Need a top-tier way to develop your shoulders, traps, and arms at the same time? Don’t have weights or gym equipment? No problem! Band upright rows fit both categories, working several muscles, and requiring a very small investment to acquire quality resistance bands.
Your biceps and forearms initiate the pull while your delts, traps, scapular, and core muscles finish the row. It’s a great exercise to slap size and strength on your body, and there are some wicked effective variations that we have for you too.
In this guide, you’ll learn correct band upright row technique, training tips, and what not to do. You’ll also find recommendations for sets and reps, and best ways to include this movement in your workouts.
You get a whole lot of upper body activation from band upright rows. Below is a list of each muscle that benefits from this exercise.
Biceps Brachii – The goal of band upright rows isn’t to build big biceps, but they’ll help. Your biceps are a secondary puller in this movement, flexing the elbow to pull the weight up.
Brachialis – A big elbow flexor than your biceps, the brachialis also crosses the upper and lower arm joint.
Brachioradialis – Like the previous muscle groups, your brachioradialis bends the arm at the elbow, although, it’s primarily a forearm muscle. Therefore, it rotates the forearm in either direction.
Deltoid Anterior – Your shoulders function by three heads – anterior (front), lateral (side) and posterior (rear). The anterior head is most active when the arm is raised or positioned in front of the body (e.g., any press variation, push-ups, shaking someone’s hand).
Deltoid lateral – The lateral head of your deltoids has the task of raising your arms up and sideways to your body (e.g., forming the appearance of a cross). However, it can only do this between a 15-100 degree angle due to its anatomical role.
Infraspinatus – a big player in upright rows, your infraspinatus is part of the rotator cuff group of muscles. It’s the main external rotator, which helps to draw the shoulders to the rear.
Serratus Anterior – While you wouldn’t think so, the serratus anterior or boxer’s muscle on the trunk moves the scapula by pushing the shoulders forward. Upright rows require scapular movement, and that includes this muscle group.
Teres Minor – Included in the rotator cuff category, teres minor extends from the shoulder blade to the upper arm bone, below the infraspinatus.
Trapezius muscles – Upright rows are one of the best traps exercises you can do aside from shrugs, and deadlifts. These muscles stem from the upper back and raise up above the shoulders on either side of the neck. They contribute upper limb movement, elevating, retracting, and depressing the scapula or shoulder blades.
How To Do Band Upright Rows
This part of the guide will help walk you through correct execution of band upright rows. While there’s no perfect one size fits all technique, these general instructions go over the basics. However, you will ultimately need to determine if your form is ideal for your body, and that your shoulders remain in good health.
Note: If you have pre-existing shoulder issues, consider skipping this variation, or use a very light band, and go slow.
- Grab your band in both hands and anchor it down with your feet. Start with a roughly shoulder width grip. Stand straight and look forward. There should be tension in the band before you start your set. If there’s not, you may need to grip lower down on the band, or spread your feet a little wider.
- Pull your hands straight up to your shoulders, and keep them close to your body.
- Extend your arms back to the starting position, and repeat as many times as needed.
Watch the short video demonstration included below.
- You can use any type of training band, looped or tubed, as long as it’s the proper length that allows you to perform the exercise safely and effectively.
- Use a closer stance for less band tension, and a wider stance to increase the resistance.
- There should be tension in the band at all times.
- Keep in mind that there’s not necessarily a perfect hand width for everyone. You may need to try a few different grip widths to find what works best for you.
- If you feel pain and discomfort in your shoulders, pause and reassess, or skip this movement if you cannot find the right position that feels good to you.
- Target Muscle Group: Deltoid lateral, trapezius
- Secondary Muscles: Biceps and forearms
- Type: Hypertrophy
- Mechanics: Isolation
- Equipment: Resistance band
- Difficulty: Intermediate/advanced
While it’s a disputed movement by fitness experts, done right and you will see an improvement in your delts and traps. Here are some good reasons to do band upright rows.
Build mounds on your delts and traps
Band upright rows involve one of the best ways to activate your shoulders and trapezius muscles. The key is to find the right grip, shoulder position, and body angle that will allow you to fully engage these muscles.
Once you find your groove, combining band upright rows with your other movements and proper loading is a potion creating that dream v-taper, and a more imposing looking physique.
Pulls work your bis and forearms
You’re not just making shoulder gains with band upright rows. You’ll also benefit from a biceps and forearms pump that should result in muscle breakdown, and consequently increased size and strength. High rep training is great for stimulating arm growth.
Freedom of movement means less joint stress
With a barbell, you have much less room to move your joints freely. Whereas, band upright rows give you more freedom of movement in the wrists, and shoulder joints. For that reason, the banded version is probably going to be better for most people, as they can tweak their form more easily.
With upright rows, there’s always a drawback to consider.
Can stress the shoulders
Internal rotation and bad technique plus too much resistance can equal problems. You can greatly decrease this risk by paying attention to what’s going on at your shoulder joint. We don’t recommend this exercise for absolute beginners for this reason. It’s better reserved for people with strong, and healthy shoulders, that have some training under their belt, and understand proper movement mechanics.
Bands sacrifice a portion of resistance
Make no mistake bands are effective, however, they just don’t give you the same challenge through the entire range of movement. For example, the first part (pull) of band upright rows won’t challenge you as much as the top portion of the pull when the hands reach shoulder level.
