Dumbbell Upright Row: How To Do, Muscle Worked, Benefits

The dumbbell upright row is a compound exercise that builds stronger and bigger traps, and deltoids (Shoulder).

It is one of the best exercises for building the upper back and shoulder, but it is easy to get wrong. Typically, this will just result in you missing out on the muscle-building benefits of the move.

Using the wrong technique can also make your shoulders hurt and make you more likely to get hurt. But you shouldn’t be afraid to add the dumbbell upright row to your workout.

Because in this blog, we’ll look at several ways you can improve the technique. Furthermore, we talked about how to do the dumbbell upright row exercises safely and well.

What Is a Dumbbell Upright Row?

The dumbbell upright row is a compound exercise that targets your deltoids (shoulders) and traps (upper back) and biceps.

It’s a really simple exercise to perform. You hold a dumbbell in each hand and lift the dumbbells vertically, bringing them up to the level of your collarbone, before smoothly lowering them back down to the starting position.

This exercise is commonly performed standing, although variations can be done sitting or using other equipment like resistance bands.

The standing DB upright row can be done with different grip widths.

  • Close or narrow grip (half of shoulder width),
  • A standard grip (shoulder width grip)
  • A wide grip (wider than the shoulder)

All have their unique advantages and disadvantages. Let’s take a closer look at each of these variations:

Muscle Worked During Dumbbell Upright Row

The DB upright row is a compound exercise that targets the below muscle groups.

The dumbbell upright row engages the deltoid muscles (specifically the front and side heads), the trapezius muscles, and the biceps.

It also activates the forearms and upper back muscles for stabilization and support.

Muscle Worked during Dumbbell Upright Row
  • Shoulders: Working on the deltoids, rhomboids, and trapezius muscles, the DB upright row is perfect for building strength, muscle, and stability in the shoulder and upper back region.
  • Rhomboids: Upper back muscles that connect the shoulder blades and offer a great deal of support, working on your rhomboids will improve your posture.
  • Biceps: As major arm muscles, building your biceps will significantly enhance your upper body strength as well as general upper body resilience.

Dumbbell Upright Row Benefits

There are some unique benefits to doing the upright row with dumbbells. Here are the benefits of a dumbbell upright row

1. Muscle strength & growth

Due to its targeted pulling motion, a large group of major upper body muscles are targeted.

Performing this exercise regularly is likely to accelerate your muscle growth and strength in your back, biceps, and shoulders.

2. Stability and conditioning

Research shows that the upright row is one of the best exercises for building shoulder strength and stability.

It activates all major areas of the shoulders, making it excellent for upper body stability and conditioning. By doing frequent upright rows, you will improve your position while protecting yourself from injury.

Using dumbbells in the upright row can help to increase unilateral muscle development and address any asymmetries and movement imbalances as well.

3. Builds Traps

Traps are tricky to build. There are only a handful of exercises that mainly target your traps.

A dumbbell upright row utilizes your traps just as much as it works your shoulders.

4. Arm power

Upright row targets the muscles in your arms, including the biceps, forearms, and tricep.

This exercise can improve your arm strength and help you do everyday tasks and activities more easily.

5. Improve your posture

When practiced with proper form, it helps to build strength in your upper body stabilizer muscle groups, helping you stand up tall and keep your back straight.

How To Do Upright Dumbbell Row

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, maintaining a straight posture.
  2. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with an overhand grip (palms facing your body).
  3. Allow your arms to hang straight down in front of your thighs. Keep your elbows bent.
  4. While exhaling, lift the dumbbells by pulling them straight up towards your chest.
  5. Keep your elbows close to your body throughout the movement.
  6. Aim to bring the dumbbells up to the level of your collarbone, just below your chin.
  7. Focus on using your shoulder muscles to perform the lifting motion.
  8. Squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top of the movement.
  9. Inhale as you slowly lower the dumbbells back down to the starting position.
  10. Now, lower the dumbbell under controlled motion until it comes back to its starting position.
  11. Repeat for the desired number of reps. Aim to perform 8 to 12 reps.
How To Do Upright Dumbbell Row


  • Keep a controlled motion and avoid jerky movements.
  • Keep your core engaged while you do the exercise.
  • Avoid shrugging your shoulders upward; the movement should be focused on pulling the elbows up and back.
  • Don’t allow your back to arch as you pull the weight up.
  • Keep the weight close to the body.
  • Use a weight that challenges you without sacrificing form.

