Dumbbell Upright Row: Muscle Worked, Benefits

The dumbbell upright row is a compound exercise that builds stronger and bigger traps, and rear deltoids (Shoulder). It’s a really simple exercise to perform. You hold a dumbbell in each hand and lift them vertically until they’re level with your collarbone, before lowering them back down.

It is one of the best exercises for building upper back and shoulder, but it is easy to get wrong. Typically, this will just result in you missing out on the muscle-building benefits of the move. Using the wrong technique can also make your shoulders hurt and make you more likely to get hurt.

You shouldn’t be scared out of integrating the dumbbell upright row into your routine. There are several ways you’ll need to look out to improve the technique. To do the dumbbell upright row exercises safely and effectively, you must read this blog.

Muscle Worked During Dumbbell Upright Row

The DB upright row exercise targets the below muscle groups. Using dumbbells in the upright row can help to increase unilateral muscle development and address any asymmetries and movement imbalances as well.

A real upper body powerhouse, the dumbbell upright row mainly target your Traps and deltoid. Some of the body’s most integral muscle groups, including:

Muscle Worked during Dumbbell Upright Row
  • Shoulders: Working on the deltoids, rhomboids, and trapezius muscles, the DB upright row is perfect for building strength, muscle, and stability in the shoulder and upper back region.
  • Rhomboids: Upper back muscles that connect the shoulder blades and offer a great deal of support, working on your rhomboids will improve your posture.
  • Biceps: As major arm muscles, building your biceps will significantly enhance your upper body strength as well as general upper body resilience.

Dumbbell Upright Row Benefits

Some of the benefits of doing the upright row with dumbbells are unique to this style of upright row, while other benefits are shared by all upright rows. Here are the benefits of a dumbbell upright row

Muscle strength & growth

Due to its targeted pulling motion, a large group of major upper body muscles are targeted. Performing this exercise regularly is likely to accelerate your muscle growth and strength in your back, biceps, and shoulders.

Stability & conditioning

Dumbbell 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 dumbbell upright row utilizes your traps just as much as it works your shoulders.

Arm power

It 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, dumbbell upright row exercises help build strength in your upper body stabilizer muscle groups, helping you stand up tall and keep your back straight.

Proper form for the dumbbell upright row

  1. Make sure your hands aren’t too close together: Placing your hands too close together can increase the amount of ulnar deviation (how much your wrist must bend to the side). 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. Don’t pull the dumbbell too high: Pulling the weight too high can increase the likelihood of an impingement injury at the shoulder. Controlling the movement and limiting your elbows to reach the same height as your shoulders ensure you are not exerting your shoulder and potentially causing an injury.
  4. 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.
  5. Don’t roll shoulder forward: When lowering the weight, make sure your chest is proud and shoulders pulled back/together (known as scapular retraction).

Dumbbell Upright Row Exercise Guide

The standing dumbbell Upright Row is an excellent exercise to build huge Trapezius muscles and create that deltopectoral separation. Upright Rows along with shrugs can build massive traps.

Standing DB 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

How To Do DB Upright Row

  1. Hold the dumbbells at arm’s length down by your thighs with your palms facing towards you. Your grip should be just less than shoulder width.
  2. Lift the dumbbell, get it as close as possible to the chest height using your arms, and elevate your shoulders to squeeze your trapezius muscles.
  3. Now, lower the dumbbell under controlled motion until it comes back to its starting position.
  4. Repeat for the desired number of reps.


  • Keep a controlled motion and avoid jerky movements.
  • Don’t allow your back to arch as you pull the weight up, don’t allow excess weight to dictate your body mechanics.
  • Avoid allowing the weight to move away from the body. Instead, keep the weight close to the body throughout the exercise.

Dumbbell Exercise Variations

It is a great exercise for beginners, but also very effective for more advanced weight-lifters. You should learn proper form and lifting technique to strengthen the back of the shoulder. You can modify the exercise for your specific needs by learning some variations.

Take a look below at some of the more popular dumbbell exercise variations to increase unilateral strength and fitness!

One-Arm Dumbbell Upright Row

DB Upright Row is one of the excellent Trap exercises to build huge Trapezius muscles and create that deltopectoral separation.

One arm dumbbell upright row is the unilateral variation on the dumbbell upright row. The single-arm dumbbell upright row is a popular movement for building stronger and bigger traps and shoulders.

The single arm dumbbell power snatch does incorporate significantly more muscle groups than the upright row.

One Arm Dumbbell Shrug

Muscles Worked

Primary: Lateral deltoid, Trapezius.

Secondary: Anterior deltoid, Brachioradialis, Biceps Brachii, Infraspinatus, Teres minor.

How To Do One-Arm DB Upright Row

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in your left hand at your side.
  2. Slowly shrug your left shoulder up toward your ear. At the top, pause for a moment and contract the muscles.
  3. Slowly lower the weight back to the starting position.
  4. After completing all reps on the left side, repeat on the right side. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.


  • Keep a controlled motion and avoid jerky movements.
  • Keep your back straight and core tight.
  • Pause and squeeze the traps at the top of the movement, and then lower the dumbbells really slowly if you want to add a bit of intensity to the exercise.

Dumbbell upright row alternative

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

What Makes a Good Dumbbell Upright Row Alternative

An effective alternative to the dumbbell upright row:

  • Target the same muscle groups as those worked in the 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 dumbbell upright row.

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

1. 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

2. Bent Over Dumbbell Lateral Raise

The Bent Over raise is a great alternative if the dumbbell 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

3. 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 dumbbell 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

4. T Bar Row

T bar row is a power exercise to build middle back muscles. This is a great dumbbell upright row alternative, correcting poor posture and strengthening the muscles surrounding the shoulder.

T bar row is done on a T bar machine or placing a barbell at the corner. T bar rows are a tough exercise, but building a strong back is a must to develop a quality physique, stay injury-free, and back pain-free for life.

T Bar Row

Frequently asked questions

Are upright rows better with dumbbells?

Yes, doing upright row with dumbbell. Dumbbell requires more balance than barbells or machines that can lead to greater muscle fiber recruitment. Dumbbell upright row workout allows unilateral training (training one limb at a time), increase core stability, and improve muscular imbalances.

What do dumbbell upright rows work?

If you’re looking to strengthen your shoulders and upper back, you should consider doing dumbbell upright rows. This exercise targets the traps, which span the upper to mid-back, and the deltoids, which wrap around your shoulder.

Is dumbbell upright row good?

Dumbbell upright rows are a good upper-body exercise designed to work muscle groups throughout your arms, shoulders, and upper back. One of the main things about these exercises is that they are shoulder-friendly.

What’s better dumbbell or barbell upright Row?

Both the dumbbell and barbell upright row have their own advantages. Barbell upright row exercises provide versatility, can help you strengthen virtually every muscle in the body with a wider range of resistance. On the other hand, barbells are large, cumbersome, and generally awkward to move around with. Dumbbells don’t have either of those limitations and allow for free-range on any plane of motion.

How many sets of dumbbell upright rows should I do?

Do sets of 10 to 15 reps with moderate weight. If you can perform more than 20 reps with ease, the weight is too light. For best results, try to perform perfect reps to complete failure, with no more than 15 reps per set.


A dumbbell 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.

Please let us know, in the comment section below, your valuable suggestions!

Thanks for reading.

Know More About Upright Row


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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