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How to Do Monkey Rows? (aka Armpits Rows) Proper Form & Tips

Michael Garrico
Published by Michael Garrico
Last updated: April 10, 2023

The monkey row is one of those forgotten exercises that many athletes ignore because they prefer working with cable row machines or doing lateral raises.

But the simple armpit row is an excellent way to train the shoulders, especially the lateral delts.

To see if we can resurrect these armpit rows and see them back at gyms, we got a team of personal trainers together to put together this guide and show you how to get the technique right.

Let’s take a look at how to do monkey row exercises the right way.

Quick Summary

  • The monkey row is a very simple way to do a shoulder workout with a unique exercise that is easy on joints and highly effective.
  • Anybody who struggles with a lateral raise exercise causing shoulder joint pain should add the monkey row to a new exercise routine.
  • It’s also a great way to strengthen muscles and deal with shoulder pain that could end up limiting your other upper-body workouts.

How To Do Monkey Row Exercises 

A step by step guide on how to do monkey row exercises

You’ll also see the monkey row referred to as the upright row or dumbbell armpit row.

And it’s so surprisingly easy that people often overlook a key part.

But if you follow these instructions, you’ll get maximum value:

  • Get into the starting position by standing tall with a dumbbell in each hand, holding them with a hammer grip at arm's length.
  • Slowly pull the dumbbells as far up under your armpit as possible while flaring out your elbows and shrugging your shoulders.
  • Before you lower back to the starting position, hold the strain for one or two seconds, and then straighten your arms again.
  • A simple variation would be to do an alternating monkey row where you pull the dumbbells up one at a time.

This technique will maximize the time under tension, which can lead to better hypertrophy [1].

What Muscles Does This Exercise Work?

A buff male flexing his biceps

The main muscles worked by the monkey row are those around the shoulders and upper back when exercising.

One of the big advantages of such a shoulder exercise is that it’s a compound movement involving multiple joints and muscles.

Right from the starting position, you’ll feel strain in your shoulders, and here are all the muscles you’ll target:

  • Lateral and front deltoid: These muscles are key to moving your arms up and rotating them, and a great definition here will give you a nicely rounded shoulder [2].
  • Traps: This is the muscle group at the upper back, and it works to assist in maintaining good posture and raising your arms up [3].
  • Biceps: As you will also be bending the elbows, the monkey row will also engage the biceps, similar to bicep curls but with less strain [4].

What Are The Benefits Of Monkey Rows?

The main benefit of the monkey row shoulder exercise is that it will help you to achieve much more defined delts.

By rounding out the shoulder muscles, the monkey row will also make you look a lot broader and bulkier.

Another benefit is that the delts support many other types of movements other than a targeted shoulder exercise.

And if you lift weights on a daily basis, having more shoulder strength can help improve those other exercises.

You should notice a difference in pull-ups, lat pulldowns, and even the bench press.

“The primary function of the deltoid muscle is to move the humerus and the shoulder joint simultaneously.“

- Oluseun Olufade, MD

Sets And Reps 

A person doing monkey row exercises

One thing you need to think about before you get into the starting position for the monkey row shoulder exercise is how many sets and reps you’re planning to do.

If you’re looking to get a bit more toned and lose weight, then don’t pile on too much weight and aim for higher reps.

Plan for three sets of 12 to 15 reps with light weights.

But if you want to bulk up, then you need to feel the burn after you pull the dumbbells up five times.

I would suggest three sets of five to eight reps maximum, but you should be struggling with the last ones.


Are Monkey Rows Effective?

Yes, monkey rows are an effective way to train the shoulder muscles. As you pull the dumbbells up, the exercise will engage your delts and traps, which should give you a much more defined upper body physique.

Are Monkey Rows Safe?

Yes, monkey rows are safe. What many people might find is that pulling up a pair of dumbbells like this adds a lot less strain to the shoulder joints. As a result, you should be able to train harder and avoid joint pain or injuries.

Prepare Before Your Monkey Rows To Boost Shoulder Gains

Now that you know how to do monkey row workouts, it’s time to plan these into your next upper body workout day.

Don’t be shy with the weight load, and see how effective this exercise will be in achieving more defined shoulder muscles.

The other thing I would recommend is adding a high-quality pre-workout to your stack:

We’ve extensively tested all of these products.

Try one to see how strength and endurance can add up over the months ahead.


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