EZ Bar Upright Row Exercise Guide — How To, Muscles Worked, & Benefits

Using an EZ bar to perform upright rows makes the movement more comfortable than the straight bar. 

Rows are the quintessential exercises for strengthening your back and shoulders. Athletes have various equipment options for row exercises, including free weights like kettlebells, dumbbells, barbells, EZ bars, cable machines, and resistance bands. The choice of equipment depends on the specific row variation being performed and the desired outcomes.

This article zeroes in on the EZ bar upright row, detailing the muscles it targets. It explores the fundamentals of this exercise, outlines its key benefits, and provides a guide to executing it correctly. Additionally, to maximize the effectiveness of your workouts, this article suggests alternative exercises that target similar muscle groups.

Techniques & Muscles Worked

The EZ bar upright row works on your rhomboids, traps, and delts (anterior and lateral) by pulling the bar upward. Using an EZ bar makes it easy on the wrists and joints, which increases the range of motion when pulling to perform this exercise. You can perform the EZ bar upright, standing, or sitting. However, this article focuses on performing this exercise standing, using an EZ bar. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to perform the movements correctly.

  1. Stand straight with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold the inside curved part of the EZ bar with an overhand grip.
  2. Keep your arms fully extended, back straight, and chest up. Tighten your core, then squeeze and pull your shoulder blades back. This is your starting position.
  3. Next, exhale and raise your shoulders like in a shrug, then pull the bar up just below your chin level. Keep your elbows flared to the sides in this position and pause for about two seconds.
  4. Inhale, slowly lower the bar back to the starting position, making it one rep.
  5. Perform for as many reps as you desire.

*Note: If you have shoulder issues, avoiding this movement is best, as it can add stress to the shoulder joints (1)


Below are the benefits of performing the EZ bar upright row.

Builds Shoulder & Back Strength 

Performing this exercise primarily targets the shoulders and upper back. Regularly performing this exercise builds strength in these target muscles.

Better Lifting & Pulling

The EZ bar upright row is a strength training compound exercise. Regularly doing this exercise transitions to making daily pulling and lifting easier by improving grip strength. This can also improve your lifts and pulls in other exercises like pull-ups and deadlifts.

Activates Core Muscles

When performing this compound exercise, the abs and obliques activate to help stabilize and maintain proper form. The constant pressure on these core muscles builds and strengthens them, reducing the chances of injuries.

Greater Range of Motion

Compared to using straight bars to perform an upright row, the EZ bar upright row has a greater range of motion. This is because the shape of the bar and your wrist position make the movement easier when pulling. Therefore, you can target your muscles better using the EZ bar.

Less Wrist Discomfort

Using an EZ bar over a barbell makes wrist movement easy. It puts the wrists, arms, and shoulders in a better, natural, and comfortable position. This can help prevent injuries and discomfort while allowing you to build more muscle and increase your strength gains. Although using an EZ bar makes the upright row more comfortable when grasping the bar where it curves, some research shows that a wider grip while performing the exercise can enhance delt and trap activation (2)

EZ Bar Upright Row Alternatives

The EZ bar upright row is an excellent delt and back training exercise. However, experts advise that to avoid hitting a plateau when training, you should mix up your exercises by finding other workouts that build similar muscles. Here are three EZ bar upright row alternatives you can also try. 

Lateral Raises

The lateral raise is an isolation exercise that targets the medial delts. Like the EZ bar upright row, it recruits your core muscles. Dumbbells are the go-to equipment for this exercise, but you can also use other free weights, such as resistance bands. 

Dumbbell Shrugs

Dumbbell shrugs are a weightlifting exercise that targets the delts, upper back, and forearms. Performing this routine strengthens the upper body. For this exercise, you can use dumbbells or other free weights like barbells and kettlebells.

Face Pulls

Face pulls are an upper body exercise that targets the posterior delts, traps, and rhomboids. They effectively build muscle mass in the back and shoulders. You can use a cable machine or a resistance band to execute this exercise.  


What muscles do cable EZ bar upright rows work?

Cable EZ bar upright rows are a variation of upright rows. This means they work the same muscles in the upper body as the EZ bar upright row. These muscles include the rhomboids, traps, and the delts (anterior and lateral).

Is the EZ bar better than the straight bar upright row?

Both the EZ bar‌ and the straight bar have advantages. However, the EZ bar’s key edge over the straight bar is its ease on the wrists and joints. This makes it easy to move the bar and increases the range of motion. It also hits the target muscles more effectively.

How many upright rows should I do?

The number of upright rows you should do depends on your training regime and goal. For hypertrophy, we suggest doing 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps. Check out the exercise guide above to see how to do this routine correctly with an EZ bar.

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  1. Kolber, M. J., Cheatham, S. W., Salamh, P. A., & Hanney, W. J. (2014). Characteristics of shoulder impingement in the recreational weight-training population. Journal of strength and conditioning research28(4), 1081–1089. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000000250
  2. McAllister, M. J., Schilling, B. K., Hammond, K. G., Weiss, L. W., & Farney, T. M. (2013). Effect of grip width on electromyographic activity during the upright row. Journal of strength and conditioning research27(1), 181–187. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0b013e31824f23ad
Terry Ramos
As a personal trainer and writer, Terry loves changing lives through coaching and the written word. Terry has a B.S. in Kinesiology and is an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer and ISSA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. He enjoys playing music, reading, and watching films when he's not writing or training.