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How To Do 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.

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.
  • Keep your shoulders back and in line with your hips, core tight, and maintain a neutral spine. This helps to protect the shoulders.

Upright rows variations

How to do an upright row

Level: Beginner to Advanced

Equipment: Barbell

  1. Stand with your feet around hip-width apart. Hold the barbell with an overhand grip, hands hip-width apart. 
  2. Brace your core and pull back your shoulders. 
  3. Pull your elbows out to the sides, stopping once they are in line with your shoulders. 
  4. Hold for a second before slowly returning back to starting position.

How to do a dumbbell upright row

Level: Beginner to Advanced

Equipment: Dumbbells

  1. Stand with your feet around hip-width apart, shoulders back, and core braced.
  2. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing towards your body, around hip-width apart.
  3. Raise your elbows out to the sides to lift the dumbbells, focusing on pulling through the shoulders. As you bring the dumbbells up, maintain the same distance between each dumbbell. 
  4. Once your elbows are in line with your shoulders, pause before returning the dumbbells back down. 

How to do cable upright rows

Level: Beginner to Advanced

Equipment: Cable pulley machine, straight bar or rope attachment

  1. Secure the pulley on the lowest position and attach a straight bar or rope. 
  2. Stand directly in front of the pulley machine and hold the bar or rope with your palms facing towards your body. 
  3. Pull your elbows out, stopping when they're parallel with your shoulders.
  4. Pause before returning the handle back down. 

How to do a wide grip upright row

Level: Beginner to Advanced

Equipment: Barbell

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a barbell with an overhand grip, hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Engage your core and pull your shoulders back while keeping a neutral spine.
  3. Raise your elbows out to the side, stopping when they are in line with your shoulders. 
  4. Pause before returning the bar back down.


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.