Sunday, May 31, 2009

Renegade Row: dynamic strength and balance

An exercise complex that has recently become a favorite of mine is the renegade row (with push up).

Why? Rows in general are great upper body workouts. Stuart McGill has recently done an article on rows comparing inverted, standing bent over and one arm cable rows for back activation patterns. They are powerful core workouts.

The renegade row is likely closest to the standing bent over row with a few differences - a biggie being balance/control of the weight.

The renegade row, is shown above with Power Blocks. For added strength/stability challenge, put your feet only shoulder width apart, and get out a couple of kettlebells. Why kb's? It takes a bit of extra coordination (ie muscles firing) to keep them steady. That means you're adding a wee bit of balance to the workload.

mc's Renegade Row Sequence
Just to review, here's how i do a renegade row sequence - it may vary from yours.
Pull Part
  • pull up one bell to belt line and belt height
  • put it down
  • pull up opposite side put it down
  • repeat 5 times.
form note: do the pull keeping trunk as parallel as possible to the ground. There's a tendency with these to pull the body over to pulling up the bell. Avoid that, and keep that trunk level. An idea may be to practice these naked (no weight) just bringing the hand up to the side while staying level.

Push Part:
  • follow the pull sets with 5 perfectly level push ups on the bell handles.
Again, keep the trunk tight and plank like - no dips; no bends. Using the bells lets one get quite a good ROM dip on the push up, too. Sweet.

Now, other variants of this row are, pull left, push up, pull right. Personally, i find it more effective to focus on the pulls, L/R and then the pushes. Your mileage may vary.

I like to EDT the renegade rows into a set with some lower body work. Somedays its goblet squats, or double KB front squats, or romanian single leg dl's or yesterday it was double kb single leg deadlifts for the lower body work. EDT means going for max sets of each pattern within 15 mins, using a 10RM weight going for only five reps.
Muscles Worked: why i love this excersise.
I love how this sequence makes me feel for the next few days:
  • it hits the abs, but the obliques it seems in particular
  • Lats are loved
  • pecs can be quite buzzed
  • traps and rhomboids of course get some attention.
  • well it's the whole core, holding that plank, isn't it? (word doc about up/low core) - tall, neutral spine throughout.
Here, as with any push up, varying hand position on the push up emphasizes different muscles particularly in the arms. A few adjustments with the bell handles move from making this a triceps dominant to biceps dominant for the arms - neither arm group is isolated but one is let's say privileged. Today, i feel the bi's

A bit of Stability; A bit of Form; a bit of kalos sthenos (beautiful movement)
I also like the momentary loaded, dynamic balance / strength aspect of
  • just staying stable with both hands on the bells - i think Mike Mahler who's Aggressive Strength hybrid EDT routines introduced me to this fab move once said don't do this with anything smaller than a 16k bell cuz the base of support is too small. Ha! i say. i use 12s.
  • staying level in the trunk while pulling up on the bell - muscle control to stay planked and again keep stable on the balance hand/bell combo.
Now about that form:
Mr. mahler, pictured above, has his feet nice and close - shoulder width at most. He seems, however, to be torquing to the side here. I'd suggest stay more in the level plank and get the hand right up to the waist. You'll note the guy in the vid at the top of this story above doesn't torque but his feet are quite spread.

Get both these parts together and you'll be very pleased with yourself. For instance, take a look at this version: nice level trunk; feet only shoulder width apart; neutral neck position; no torquing on the up.
Now some folks what don't know better may say these are "sissy weights" pirctured, but they may want to reserve that appellation if they can't hold this form with their KB of choice themselves.

As you can see if you have given this sequence a go, it's not easy to get in this kind of dynamic upper body/trunk work, and the RR is way cool.

Practice staying tight (as pavel might say) in the core. You may want to practice doing planks first, or getting used to balancing in form on the bells and just bringing your hand up to your side while maintaining your plank form while one side is off the bell.

Challenging form: balance
I mention that we're working to hold balance when using the KB's rather than the very stable powerblocks. And for me that little bit of stabilization required is just right: not too much instability. What do i mean by "too much"?

Some times you'll see folks using medballs for their pushups - i'm not crazy for that much of a stability challenge - i personally don't test stronger after that; with kb's i do.

By "test stronger" - i mean something zhealth teaches: if you're wondering if a particular form of an exercise is working for you, do a muscle test (you may need a partner for this) before the test; do the excercise; retest. If you're weaker, there may have been something saying to your nervous system that's not a happy thing.

Ok. what's a muscle test, since there are different ways this term is used. Here, it's pretty straight ahead: it's simply a test to see if your muscles are functioning properly. If you hold your arm up, and your wrist out in extension, i shouldn't readily be able to pull your hand down if everything is firing properly.

