Upright Row Muscles – Your Ultimate Guide

upright row muscles

If you want a vastly underappreciated exercise when it comes to training the back, delts, and traps, you’ll struggle to find a more underappreciated exercise than the upright row. For building up your upright row muscles, it’s essential that you master this exercise and understand how it truly works. This is why we’re looking at upright row muscles and the upright row in general for today’s article. Contained within our guide you’ll find everything you need to know about the exercise. We’ll be looking at what it is, various upright row muscles worked when the exercise is performed, benefits of upright rows, tips, and more. So, without any further hesitation, as we know you’re eager to get back into the gym, here’s a look at your ultimate guide to upright row muscles.

What are upright rows?

Upright rows are a compound movement, usually performed with a barbell, kettlebell or EZ bar. The exercise is designed to target your upper back, your deltoids, and your traps. You’ll also find that the biceps even get a slight pump in the process, which is always nice. It’s a vastly underappreciated exercise for building muscle whilst increasing explosive strength and power and working on your conditioning in the process.

Don’t upright rows wreck your rotator cuffs?

One of the main reasons why you don’t see as many people performing upright rows these days as you would see years ago, is because of the fact that a lot of people found out the hard way, that if you cheat with upright rows and sacrifice form for weight, your rotator cuff is very likely to become injured. Far too many people were loading up the bars and throwing up the weight as quickly as possible, and consequently they tore their rotator cuffs. If you perform the exercise safely, as you should do however, you’ll find that your shoulders are perfectly safe, and your upright row muscles all get a great workout as a result.

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How to perform upright rows

For the purpose of this article, we’re going to look at how to perform barbell upright rows. There are other variations to this exercise, which we’ll be looking at next. For now, though, here’s a look at how to perform barbell upright rows:

  • Begin by gripping a barbell using an overhand grip with your palms slightly narrower than shoulder-width.
  • Ensure that your arms are fully extended, with a very slight bend at the elbows. You want the barbell to be resting on your thighs, with your back straight.
  • Now, breathe out, and slowly bring your elbows up and out so that you lift the bar up, keeping it as close to your body as possible, without actually touching your body.
  • Bring the bar upwards until it is resting just below your chin. Hold at the top of the movement, making sure to always drive the bar upwards with your elbows.
  • Now, slowly lower the weight back down to the starting position, making sure to keep your back straight and to breathe in as you do so.
  • Repeat for as many reps as required.

Upright rows variations

To get more from your training, and to keep the exercise fresh and exciting, it’s important that you switch up your training now and then and try something new. Here are several upright rows variations for you to try.

Cable upright rows – If you want to really isolate your upright row muscles and take the strain and pressure off of the rotator cuff, the cable upright row is a great exercise to try. This exercise is performed exactly the same as a barbell upright row, except for the fact that you use a cable machine with a low pulley. Regardless of which angle you use, you can constantly maintain tension on your upright row muscles, making the exercise great for people looking to avoid shoulder issues.

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Narrow grip upright rows – If you really want to put more emphasis on your front delts as opposed to your traps, narrow grip upright rows are perfect. With narrow grip upright rows, the exercise is performed exactly the same way as a regular upright row, except you bring your hands closer together and grasp the bar with a much narrower grip. Be warned, this exercise really puts a strain on your rotator cuff as your shoulders rotate more inwards than they would with a wider grip. Perfect form and a very manageable weight is therefore essential here. You should also skip this exercise if you suffer from existing shoulder issues.

Clean-grip upright rows – When performing upright rows, the main difference between each exercise is basically your grip. To perform clean grip upright rows, you’ll use a standard clean grip, with is pretty-much shoulder-width exactly.

Dumbbell upright rows – If you want to enjoy a more natural range of motion, dumbbell upright rows are perfect. You have a little more leeway when it comes to hand placement, so you can find a range of motion that works for you. To perform dumbbell upright rows you’ll basically position two dumbbells in front of your thighs, with your palms facing your torso, and you’ll row them both simultaneously as you would a barbell.

Benefits of upright rows

Before we call it a day on this guide to upright row muscles, we’ll finish up by summarizing several key benefits of upright rows. These include:

  • Better trap development
  • Better grip strength
  • Better shoulder development
  • Better upper back development
  • Improve your cleans and snatches
  • Burn fat
  • Improve athletic endurance
  • Increase explosive speed and power