Dumbbell Upright Row Exercise Variations

It is a great exercise for beginners, but also very effective for more advanced weight-lifters. You should learn proper form and lifting technique to strengthen the back of the shoulder. You can modify the exercise for your specific needs by learning some variations.

Take a look below at some of the more popular dumbbell exercise variations to increase unilateral strength and fitness!

One-Arm Dumbbell Upright Row

If you’re looking to add variety and challenge to your upper back workout routine, the one-arm dumbbell upright row is a fantastic exercise to consider.

This unilateral variation of the classic dumbbell upright row targets the same muscles while adding an extra element of stability and core engagement.

Putting your focus on just one arm at a time can help you get more muscular, separate specific muscles, and even fix weak spots.

One Arm Dumbbell Shrug

How To Do One-Arm DB Upright Row

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Hold a dumbbell in your left hand at your side.
  3. Slowly shrug your left shoulder up toward your ear.
  4. At the top, pause for a moment and contract the muscles.
  5. Slowly lower the weight back to the starting position.
  6. After completing all reps on the left side, repeat on the right side.
  7. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.


  • Keep a controlled motion and avoid jerky movements.
  • Keep your back straight and core tight.
  • Pause and squeeze the traps at the top of the movement, and then lower the dumbbells.

The Correct Technique for Doing Dumbbell Upright Rows

We are going to teach you how to do an upright row correctly with form and techniques that best avoid shoulder pain and injury.

This allows you to take advantage of this great delt and upper trap isolation exercise.

1. Make Sure Your Hands Aren’t Too Close Together

Placing your hands too close together can increase the amount of ulnar deviation (how much your wrist must bend to the side).

This can lead to injury at the wrist, and you can easily avoid it by moving your grip width to be a little wider so that it is more comfortable for you as you lift.

2. Avoid Lifting Too Much Weight

One of the most common mistakes people make when performing the upright row is using too much weight. This approach may place undue strain on your shoulders and increase your risk of injury.

To avoid this, start with a lighter weight and focus on maintaining proper form and technique.

Choose a dumbbell or weight that’ll allow a nice, slow and controlled movement.

3. Don’t Pull The Bar Too High

Pulling the dumbbell too high can result in increased compression of the acromioclavicular joint, and thus can increase the likelihood of an impingement injury at the shoulder.

Controlling the movement and limiting your elbows to reach the same height as your shoulders ensure you are not exerting your shoulder and potentially causing an injury

4. Brace Your Core And Keep Your Torso Upright

As with any lift, maintaining a strong and stable core throughout the lift will aid with bracing and thus protect the spine.

When it comes to upright rows, this will also help to reduce or prevent swinging the weight away from your center of mass.

5. Don’t Roll Shoulder Forward

When lowering the weight, make sure your chest is proud and shoulders pulled back/together (known as scapular retraction).

Retracting the scapulae puts the shoulders in a strong position to lift and will help focus the exercise on the deltoid.

How To Incorporate Dumbbell Upright Row Into Your Workout Routine

Here are some tips for adding this exercise to your workouts:

1. Add Optimum No Of Sets And Reps:

A good starting point is to perform 3–4 sets of 8–12 reps.

However, you can adjust the number of sets and reps according to your fitness level and goals.

2. During Workout Splits

You can perform shrug exercises as part of an upper body or during Push Pull Leg workout Split.

3. During Your Shoulder And Upper Body Workout

Shrugs can be included in your shoulder workout routine alongside other exercises such as overhead press, lateral raise, and front raise.

4. Frequency

You can do upright row exercises once or twice a week.

However, it is important to allow your muscles to recover between workouts in order to maximize results.

I. Do Dumbbell Upright Row During Shoulder Workout

1Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press3-48-12
2Standing Dumbbell Lateral Raise3-410-15
3Dumbbell Shrug310-12
4Front Plate Raise312-15
5Dumbbell Upright Row310-12

II. During Pull Workout Split

2Bent Over Barbell Rows3-48-10
3Dumbbell Upright Row310-12
4Bicep Curls (with dumbbells or barbell)312-15
5Hammer Curls310-12
6Barbell Shrug312-15

III. During Upper Body Workout

1Bench Press (with barbell or dumbbells)3-48-10
2Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press3-48-12
3Dumbbell Upright Row3-410-12
4Lat Pulldowns (with machine or bar)3-410-12
5Cable Tricep Pushdowns312-15
6Bicep Curls (with dumbbells or barbell)312-15

Dumbbell Upright Row Alternative

If the dumbbell upright rows bothers your shoulders, or you’re looking for variety, take these dumbbell upright row alternatives out for a spin.

