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Armpit Row or Monkey Row? 

Come on guys, let's come up with a better name for this seldom used but great shoulder exercise

by Eric Neil Augspurger -- Copyright 2014

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Back in the early 1970s I used to lift weights at the old YMCA in my hometown and a unique exercise was popular in the gym at the time that was done with a pair of dumbbells to work the traps and side delfts that we never did give an adequate name to..  Today we would probably refer to this exercise as an Armpit Row or Monkey Row for want of a better name.  So what is an Armpit Row or a Monkey Row?  No doubt many seasoned bodybuilders and weight trainers have never heard of this exercise and even fewer have performed it.  In a nutshell, it is the exact opposite movement of a parallel bar dip.

Think of doing a Standing Upright Row with Dumbbells, but instead of pulling the dumbbells in front of your body and up to your chest, let the weights drift naturally out to your sides while using a palms facing or neutral grip.  Let your upper arms point slightly backwards and pull the dumbbells straight up past your oblique muscles and envision that you are trying to touch your armpits with the dumbbells.  At the top of the movement you will be doing good to have the outer edges of the dumbbells touching your lower lats - which is almost identical to the position you are in at the bottom of a parallel bar dip.

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I have seen many trainees cheat their dumbbell shrugs and bend their elbows in an effort to keep the weights moving - and that is exactly how this movement should be started.  The difference is you will only be using half the weight of shrugs and pulling the dumbbells much higher to the area of the intercostals.  Pause at the top of the movement for a second and slowly lower the weights down to the outside of your thighs and you have just performed your first Monkey Row...or Armpit Row....or whatever you choose to call it.  Honestly, I just can't say either of those with a straight face so I will try to think up a decent name for this exercise at the end of this article.

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So what muscles does this exercise train?  Since your elbows are out to the sides and even pointing slightly backwards it is an excellent movement to hit the lateral deltoids with some assistance from the rear delts as well.  It also works the trapezius muscle as well as the biceps, and with heavier weights you will also feel it working your forearms and even grip as you near the end of a high rep set.  Honestly, this exercise is no joke and hits areas that traditional exercises such as standing presses miss.

 It's a fact that the prime mover of the shoulder in any kind of overhead press is the anterior deltoids.  However, many bodybuilders do military presses or behind neck presses in an effort to develop the side delts, but presses are not the right movement for that.  Whenever you press your hands higher than your shoulders your deltoids have to rotate and shift the stress to the anterior section, it is unavoidable and simple kinesiology.  If you want to stress the side delts you must PULL upwards, not push.  The traditional movement used to stimulate the side deltoids has always been the Standing Dumbbell Side Lateral Raise.  And while it does do exactly that it is also far from being a perfect move.  Almost no one, including Mr. Olympia competitors, can use very much weight on the standing lateral raise without totally sacrificing form as a quick viewing of YouTube videos will attest to.

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This is where the "Armpit Row" or "Monkey Row" can be very beneficial as it is possible to use a good amount of weight on this exercise while still keeping reasonably good form.  If you normally use 100 Lb. dumbbells to perform strict shoulder shrugs then you can probably start with 50 lb. dumbbells for Monkey Rows.  This exercise also works great as the second exercise in a pre-exhaust superset with standing dumbbell laterals.  Start off by performing a strict set of the standing lateral and then drop the weights on the floor and immediately pickup the heavier dumbbells that you will be using for the Armpit Rows.  Continue with your superset grinding out strict reps with the Monkey/Armpit Row, while holding at the top for a second, and take the set to absolute failure where you can barely pull the weights up a couple of inches.   One high-intensity superset like this will leave your side delts on fire and alleviate any doubts that you may have had to the value of this exercise.

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Additionally the Armpit Row can be used in a superset with dumbbell shrugs to work the traps.  Start your superset with heavy dumbbell shrugs and perform them until failure, then drop the weights on the floor.  Immediately pick up  another pair of dumbbells that are approximately 50% of the weight you used for shrugs and perform the Armpit Row until failure...that is absolute failure until you cannot even pull the dumbbells up past your hips.  One high-intensity superset like this is all you'll ever need to fully work your traps.

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Also, one should think "practicality" when it comes to performing the "Armpit Row" or "Monkey Row".  If ever there was a practical exercise invented to train you for everyday activities in life, this is the one.  Whether you have to lift heavy boxes up and set them on a shelf, carry and lift suitcases into a car, or pickup and move cement blocks around your yard, this is the nearly identical motion you will be using.

It's also possible to use a hex bar instead of dumbbells to perform this exercise and the movement will feel just as fluid and natural as using dumbbells.  I recommend the hex bar for those stronger lifters who are capable of using some really heavy weight on this exercise - anything above 200 pounds.  Those powerhouses will simply find that the Olympic hex bar will hold as much weight as they will ever need while many gyms do not have over 100 pound dumbbells available.

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Now finally, let's fix this stupid name.  Armpit Row, Monkey Row, or maybe even Drag Row because you basically drag the dumbbells up the side for your body - but I don't really like any of those.   A very descriptive and accurate name for this exercise would be the "Standing Dumbbell Side Row", or "Standing Hex Bar Row" or for short let's just call it the "Standing Side Row"...I like the sound of that much better.  If you think you have a better name for this exercise then just send me an email and I'll consider adding it to this article.

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