Cable Upright Row: Muscles Worked, Benefits, Form

Ready to sculpt strong, 3D shoulders? Forget endless should press—it’s time to introduce the cable upright row to your routine.

This powerful exercise unlocks maximum shoulder growth and strength. It helps you build bigger and stronger traps and deltoids.

A cable pulley machine can be used for an upright row because it provides constant tension on the target muscles as you move the weight through the range of motion.

This beginner guide will explain why the cable upright row is so good. We’ll also talk about how to do it correctly and how to work different parts of your shoulders.

What is Cable Upright Row

The cable upright row is a compound exercise primarily targeting your shoulder muscles, specifically the lateral (side) deltoids. It also activates muscles in your upper back, like the trapezius (traps), and involves your biceps for assistance.

The cable upright row is one of the best variations of the upright row that helps to build the shoulders and trap muscles.

It is performed using a cable machine with an attached handle or bar. The exercise involves pulling the handle or bar vertically upward while keeping the elbows higher than the forearms.

The cable variation provides constant tension throughout the movement and provides a smoother range of motion. It ultimately increases muscle activation and hypertrophy.

Upright rows are an exercise that nearly everyone can do using various grip widths.

  • Wide overhand grip
  • Shoulder-width underhand grip
  • Narrow underhand grip
Cable Upright Row

Cable Upright Row Muscles Worked

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, including rhomboids, for stabilization and support.

A handful of other muscles worked or play the role of stabilizer muscles during cable upright row, including:

Muscle Worked In Upright Row Exercise

How To Do Upright Row With Cable

  1. Adjust the cable machine to the lowest pulley position.
  2. Attach your selected handle – common options include a straight bar, EZ curl bar, and rope.
  3. Stand with feet about hip-width apart, knees slightly bent.
  4. Grab the bar using a shoulder-width or wider overhand grip.
  5. Exhale as you pull the bar up the front of your body until it reaches your lower or middle chest level.
  6. Do not pull the bar up any higher.
  7. Flare your elbows outwards and upwards, as if drawing them towards the ceiling.
  8. At the top, briefly squeeze your shoulder blades together while bringing your elbows almost in line with your shoulders.
  9. Inhale as you lower the bar to the starting position.
Cable Upright Row

Sets and Reps

The number of sets and reps you should do for cable upright rows depends on your fitness goals and your workout routine.

Here are some general guidelines you should consider.

Training GoalLoad (% of 1RM)Reps per SetSets per ExerciseRest Between Sets
Strength85-95%1-54-72–5 minutes
Hypertrophy65-85%6-123-560–90 seconds
Endurance50-65%15+2-330–60 seconds

The right and safe way to do Upright Cable row

Like any exercise, performing the upright row with proper form and technique is important to avoid injury and maximize your results.

Here are some common mistakes to avoid when performing the exercise:

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

Placing your hands too close together can result in injury at the wrist, and it can be easily avoided by simply moving your grip width to be slightly wider so that it is more comfortable for you as you lift.

2. You’re Lifting Too Much Weight

If your weight is too heavy, the movement will require momentum. Heavy lifting will take the focus away from the shoulders or, even worse, put too much stress on them.

3. Don’t Pull the Bar Too High

Pulling the bar too high 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

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

5. Don’t Roll Shoulder Forward

When lowering the weight, ensure your chest is proud and your shoulders pulled back/together.

Upright Cable Row Variations

There are several variations and modifications of the cable upright row exercise that you can incorporate into your workout routine.

These variations target different muscles or provide different challenges to keep your workouts varied and engaging.

1. Narrow Grip Cable Upright Row

Instead of using a wide grip, bring your hands closer together on the cable handle or bar.

The narrow grip upright rows emphasize more on the upper trap and a little less on the lateral and rear delt.

2. Wide Grip Cable Upright Row

The wide-grip upright row places heavy emphasis more in the lateral and rear deltoid and little less on the upper and middle trap. A wider grip reduces the risk of impingement.

3. Cable Rope Attachment Upright Row

Replace the traditional handle or bar with a rope attachment. Grasp the ends of the rope with a neutral grip and perform the upright row motion.

This variation helps to engage the rear delts and upper back muscles more.

4. Single-Arm Cable Upright Row

Perform the upright row exercise using one arm at a time. This variation enhances unilateral strength and stability, allowing you to focus on each side independently.

Cable Upright Row Alternatives

If you are prepared to modify your shoulder workout routine, the cable upright row offers various variations that are worth attempting.

So check out these cable upright row alternatives to spark new muscle growth and keep your shoulders guessing.

Benefits of a Cable Upright Row

Here are the benefits of a machine upright row :

  • Muscle strength & growth: A large group of major upper body muscles are targeted due to its targeted pulling motion. Performing this exercise regularly is likely to accelerate your muscle growth and strength in your back, biceps, and shoulders.
  • Stability & conditioning: Upright row activates all major areas of the shoulders, making it excellent for upper body stability and conditioning.
  • Builds Traps: Traps are tricky to build. There are only a handful of exercises that mainly target your traps. The upright row works your traps as much as it works your shoulders.
  • Arm power: It will make your arms more powerful, improving your performance in other exercises and activities as a result.
  • Improve your posture. When practiced with proper form, upright row exercises help build strength in your upper body stabilizer muscle groups, helping you stand up tall and keep your back straight.

People Also Asked

What Muscles Does The Cable Upright Row Work?

The cable upright row is a compound exercise that targets muscles in your shoulders and upper back.

Are Cable Upright Rows Safe?

One of the main things about Cable upright exercises is that they are shoulder-friendly.

It provides constant tension on the target muscle group as you move the weight through the range of motion.

How often should I perform the cable upright row?

You can perform the cable upright row 2–3 times per week. Be sure to incorporate it into a well-rounded workout plan targeting different upper body areas.


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

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

Thanks for reading.


  • Schoenfeld, Brad MSc, CSCS1; Kolber, Morey J PT, PhD, CSCS2; Haimes, Jonathan E BS, CSCS2. The Upright Row: Implications for Preventing Subacromial Impingement. Strength and Conditioning Journal 33(5):p 25-28, October 2011. | DOI: 10.1519/SSC.0b013e31822ec3e3
  • 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

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