Cable Upright Row


Cable Upright Row

Cable upright row is identical to the barbell upright row and most of the same comments apply. You will require a cable station to do this exercise. Using a straight bar attached to a low pulley of a cable machine provides a steady resistance throughout the movement. To emphasize the trapezius (not the deltoid), raise the bar close to your body during the exercise and pull the bar vertically upward until it reaches your chin, raising the elbows as high as possible. Only if the elbows are raised above shoulder level, the trapezius takes over the work.

How To Perform Cable Upright Row

STARTING POSITION (SETUP): Attach a straight bar to a low pulley cable. Stand with your feet slightly apart, your torso straight and held firmly in place. Hold the bar in front of your thighs in an overhand grip (palms facing your legs) with your hands a little less than shoulder-width apart. Begin with your arms extended toward the floor and your knees slightly bent.

Cable Upright Row Exercise Guide

Cable Upright Row Exercise Guide

ACTION (EXECUTION): Pull the bar up to your chin (until it almost touches it), keeping it close to your body throughout the movement (not illustrated here). The elbows should rise and remain higher than your hands. Breathe in as you begin to raise the bar and exhale as you lower it. Hold for a count at the top, then slowly return to the start position.

Cable Upright Row Key Points (to emphasize the trapezius)

  • Shoulder-width or narrower grip – as we widen the grip there is often less trapezius involvement and the emphasis is placed more greatly on the front and side deltoid heads.
  • Raise the bar close to your body during exercise.
  • The higher the bar is raised, the harder the trapezius works. But, unfortunately, raising your arms too high forces your shoulder joints to rotate in an unhealthy manner. Furthermore, as you raise your arms higher, your wrists have to withstand greater and greater stress to continue to hold on to the bar. So you have to be extremely careful.
  • The elbows should rise and remain higher than your hands.
  • Keep your elbows pointed out to the sides as the bar moves along your torso.
  • Keep your torso and knees in the same position; do not lean forward as the bar lowers.
  • Common mistakes: lifting the hands higher than the elbows, swinging the body, jerking the weight upward to gain momentum, and holding the bar too far from the body.

Other Upright Row Variations

Replacement Exercises

We’d probably replace upright rows with shrugs. Upright rows can be hell on your joints if done incorrectly and they usually are. If you’re looking to put some trapezius exercises into your training sessions, you might find the list below to help you reach your goals.

Muscles Involved in Cable Upright Row

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


  • While one of the best side shoulder and trapezius exercises, upright rows can cause severe shoulder impingement in many people. They can also be stressful on the wrists. Switching to a rope and doing the exercise on a low pulley (using rope instead of short straight bar) may solve the wrist pain but the shoulder impingement may remain. If so, eliminate the exercise.
Cable Upright Row (with rope attachment)

Cable Upright Row (with rope attachment)

Closing Thoughts

Shrugs are the main exercise aimed at developing the traps, but bodybuilders also use narrow-grip upright rows to hit this muscle. Using a low cable pulley for the upright row offers you a steadier and more stable resistance through the movement than is possible when working with a barbell. To hit the trapezius muscles always make sure that you stand close to the pulley and that you keep the bar tight to your body. Finally, use a close grip to preferentially work the upper back. Wider grip will engage your shoulders in the exercise.

Contrary to popular belief, this is not a specific trapezius exercise, although it does give the muscle a good workout. Most of the effort is made by the deltoid, however, and the arm movement is in fact almost identical to the dumbbell lateral raise except that you need to bend your elbows much more.

Both shoulder shrugs and upright rows work your trapezius, but upright rows also work your shoulders. So while upright rows work more muscles (they are multi-joint exercise), the shrug allows you to work a solitary muscle harder, as you can use far more weight when performing shrugs. For best results, combine both exercises in your exercise program but give advantage to shrugs. Trapezius exercises are important for shoulder stability and strength.

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