Barbell Upright Row Exercise Guide

The Barbell upright row is a popular pulling exercise that engages multiple muscle groups with just one movement. It targets the muscles on the backside of your body, which helps you gain strength in the shoulders and upper back and involves the use of a barbell. It is potentially dangerous for the shoulders but is one of the most rewarding muscle builders for the back and shoulders when done correctly. 

How to Do Upright Rows

How to Do an Upright Row

Setting Up

Before you do any barbell upright rows, make sure that your muscles are warmed up. This can be done by doing some basic cardio or a lightweight workout beforehand.

Start with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, holding the barbell with an overhand grip down in front of you, and your arms extended. Brace your abdominals by keeping your back straight, chest up, and eyes focused forward. This is your starting position.


Perform the exercise by lifting the barbell up toward your chest until it’s just below chin level. Make sure to engage your core and biceps to draw your elbow up and back. Once the barbell reaches below chin level, lower the barbell back down until it rests in front of your thighs again.

Repeat for the desired number of reps. 


  • Make sure to maintain proper form and posture throughout the exercise to avoid injuries and get the most out of the exercise. Use the correct weightlifting grip – hands shoulder-width apart with the palms facing forward and row the weight with your torso and back upright the entire time.
  • When performing a barbell upright row, use an appropriate amount of weight that is evenly distributed across the hands and shoulders. Using excessive weight when doing upright rows can cause strain and injury to the neck, back, and arms.
  • As you raise and lower the bar, try to keep it close to your torso, as this will help you maintain a strong upper arm position. You’ll get the greatest return for your efforts if you have a good arm angle, which focuses tension on lateral delts and maximizes your traps’ use.
  • The greater the range of motion, the more muscle fibers that are stimulated and engaged. Lift the bar high enough up your chest instead of stopping when it reaches mid-chest height. A smaller range of motion is not necessarily dangerous, but it will not be nearly as strengthening and muscle-defining as a collarbone height lift.
  • Do not let the barbell swing out in front of the body too much when doing upright rows. Instead, keep your back straight and pull the barbell towards your chest to engage the correct muscles.


  • Strengthens the traps which will help you increase the amount that you can lift off the ground when doing deadlifts
  • Helps build and widen your shoulder stack.

Illustrated Guide

Upright Row Exercise Guide

Muscles Worked

Primary Muscles

  • Trapezius
  • Deltoids
  • Biceps
  • Latissimus Dorsi

Secondary Muscles

  • Core

Upright Row Variations

Cable Upright Row

While barbells are a fantastic tool for performing upright rows, cable machines or even resistance bands are also great resistance training tools to develop strength for the upper body, arm and shoulder muscles.

Cable upright rows are perfect for people suffering from injuries on the shoulders, elbows, and biceps as the cable put less strain on those parts of the body.

Kettlebell Upright Row

Barbells and cable machine aside, you can also perform upright rows using a kettlebell. This tool allow for a great exercise for the upper body that can help improve strength, endurance, and toning. This exercise targets the shoulder muscles, chest muscles, back muscles, biceps, and triceps.

Single-Arm Upright Row

The single-arm upright row, which is generally done for moderate to high reps, is a popular exercise that is usually included in a back or shoulder workout by many lifters. It targets several muscles including the upper and lower back, shoulders, biceps, and hips while improving core stability. Beginners can use light weights as well. 

Upright Row Alternatives

Cable Face Pull

Cable Face Pull is a great upper-body exercise that can work muscles throughout your arms, shoulders, and back. It requires the use of a cable pulley machine to pull weight straight toward your face. This exercise will also help prevent muscular imbalance and increase overall shoulder strength.

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 for the desired number of reps.

Lateral Raises

Lateral raises offer a great alternative that not only gives you the same benefits as upright rows, but also keeps your back safe and healthy. It is a perfect bodybuilding exercise for those who do not have access to a barbell as lateral raises can easily be performed using dumbbells.

To start, take up your dumbbells with an overhand grip. Stand up straight and let your hands hang by your sides. Then, lift the dumbbells up and out, like a bird lifting their wings, while keeping the arms extended and not bent.

Once the dumbbells reach shoulder height, lower them with plenty of control, back to the first position. This is one rep.

Bent-over Barbell Row

Not a lot of people know about barbell row, which is surprising considering its importance. In this strength training exercise, you’ll work the chest and back muscles in addition to the biceps. This is an effective way to build strength and tone your body.

To do a bent-over row, start by bending over until your upper body is at a 45-degree bend or lower, and then grabbing the barbell with an overhand grip.

While keeping the back straight and knees slightly bent, lift the barbell up towards your sternum, keeping your elbows tucked in and close to the body. Pause in this position for a couple of seconds, then slowly lower the barbell back to the starting position

Back Exercises Guide

Kevin Harris