How to Do an Upright Row: Form, Benefits, Variations

How to do an upright row

A lot of times the upper back muscles don’t get the amount of attention that they deserve. This is because they can be a bit tricky to train but it is completely worth it to spend some of your workout time on these. The trapezius, more commonly referred to as traps, is one of the main upper back muscles. It is a large triangular muscle that extends to the entire shoulder width. It is attached to the skull and runs down to the thoracic spine. If your shoulders hurt then it is most likely that it’s this muscle that requires attention. An upright row would help make this muscle stronger.


An upright row is considered advanced level because it can be dangerous if not performed with perfect form. There is a high risk of injury so be sure to do this under supervision of a trainer. You don’t need much equipment. All you need is a barbell. Since the barbell does not go on your shoulders there is no need for barbell pads. You can wear gloves to help improve your grip. 

Step-by-Step Instructions

Here’s how you do an upright row. 

  • First, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. 
  • Grasp your weights, barbell or dumbbells, and let them hang in front of you, close to your body, at the length of your arm. Your fingers should be towards the ceiling and your palm towards your body. 
  • Next, brace your core, back straight, chest up, looking at a point in front of you. 
  • Breathe in and lift the barbell up towards your chin until the barbell is at shoulder length and your elbows are parallel to your shoulders- no higher. Breathe out during the effort. 
  • Pause here and then inhale while returning to the first position. 
  • That is one rep. Three sets of 10-15 reps with a light to moderate weight is a good aim to have. Make sure you keep your core tight and back straight throughout.

Common Mistakes

  • Make sure you are standing up straight and that your hands are in line with your thighs. 
  • Make sure your hands are not closer than shoulder width apart to avoid wrist or shoulder injuries.
  • Your elbows should not go above your shoulder level. This could cause injury to the shoulders.
  • Don’t use the amount of weight which will require you to use momentum instead of using your muscles completely.

Safety and Precautions

  • These muscles should ideally be developed using other exercises before adding weights to an upright row. 
  • The American College of Sports Medicine and the National Federation of Professional Trainers both believe that an upright row should be avoided by people of all fitness levels. This is because the shoulder joint is very complex and this exercise if done incorrectly can easily cause injury to it. 
  • This is why ideally this should only be done in presence of a trainer or someone who can coach you to keep a perfect form and posture. 
  • In any case avoid using very heavy weights with this. 
  • If you are a beginner, only use a barbell to do this exercise and perfect your form before adding weights. 
  • Add weights very very slowly to avoid injuring your shoulder joint which can take a long time to heal. That would throw a wrench in your plans, progress, and goals. 
  • An EZ-curl bar helps reduce strain on the wrists because it allows you to grip the barbell at slight angles. 
  • As always if any pain or inflammation occurs stop doing this exercise immediately.
  • If you do find some pain or inflammation after this exercise, or any other shoulder exercise for that matter, you should rest to allow your shoulder to heal and recover. To help inflammation ice your shoulder. Consult your doctor for pain relief medication.
  • If you workout late you might also have some trouble sleeping. This is called a post workout insomnia which can be due to dehydration, high body temperature, and hormones. During exercise cortisol and norepinephrine are released which are stress hormones and keep us feeling alert. 
  • To avoid post workout insomnia make sure your workouts are not scheduled too close to bedtime. Have at least three hours between your gym session and your sleeping time. Keep yourself hydrated. A hot bath or shower may also help you relax and lower blood pressure so you can fall asleep easier.


With dumbbells or kettlebells

An upright row can also be done using dumbbells or kettlebells. However, as with deadlifts, it is easier to keep a perfect form if you use a barbell since the weight will be evenly distributed and you can progress up to heavier weights more easily. With dumbbells it is okay to do an upright row as long as you are using lighter weights. This is because it gets harder to grip dumbbells the heavier they get.

Mix it with other exercises

You can do an upright row which then turns into a press or a bicep curl. For the first when your arms are parallel to your shoulders, move your wrists back and push your arms straight up and then reverse the movement till they are back down to your thighs. Similarly, after one rep of an upright row immediately do a bicep curl.


  • An upright row helps make your traps stronger which in turn will help you do some other exercises well like deadlifts, presses and even squats! 
  • An upright row also helps develop the deltoids, rhomboids and bicep muscles. 
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