The Ultimate Guide to Upright Rows: Benefits, Muscles Trained, Variations And Proper Training Technique

Guide to Upright Rows

Get big gains by doing upright rows!

Upright rows are an exciting exercise to discuss (We hope you’re excited). The upright row is a movement which targets the shoulders, upper back, traps… and the biceps get some work too. It’s great for conditioning the upper body while building muscle mass and strength. Athletes and bodybuilders especially utilize upright rows as they contribute to a powerful upper body.

For just about “forever,” upright rows have been performed with a barbell. Although they work, they can be dangerous if you’re not careful. You don’t want to injure your shoulders because first of all it’s painful and it’s also important to have healthy shoulders for all pushing movements.

You can choose the barbell but there are fantastic variations you “should” be using as well. Regardless it’s an effective movement if you know what you’re doing.

So with that being said, here is a guide to all the things related to the upright row and we hope you find it extremely beneficial for your fitness journey…

We will discuss the following topics as they relate to getting the most out of incorporating upright rows into your routine…

The Benefits

Muscle growth and Strength

Since you are performing a movement which involves a lot of muscle during the “pulling” motion, you want to be sure to engage the target areas for the most benefit possible. You can get big shoulders and traps from doing upright rows and this is probably the most noticeable effect from performing the movement. But just like any exercise, “feeling” the muscles being worked is extremely important (Unless you’re solely a powerlifter).

If you perform the exercise properly, you should notice your traps and shoulders feeling the brunt of the work and this should be the main goal. The upright row has long been considered a mass builder for decades and you can benefit from doing it if done right.

Better Cleans and Snatches

Improved cleans and snatches are a great benefit of doing upright rows because they help with the “pull” portion of both the snatch and clean. Shoulder mobility is important for effectively getting weight (Especially heavyweight) above the head.

Muscles Trained

The muscles trained during the upright row include:

  • Shoulders
  • Trapezius
  • Upper back/Rhomboids
  • Biceps

Many lifters utilize the upright row to develop the traps and shoulders because they do in fact work well. The bicep muscles also indirectly get stimulated just like with any other movement which requires a motion similar to a row.

But since the shoulders are heavily involved in the movement, you must be careful to perform the movement correctly as your shoulders are nothing to mess around with. Since there is internal rotation with the shoulders during the upright row, you want to make sure to get a comfortable grip as to not injure the shoulder muscle. (1)

It can be very dangerous to internally rotate the shoulders too much and it cannot be stressed enough.

The upright row is best done with a light to medium weight at first to be as safe as possible. You don’t want to go too heavy because you will likely incur an injury at some point especially if you’re not experienced enough with knowing your body well enough.

It’s important to note that an upright does not involve the legs as much as a high pull. You can, of course, cheat a little but rows use the upper body mainly whereas high pulls use a lot of core and legs to get the weight up.

People tend to perform upright rows to focus more on muscle building rather than strength building (For the most part).

Variations of the Upright Row

There are several variations to the upright row which allows for each lifter to comfortably experiment with different rep ranges and grip variations.

If you’re not aware, different grip widths can emphasize certain, more specific areas of the muscle being targeted. If you’re just rowing for strength, then grip widths can help with that too by improving weak areas of grip positioning.

Here are some variations of the upright row you can try…

Cable Upright Row

Cables are a fantastic tool which should be used in every training program. Cable rows keep tension on the traps, shoulders and back muscles throughout the entire movement, regardless of the angles you use.

Also, there are many different types of attachments you can use for cable rows like single grips and ropes. Rope rows are fantastic because you can literally choose your grip position and put as little strain on the shoulders as possible.

Dumbbell Rows

The reason why dumbbells are so great for anything related to fitness training is that they allow for a more natural range of motion. You’re not necessarily locked into one movement like with a barbell but you have the freedom to position your hands based on your comfort levels while performing rows.

Dumbbells always help to build and strengthen stabilizer muscles while also correcting imbalances if used strategically.

Narrow Grip Upright Rows

You must be extremely cautious when attempting upright rows with a narrow grip. This type of grip can put a lot of stress on the shoulders since it naturally causes the shoulders to rotate more inward than a wider grip would.

Snatch Grip Upright Rows

Using a snatch grip is a great way to practice the movement of the (Of course you guessed it) snatch effectively. It’s also a great way to strengthen the traps, shoulders and upper back muscles which help a lot when performing the snatch.

The snatch high-pull is a movement which powerlifters use to aid in the portion of the “snatch pull,” where the bar is brought straight over the head. Snatch high-pulls assist with balance, posture, and speed while conditioning the posterior muscles for an overhead extension.

Clean Grip Upright Rows

Great for improving the “clean” since the shoulders and traps are heavily engaged during this movement. Hand placement is about shoulder width apart to perform the movement and engage the proper muscles for an overhead extension.

Final Thoughts

Be safe and utilize upright rows to build those big traps and shoulders. Be mindful of your body as everyone is different. Sets and rep ranges will vary depending on your goals.

You have to determine which type of upright row is most comfortable and effective for you.

Upright rows have stood the test of time (When done safely) and there are great variations which can be a lot safer (Than a barbell) for your shoulders. Upright rows can be an effective mass and strength builder for your upper body.

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