renegade row work your way through all 5 exercise progressions.

Be careful when performing the kettlebell renegade row with two hands so that the kettlebells don’t tip over sideways and trap your fingers. Consider using a set of dumbbell weights instead and performing the dumbbell plank row.

Take care and enjoy your training.

Have you tried the kettlebell Renegade Row? Let me know more below:

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    1. Nuno Silvestre Avatar
      Nuno Silvestre

      Great advice and training workouts.

    2. Ricardo Corradini Avatar
      Ricardo Corradini

      As always, great instruction and break down. Thank you!