Upright Rows

As with the Tricep Dip, the Upright Row is another exercise that has a high risk-to-benefit ratio with safer and more effective alternatives to train the muscles supposedly being targeted. What is the goal of an Upright Row? If you were to ask some people, or even some personal trainers, they might say: ‘Traps’,  ‘Delts’ and Biceps, or maybe even External Rotators. True enough, these muscles are being worked to some extent throughout the range of motion, but let’s take a look at what actually is going on.


How It’s Done

Typically, a barbell is grabbed at shoulders’ width in front of the body and is pulled upward, slightly above the chest. The elbows go outward (abduction), shoulder blades upwardly rotate, the elbows flex, and the shoulder joint externally rotates. Seems harmless enough…right?


Problems Include:

-         Excessive Internal Rotation of the shoulder joint (from a closed to open chain)

-         External Rotation of the shoulder with usually an excessive load

-         Irritation of the Biceps Tendon (remember the Triceps Dip?)

-         Irritation of the Glenoid Labrum (the rubber washer like component cushioning the shoulder joint).

-         Usually WAY too much weight is being heaved and hoisted

-         Excessive strain on the wrist, (Ulnar Deviation)

-         Likely irritation of the Bursa (fluid filled sacks which cushion and protect)


Although variations to this exercise may prevent some of these maladies, such as using dumbbells to allow abduction of the hands and eliminate internal rotation, or a cable to manipulate the load, using a cambered bar to lessen stress on the wrists, changing grip width, altering shoulder blade, (scapular), position, or changing the range of motion may help, the risks are still present. And, in the end, it begins looking like a totally different exercise: A Lateral Raise.

Which brings us back to our goal in the first place.


What muscles are we looking to target and work?


If emphasizing the middle portion of the deltoid is your goal, why not choose the lateral raise? That is its’ primary job, abduction, (move the arm away from the midline of the body).

The Upper Trapezius?Why not perform its natural movements: Elevation, (shrugging) or Upward Rotation, (Overhead Press).

The External Rotators (Teres Minor & Infraspinatus) of the shoulder are best worked performing what they do best, external rotation from various degrees of abduction and directions of resistance using tubing or dumbbells.

Biceps? Well, everybody knows a ton of those arm curl babies.


This exercise has been gym staple for years and although some still argue that it is a beneficial exercise and is a natural motion dictated in everyday life and athletics, a closer look at the facts of human joint mechanics will tell you otherwise.