Upright Barbell Row: How To Do, Muscle Worked & Benefits

The barbell upright row is a barbell exercise that builds stronger and bigger traps, rhomboids and rear deltoids. Many people neglect these upper back muscles. Many gym-goers, don’t do this upper back exercises because they’re tricky to train, and impossible to see without a mirror.

It is always a mistake to neglect certain muscles. A strong upper back will help you perform a variety of lifts, including squats, deadlifts, and presses.

No doubt, barbell upright row is one of the best exercises for building upper back, but it’s also easy to get wrong. Typically, this will just prevent you from benefiting from the muscle-building effects of the move. Incorrect technique can also place undue pressure on your shoulders and increase your risk of injury.

You shouldn’t be afraid to integrate the barbell upright row into your routine, there are several ways you can look to improve the technique and perform the exercise correctly.

Muscle Worked During Upright Barbell Row Exercise

The barbell upright row exercise targets the below muscle groups. Using a barbell in the upright row can help to increase muscle mass and overall strength.

Primary Muscles Worked during the upright barbell row are:

Secondary Muscles Worked during barbell upright row are:

A handful of other muscles worked or play the role of stabilizer muscles during upright row include your,

Muscle Worked In Upright Row Exercise

Benefits of an upright barbell row

Here are the benefits of an upright barbell row :

  • Muscle strength & growth: Due to its targeted pulling motion, a large group of major upper body muscles are targeted during the barbell upright row. As a result, performing this exercise regularly is likely to accelerate your muscle growth and strength in your back, biceps, and shoulders.
  • Stability & conditioning: Upright row activates all major areas of the shoulders, making it excellent for upper body stability and conditioning. By doing frequent upright rows, you will improve your position while protecting yourself from injury.
  • Builds Traps: Traps are tricky to build. There are only a handful of exercises that mainly target your traps. A barbell upright row utilizes your traps just as much as it works your shoulders.
  • Arm power: The upright row is great for the biceps, which will make your arms more powerful, improving your performance in other exercises and activities as a result.
  • Improve your posture. When practiced with proper form, barbell upright row exercises help build strength in your upper body stabilizer muscle groups, helping you stand up tall and keep your back straight.

Barbell Upright Row

The barbell upright row is one of the best exercises for building the upper traps and shoulders.

When performed correctly, the barbell upright row can be a fantastic muscle-building exercise for the upper back and shoulders, which can help to shape your upper arms and torso.

In addition to strengthening and sculpting the shoulders, mastering the barbell upright row can help you with those bigger lifts like squats and deadlifts.

Barbell Upright Row

How To Do Upright Row With Barbell

  1. Stand facing the barbell with your feet shoulder width apart and load it with the weight you want to use.
  2. To grasp the barbell, hold it with an overhand grip and hands that are slightly closer than shoulder width apart.
  3. Pick up the bar with your back straight and bend knees.
  4. Keeping your back straight and eyes facing forwards, lift the bar straight up while keeping it as close to your body as possible. 
  5. Hold for a moment before you go back to the starting position.
  6. Repeat for desired reps.

Barbell Upright Row Exercise Variations

There are different ways to do the barbell upright row, it depends upon the hand position.

According to age-old gym tradition, if you’re aiming to hit your rear deltoids, then go for a wider grip. Whereas, a narrower or close grip activates your anterior deltoids and traps more.

Barbell Upright row hand position (wide grip vs. narrow grip)

Upright rows can be performed with a close or narrow grip (half of shoulder width), a shoulder-width grip, and a wide grip (wider than the shoulder) and all have their unique advantages.

