How To Nail The Gorilla Row, TikTok's Fave Upper Body Exercise

Here's how to do it properly.

How to nail the gorilla row exercise.

When you’re looking for a way to spice up your upper body routine, row variations always do the trick. They’re a nice change of pace from flys, curls, and presses when it comes to strengthening your arms, shoulders, and back. It’s also why gorilla rows, in particular, are blowing up on TikTok, where the exercise has over 2.1 million views. Not only does this move target your upper body, but it also sneaks in a mini ab workout. (The fact it has a cute name is just a bonus.)

Gorilla rows are all about getting low to the ground, kind of like a gorilla, as you lift a set of weights one arm at a time. “It’s a variation of a bent-over row that works the back muscles,” says Rose McNulty, a NASM-certified personal trainer. Specifically, the exercise hits the latissimus dorsi muscles in the middle and upper back, the trapezius in the upper back, and the rear deltoids, she tells Bustle. Doing your best King Kong impression engages your biceps, too.

“Gorilla rows also work the core because the posture you stay in throughout the movement [requires] overall core strength and stability,” McNulty says. A stronger core plays a role in good posture as well as your overall stability, too, so that’s even more of a bonus. “This is especially important for those with desk jobs who may be more prone to hunching over all day,” she says.

As you alternate rowing the weights, you give each side of your body undivided attention. “That’s because the gorilla row is a unilateral, or one-sided, movement, [which] can help prevent or improve muscle imbalances,” McNulty says. Keep reading for more info on how to do TikTok’s fave upper body exercise.

How To Do A Gorilla Row

Here, McNulty explains how to do a gorilla row using good form so you can make the most of the move.

- Place two kettlebells or dumbbells on the floor about shoulder-width apart or slightly narrower.

- Stand with your feet to the outsides of the weights, toes pointed slightly outward.

- Bend your knees gently and hinge at the hips.

- Keep your torso straight as you lower down until you can grab each weight with your arms extended.

- Keep your palms facing in towards one another.

- Engage your core as you row one of the weights straight upward.

- Press your opposite hand into the weight that’s still on the floor.

- As you row, squeeze your shoulder blades.

- Keep your back straight the entire time.

- Once the weight you’re lifting reaches chest-height, slowly lower it back down to the floor.

- Repeat the same movement on the other side, and continue alternating.

- Use a weight you can lift about 6 to 12 times per side.

- Do 3 to 6 sets.

How To Modify The Move

One perk of the gorilla row is that it gets a lot done without much equipment, which makes it a great option if you’re working out at a crowded gym and all benches are occupied, says Julio Lopez, CSCS, a certified personal trainer.

To give it a try as a beginner, use light kettlebells or dumbbells and aim for six to eight reps to start. “Conversely, if doing 12 reps is easy peasy, try some heavier kettlebells,” Lopez tells Bustle. To make the move even more challenging, play around with the tempo. Instead of raising and lowering at the same speed, Lopez suggests slowing down as you lower. “A tempo of three-zero-one, for example, indicates three seconds on the eccentric portion — or lowering the weight — no pause at the bottom, and then one second on the concentric portion, or rowing the weight up,” he explains. “A three or four-second eccentric phase will have you feeling the burn in no time.”

If you get into your gorilla pose and can’t reach the weights, Lopez recommends resting them on a short plyometric box or on a weight plate to raise the starting point up.

Common Gorilla Row Mistakes

Remember to keep your back flat, not rounded, when doing gorilla rows. “Bad posture can increase your risk of injury and reduce the effectiveness of the exercise,” McNulty says. Pay attention to where your butt is, too. Your hips should stay parallel to or slightly lower than your shoulders.

It’ll be tempting to shrug your shoulders up by your ears as you row, so make sure they stay nice and neutral to fully target the muscles in your back, McNulty says. Row with a weight that isn’t too heavy, and you’ll be off to a good start.

Studies referenced:

Saeterbakken, A. (2015). The Effect of Performing Bi- and Unilateral Row Exercises on Core Muscle Activation. Int J Sports Med. doi: 10.1055/s-0034-1398646.


Rose McNulty, NASM-certified personal trainer

Julio Lopez, CSCS, certified personal trainer