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Upright Rows

What are Upright Rows

How to do upright rows

See all upright row variations

Upright rows are a pulling exercise which works the delts, trapezius, rhomboids, and biceps. They're somewhat controversial in the fitness world; some people swear by them, others swear they're dangerous. 

There are 4 bony joints in the shoulder: the glenohumeral joint, the acromioclavicular joint, the scapulothoracic joint, and the sternoclavicular joint. During an upright row, the acromioclavicular joint narrows, which, depending on your anatomy and form, can result in shoulder impingement as the supraspinatus tendon is pinched. Over time, this can lead to inflamation and injury.

Fortunately, maintaining the correct form, or switching to a wider grip (or rope if using the cable machine) reduces the risk of shoulder impingement, allowing you to get the benefits of an upright row - hypertrophy of the shoulders and upper back.

Check out our other arm and shoulder exercises: Bicep curls, Forearm and grip exercises, Front raises, Lateral raises, Rear delt exercises, Shoulder presses, Tricep extensions

Commonly asked questions on upright rows

  • Upright rows can cause shoulder impingement (when the tendon catches on bone) in some people, however good form (keeping your hands hip-width apart, shoulders down, and avoiding bringing your elbows up too high) reduces the risk of this. If you experience shoulder pain even with correct form, try switching to a wide grip upright row.

  • The upright row isn't for everyone. If you struggle getting the form right, or simply don't enjoy this exercise, try swapping upright rows with the following.

    To work your shoulders:

    To work your upper back:

  • Upright rows do work the rear delts, but switching to a wide grip moves the focus on to the rear delts and traps even more. Some people find the wide grip rear delt more comfortable for their shoulders too.

Upright Rows Exercise tips

  • Avoid placing your hands too close together on the bar as this can cause your shoulders to internally rotate. Aim to have your hands around hip-width apart.
  • Depending on your mobility and anatomy, you may want to limit how high you bring the bar. Aim to bring your elbows in line with your shoulders - if you can go higher without feeling a pinch, feel free to. If that feels uncomfortable, mid chest is fine.
  • Keep your shoulders back and in line with your hips, core tight, and maintain a neutral spine. This helps to protect the shoulders.

Upright Row Variations

Upright row

Both the upright row and wide grip upright row use a barbell to work the shoulders and upper back, with the deltoids and traps most challenged.

 Barbell Upright Row
Dumbbell upright row

The dumbbell upright row is a more wrist and shoulder friendly variation which helps to target muscular imbalances.

 Dumbbell Upright Row
Cable upright row

Cable upright rows place the muscle under constant tension and emphasises the eccentric portion of the move, helping to aid strength and muscle gains. 

 Cable Upright Row


If you’re not sure if any of the above exercises are suitable for you, please consult your doctor before you start it. Need guidance on how to perform the exercise? Ask a personal trainer at your gym.