Upright Row Exercise Variations

Upright rows are one of the key exercises to developing a strong upper back and shoulders. Weightlifters have been doing a variation of this exercise to strengthen and prepare their upper body for both the Clean and Jerk, and Snatch. Even though you should not be performing the upright rows in the same fashion as Olympic weightlifters, you can adapt this exercise to your everyday training.

Not only will uprights rows improve your posture and strengthen your upper back and shoulder, but it will also have a significant carry over to other exercises such as bench press, shoulder press, rows etc. The only problem with this exercise is that too many beginners try to do this exercise without knowing how to execute it with the perfect form.

Muscle groups worked:

Front and Middle deltoids, trapezius, rhomboids, biceps.

Exercise Variations:

Barbell: Straight Bar/EZ Curl Bar:

This exercise is quite heavy on your wrists. It becomes quite uncomfortable to lift the bar up at the top of the movement. If you have wrist mobility issues you can always try to perform this exercise with an EZ Curl Bar. It would place your wrists into a more natural position, especially at the top of the lift.

How to:

– Use slightly wider grip for this variation.

– Tense your core before you begin the lift.

– Raise the barbell to just above your nipple line.

– Keep your elbows flared out throughout the whole movement.

– Squeeze the muscle.

– Slowly bring the barbell down to the starting position.

The barbell upright rows are one of the more dangerous variations of this exercise. It is easier to cause impingement in your shoulder than doing the exercise with dumbbells. If you feel like you do not have the necessary mobility to perform this exercise with perfect form, you can always try less taxing yet just as effective variations:

The Snatch Pull

If you are not into weightlifting, CrossFit or functional training, there is no need to perform this exercise in a hyper explosive fashion. You also do not have to do this exercise from the ground.

How to:

– Ideally, you would perform this exercise variation from an elevated platform like your squat rack’s spotters.

– Choose a wide grip for this exercise. If you have long arms, you will grip at the end of the barbell, if you have shorter arms, grip it at the knurl markings.

– Tense your core and bring the barbell up to your ribcage.

– Squeeze the muscles and slowly lower the barbell down to the starting position.

– Always breathe out during the harder movement.

Smith Machine

Smith Machine Upright rows are a great way to develop your upper back without overloading your stabilizer muscles. The fixed path will help you to control the bar and focus on the muscle.

How to:

– Use close grip for this variation.

– Keep the barbell close to your body.

– Lift the barbell up to just above your nipple line.

– Keep your elbow flared out.

– Squeeze the muscle at the top of the movement.

– Slowly bring the barbell down to the starting position.


Dumbbell Upright Rows are great if you have mobility issues since the movement is not fixed your wrists have room to move.

How to:

– Grab a pair of light dumbbells.

– Use pronated grip for this exercise.

– Lift the dumbbells up to around your neck.

– Keep your elbows flared out and tense your core.

– Squeeze the muscle at the top of the movement.

– Slowly return to the starting position.

Cable Row Handle

One of the lesser-known variation of this exercise. It can also be done with two stirrup handles. This variation gives your elbows and shoulders much more room to move around.

How to:

– Connect an extension chain to the Lat Machines Low Pulley.

– Use overhand/pronated grip for this exercise.

– Tense your core and slowly bring the bar up to your chin.

– Squeeze the muscles at the top of the movement.

– Slowly return to the starting position.

How Many Reps should you perform?

Upright Row is an exercise where all your focus should be on the execution of the exercise and not the weight lifted. I would recommend performing somewhere between 8-12 repetitions each set.

Should you do this exercise at the beginning or at the end of your workout?

I would recommend doing this exercise at the end of your workout when your muscles and joints are properly warmed up. This way you will reduce the likelihood of injury.

Common Mistakes

– Not tensing your core – this puts too much stress on your lumbar spine.

– Not keeping elbows higher than the bar/dumbbell/attachment – this shifts the focus from the middle of your back to your traps and biceps.

– Going too heavy – you will risk an increased chance of injury while not getting any additional results since you will be recruiting other muscle groups.

– Pushing through pain – if you have wrist or shoulder mobility issues – do not try to power through, instead find a variation that you could perform without any discomfort!