This isn’t the case with other forms of resistance. But hey, each has its pros and cons too.
Some exercises are more forgiving than others. Band upright rows are an exercise variation heavily scrutinized because of the potential for damaged shoulders. That doesn’t mean you can’t do them safely. You just need to be extra aware of your form, and the weight used. Here are some common mistakes to avoid.
Pushing through shoulder pain
Sometimes pushing through pain is necessary. But not when it comes to your joints. Upright band rows involve a little internal shoulder rotation from the pull upward. Too much of this can be bad. If you feel discomfort or something doesn’t feel right, you’re doing it wrong.
For more experienced exercisers, this may be easily fixed. For those with less experience, it can be more challenging.
Not scaling the resistance to your abilities
Ego lifting is just something we do sometimes when we really shouldn’t be. It’s a natural human desire to want to challenge ourselves. The problem is doing it recklessly after taking a pre-workout, getting a burst of adrenaline, or not taking our time to warmup and jumping into the big stuff.
Variations and Alternatives
While band upright rows are best for minimalist home workouts, and sometimes gym sessions, here are the best options when you have access to more training tools.
Barbell upright row
You’d see the old-school bodybuilders utilize barbell upright rows because it’d allow them to pack on the most weight, and have control over a single implement (barbell). But done wrong and with too much weight, you could jack up your rotator cuffs and incur shoulder impingement issues.
With that said, you have to find a grip width, and body angle that allows you to do these safely.
Dumbbell upright row modification
If we rated the best variations from top to bottom, dumbbell upright rows may be the best. That’s because they give you the most freedom of movement overall. You’re not restrained to a base (stepping on bands to provide resistance), and you’re not limited by a long bar.
But if you’re going to do these, opt for the high pull technique shown via the video example below.
The key to this movement is avoiding heavy internal shoulder rotation, which is typically ideal for the safety and long term health of the shoulders.
Note: There are very few video examples that teach the specific form technique that we recommend for this variation. However, we did pull (pun intended) this one off the internet where pro trainer Jeff Cavaliere explains and demonstrates how to do it.
You can watch at the 3:45 mark.
One of the most beneficial and underrated shoulders, traps, and postural exercises, face pulls are an exercise everyone can benefit from. You can do them using cables and resistance bands (most convenient), or weights.
It’s recommend that you do them consistently (even after every workout) as the video tutorial below suggests. The side effects will be that you benefit from a healthier, stronger, more functional, and better looking physique.
- Attach a two-sided rope to a cable pulley to roughly eye level. Select the desired weight. Start light with just one or two plates to determine if the resistance is appropriate.
- Then grab the handles with both hands so that ends of the ropes stick out from the thumbs and index fingers end of your end, not from the pinky finger end. You’ll need to lift the rope first to do this.
- Extend your arms forward, and step back until the selected weight lifts up a little from the rest of the stack. Stand up straight with a strong posture and your feet roughly hip width apart. Pull your elbows down and in so that your hands are in a neutral grip position.
- Now pull the rope as far back as you can past your face, and squeeze your rear deltoids while pulling both sides of the rope wide apart. Your elbows should be lower than your shoulders when you pull the rope back.
- Extend your arms forward back toward the pulley, then repeat for the desired number of reps.
Check out the following video for another great demonstration by Jeff Cavaliere where he shows the face pull, and an effective overhead variation too.
In composing this list of band upright row variations, the aim was to suggest movements that train the same primary muscle groups. Lateral raises are fitting as they work the front and outer delts, as well as the traps. You can opt to use bands as well, or dumbbells (better), and cables (best).
But whatever you choose, it doesn’t matter… just do it. Lateral raises are one of the staple shoulder isolation variations.
Related: A dozen lateral raise variations for wider shoulders.
More of a traps than shoulder builder, shrugs are a superior exercise for developing the scapular muscles. Engaging all three sections of trapezius muscle fibers, you can load shrugs heavy, and it won’t take long to see the results.
There are so many different ways to shrug. Some people like to use a barbell because it’s natural and you can load the most weight. But cables and machines feel amazing because you can position your arms farther away from your body, and however feels best to you.
Check out all of the best shrug for bigger back.
What are the best sets and reps for band upright rows?
We recommend keeping your sets and reps moderate for band upright rows.
Most people will get good results from 2-3 sets x 8-15 reps. This is also good for shoulder safety, as you should go ultra heavy, but you can challenge yourself.
What are the best ways to incorporate band upright rows in my workout routine?
Upright rows are best included as part of a shoulder workout. However, we recommend doing them after you’ve warmed up your delts with other exercises. Band upright rows are also a great finisher movement.
Are band upright rows safe for your shoulders?
Band upright rows can be safe if done correctly, with the right resistance load. If you notice pain or discomfort, it could your technique, hand position, grip width, band strength, or pre-existing shoulder issues. With that said, this may not be a movement for everyone.
Now it’s time for you to pick up a band and try band upright rows for yourself. You can read about it, but there’s nothing like seeing what works for you. It may take some tweaking, but after you’re dialed in, expect to build mole hills on your upper body to create more width, and completeness to your physique.
Do remember that due to the nature of upright rows, you do need to be more mindful of your technique, and band strength. Also be sure to try the variations and alternatives, and check out the faqs sections for more training tips.
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