Upright Barbell Row: How To Do, Muscle Worked & Benefits

The barbell upright row is a barbell exercise that builds stronger and bigger traps, rhomboids and rear deltoids. Many people neglect these upper back muscles. Many gym-goers, don’t do these upper back exercises because they’re tricky to train, and impossible to see without a mirror.

It is always a mistake to neglect certain muscles. A strong upper back will help you perform a variety of lifts, including squats, deadlifts, and presses.

No doubt, barbell upright row is one of the best exercises for building upper back, but it’s also easy to get wrong. Typically, this will just prevent you from benefiting from the muscle-building effects of the move. Incorrect technique can also place undue pressure on your shoulders and increase your risk of injury.

You shouldn’t be afraid to integrate the barbell upright row into your routine, there are several ways you can look to improve the technique and perform the exercise correctly.

What is Barbell Upright Row

The barbell upright row is a weightlifting exercise that targets the muscles of the shoulder and upper backincluding the deltoids, trapezius, as well as the rhomboids, and even the biceps — making it a great addition to any full-body workout.

The exercise is named “barbell upright row” because the barbell is lifted up in a vertical, or upright, direction.

When performed correctly, the bar upright row can be a fantastic muscle-building exercise for the upper back and shoulders, which can help to shape your upper arms and torso.

In addition to strengthening and sculpting the shoulders, mastering the barbell upright row can help you with those bigger lifts like squats and deadlifts.

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Muscle Worked During Barbell Upright Row

The barbell upright row exercise targets the below muscle groups. Using a barbell in the upright row can help to increase muscle mass and overall strength.

Primary Muscles Worked during the upright barbell row are:

Secondary Muscles Worked during barbell upright row are:

A handful of other muscles worked or play the role of stabilizer muscles during upright row include your,

Muscle Worked In Upright Row Exercise

Barbell Upright Row Benefits

Here are the benefits of an upright barbell row :

1. Muscle strength & growth

Due to its targeted pulling motion, a large group of major upper body muscles are targeted during the barbell upright row. As a result, performing this exercise regularly is likely to accelerate your muscle growth and strength in your back, biceps, and shoulders.

2. Shoulder Stability

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

The exercise targets the smaller, stabilizing muscles of the shoulder joint, which are essential for proper shoulder function and injury prevention.

The enhanced strength and stability gained from this exercise may result in enhanced performance in sports and other physical activities.

3. Improve Posture

Upright rows can help improve posture by targeting the muscles responsible for maintaining proper alignment of the upper back and shoulders.

In addition, strengthening the upper back and shoulder muscles may contribute to improved shoulder stability.

The exercise can help prevent the negative effects of sitting for a long time and bad posture that are common in modern lifestyles.

4. Builds Traps

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

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

5. Arm power

The upright row is great for the biceps, which will make your arms more powerful, improving your performance in other exercises and activities as a result.

How To Do Upright Row With Barbell

Barbell Upright Row
  1. Stand facing the barbell with your feet shoulder width apart and load it with the weight you want to use.
  2. To grasp the barbell, hold it with an overhand grip and hands that are slightly closer than shoulder width apart.
  3. Pick up the bar with your back straight and bend your knees.
  4. Keeping your back straight and eyes facing forwards, lift the bar straight up while keeping it as close to your body as possible. 
  5. Hold for a moment before you go back to the starting position.
  6. Repeat for desired reps.

Barbell Upright Row Different Grip Position

Barbell upright rows can be performed with three main variations of grip width:

  • The 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:

Normal Grip Barbell Upright Row

The normal grip upright row provides overall shoulder development and is suitable for those seeking balanced muscle activation.

Close Grip Barbell Upright Row

The close grip upright row allows for maximum (Range of motion) ROM because it allows the elbows to raise higher than the shoulders. 

With a close grip, your upper arms draw more forward rather than moving directly out to your sides.

The narrow grip upright barbell rows place emphasis more on the upper trap and a little lesser on the lateral delt and rear delt.

