Kate Upton Works Her Back and Shoulders With This Simple Upper-Body Move

Kate Upton loves to lift heavy—see hip thrusts, deadlifts, hip thrusts, and more hip thrusts—but that isn’t the 25-year-old supermodel’s sole approach to fitness.

Earlier this week, Upton’s longtime trainer Ben Bruno showed a different, lighter side of his client's exercise routine.

Bruno posted an Instagram video on Tuesday in which Upton demos an upper-body move—batwing rows—that is less about lifting heavy and more about engaging important, oft-neglected muscles in the back and shoulders.

You can check out the video, via @benbrunotraining, here:

The exercise, also known as an external torque row, primarily works your rhomboids (upper back muscles that help your shoulder blades retract) and rear deltoids (muscles on the back of your shoulders), as well as your biceps and triceps, Amanda Shannon Verrengia, Pittsburgh-based certified personal trainer and run coach, tells SELF.

“The majority of the population doesn’t focus on these muscles enough,” says Verrengia. And that’s a shame, because they play an important role in total-body strength and alignment.

Batwing rows also work your lats, which are the broadest muscles on each side of your back, Sara Solomon, certified personal trainer, CrossFit Level 1 trainer, and Bodybuilding.com athlete, tells SELF. The lats are also often underdeveloped muscles in most people, Solomon says, partially because many movements at the gym, like upright rows and dumbbell shoulder shrugs, recruit the upper trapezius muscles—one of the major muscles of the back that moves, rotates, and stabilizes the shoulder blades—instead. This leads most people to be upper-trap dominant and underdeveloped in the lats, explains Solomon. This imbalance can ultimately lead to neck pain and shoulder issues.

Batwing rows are great for building good posture.

Many people who sit at a computer all day have naturally weak rhomboids, rear delts, and lats. “If you’re not activating that shoulder blade area,” says Verrengia, “you are going to hunch forward.” Poor posture, and the associated weakness in the upper back, can also make everyday pushing and pulling movements—like pushing a revolving door or picking a heavy item off the ground—more difficult.

Strengthening the rhomboids, rear delts, and lats with a move like batwing rows will help improve your posture and make your day-to-day movements easier and more efficient.

Working these upper-back muscles can also help you do other upper-body exercises better, like biceps curls and overhead presses, as well as push-ups and planks.

“No matter what upper-body move you are doing, you are going to use the upper back,” says Verrengia. “Properly working these muscles can help you have better accuracy with different lifts.”


The benefits can also translate into better performance with other activities, like running, adds Verrengia. “People focus on their legs with running,” she says, “but good arm swing is important and the right strength in your upper back can make a difference when you are tired.”

Here’s how to do the move:

  • Grab a set of light dumbbells or kettlebells and lie with your stomach on a flat or incline bench, or sit on an incline bench like Upton.
  • Hold the weights directly under your shoulders with a firm grip.
  • In a slow, controlled motion, pull both shoulders back simultaneously and row the weights back until your thumbs are at your hips.
  • Pause at the top of the movement for one or two counts.
  • Slowly lower back to start for 1 rep.
  • Repeat for 8 to 10 reps.
  • Do 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps.

Start with light weights—you can also do these with no weights at first—and go slow and steady through these movements. As you do each row, think about pinching your shoulder blades together, Verrengia says. This will help you really engage your rear delts and rhomboids. When you pause at the top of each row, try to squeeze your shoulder blades together a little more.

If you’re feeling the majority of the burn in your biceps and/or lower back, either your weight is too heavy or your movements are too fast. “You don’t want to be quickly pumping these rows,” says Verrengia. “Your shoulder blade should be controlling the whole movement.”

It also helps to think about having a big, open chest as you do this, says Solomon. That will help bring your shoulders back into the proper positioning so that you can really tap into the correct upper-back muscles.

Another tip: Be sure to bring the weights back to your hips, rather than up to your armpits, as you might in other row variations. Bringing the weights to your armpits would cause your shoulders to shrug, says Solomon, and thus incorrectly engage your upper traps. Your lower spine will naturally arch a little as you do the rows—and that’s OK.

Lastly, you’ll see that Upton does these rows holding one arm at the top of the row while the other arm performs the movement through a full range of motion. This single-arm modification can add an extra challenge, as it requires a higher level of strength to sustain the isometric hold. But because it requires more coordination than just pumping both arms at the same time, Solomon recommends first mastering the bilateral movement before attempting Upton’s more challenging progression.

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