Cable Upright Row Exercise Guide

Cable Upright Row is a simple yet effective variation of the conventional barbell upright row that utilizes a cable pulley machine to ensure constant tension on the muscles throughout the movement. This compound exercise isolates and targets muscle groups across the back and shoulders including the traps and deltoids, both of which are essential for a strong back.

Cable upright row muscles worked

But how do you do it correctly? This article provides complete and easy-to-follow instructions on how to perform the cable upright row correctly, with tips on how to customize it according to your goals. So if you’re looking to carve and strengthen those muscles in your back, read on and give cable upright rows a try!

How To Do Cable Upright Row

Setting Up

To start with, attach a straight bar handle to the low pulley of a cable machine. Set it to the lowest setting possible. Assume a standing position with your feet shoulder-width apart. Grab the handle with an overhand grip (palms facing away from you) and your hand slightly less than shoulder-width apart.

With your elbows and knees slightly bent, hold the bar in front of your thighs. This is the starting position.


From the starting position, bend at the elbows and raise the bar vertically upward, keeping the bar close to your body throughout. Maintain a straight torso to keep yourself from leaning forward too much and focus on squeezing your core, glutes, and quads at all times. This will help you remain in a balanced and stable position during the exercise.

With your elbows higher than your forearms. pull the bar up until it almost touches your chin – pause for a second here before lowering it back down slowly towards initial position. Repeat this until you have reached your desired number of repetitions.


  • The higher you can raise the bar, the more you can work your traps. However, make sure not to raise your arms unrealistically high as this can cause your shoulder joints to rotate in an unhealthy manner.
  • As you lower the bar, there is a tendency for you to lean forward, which takes the work away from your back and shoulders. Avoid this by keeping your torso straight and steady throughout the movement.
  • Do not use momentum to lift the weight. Allowing your body to move back and forth while you perform the exercise increases the chances of straining your lower back.
  • Choose a weight that will allow you to have full control of your form and body. Lifting too much weight will not only increase the risk of injuries but will also keep you from maximizing the benefits of the exercise.


  • Puts less strain on your shoulder and elbows compared to the conventional upright row which also reduces the risk of injuries.
  • Improves the strength and functionality of your shoulders as it allows your shoulder joints to move through a full range of motion.
  • Engages the core for maintaining posture throughout the movement, which builds core strength.
  • Improves your strength and coordination to prepare you for other lifting exercises such as the snatch and clean and jerk. 

Illustrated Guide

How to do cable upright row

Muscles Worked

Primary Muscles

  • Trapezius
  • Deltoids

Secondary Muscles

  • Biceps
  • Forearms
  • Core

Cable Upright Row Variations

Change in Grip Width

There are a number of grip variations you can use when doing upright rows.

A wider grip, for example, is ideal for beginners as it keeps the elbows from going too high, reducing the chances of rotator cuff injuries. This also involves the front and side deltoid heads more and less the trapezius muscles. Experiment with different grips and see which gives you the best results for your particular muscles or fitness goals.

Cable Upright Row with rope or V-bar Attachment

While usually done with a straight bar attachment, a Cable upright row can also be performed using either a V-bar or rope attachment. This variation allows you to get the same benefits but with less stress and strain on your wrists and shoulders.

Different Equipment

A pulley cable machine may not always be accessible for everyone, especially for those who work out at home.

Dumbbell upright rows are performed with just a pair of dumbbells. Simple as it looks, this variation should not be undermined as it requires extra concentration to keep both weights level as you lift them towards the chin.

Kettlebell upright row is another variation you can try basically anywhere you are. It is best performed with a lighter kettlebell, especially if you are a beginner, as the close grip makes you more prone to shoulder impingement.

Cable Upright Row Alternatives

Dumbbell / Barbell Shrugs

Shrugs involve shrugging your shoulders while holding a barbell or dumbbell and are one of the best back isolation exercises. Just like the cable upright row, shrugs are an effective and essential exercise in developing the trap muscles.

To perform a shrug, hold the weight firmly in your hands while assuming a standing position with feet hip-width apart. Initiate the movement by shrugging your shoulders upward to your ears. Maintain straight arms while doing this motion and lift the weight to a position above the upper thighs.

Make sure to contract your traps to raise the shoulders until they have reached their full extent of motion, and hold this position for one second while squeezing hard. Slowly return to the starting position and repeat.

Barbell Bent Over Row

When it comes to upper body building, the barbell bent-over row is one of the most effective yet challenging exercises you can include in your routine. Like the cable upright row, this is a pulling exercise that targets the back, shoulder, biceps, and triceps muscles, and is great for toning and strengthening these areas.

To perform this exercise, lift the barbell off the floor in a controlled manner, with your thighs firmly planted on the ground. Maintain a strong hip hinge position at about 45 degrees) and a tensed back as you do so to ensure stability as you lift the weight. Slowly row it towards your belly button while squeezing your abs.

Squeeze shoulder blades together when reaching the maximal contraction point to engage your upper back muscles.

Pause in this position for a few seconds and start lowering the barbell down to the ground with control. Remember to breathe and straighten your back. Repeat until you reach your desired number of reps. 

It’s easy to get injured when doing barbell bent rows. The key is to take it easy at first and gradually increase the intensity over time.

Cable Face Pull

Cable pulley machines provide a great variety of exercises that you can add to your routine. Cable face pulls are another fantastic pulling exercise that not only builds upper back and shoulder muscles but also helps you improve your posture and balance. Instead of a straight bar attachment, you can perform this movement with a rope attachment.

To do a face pull, hold onto the rope with a neutral grip with both of your palms facing towards you. Use your core to pull the rope towards your face until they become parallel with your ears.

Avoid moving your torso as you pull. Hold for a second and squeeze your shoulder blades together hard, and then slowly return to the initial position. Repeat this movement until you reach your desired number of repetitions.

Back Exercises Guide

Kevin Harris