Wide Grip Barbell Upright Row

The wide-grip barbell upright row is preferable to the regular upright row because it prevents the elbows from going too high, which in turn prevents rotator cuff injuries.

The wide-grip upright row places heavy emphasis more in the lateral and rear deltoid and little lessor on the upper and middle trap

Furthermore, the wider grip allows some cheating movement, thereby allowing you to lift more weight.

It may also be more shoulder-friendly for people who cannot handle the close-grip version.

Wide Grip Vs. Narrow Grip Vs Close Grip Upright Row

Barbell Upright Row Exercise Variations

There are different ways to do the barbell upright row, it depends upon the hand position.

According to age-old gym tradition, if you’re aiming to hit your rear deltoids, then go for a wider grip. Whereas, a narrower or close grip activates your anterior deltoids and traps more.

Wide Grip Barbell Upright Row

The best way to target the deltoids and traps with the upright row is to use a grip wider than shoulder width. This allows you to focus more on the middle deltoids, as well as the rear deltoids and the traps.

The Wide grip upright row is an excellent exercise to build huge Trapezius muscles and create that deltopectoral separation.

The narrow-grip, upright row, has come under a lot of scrutiny because it can apparently harm your shoulders.

Many trainers recommend that you avoid the narrow grip upright row. They say that the wide-grip upright row, if performed in the way described, is safe.

Barbell Upright Row

How To Do Wide grip Upright Row With Barbell

  1. Hold a barbell with an overhand grip and stand with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Your grip on the barbell should be wider than shoulder-width apart. Let it hang in front of you.
  3. While keeping your barbell close to your body, lift the bar and get it up to chest height using your arms.
  4. Allow your shoulder blades to move naturally with your shoulder joints. Pause at the top of the movement.
  5. Now, lower the bar under controlled motion until it comes back to its starting position.
  6. Repeat the wide-grip upright row for your desired number of repetitions.

Close Grip Barbell Upright Row

The close grip upright row is the version most people perform in the gym. With a close grip, your upper arms draw more forward rather than moving directly out to your sides.

Close Grip Barbell Upright Row

How To Do Close Grip Barbell Upright Row

  • Hold a barbell with an overhand grip and stand with your feet hip-width apart.
  • Your grip on the barbell should be less than shoulder-width apart. Let it hang in front of you.
  • While keeping your barbell close to your body, lift the bar and get it up to chest height using your arms.
  • Allow your shoulder blades to move naturally with your shoulder joints. Pause at the top of the movement.
  • Now, slowly lower the bar until it comes back to its starting position.
  • Repeat the close grip upright row for your desired number of repetitions.

Upright Barbell Row Form and Technique

Following these points will help you maintain proper form and technique during the barbell upright row, which will ensure an effective and safe workout.

1. Avoid Lifting Too Much Weight

Do not lift heavy weights with this exercise unless you are experienced and know your shoulder joints well. The shoulder joint is a highly complex structure, and injuries to it can have a significant impact on your fitness and recovery time.

Shoulder impingement can occur with excessive weight. If you’re new to the upright row, start with a barbell with no weight.

Add weight gradually, watching that you don’t add too much weight before your shoulders are read

2. Do Full Range Of Motion

A lack of full range of motion when you do the upright row will stop you from getting the results you want. Knowing what your abilities are is essential to ensure a full range of motion.

Never use a range of motion that causes you pain or discomfort. Reduce the range if you experience pain, or perform a different exercise altogether.

Try to lift the bar up to your clavicle as much as you can without pain.

3. Grip Position Best For You

For wrist and shoulder safety, a shoulder wide grip barbell upright row is sometimes recommended. The wide grip also enhances the activation of the deltoid and trapezius muscles.

Shoulder joints vary from person to person, so finding a grip that works for you and sticking to it is vital. Not one particular grip is best for everyone, and some people feel better using a narrow grip.

Pay attention to your joints, avoid any grip that causes pain, and also notice which grip seems to provide the best stimulus so you can get the most out of the exercise.

