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How to perform the barbell upright row with perfect form

The upright row is considered one of the most effective back and shoulder muscle builders. It also has the potential to be dangerous for the shoulders, requiring a perfect form to avoid injury and for the best results. This movement is frequently done by bodybuilders and is also utilized in some boot camps and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) classes.

When it comes to strength training, both consistency and variety are crucial. The squat, press, and deadlift are all done repeatedly since they’re essential in the development of strength. However, you may also improve your strength by adding a new training tool to your regimen.

The upright row is a one-of-a-kind exercise and adds some novelty to an already familiar movement pattern. It can be done anywhere whether you train at home or in a gym and focuses on training your back without straying too far from the foundational pulling pattern found in rows in general.

You may take your barbell training to the next level by combining the upright row with it. You’ll get more technique practice for your pulls while also getting some much-needed variation to your barbell training.

Target Muscle GroupTraps
Exercise TypeStrength
Equipment RequiredBarbell
Mechanics Compound
Force TypePull
Experience LevelAdvanced
Secondary MusclesBiceps, Shoulders

How to Do an Upright Row

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Take hold of the barbell with both hands and let it hang in front of you at arm’s length. Your palms should be facing your body, and your hands should be in line with your thighs.

  1. Inhale and brace the abdominals. Keep your back straight, chest up, and eyes focused ahead.
  2. Exhale as you lift the barbell straight up (toward the chin). Lead with your elbows and keep the bar close to your body. Your arms should not extend beyond parallel with your shoulders; slightly lower is fine.
  3. Pause for a brief moment at the top of the lift.
  4. Lower the barbell as you inhale and return it to the starting position.

Pro Tips: Being able to perform this movement with perfect form is dependent on a strong and tight lower body. When the barbell is traveling upward, maintain a tall posture and a contracted core.

Benefits of the Upright Row

The upright row is a useful tool in your arsenal for strength training. It’s a straightforward movement that builds muscle and improves pulling technique.

Works Great For Shoulders

The upright barbell row targets the front and middle heads of the deltoids (shoulder muscles). This movement also works the trapezius and rhomboids (muscles in the middle and upper back) as well as the biceps (front of the arm).

These muscles aid in the accomplishment of many tasks, such as lifting and pulling. Lifting grocery bags off the floor to put them on the counter, yanking your pants on while getting ready, and other similar activities are all examples of this.

Upper Body Strength 

The strict upright row necessitates a lot of muscle action. To execute the lift, both the large and small muscles of the upper body must work in tandem. This exercise works the upper body pulling muscles, making it ideal for developing strong upper-body pulling power.

Barbell Mechanics and Coordination

Keeping the barbell close to the body when resistance is applied is a difficult, restrictive aspect of weightlifting training. It’s typically an odd feeling since you haven’t had enough practice. When performed as a supplementary movement, the upright row is an excellent combination of comfort and strength development needed for keeping the barbell close to the body. 

Core Strength

Despite the fact that the upright row primarily works your upper body, your core is also crucial in maintaining posture. When leveraging the weight up, keeping a firm, upright stance requires tension and stability in the abs, glutes, and lower back.

Other Variations of an Upright Row

This workout may be modified to make it more friendly for beginners and harder as you build strength.

Dumbbell Upright Row

You can do an upright row with a pair of dumbbells if you don’t have access to a barbell. During this variation, keep your hands in the same position as they are during a barbell upright row. Palms should be facing in and hands should be alongside the thighs.

Dumbbells should be used only if you understand how to execute the movement correctly. Until you’ve mastered the technique, a barbell is preferable.

Kettlebell Upright Row

Upright rows can also be done with a kettlebell. Because you may control it with both hands (as is the case with the barbell) rather than each weight individually, this form of weight has this particular advantage over dumbbells.

Cable Upright Row

The cable machine is another option for upright rows. The cable system allows for smooth movement and easy weight adjustment. This exercise starts with holding the bar at thigh level and pulling it toward the chest.

Plank Upright Row

Adding a plank to the end of the movement makes the upright row that much more difficult. Do the upright row, then lower your body into a plank, hold for a few seconds, then stand up again after doing so.

Common Mistakes

Avoid these mistakes to get the most out of this activity and avoid strain or injury.

Arm Position

Keep your elbows higher than the level of your forearms when you’re lifting. Don’t raise the arms above parallel to avoid impingement, which is a condition in which your shoulder range of motion is restricted.

Grip Position

Only a wide grip should be used for this exercise to minimize wrist strain. For wrist and shoulder safety, it’s recommended to keep shoulders width apart. Using a wide grip activates the deltoid and trapezius muscles more effectively.

Keep your wrists supple during the lift to allow them to bend as needed. Make an effort not to move your wrists down or to the side during the lift.

Back and Torso

Keep the torso still and the abs engaged throughout the lift—no turning or bending. Keep your back straight and your chest up, with your eyes forward. There should be no movement of the legs (unless you’re adding something like a plank).

Excessive Weight

Do not attempt this until you have mastered the technique and trust your shoulder joints. The shoulder joint is a complicated mechanism prone to significant complications and slow healing when injured. Excess weight can cause shoulder impingement.

If you’re new to the upright row, start with a barbell without adding any weight. This will allow you to feel the lift and learn the movement and posture as you go. Begin by adding small amounts of weight at a time and gradually increasing the amount of weight you’re lifting. Avoid putting in too much strain on your shoulders before they’re ready.


According to both the American College of Sports Medicine and the National Federation of Professional Trainers, this exercise should be avoided by people of all levels of fitness. The American Council on Exercise shares similar concerns, that this type of exercise can be “counterproductive to normal shoulder function.

If you decide to do upright rows, make sure you use proper form and posture. Even better, try other activities that target the same muscles but are less harmful to your shoulder. For instance, overhead press, bench press, and push-ups.

Take precautions to avoid harming the muscles while working the shoulder region. People with back pain should not do this exercise and heavy weights should be avoided. When pain or inflammation occurs, stop the activity.

Take Away

The barbell row is a well-known strength training exercise, but there are several less-used pulls that should be recognized. The unique posture and pulling pattern of the upright barbell lift challenge your upper back in a way that most other free-weight pulls can’t.

The upright row is a great exercise for targeting the muscles of your shoulder. It’s important to use proper form to ensure that you’re getting the most out of the exercise. Make sure to focus on using your shoulder muscles to lift the weight and avoid using momentum. If you’re new to this exercise, start with a weight that is manageable and work your way up as you get stronger. There are a few different variations of the upright row that you can try, so find one that works best for you and give it a go!


Rahul is a sports and performance consultant. Over the course of his 15-year career in the fitness sector, he has held positions as a strength and conditioning instructor, gym owner, and consultant. He is deeply committed to assisting people in finding happiness and feeling good about themselves. Rahul has a master's degree in exercise science and is a certified NSCA CSCS and CISSN.

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