  • The close grip upright row allows for maximum (Range of motion) ROM because it allows the elbows to raise higher than the shoulders. With a close grip, your upper arms draw more forward rather than moving directly out to your sides. This version also places emphasis more on upper trap and little lesser on middle and rear delt.
  • The wide-grip upright row is preferable to the regular upright row because it prevents the elbows from going too high, which in turn prevents rotator cuff injuries. And it requires more activity from the middle part of the deltoids and build bigger delt. It may also be more shoulder-friendly for people who cannot handle the close-grip version.  
  • The wide-grip upright row places heavy emphasis more in the middle and rear deltoid and little lessor on the upper trap because your upper arms move directly out to your sides in the same plane as lateral raises.s. 

The best way to target the deltoids and traps with the upright row is to use a grip wider than shoulder width. This allows you to focus more on the middle deltoids, as well as the rear deltoids and the traps.

Wide Grip Barbell Upright Row

The Wide grip upright row is an excellent exercise to build huge Trapezius muscles and create that deltopectoral separation. The upright row can be performed with a wide grip (as described) or a narrow grip.

The narrow-grip, upright row, has come under a lot of scrutiny because it can apparently harm your shoulders.

Many trainers recommend that you avoid the narrow grip upright row. They say that the wide-grip upright row, if performed in the way described, is safe.

Barbell Upright Row

How To Do Wide grip Upright Row With Barbell

  1. Hold a barbell with overhand grip and stand with your feet hip-width apart. Your grip on the barbell should be wider than shoulder-width apart. Let it hang in front of you.
  2. While keeping your barbell close to your body, lift the bar and get it up to chest height using your arms. Allow your shoulder blades to move naturally with your shoulder joints. Pause at the top of the movement.
  3. Now, lower the bar under controlled motion until it comes back to its starting position.
  4. Repeat the wide-grip upright row for your desired number of repetitions.

Close Grip Barbell Upright Row

The close grip upright row is the version most people perform in the gym. With a close grip, your upper arms draw more forward rather than moving directly out to your sides.

Close Grip Barbell Upright Row

How To Do Close Grip Barbell Upright Row

  • Hold a barbell with overhand grip and stand with your feet hip-width apart. Your grip on the barbell should be less than shoulder-width apart. Let it hang in front of you.
  • While keeping your barbell close to your body, lift the bar and get it up to chest height using your arms. Allow your shoulder blades to move naturally with your shoulder joints. Pause at the top of the movement.
  • Now, slowly lower the bar until it comes back to its starting position.
  • Repeat the close grip upright row for your desired number of repetitions.

Barbell Row Form and Tips

  1. Make sure your hands aren’t too close together: This can result in injury at the wrist, and it can be easily avoided by simply moving your grip width to be slightly wider so that it is more comfortable for you as you lift.
  2. You’re lifting too much weight: If your weight is too heavy, the movement will require momentum. Heavy lifting will take the focus away from the shoulders or, even worse, put too much stress on them.
  3. Pause and squeeze the traps at the top of the movement, and then lower the bar really slowly if you want to add a bit of intensity to the exercise.
  4. Don’t pull the bar too high: Pulling the bar too high can increase the likelihood of an impingement injury at the shoulder.
  5. Brace your core and keep your torso upright: As with any lift, maintaining a strong and stable core throughout the lift will aid with bracing and thus protect the spine. When it comes to upright rows, this will also help to reduce or prevent swinging the weight away from your center of mass.

Barbell Upright Row Alternative

If the barbell upright row bothers your shoulders, or you’re looking for variety, take these upright barbell row alternatives out for a spin.

What Makes A Good barbell Upright Row Alternative

An effective alternative to the barbell upright row:

  • Make sure the muscle groups are the same as in the barbell upright row.
  • Closely replicate the motor pattern of the upright row.

If you’re looking to maximize the involvement of your delts and traps, then this exercise would be a solid choice as an alternative to the barbell upright row.

If you want to intensify your shoulder workouts, we have other alternatives that target the same muscles.

(Note: An effective barbell upright row alternative must primarily target the lateral delts and the upper & Mid-traps.)

