Target: Upright Row - Muscle & Performance

Target: Upright Row

One of these photos of the Upright Row shows bad form! Can you spot which one is wrong?

About the Upright Row

The upright row is probably one of the more popular exercises and yet it’s likely one of the most misunderstood. If you ask 10 guys what muscle group they’re hitting with it, half will say shoulders and the other half will say upper traps. The irony is, both groups would be right (and wrong in the process). See, the upright row is a shoulder exercise (don’t let anyone tell you differently) despite the fact that the traps are at work to assist. Also important is the path of the bar in relation to the body. The key for the upright row is to keep the bar extremely close to your torso throughout. Doing so maintains the emphasis on the target muscles while also keeping you in a mechanical advantage and protecting your low back from injury.

Spot the Error

The narrow-grip upright row limits the involvement of the front and middle delts, but it also puts undue stress on the delicate structures of the inner shoulder girdle.


The narrow-grip version does call the traps into play a bit more, but in effect the narrow grip diminishes deltoid recruitment, places undue stress on the rotators, and only slightly involves the traps. Therefore, the narrow-grip upright row provides little to no benefit over the wide-grip counterpart.

Fix It


Sliding your hands out wide across the bar automatically recruits and innervates all three delt heads (with emphasis on the front and middle heads) with far better accuracy and intensity, as your elbows will now point directly out to your sides.


Furthermore, by opening up your grip width, you alleviate the strain on your shoulder joints, freeing up the rotators to assist the bigger shoulder muscles. As you perform this corrected version, keep in mind the key is not so much about raising your hands high but more about getting your elbows high while squeezing your shoulders. The rule of keeping the bar tight to your body still applies. You may feel your range of motion is limited compared to a narrow-grip version, but the more you practice the more comfortable you’ll become with it.

Beginner's Tip

If you’re new to bodybuilding or to the upright row, feel free to practice this exercise on a Smith machine. The fixed path of the bar will help you adjust your hands perfectly while also letting you keep the bar extremely close to your torso throughout. Start out light and gradually add weight.