What Are Gorilla Rows? Explore The Most Underrated Back Exercise Of 2024

What Are Gorilla Rows? Explore The Most Underrated Back Exercise Of 2024

clock-circular-outlinePosted 26 Feb 2024

Gorilla Rows. Interesting name, isn't it?

Whilst they might not be the best exercise to give you lats like a Silverback, they are one of the better single-arm exercises to help build a stronger row. Kettlebell gorilla rows also offer some unique benefits that other popular rowing exercises like the pendlay row, or t-bar row might not, so let's get into it!

  1. What Are Gorilla Rows

  2. What Muscles Do Gorilla Rows Work?

  3. The Benefits of Adding Gorilla Rows To Your Pull Workout

  4. How To Do Gorilla Rows

  5. Back Exercises To Pair With Your Gorilla Rows

. . .

What Are Gorilla Rows?

Gorilla Rows are a unilateral back exercise that offer great variation to the usual bent over row exercise. They are also a compound exercise as you use both the elbow and the shoulder joints to make this rowing movement happen.

In terms of equipment, dumbbells or kettlebells are both viable options. You hold two dumbbells (ideally kettlebells), and row them in an alternating fashion. I wouldn't call them a 'primary' strength exercise as they can't be loaded up like other back exercises such as a single-arm dumbbell row, or a seated row let's say, but they'll certainly have a place in your next pull workout.

What Muscles Do Gorilla Rows Work?

Similar to other rowing exercises like pendlay rows, and landmine rows, gorilla rows work the following muscles (2):

  • The lats

  • Teres major and minor

  • Middle trapezius

  • Posterior deltoids (rear delts)

  • Spinal erectors

  • Biceps

The Benefits of Gorilla Rows

  1. Develop Core Strength.

  2. Lat Activation.

  3. Improved Grip Strength & Faster Work Rate.

  4. Exercise Alternative To Hybrid Movements Like Sled Rope Pulls

Just like a barbell row, the gorilla row will challenge and develop your core strength, as your feet are your only point of contact with the floor. This means that your spine and core have to do a lot of work to maintain your position as you row.

Secondly, you could choose to do gorilla rows with no rotation of the trunk. If you do this, you'll perform a strict row with lots of movement at the elbow. You can also allow some rotation of the trunk and spine in your gorilla row form (1) to develop more torsional strength in your trunk, and activate the lats by allowing them to stretch more on the way down.

Finally, the alternating and rotational fashion of this exercise allows you to complete a high number of rows in total which can help improve your capacity to work at a higher and faster rate. Holding heavy weights will also (overtime) help to improve your overall grip strength which can further improve your performance in other exercises such as deadlifts and pull ups.

Gorilla rows can also be a great alternative to a hybrid training movement like a sled pull which is growing in popularity thanks to the likes of Hyrox. More and more athletes are incorporating circuit type sessions into their weekly training programs. Logistically, setting up a circuit in a gym with a sled and a rope might not be a great idea time or space wise. However, grabbing two kettlebells that you can pull with each arm at a fast pace mimics the movement quite well, making it a fantastic alternative, whilst also being a slightly more effective way to build muscle.

. . .

How To Do Gorilla Rows With Good Form

What You'll Need:
  • x2 kettlebells, or dumbbells.

When performing gorilla rows, remember to select an appropriate weight. The reps should feel challenging, but not impossible. At no point should the kettlebells or dumbbells compromise your form when performing the movement.

How To Do Gorilla Rows:

  1. Stand with your feet generously wider than hip width.

  2. Place your kettlebells or dumbbells on the inside of each foot.

  3. Hinge your hips back and bend your knees slightly as if you're doing a mini sumo squat. With a straight, stiff back, bring your shoulders over your toes so that your chest and eyes are looking at the floor.

  4. Hold the kettlebell handles with a neutral grip (palms facing each other).

  5. Brace your abs, and pull one elbow up towards your hip (keep it close to your sides), squeezing the shoulder blade at the top. As you row up, push down into the opposite kettlebell on the floor.

