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Barbell Upright Row: Pros & Cons Of This Shoulder and Upper Back Building Exercise

Check out if you should be doing this exercise.

The barbell upright row is an exercise that will target mostly your shoulders and upper back. But is it efficient? Find out below.

The upright row has been taunted by some people as an excellent exercise, while others believe it destroys your shoulders and put an end to your lifting career.

Discover how to properly do this exercise, some common mistakes you need to avoid, and the pros and cons.

How to Do the Barbell Upright Row

It is best to begin this exercise with the barbell on a rack about waist high. This exercise is not recommended for beginners, as the technique and the position in which you put your body could injure you.

  • Remove the barbell from the rack with a supinated grip (palms facing your body).
  • Take a step back from the rack and extend your arms, letting the barbell rest on your thighs.
  • Stand tall with feet shoulder-width. Your grip should be aligned with your shoulders as well.
  • This is the starting position.
  • Begin the exercise by pulling the barbell up keeping it close to your body at all times.
  • Flex your elbows as the barbell goes up and stop when it is just below your chest or when your elbows are levelled with your shoulders.
  • Make a brief pause at the top.
  • Lower the barbell in a controlled manner to the initial position.
  • That is one rep.

Common Mistakes

There are many mistakes one person could do when performing the barbell upright row. Make sure to avoid these.

Throughout the movement, you want to keep your back straight and stand tall. Make sure you are not leaning forward at any time or arching your back to help initiate the exercise.

As with all exercises, proper technique will go a long way and it is easy to spot people not taking advantage of the full range of motion of this exercise. Less range of motion means you are mostly wasting more time to get the same benefits.

If you cannot control the bar going up or down, it means you have put too much weight on the barbell. Slow and steady is key.

Muscles Worked

The barbell upright row is an upper body exercise.

  • Delts
  • Lats
  • Traps
Traps on athlete barbell shrugSource: Edgar Chaparro
Upper back muscles.

You will also engage your core during the exercise and activate, to a smaller degree, your biceps and brachialis.

Benefits of the Barbell Upright Row

The upright row will increase your pulling strength which means your deadlifts will benefit from it.

The upright row also works your shoulders, which means it will help you increase your strength and get you to achieve even bigger numbers when doing overhead presses or even push-ups.

An article in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning stated that the upright row can combat shoulder pain and impingement.

If performed correctly, this exercise can also help you improve your posture.

Cons of the Barbell Upright Row

Although the article from the Journal of Strength stated that it could combat shoulder pain, there are many fitness coaches who despise the exercise.

Jeff Cavaliere even calls it the world’s most dangerous exercise. As a physical therapist, he has problems with the fact that you mix an overhead movement with the internal rotation of the shoulder. “That is a bad combination,” he says, even if you use an EZ bar instead of the barbell.

To Cavaliere, if you do the same exercise but with a dumbbell, your shoulders will no longer rotate internally, making it a much safer exercise.

For similar reasons, Jeremy Ethier, another fitness coach and kinesiology student, says that the upright row is one of 4 exercises that are harming your shoulder instead of getting them stronger. He backs it up with two studies.

For Ethier, you could modify the exercise by keeping a wider grip, or try the barbell shrug for the traps and the dumbbell lateral raise for the delts.

How Many Sets and Reps?

set and reps of the barbell upright row

Begin with as little weight as possible, while still providing a challenge to your shoulders and traps.

It is best to keep around 3 sets of 10-12 reps. After you can perform all sets and reps in a controlled manner for 2 weeks, you may increase the weight on the barbell.

Read More: The Best Full UPPER BODY Workout for Max Muscle Growth

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