4. Don’t pull the bar too high

Pulling the bar too high can increase the likelihood of an impingement injury at the shoulder.

Pause and squeeze the traps at the top of the movement, and then lower the bar really slowly if you want to add a bit of intensity to the exercise.

5. Controlled Descent Motion

The eccentric lowering phase of the exercise is very stimulating. It will help you build muscle and strength, but you have to control it instead of letting gravity take over.

Furthermore, dropping the weight drastically can increase your risk of injury due to tugging on your shoulder joints and ligaments.

You should control the movement through the pull and lowering phases.

6. Avoid Swinging and Momentum

Don’t move around or turn around during the lift—just keep your body straight and your abs tight. Keep your back straight, your chest up, and your eyes focused ahead.

Don’t use your hips or legs to generate momentum that gets the weight up. If you can’t lift the weight properly, reduce the weight you’re lifting.

7. Keep The Bar Close To Body

Avoid arcing the bar out from your body and keeping it close to you by raising your elbows up instead of out.

The bar should be closer to you so that all the muscles in your shoulder are working properly, including your side delts, which won’t get as much work done if you move it further away.

7. 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.

A stable and upright torso will ensure that the targeted muscles are properly engaged and reduce the risk of injury.

Barbell Upright Row Alternative

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

What Makes A Good barbell Upright Row Alternative

An effective alternative to the barbell upright row:

  • Make sure the muscle groups are the same as in the bar upright row.
  • Closely replicate the motor pattern of the upright row.

If you’re looking to maximize the involvement of your delts and traps, then this exercise would be a solid choice as an alternative to the barbell upright row.

If you want to intensify your shoulder workouts, we have other alternatives that target the same muscles.

1. Dumbbell Upright Row

If you’re looking to maximize the involvement of your delts and traps, then the dumbbell upright row exercise would be a solid choice as an alternative to the barbell upright row.

Standing Upright Rows can be done with both narrow grips and wider ones. 

2. Bent Over Dumbbell Lateral Raise

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

Thus, the exercise hit specifically the rear delt head by isolating it better than any other shoulder exercise. 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 rear deltoid and traps to a lesser degree and also targets the biceps, triceps.

The face pull is a great alternative for the barbell upright row, as it mimics the upright row and uses similar muscle groups.

Use a cable pulley machine to pull the weight straight toward your forehead.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is the barbell upright row bad for your shoulders?

The barbell upright row can be bad for your shoulders if performed with poor form or using too much weight.

It’s important to use proper form and technique, and use a weight that allows you to maintain proper form throughout the exercise.

How wide should my grip be for the barbell upright row?

For most people, a shoulder width grip is best for the barbell upright row.

But it depends on what you want to achieve. Using a wider grip can target the shoulders more, while using a narrower grip can target the traps more.

How many sets and repetitions should I do for the barbell upright row?

It’s recommended to perform 3-4 sets of 8-12 repetitions for the barbell upright row as part of your shoulder or upper body workout.

Are barbell upright rows good?

Yes, doing an upright row with a barbell is good. Barbell has its own advantages. Barbell upright exercises provide versatility, can help you strengthen virtually every muscle in the body with a wider range of resistance. But always remember to keep your form and motions controlled, and avoid jerky movements.

Can you do upright rows with a straight bar?

The upright row is typically performed by holding a bar (EZ curl or straight bar) in front of you with a narrow, overhand grip and pulling it straight up to neck height, with the elbows leading the way and pointed up.

The straight bar upright row hits the delts, it builds the traps, and you see results fast.

What muscles does the upright barbell row work?

The upright barbell row primarily works the muscles of the upper back, including the trapezius, rhomboids, and latissimus dorsi.

It also works the muscles of the forearms and biceps to a lesser extent.


The barbell upright row is a great exercise for targeting the shoulders, upper back, and traps.

Adding variations of the bar upright row to your workout routine can help keep your workouts challenging and target different muscles.

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. Mazur LJ, Yetman RJ, Risser WL. Weight-training injuries. Common injuries and preventative methods. Sports Med 16: 57–63, 1993.

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