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Barbell Upright Row E-mail
Written by Jeff Behar, MS, MBA   

The Upright Barbell Row is an exercise for the development of the shoulders and trapezius muscles. It is basically a weight lifting shoulder exercise performed while standing, holding a weight hanging down in the hands and lifting it straight up to the collarbone.

Barbell Upright Row Overview

  • Main Muscle(s) Worked: Deltoid, lateral (shoulder), upper trapezius
  • Other Muscles Worked: See below
  • Equipment: Barbell
  • Mechanics Type: Compound (An exercise that involves two or more joint movements)
  • Force: Pull (A movement toward center of body during the concentric contraction of the target muscle. Isolated movements are classified by their compound counterparts).
  • Utility: Basic (A principal exercise that can place greater absolute intensity on muscles exercised relative to auxiliary exercises. Basic exercises tend to be gravity dependant, have an inclusion or shift of resistance through multiple muscle group throughout the range of motion (e.g. bench press: front deltoid to pectoralis major to triceps) and have a natural transfer of torsion force to compression force (e.g., lockout on squat, bench press, etc.) or tension force (e.g. extension of arm curl) to the bone(s) and joint(s) during full range of motion).  

Muscles Worked in Barbell Upright Row  

Target Muscles Used for the Barbell Upright Rowback muscles

  • Deltoids, lateral
  • Upper back

Synergist Muscles Worked When Performing the Barbell Upright Row

  • Deltoid, Anterior
  • Suprespinatus
  • Trapezius, Middle
  • Trapezius, Lower
  • Brachialis
  • Brachioradialis
  • Biceps Brachii
  • Serratus Anterior
  • Inferior Digitations
  • Teres Minor
  • Infraspinatus
  • Teres Minor

Stabilizers Worked When Performing the Barbell Upright Row

  • Trapezius, Upper
  • Levator Scapulae
  • Biceps Brachii
  • Triceps, Long Head   

How to Properly Perform the Barbell Upright Row 

  1. This compound mechanics-type exercise is begun by standing with your feet approximately shoulder width apartUpright Barbell row.
  2. Grasp bar with shoulder width or slightly narrower overhand grip.
  3. While inhaling, pull bar to the chin with elbows leading. Keep the elbows jutting up and out while maintaining bodily proximity to the weights. Allow wrists to flex as bar rises.
  4. At the top position, make sure the elbows are higher than the wrists and the shoulders.
  5. While keeping, the torso and knees in the same position, exhale, slowly returning the barbell to the starting position.
  6. Repeat.

Caution Needed when Performing the Upright Barbell Row

Even with the great benefits of the upright row, the barbell uprightr row can be one of the most harmful shoulder exercises. If the arms are not properly positioned shoulder and tendon damage can occur.

To execute the upright row, the arms are bent at the elbow then internally rotated. The problem arises in internal rotation when you raise the arms up and add resistance in that position. Every time you raise the weight, impingement occurs at a small tendon in your shoulder. Because upright rows place the shoulder in full internal rotation as the arm is raised, this position does not allow sufficient space for the greater tubercle of the humerus to clear the acromion. This causes an impingement syndrome in the A/C joint and can lead to chronic tendinitis or bursitis. The upright row can also a major contributor to rotator cuff problems. Rotator cuff injuries are extremely easy to acquire, and often require surgery and months of rehab in order to recover from. Even if the upright row is performed with proper execution, upright rows can lead to long-term shoulder pain and injury.  Be smart and just avoid this exercise. There are plenty of other movements which deliver success without such risk. 

Tips for Performing Barbell Upright Rows

  • Do not use too narrow a grip. This decreases the subacromial space (area between the greater tubercle of the humerus and acromioclavicular joint) which may potentially impinge the supraspinatus tendon and the subacromial bursa (a protective sac of fluid cushioning the bone from the tendon). A wider grip allows for more space between the shoulder joint and the head of the humerus allowing for more clearance of the underlying structures.
  • Do not over rotate the arms. This can lead to injury.
  • Use proper weight. Ensure that you can handle the weight so not to overstress the shoulder.

Common Errors While Performing the Barbell Upright Row 

  • Leaning back too far. A common mistake many novice lifters make is leaning back as you pull the bar up.
  • Grip too wide. Keep the bar shoulder width apart to work the entire trap and deltoid.  Using too wide a grip prevents your trapezius from assisting in the movement.
  • Grip too narrow. Keep the bar shoulder width apart to work the entire trap and deltoid.  Using too narrow of a grip can result in impingement at the shoulder joint
  • Jerking the weight up. Do not jerk the weight. Not only can this cause you to lose proper form and lead to injury but it also takes the resistance off the muscle and will diminish the exercise effectiveness.
  • Performing the movement too fast. Performing the movement too fast doesn't allow you to fully recruit as many muscle fibers. 

Variations of the Barbell Upright Row

Variations are intended to work different subgroups of muscles, or work the same muscles in slightly different ways. There are plenty of variations to this exercise. Some other variations of the barfbell upright row include:

  • Dumbbell Upright Row. Same movements as as detailed above.
  • Cable Row. The advantage of a cable upright row is the continual tension during the exercise from the cable upright row.
  • Upright Row using the Smith Machine. Same movements as as detailed above.

Additional Exercises to Compliment the Upright Row

  • Dumbbell Front Latreal Raises. Dumbbell lateral raises are excellent exercise for the anterior deltoids (front shoulders).
  • Dumbbell SideLatreal Raises. Dumbbell lateral raises are excellent exercise for the medial deltoids (shoulders)
  • Dumbbell or Barbell Shrugs. This exercise works the Trapezius and also works many other muscles in the back (Erector Spinae, Rhomboids, Teres Major, Teres Minor, Rear Deltoid, Posterior, etc.).

About the Author 

Jeff Behar
Jeff Behar, MS, MBA
Jeff Behar, MS, MBA is a recognized health, fitness and nutrition expert, regularly writing about hot topics in the areas of health, fitness, disease prevention, nutrition, anti aging and alternative medicine. His work also often appears in several of the major health and fitness newsletters, health and fitness magazines, and on  major health, and fitness websites. Behar is also a well sought after personal trainer, motivational speaker, and weight loss expert.






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