Another good example - testing hamstring strength: all's well, you standing with your hands on the wall, looking straight ahead, bent knee, i should have some good resistance pushing down on your calf. Indeed i shouldn't really be able to press a big guy's leg to the ground (as per me here, pushing on Kenneth Jay's calf as Mike Cheatham kindly plays "the wall" for this muscle test at the Denmark09 RKC). I've written before about this kind of thing with the arthrokinetic reflex.

So once you do this test, you may find that you test a little more weakly (muscle is overcome) in a test than before doing pushups on wobbly surface. This is going to get onto a whole jag about instability training, but why jump on a wobbly surface if, say, we have trouble keeping balance with one foot off the ground and we then turn our head sharply? give it a go - how'd you do? Try a few other sports positions and then turn your head (as you might in real life or in a sport); try them with your eyes closed and a good head turn.

Here's a great one: one foot in front of the other, toe touching heel. Stable, or surfer dude? Now close your eyes. More stable or more surfer?

That's our proprioceptive system working really hard since our balance comes from vision, vestibular (inner ear) and proprioception (the nerves in our joints ligaments and muscles saying where in space we are). Apparently 80% of that VVP load comes from the eyes. Take those away, you can give yourself a whole LOT of balance training very quickly.

So why not get good at that, in motion (we move in real life) before going for that wobble board or med ball or swiss ball?

So if you want to work balance, fabulous. get on one leg, turn your head. One leg, close your eyes, turn your head. When you're awesome at moving and balancing, go a bit squishier. Remember, the idea is not to be stable on a wobble board, but stable in motion.

A lot of studies about wobble board adaptations don't demonstrate translation OFF the board into real activities (note, we are NOT talking about swiss ball work in the context of rehab, but regularly fit folk doing their workouts on unstable surfaces.) Here's a great example: this is a super article at the sports injury bulletin on the relationship of the proprioceptive system's mix with the visual and vestibular for balance work. Once you finish the intro though, here comes the wobble stuff. Does it translate off the board?

McGill was one of the first to show that sitting on swiss balls doesn't actually help strengthen the low back. Likeiwise, this is eric cressey's beef with unstable surface training and athetics. All this bosu ball stuff - so what you can balance on one of these - what happens when you get off them? From the actual research Cressey's done, the answer is not alot to less than nothing. A fast muscle test pre and post will tell you the same thing.

At least the recommendations at the end of that sports injury bulletin article is to start balance training on stable surfaces; master that before adding any kind of load - and load can be doing sums while balancing - it doesn't have to be a wobble board (aside: these concepts are all very much part of the z health i phase certification, so if you're looking for a trainer sensitive to improving your atheltic performance in the real world, look for a zhealth trainer with I in the list of their certs).

Summary: Renegade Rows Rock.
Hmm. well. didn't expect a description of the renegade row to become a treatise on the evils of the bosu. The intent was to say, if you're looking for something new to challenge your workouts, the renegade row with its pull and push, done with kettlebells, and especially as part of an EDT upper/lower body set workout, can be simply awesome.

You'll love all the places you're aware of your muscles over the next few days.


Georgie Fear, RD, CPT said...

Great article mc!! I love ren rows too, and certainly using the smaller weight does not make this an easy exercise if you're a stickler for form.
You already echoed my biggest recommendation to people, which is not to "roll" your torso with the rows, but fight to keep your shoulders level.

Number 2 thing I focus on is that while shifting laterally is encouraged, make sure you stay "over the bells", (in the head-to-toes direction). People tend to shift their weight backward during the set (toward their feet) so the bells are out front a little, which only increases the odds of rolling a kettlebell and messing up a wrist.

Been there done that. Now I'm over the bells for damn sure!

mc said...

Really good tip, Georgie on keeping the bells under you. Thank you.

form rules (and looks so good, too)


Mike T Nelson said...

Nice article.

Yes, ALL training should be based on biofeedback (muscle testing as you discussed is just one form). If you are not assessing you are only guessing.

Rock on
Mike T Nelson
PhD(c), RKC, ZMT

Kringle said...

Just stopped by and enjoyed your post.. as a group fitness instructor and rehab professor it is always nice to see an educational blog!

Almost Barefoot Richard said...

Not sure how i missed this one mc, but, now i found it i see it's another great article. Having just started a cycle focusing on double military presses and renegade rows to add one more technique pointer that Anthony DiLuglio mentions - concentrate on pushing down hard on the bell that is on the floor throughout the pull. This i find helps to keep the torso from twisting and the shoulders square. It naturally also helps the generation of tension.

Be cool,


Steven Rice Fitness said...

So true, renegade rows school people on what core strength and stability means. People scoff if you put a couple 20lb weights on the floor and say how much more they can row, and how easy a pushup is. They learn.

I haven't tried kb's, but a round dumbbell takes some good forearm engagement to keep it from rolling.


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