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In Weight Lifting, what are Upright Rows?

By Nychole Price
Updated: May 17, 2024

Upright rows are a favorite exercise among bodybuilders. Due to the high risk of injury, they aren't meant for beginners. Incorrect form, or lifting too much weight, can lead to a permanent nagging shoulder pain. This bodybuilding exercise targets the middle head of the deltoid muscle and can be performed with free weights or on a machine.

Performing upright rows with free weights can be easily done at home or in a gym. To do this exercise, you must first determine how much weight you are going to lift. The weight should pose a challenge, but not be excessively heavy. Position the weights on the barbell and fasten the end caps. Lay the weights at your feet.

Stand with your feet pointing forwards and approximately shoulder width apart. Bend slightly at the knees and pick up the barbell using an overhand grip. Your hands should be approximately 8 inches (20.32cm) apart. Rest the barbell against your thighs.

Breathe deeply and lift the barbell straight up using your deltoids and upper back muscles, also making sure your elbows remain out and back. Keep your body upright with your hands close to it. Begin to slowly exhale after the barbell has reached your chin. Relax your body, just a bit, and lower the barbell back to your thighs. Repeat until you have reached your desired repetitions to complete your set.

The Smith machine is the most popular machine to use to perform the upright rows exercise. Stand inside the Smith machine, directly behind the barbell. Just like with the free weights, your feet should be shoulder width apart. Grasp the barbell with an overhand grip, making sure your hands are approximately 8 inches (20.32cm) apart.

Release the barbell from the stop guides and allow it to hang it front of you with your arms fully extended. It should rest against your thighs. Inhale deeply and lift the barbell until it is just under your chin. When lifting, your elbows should flare up and out.

Exhale slowly and return the barbell to the starting position. Repeat until you have performed the desired amount of repetitions to complete your set. Return the barbell to the stop guides on the Smith machine.

AS with any bodybuilding exercise, it is recommended you have a spotter in the case of muscular failure. Before starting or modifying any exercise regiment, meet with your physician. As stated earlier, upright rows should not be performed by beginners.

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Discussion Comments
By Ivan83 — On Feb 15, 2012

I saw a guy at the gym the otther day doing behind the back upright rows. It's exactly what it sounds like. He did the upright row movement, but with a bar behind his back.

Has anyone tried this before and what kind of results did you get? I am intrigued by this but I know that not all lifts are created equal. Some people waste a lot of time and sweat doing esoteric lifts that are really not very effective.

By gravois — On Feb 15, 2012

Is it better to do upright rows with a barbell or with a bar? I have seen people do it both ways, and I'm sure there are advantages to both.

Either way, I'm trying to get away from doing the smith machine upright rows and any kind of machine assisted lifts in general. Using free weights gives you so much better results. If you don't have to machine to provide balance and form you engage a lot more of the small twitch muscles in your body. Building these is essential for full body health and fitness.

By chivebasil — On Feb 14, 2012

Upright rows are a great way to develop the upper back, chest and arms. They are really an upper body blaster and one of those lifts that you can really feel working as you go through a set.

People often forget that they can easily do an inverse version of this movement. Simply go into a handstand against a wall so that your balance is supported. Then make a pushup movement with your arms as many times as you can. You are essentially doing an inverted full body pushup. It engages the same muscles as the upright row but in slightly different ways. Its a nice compliment if you are feeling bored with the traditional row.

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