You may know how to do a regular row, but have you tried gorilla rows?
This amped-up version of a regular row will unlock your inner beast and have your upper back, shoulders, and lats on fire! It’s a surefire way to gain major back muscle.
So first, a quick tutorial.
Gorilla Rows How To
If you handed a gorilla two kettlebells, what would it do?
Probably gorilla rows, of course.
Named for the gorilla squat stance you take during this move, gorilla rows will have you resembling the majestic silverback gorilla. This hands-on-the-floor position adds stability and helps ensure good form during the entire exercise
Here’s how you do it in 10 steps:
1) Place two kettlebells on the floor in front of you–hip-width apart.
2) Place your feet just behind the kettlebells and then widen your stance, so your feet are behind and outside the kettlebells.
3) Hinge back at your hips by pushing your butt back and bending your knees slightly. When you hinge back, keep your back flat, and bring your torso parallel to the floor.
4) Keep your knees wide enough, so you can row the kettlebells up.
5) Grasp both kettlebells at the same time.
6) Engage your core and puff out your chest, maintaining a good posture.
7) Then, bring one kettlebell up to your hip on the same side. Keep your elbow close to your body, stopping once your elbow is at your ribs.
8) Slowly lower the kettlebell back down to the floor.
9) Alternate arms one rep at a time, using the inactive kettlebell to stabilize your body as you row.
10) Repeat for 8-12 reps for each side, alternating sides.
What Muscles Do Gorilla Rows Target?
So, now that you know how to perform gorilla rows, you may be asking: What do gorilla rows work?
The short answer: Your upper back, shoulders, and lats will all feel it when you go hard with gorilla rows.
But if you want more details than that, we’ll dive in to the anatomy.
Fondly called the lats, these muscles are the largest muscles in the back, and they run from the spine to the upper arms on either side of your back. It’s these guys that help your back look wider and more built.
How Gorilla Rows Work This Muscle
All rows involve shoulder adduction, which is when the upper arms are pulled to the midline of the body. Shoulder adduction as well as scapular retraction (squeezing your shoulder blades together) all engage your lats, helping this muscle get a good workout.
Speaking of scapular retraction, the rhomboids are located just between your shoulder blades, and they work hard every time you pull your shoulder blades together.
How Gorilla Rows Work This Muscle
While you’re not squeezing both shoulder blades together, the rowing motion inherently engages your rhomboids as you retract one shoulder blade at a time and pull the weight up and toward your body.
Your traps stretch across your upper back, shoulders, and neck, and when you can max these bad boys out, they help your back look thicker and more built.
How Gorilla Rows Work This Muscle
The shoulder elevation during gorilla rows helps engage the upper traps. The scapular retraction engages the middle traps, and the lower traps activate as you stabilize your shoulder blades. More simply put, gorilla rows are a full workout for your traps.
Deltoids are located on your shoulders, and they’re what provide your shoulders with its rounded contour.
How Gorilla Rows Work This Muscle
These engage during gorilla rows when your shoulder extends.
Gorilla rows are a compound back exercise, meaning they not only work muscle groups in your back but also other parts of your body simultaneously. Besides your upper back, shoulders, and lats, gorilla rows also engage many other muscles, including:
Gorilla Row Vs. Barbell Bent-Over Rows
As you can see, rows are great for your back muscles. There are a ton of popular row exercises. What makes gorilla rows so special?
Glad you asked.
We’ll start by comparing it to the barbell bent-over row, where you hinge back and bend over as the name suggests, rowing a loaded barbell toward your body.
Unlike the barbell bent-over row, you’re working one side at a time with the gorilla row exercise, which makes this a unilateral movement. The combination of using one kettlebell to stabilize yourself while simultaneously rowing the other kettlebell up has a ton of benefits, such as core stability and hip mobility.
Gorilla Row Vs. Dumbbell Bent-Over Rows
Or we could also compare to the dumbbell bent-over row, where you hinge back and row dumbbells toward your body.
Gorilla rows are different from the dumbbell bent-over row because you allow the kettlebells to touch the floor–while in the dumbbell row, you hold the dumbbells up the whole time.
When you have one arm working and the other pressing down at the same time, you create a push-pull pattern, which is clutch for building core stability.
Common Mistakes During Gorilla Rows
If you’re new to gorilla rows, here are some common mistakes that could hold you back from unleashing the beast!
Rounding Your Back
Gorilla rows provide a great opportunity to work on your hip hinge, a position used in tons of exercises, such as deadlifts. Maintaining a straight line from your head to your tailbone as you hinge your hips back is a critical aspect of keeping good form.
Rounding your back during the hip hinge motion of gorilla rows could hurt your lower back. I recommend asking your personal trainer to review your form with you, so you avoid lower back pain.