  6. As you lower the kettlebell back down to the floor, allow your arm to stretch down and rotate your trunk inwards slightly to compliment this.

  7. Repeat the same movement on the opposite side, alternating for as many reps as required.

Editors Note: It's important to not overlook the non-working arm when performing a gorilla row. While one arm pulls the weight, the other should be pushing into the kettlebell that sits on the floor. This alternating movement of push-pull helps to maintain stability.

. . .

Back Exercises To Pair With Gorilla Rows

  • Straight Arm Pulldown

  • TRX Crucifix

  • Dumbbell Bench Press

  • Decline Push Up

  • Alternate Z Press

It's not always the best idea to pair exercises together that work the same muscles. By not giving your muscles an efficient amount of time to rest, you'll fatigue them quickly: resulting in you completing less reps at your desired weight, or having to reduce the weight to complete your full set.

By fatiguing the same muscles with back-to-back exercises, you'll also find it hard to maintain your best form. As a result of this, I've chosen two pull exercises: one which isolates the lats, and one that works the upper back; as well as three push exercises that you can pair with your gorilla rows to get a full, effective back workout.

Straight Arm Pulldown

Straight Arm Pulldowns are brilliant for isolating the lats, without causing further fatigue on the biceps, core, or legs for when you do your gorilla rows.

Keep a slight bend in your knees, lean forward with your torso, and then squeeze your lats to pull your arms down. As you do this, make your chest proud and reverse the movement as you bring the bar back up, keeping your arms straight.

TRX Crucifix

Great for the upper back and rear deltoids, you can bend your knees or walk up closer to a standing position to make this exercise a little easier. Start with your hands facing each other and then pull your arms out with a slight bend to lift yourself up.

The TRX Crucifix is one of the clever ways to hit your back when doing back-to-back exercises - no load is needed and they're incredibly easy to set up.

Dumbbell Bench Press

A great pushing movement to compliment gorilla rows, giving your back and core the time to rest inbetween sets, the dumbbell bench press is one of the best exercises you can do for your chest (and yes, Arnold himself used to pair his chest and back exercises together too). I like to angle the dumbbells at around 45 degrees to keep the load off my shoulders and line the movement up well for the chest to press.

Decline Push Up

A little easier to set up and less demanding than the dumbbell bench press, decline push ups can be a quick and easy callisthenics exercise to pair with gorilla rows for a good chest and back pump - work at fast speeds and alternate between the two movements.

Try to keep your feet, hips, and shoulders in a straight line so they move as one. Again, I try to orientate my elbows similar to the dumbbell bench press at around 45 degrees.

Alternate Z Press

Instead of pairing a horizontal pushing movement like the dumbbell bench press, you can also pair an overhead pressing movement such as this Z press with your gorilla rows. It is demanding on your core and hips, but the great thing about this is that is requires no equipment other than dumbbells. It's also done in an alternate fashion like the Z press.

This works your shoulders, particularly the anterior (front) shoulder. Aim to keep your chest proud and try to not excessively arch your lower back.

. . .


I would highly recommend using gorilla rows in a circuit or super setting them towards the end of a session after doing exercises such as pull ups and your heavier rowing exercises.

Pair your gorilla rows with a pushing exercise to maximise quality, load used and overall volume for both exercises. Or, alternatively pair with a pushing exercise that can't be loaded too heavily and can be done at high work rates, like push ups, or the dumbbell z press. If you're going to add them into a circuit, don't worry about this too much as you will be aiming to maintain a high work capacity under fatigue.


Andy has a BSc (Hons) in Exercise Science and an MSc in Strength & Conditioning. He has worked with Leeds United, Science for Sport, the NHS and more. Andy works privately with elite football players and gym goers who want to improve their performance, fitness, and body composition.


  1. Fenwick, C.M., Brown, S.H. and McGill, S.M., 2009. Comparison of different rowing exercises: trunk muscle activation and lumbar spine motion, load, and stiffness.

    The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 23 (5), pp.1408-1417.

  2. Ronai, P., 2017. The barbell row exercise. ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal, 21 (2), pp.25-28.

Andrew HydeBy Andrew Hyde

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