BREAK IT DOWN: The Gorilla Row

Build your back strength with this kettlebell-row variation.

Gorilla row

It’s no secret: If you want a strong back, rowing is a must. Like other bent-over row variations, the gorilla row builds strength through the middle and upper back, lats, and shoulders while also enhancing scapular mobility, plus thoracic and abdominal stability.

What sets the gorilla row apart is the stance: You maintain a hip-hinge position, like the setup position of a deadlift, while simultaneously performing a single-arm row. Holding this isometric position builds tension, control, and stamina through the hips and legs. The lower body does a surprising amount of work, even though this is technically an upper-body exercise.

In addition to holding the hip hinge, it’s important not to overlook the nonworking arm: While one arm pulls the weight up, the opposite side presses down. This alternating push-pull pattern helps maintain stability and creates a slight rotation through the midsection.

The gorilla row is typically performed by alternating sides with two kettlebells. If you need to use dumbbells, elevate them to midshin height when beginning the move. If you have only one kettlebell, or a set of mismatched weights, perform all reps on one side at a time, making sure you have something to brace the nonworking hand against.

Gorilla row

  1. Stand with feet shoulder width apart or slightly wider, with two kettlebells between your feet.

Tip: Assume a wider sumo stance, depending on your comfort.

  1. Hinge your hips back and bend your knees until you can reach the handles of both kettlebells.
  2. Grasp the kettlebells, then row them one at a time, alternating sides. As you row up with one side, push down into the opposite kettlebell on the floor. Don’t allow your hips or upper body to rise up.

Tip: Keep your hips back and down throughout the movement; don’t let them rise or sway.

Tip: Allow your upper body to rotate and open slightly as you row the weight up.

  1. Complete three sets of 16 to 20 reps (8 to 10 reps per side).

This originally appeared as “The Gorilla Row” in the January/February 2021 print issue of Experience Life.

is an Experience Life senior editor.

Photography by: Kelly Loverud; Styling: Pam Brand; Fitness Model: Kyler Eid

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