Upright Rows

Narrow grip

I love upright rows. You read that right – I LOVE upright rows. I do them at least twice a week. You may have heard that they’re dangerous, that they’re likely to cause injury. And yet, I have a bone spur in my right shoulder and they’re one of the few shoulder exercises that has never caused me any issue. Done with attention to good form, they’re a great, safe, effective exercise to build shoulder and upper back strength. I love them, and if you give them a try, you might, too.

Wide grip

The key is to start with proper technique. Feet should be shoulder-width apart, knees soft, glutes squeezed, core tight, spine straight, chest high. Grasp a barbell or kettlebell with an overhand grip. Think of your hands as hooks, with the weight essentially hanging from them.

Raise the bar toward your chin, leading with your elbows. When your upper arms are parallel to the floor, stop the pull. Your elbows should be higher than your wrists. Then lower the bar along the same path. The crucial point is to keep your spine straight, shoulders wide, and chest high throughout the movement, avoiding swinging the torso frontward and back, or hunching the shoulders.

In the video below, I show the lift with both a barbell and a kettlebell. Notice the similarity of hand position and overall movement.

This lift works the entire shoulder and upper back region, and if you’re using a barbell rather than a kettlebell, grip can be varied according to your goals.

  • Upper trapezius (narrower grip)
  • Anterior shoulder/deltoids (narrower grip)
  • Posterior shoulder/deltoids (wider grip)
  • Biceps
  • Rhomboids

In order to get the most out of the lift, it should be performed with weight that allows you to complete sets of 8-12. You should be “done” by the end of the set, but not struggling. Using higher weight that necessitates fewer reps is not recommended, as form can more easily break down, leading to injury.

I honestly can’t stress enough the importance of good form on this and every lift. A lift done poorly with higher weight may feed the ego, but will cost you in reduced gains and higher likelihood of injury, while a lift done properly with slightly less weight will lead to greater strength and muscle building gains sooner … allowing you to move on to that heavier weight in no time, with beautiful strong muscle to show for it.


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