1. Dumbbell Upright Row

If you’re looking to maximize the involvement of your delts and traps, then the dumbbell upright row exercise would be a solid choice as an alternative to the barbell upright row.

Standing Upright Rows can be done with both narrow grips and wider ones. The narrow grip focuses on Trapezius and the wider focuses on the entire shoulder girdle. Moreover, the wider grip allows some cheating movement, thereby allowing you to lift more weight.

Upright Row

2. Dumbbell Farmers Walk

The farmer’s walk exercise also called the farmer’s carry, is a strength and conditioning exercise in which you hold a heavy load in each hand while walking for a designated distance.

Farmer’s Walk with Dumbbells might be one of the classic exercises and a move that men’s been doing since the beginning of time.

The Farmer’s Walk allows you to accomplish a tremendous amount in a single exercise.   

Dumbbell Farmers Walk

3. Bent Over Dumbbell Lateral Raise

The bent over raise is a great alternative if the barbell upright row bothers your shoulders. This exercise isolate and work specifically on rear deltoid and trap muscles.

Thus, the exercise hit specifically the rear delt head by isolating it better than any other shoulder exercise. This exercise can be performed in both a standing and a seated position. Prefer the seated version as it calls for strict movement.

Lateral Bent over row

4. Face Pull

Face pull is a cable machine exercise that primarily targets the rear deltoid and traps to a lesser degree and also targets the biceps, triceps. The face pull is a great alternative for the barbell upright row, as it mimics the upright row and uses similar muscle groups.

Use a cable pulley machine to pull the weight straight toward your forehead.

Face Pull

Frequently Asked Questions

Are barbell upright rows good?

Yes, doing an upright row with barbell is good. Barbell upright row has their advantages. Barbell upright row exercises provide versatility, can help you strengthen virtually every muscle in the body with a wider range of resistance. But always remember to keep your form and motions controlled, and avoid jerky movements.

Can you do upright rows with a straight bar?

The upright row is typically performed by holding a bar (EZ curl or straight bar) in front of you with a narrow, overhand grip and pulling it straight up to neck height, with the elbows leading the way and pointed up. The straight bar upright row hits the delts, it builds the traps, and you see results fast.

Takeaway

The Barbell upright row can strengthen the posterior chain muscles, including the shoulders and upper back with great attention to form, you’ll reap all the benefits.

Thanks for reading.

Know More About Upright Row

References

1. Schoenfeld, Brad MSc, CSCS; Kolber, Morey J PT, PhD, CSCS; Haimes, Jonathan E BS, CSCS: The Upright Row: Implications for Preventing Subacromial ImpingementStrength and Conditioning Journal: October 2011 – Volume 33 – Issue 5 – p 25-28

2. Ronai, Peter MS, CSCS, RCEP: Exercise Modifications and Strategies to Enhance Shoulder Function. Strength and Conditioning Journal: August 2005 – Volume 27 – Issue 4 – p 36-45

3. McAllister M, Schilling B, Hammond K, Weiss L, Farney T. Effect of grip width on electromyographic activity during the upright rowJ Strength Cond PMID: 22362088 DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31824f23ad

4.Cools AM, Witvrouw EE, Declercq GA, Danneels LA, Cambier DC. Scapular muscle recruitment patterns: Trapezius muscle latency with and without impingement symptoms. Am J Sports Med 31: 542–549, 2003.

5. Int J Environ Res Public Health. Trapezius muscle timing during selected shoulder rehabilitation exercises. 2021 Jun 14;18(12):6444. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18126444.PMID: 34198674

6. Lorenzetti S, Dayer R, Pluss M, List R. Pulling exercises for strength training and rehabilitation: movements and loading conditionsJ Funct Morphol Kinesiol. 2017;2(3):33. doi:10.3390/jfmk2030033

7. Mazur LJ, Yetman RJ, Risser WL. Weight-training injuries. Common injuries and preventative methods. Sports Med 16: 57–63, 1993.

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