How to do a Barbell Upright Row – Benefits, Proper Form, and Tips

  • By: gymtrix
  • Date: January 19, 2023
  • Time to read: 7 min.

The upright row is an excellent exercise to build up the muscles in your back and shoulders, but it must be done with the correct form.

From squats to deadlifts, when it comes to building lean muscle, nothing beats the upright row.

For the best results, you should keep good posture and use your core throughout the movement. This will help you avoid injury by stabilizing your shoulder girdle and preventing any strain on each rep.

Adding the upright row into your regular upper body or shoulder day routine is a great addition, helping you add strength over time through controlled and safe motion.

How to Perform a Barbell Upright Row

Starting a lifting session correctly is crucial for both safety and efficiency. When it comes to the deadlift, proper form begins with feet shoulder-width apart as the foundation. From there, take a firm grip on the barbell by having your palms face your body and your hands in line with your thighs.

Step-by-Step Instructions on How to Do a Barbell Upright Row:

Step 1: Start by standing up straight, feet shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent. Maintain a narrow grip on the barbell (palms facing forward), with your arms extended and straight down in front of you, and the barbell resting at mid-thigh level.

Step 2: Keeping the core braced, inhale and drive the elbows up towards the sky while drawing up on the barbell. The power of this action should originate from the elbows thrusting upwards and outwards, not from wrist bending or shoulder curling. Throughout each rep, the barbell should stay as close to your body as possible; it should not go too far away (otherwise, you risk straining your shoulders).

Step 3: Throughout each rep, try to activate all of your upper back muscles, pulling your shoulder blades together and down towards your hips to assist lift the weight more effectively. When done correctly, you should feel a good squeeze between your shoulder blades!

Step 4: Pause for a second at the top of this lift before returning to the starting position under control as you exhale, retaining tension in those muscles throughout each rep until you reach that starting position again. Take care not to drop or toss those weights!

Tips: Aim for 3 sets of 8-12 reps per set, with a little rest interval (30-60 seconds) between sets to ensure optimal performance and avoid injury/strain on those muscles!

Pay attention and focus on proper breathing patterns as well to ensure optimal form is maintained throughout all reps. Exhaling during an upward action and inhaling during a downward motion can aid in maintaining tension and stability within those muscles while also driving further growth!

Barbell Upright Rows Benefits

The upright row exercise is an effective way to drive up your strength training routine. Incorporating it into your regimen can result in results targeting the front and middle heads of the deltoids, trapezius, and rhomboids, as well as the biceps muscles.

This exercise is a great addition to any fitness program, no matter your goal.

Although used by bodybuilders who are looking to hone their physique and target certain muscles, it can still be beneficial for those with other goals such as toning muscle or even just improving overall strength and balance.

Essentially, it’s a versatile exercise that can be included in any workout to help you reach maximum results.

Barbell Upright Row Common Mistakes

Avoid these mistakes to get the most out of this exercise while avoiding strain or injury.

Wrong Range of Motion

When performing an upright row, having a full range of motion is key to optimizing the results and avoiding injury.

It’s important to understand your body and mentally gauge which range you feel comfortable with pushing yourself too hard can lead to strains or negative consequences which could potentially hinder your exercise goals.

To achieve the most beneficial range, the bar should be lifted until it reaches just below the clavicle, ideally without any discomfort.

This allows for efficient upper body contraction as well as strengthening of the shoulder, arm, and back muscles simultaneously.

Not controlling the weight as it lowers

It’s a common mistake for gym-goers to let gravity take control when it comes to weight during the eccentric lowering phase of their exercise.

But don’t be fooled, to see the results you want, controlling this phase is key.

Not only does it stimulate your muscles and help build strength, but by not taking control of the weights you are putting yourself at risk of injuring your shoulders and any ligaments or joints surrounding them.

Instead, take charge of both the pulling and lowering phases you’ll thank yourself once you can feel the improvements in your physique.

Avoid arcing the bar out from your body

For proper shoulder activation, it’s essential to focus on avoiding arcing the bar out from your body. To do this, emphasize raising your elbows instead of out.

Keeping the bar close to you will ensure that all should muscle are in play as they should be especially your side delts.

Working with good form is always a top priority when it comes to strength training, so make sure you stay tight and protect that shoulder health for years to come.

Grip Position

When it comes to proper form and injury prevention while lifting weights, grip plays a much more important role than we give it credit for.

A shoulder-width apart grip is generally considered the safest and most effective way to set your hands; however, not all bodies are created equal and if you’re someone who feels better using a narrower or wider grip, then by all means do what works best for you just be sure to pay close attention to your wrists and joints so you don’t cause any avoidable strain.

Additionally, by varying your grip from exercise to exercise, you’re able to effectively target different muscle groups more easily and get more out of each workout session.

With something as simple as changing the way you hold a weight in your hands, you can achieve big results with minimal effort.

Using Momentum

The key to any successful lift is proper form. That’s why it’s so important to keep your torso stationary and your abs braced during each rep.

This will help you prevent arching, turning, or twisting which not only hinders the lift but puts you at risk for injury. Additionally, it’s essential to keep your back straight, and chest up and maintain a forward focus.

Power should come from the arms and shoulders; don’t let the momentum from the hips or legs take over!

If you find yourself struggling with a particular weight regardless of how eager you are to progress reduce the load until better form becomes attainable.

Too Heavy Weight

The shoulder is an incredibly complex and vital joint in our bodies. It’s important to understand the risk of injury when doing any kind of strength training involving the shoulder joint.

Shoulder impingement can occur due to excessive weight on the joint, so if you’re just learning how to do any exercise involving the shoulders, like the upright row, it’s essential to start with no weight and get a sense of the movement.

As you’re becoming more accustomed to it, feel free to add more weight but always be conscious of not overloading your shoulders before your muscles are ready for that weight.

Upright Row Variations

This exercise can be modified to make it more accessible to beginners and to increase the amount of effort required as you gain strength.

Dumbbell Upright Row

When doing an upright row exercise with dumbbells, make sure you keep your hands in a prime position to get the most out of the workout.

Your palms should always be facing each other, and this will give your hands better range of motion throughout the exercise.

Additionally, make sure your hands are parallel with your thighs: your arms must remain in this range so you don’t overwork the wrong muscles.

Kettlebell Upright Row

Doing upright rows is a great way to strengthen your shoulders and back but if you’re looking for an extra level of control, why not switch up your weights and use a kettlebell?

With a kettlebell, you don’t have to worry about gripping each dumbbell individually instead, you can hold the kettlebell with both hands.

This allows for more stability while performing this dynamic move and gives you the power to increase or decrease the weight as needed. 

Cable Upright Row

The cable machine is one of the best tools for adding variation to your upright row. With a cable machine, you’ll be able to perform the exercise more smoothly and easily adjust the weight that you’re using.

To do the upright row with a cable machine, start in an upright standing position and hold the bar straight down at your thigh level. Then, pull it up toward your chest, keeping your elbows high and out to the side.

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