Flaring the Elbows
Be sure to keep your arms and elbows parallel to your torso as you row, which engages your shoulder blades and lats. If you find your arms flaring, this would be a good point to stop and correct your form.
Not Tightening Your Core
Your lower back could also get injured if you’re not engaging your core during the motion. As soon as you loosen your core, your lower back will overcompensate for the lack of support.
Too Much Weight
Especially when just starting out, don’t try to be a big shot! Using too much weight and compromising form could potentially hurt your back muscles.
Not Bringing Your Torso Low Enough
Be sure to lower your torso, so it is completely parallel to the floor in order to get the most bang for your buck with gorilla rows!
Shrugging Your Shoulders As You Row the Weight
With the rowing motion, focus on pulling the kettlebell back toward your hip. This engages your lats. As soon as you begin shrugging your shoulders, you won’t be working the right muscles for gorilla rows.
Benefits of the Gorilla Row Exercise
The Gorilla Stance
It should come as no surprise that the gorilla stance is a bit more beast-mode than other rows. When you stabilize the kettlebell on the floor after each row, you avoid allowing the inertia of the rowing motion to help you bounce the weight back up, which could happen in a dumbbell bent-over row.
Once the kettlebell stops on the floor, it’s all muscle rowing that weight back up!
The Unilateral Motion
Whenever you perform a unilateral exercise, you flush out muscle imbalances and work on balance and stability. Unilateral exercises like the gorilla row provide an opportunity to focus on one side at a time.
And of course, the rowing motion engages tons of muscles all at once, especially in your back! This benefit comes from any type of rowing exercise.
Dumbbell Gorilla Rows Vs. Kettlebell Gorilla Rows
While dumbbells are good for some exercises, I highly recommend kettlebells when it comes to gorilla rows.
Since dumbbells do not have handles above them, you’ll find your stabilizing arm reaching down further to the ground during dumbbell gorilla rows, which makes the exercise unnecessarily harder.
The further you reach for the dumbbell, the more easily you’ll round your back, which is not the proper form for gorilla rows.
Gorilla Rows & Your Lower Back
Your lower back may have a complicated relationship with working out, but just because you have lower back pain doesn’t mean you can’t get a bulky, muscular back.
Like most back exercises, there are, of course, risks for injury while performing this exercise. As I mentioned, the biggest way you’ll injure your back is by:
- Rounding your back
- Failing to engage your abs
That being said, there are plenty of ways that gorilla rows are actually a great choice for people with lower back pain. Here’s why:
Gorilla Rows Keep a Stable Hip Hinge
In deadlifts, you have to move in and out of the hip hinge motion, each time creating the potential for compromised form. For gorilla rows, once you get in a hip hinge, you stay put.
The Arm on the Ground Stabilizes Your Lower Back
Your lower back gets the added bonus of staying extra stable during gorilla rows thanks to–you guessed it–that one arm and kettlebell stabilizing your body on the ground.
Again, this stability just gives your lower back that extra layer of protection with less room for error as opposed to the dumbbell bent-over row–where your body is not being stabilized by a hand on the ground.
Support for Your Lower Back Pain Journey
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Gorilla Rows FAQs
What muscles do gorilla rows work?
Gorilla rows work the shoulders, lats, and upper back muscles–with your biceps, glutes, and hamstrings all getting a piece of the action as well.
Does a gorilla row make your waist smaller?
Gorilla rows primarily target your back muscles, but a larger back can visually cause your waist to look smaller. To get a small waist, you’ll need a consistent regimen of weight training and cardiovascular exercises.
Can you do gorilla rows without kettlebells?
For maximum muscular benefits, I recommend using kettlebells for gorilla rows. Dumbbells can potentially cause you to round your back during the motion because they’re so close to the ground.
What is the difference between row and gorilla row?
A bent-over barbell row works both sides at once while a gorilla row is a unilateral movement.
Dumbbell bent-over rows involve you leaning over into a hip hinge without touching the floor. During gorilla rows, your feet will be in a wider stance, supporting your body weight on the ground with the kettlebells.
Can you gorilla row with dumbbells?
If you do need to use dumbbells for gorilla rows, I recommend elevating them on a box or other stable, elevated surface. This will encourage you to avoid rounding your back as you reach for them.
How many reps for gorilla row?
I recommend 8-12 reps per side, alternating sides one at a time.
Are gorilla rows push or pull?
Gorilla rows are a pull motion, involving rowing and primarily working the back, shoulder, and lat muscles.
 Fenwick CM, Brown SH, McGill SM. Comparison of different rowing exercises: trunk muscle activation and lumbar spine motion, load, and stiffness. J Strength Cond Res. 2009 Aug;23(5):1408-17. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181b07334. PMID: 19620925.