An effective alternative to the dumbbell upright row:

  • Target the same muscle groups as those worked in the upright row
  • Closely replicate the motor pattern of the upright row.

(Note: An effective dumbbell upright row alternative must primarily target the lateral delts and the upper & Mid-traps.)

1. Dumbbell Farmers Walk

The farmer’s walk exercise also called the farmer’s carry, is a strength and conditioning exercise in which you hold a heavy load in each hand while walking for a designated distance.

It might be one of the classic exercises and a move that men’s been doing since the beginning of time.

2. Bent Over Dumbbell Lateral Raise

The Bent over raise is a great alternative if the dumbbell upright rows bother your shoulders. This exercise isolates and works specifically on the rear deltoid and trap muscles.

This exercise can be performed in both a standing and a seated position. Prefer the seated version as it calls for strict movement.

3. Face Pull

Face pull is a cable machine exercise that primarily targets the trap and rear deltoid to a lesser degree and also targets the biceps, triceps.

It is a great alternative for the dumbbell upright row, as it mimics the upright row and uses similar muscle groups.

4. T Bar Row

T bar row is a power exercise to build middle back muscles. It is done using a T-bar machine or by placing a barbell at the corner.

T bar rows are a tough exercise, but building a strong back is a must to develop a quality physique, stay injury-free, and back pain-free for life.

Frequently asked questions

Are upright rows better with dumbbells?

Yes, doing an upright row with dumbbells. Dumbbell requires more balance than barbells or machines that can lead to greater muscle fiber recruitment.

Dumbbell upright row workout allows unilateral training (training one limb at a time), increases core stability, and improves muscular imbalances.

What do dumbbell upright rows work?

If you’re looking to strengthen your shoulders and upper back, you should consider doing dumbbell upright rows.

This exercise targets the traps, which span the upper to mid-back, and the deltoids, which wrap around your shoulder.

Is dumbbell upright row good?

Dumbbell upright rows are a good upper-body exercise designed to work muscle groups throughout your arms, shoulders, and upper back. One of the main things about these exercises is that they are shoulder-friendly.

What’s better dumbbell or barbell upright Row?

Both the dumbbell and barbell upright row have their own advantages. Barbell upright row exercises provide versatility, can help you strengthen virtually every muscle in the body with a wider range of resistance.

On the other hand, barbells are large, cumbersome, and generally awkward to move around with. Dumbbells don’t have either of those limitations and allow for free-range on any plane of motion.

How many sets of dumbbell upright rows should I do?

Do sets of 10 to 15 reps with moderate weight. If you can perform more than 20 reps with ease, the weight is too light. For best results, try to perform perfect reps to complete failure, with no more than 15 reps per set.


A dumbbell upright row can strengthen the posterior chain muscles, including the shoulders and upper back. With great attention to form, you’ll reap all the benefits.

Please let us know, in the comment section below, your valuable suggestions!

Thanks for reading.

Know More About Upright Row


  1. Schoenfeld, Brad MSc, CSCS; Kolber, Morey J PT, PhD, CSCS; Haimes, Jonathan E BS, CSCS: The Upright Row: Implications for Preventing Subacromial ImpingementStrength and Conditioning Journal: October 2011 – Volume 33 – Issue 5 – p 25-28
  2. Ronai, Peter MS, CSCS, RCEP: Exercise Modifications and Strategies to Enhance Shoulder Function. Strength and Conditioning Journal: August 2005 – Volume 27 – Issue 4 – p 36-45
  3. McAllister M, Schilling B, Hammond K, Weiss L, Farney T. Effect of grip width on electromyographic activity during the upright rowJ Strength Cond PMID: 22362088 DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31824f23ad
  4. Cools AM, Witvrouw EE, Declercq GA, Danneels LA, Cambier DC. Scapular muscle recruitment patterns: Trapezius muscle latency with and without impingement symptoms. Am J Sports Med 31: 542–549, 2003.
  5. Int J Environ Res Public Health. Trapezius muscle timing during selected shoulder rehabilitation exercises. 2021 Jun 14;18(12):6444. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18126444.PMID: 34198674
  6. Lorenzetti S, Dayer R, Pluss M, List R. Pulling exercises for strength training and rehabilitation: movements and loading conditionsJ Funct Morphol Kinesiol. 2017;2(3):33. doi:10.3390/jfmk2030033
  7. Mazur LJ, Yetman RJ, Risser WL. Weight-training injuries. Common injuries and preventative methods. Sports Med 16: 57–63, 1993.

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