Upright Barbell Row Exercise Guide

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Upright Barbell Row Exercise Guide

While one of the best side shoulder and trapezius exercises, upright rows can cause severe shoulder impingement in many people. The rotator cuff muscles of the shoulder are extremely delicate and prone to injuries that occur as a result of using poor form and excessive weight. Upright rows can also be stressful on the wrists. Switching to a rope and doing the exercise on a low pulley or using E-Z bar may solve the wrist pain but the shoulder impingement may remain. If so, eliminate the exercise.

This is a great exercise for giving width to your shoulders and for raising your trapezius muscles as well.

Perfect Upright Barbell Row Technique

INITIAL (STARTING) POSITION: Stand upright holding a barbell (E-Z or straight bar) in both hands using an overhand shoulder-width grip (or just slightly less than shoulder width). Your arm should be fully extended in front of you, with the barbell at your upper thighs. Allow your shoulders to relax slightly, but keep your back straight.

Upright Barbell Row

Upright Barbell Row

MOVEMENT (EXECUTION): Slowly pull the barbell straight up until elbows and forearms are virtually parallel to the ground (to chest heigh). Lifting the barbell close to the body targets the lateral deltoid. Your elbows should be pointing up and out. The bar should follow along your ribs until it hits the middle of your chest. Hold momentarily, then lower it under control to a position just below your waist.

Exercise Key Points

  • Look for an upright posture to be maintained throughout the movement.
  • Keep your elbows pointed out to the sides as the bar moves along your torso.
  • Your hands should never be higher than your elbows.
  • Keep your head up and your eyes looking forward throughout the exercise.
  • Taking a wider grip on the bar helps target the deltoid, whereas a narrower grip emphasizes the trapezius.
  • If the elbows are raised above shoulder level, the trapezius takes over the work (you should avoin this situation if your main goil is to target lateral deltoid muscles).
  • Avoid an excessive shrug or rounding your shoulders.
  • Avoid keeping your elbows close to your body (but keep the barbell close to your body) or forward of the lateral plane of your body (from the shoulder joint).
  • Stabilise by keeping you spine solid and in a neutral position, keeping your eyes and head forwards, your chest and ribcage high, bending your hips and knees slightly.

Exercise Variations (Replacement Exercises for Upright Barbell Rows)

If you don’t prefer this type od movement (upright row), you can still target you lateral (side) deltoids using lateral raises.

Muscles Involved in Upright Barbell Row

The muscles worked depends on the grip used. In general, any hand spacing five inches or less puts most of the stress on the traps. The wider the grip, the more the side deltoids come into play.

It is sometimes wrongly claimed that this is an exercise only for the trapezius, but in fact the arm makes a movement that is very similar to the dumbbell lateral raise, except that the elbows are bent. In practice, most people raise their shoulders (in a kind of sustained shrug) at the same time as their arms, which explains the sensation in the trapezius.

  • Main muscles: deltoid (lateral; side);
  • Secondary muscles: trapezius, levator scapulae, supraspinatus, biceps, forearm flexor muscles, rhomboids, lower back muscles;
  • Antagonists: latissimus dorsi, pectoralis major, triceps;

Closing Thoughts

Barbell upright row is great for developing strength around your shoulder and upper back, and helps improve your posture. Also, this is the only compound exercise for the shoulders that does not depend on the triceps. If you think that your triceps limit your strength during shoulder exercises, you can use upright rows to your advantage.

It should be avoided, however, if you suffer from shoulder or wrist pain or stiffness. Stop the exercise immediately if you experience any pain. We recommend skipping this side (lateral) deltoid exercise. Build your lateral deltoids by choosing exercises such as dumbbell lateral raise, machine lateral raise, or cable lateral raise.

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