The upright row is a great exercise, but some of these alternatives can really help advance your gains.
The upright row is a great exercise to develop strength and size for your back and shoulders, but also targets other muscles as well. The benefits associated with this great exercise go far beyond what we could imagine for a good pulling exercise and has its own share of advantages when it comes to our training and performance.
While this exercise has its fair share of struggles when it comes to proper form and nailing down the exact motion, once done, it can be a huge benefit to your gains. While the risk of injury may be higher for those who engage in the stress of shoulder movements, with good technique and a will to learn, the benefits are too great to ignore.
The benefits of strong shoulders should not be overlooked and as essential points of connection for our arms to our trunk, strong shoulders should be a priority. Able to assist in functional movements, the real-life benefits translate into the gym as you lift heavier weights with chest and back exercises. Preventing injury is key for keeping you in the gym and strong shoulders can enhance your confidence so those gains never stop and you feel good while looking good.
What Is The Upright Row?
The upright row, when done safely and effectively, can really develop that strength and size you want to see in your back and shoulders. This exercise is important for any lifter looking to help alleviate pain, as well as avoid asymmetry, for those of us in the bodybuilding world know that symmetry is everything.
The upright row will effectively work your deltoids, traps, biceps, back, and biceps, to give you a great upper body exercise full of awesome benefits (1).
Benefits of Upright Row
The benefits of the upright row go far beyond what you might expect. It will increase shoulder strength and hypertrophy by recruiting a variety of muscles around the shoulder joint. While developing maximum strength, you will notice your ability to press and pull seriously become stronger aspects of your workouts. On top of shoulder growth, your traps will see strength gains which will help with those compound exercises like the deadlift and squat. Since the movement is similar to a clean and snatch, any lifter looking to replicate this motion will find success while supplementing with the upright row. The strength and explosivity required will be there and you will find it easier to clean and snatch heavier weight.
How To Perform The Upright Row
With your feet around shoulder width apart, hold the bar facing down, with your hands in a closer grip. With your arms extended down and elbows slightly bent, find your starting position as the bar touches your quads. Keeping the bar close, bring the bar up to your shoulders, bringing them to about chest height. Hold for a moment then slowly lower back to the starting position and repeat for your desired number of reps.
Best Alternatives For The Upright Row
These alternatives are great exercises to supplement when looking for a good variation that will provide the same benefits as the upright row while also changing up your workouts to target your muscles differently.
Dumbbell Upright Row
The dumbbell upright row is a good alternative to use with the absence of a bar. This allows for independent movement since each side is worked isolated from the other. This may be more comfortable of a position for you and can work to fix any imbalances caused by other workouts. The movement is the same only using one dumbbell and this can effectively target each side for its own respective needs without causing any extra discomfort for your often times vulnerable shoulders.
Cable Face Pull
Cable face pulls are great for improving posture, as well as helping to build those upper back muscles, in particular your traps, delts, and rotator cuff. These muscles, when strong and stable, can help break through any plateau. The dreaded training plateau is real but with the benefit of those big, strong shoulders and traps, any difficult exercise may just get a little easier. This can also work to enhance balance to aid in those big lifts that require solid grounding and more advanced movements.
A staple shoulder exercise, the lateral raise is a good alternative to try, for while the movement may seem opposite to the upright row, meaning up and down switched to side to side, it can really enhance shoulder growth and development making any movement involving the shoulders much easier. These will work to increase pulling and pushing performance for sport specific movements or every day functionality, and works the smaller stabilizer muscles that are often times overlooked.
Farmer’s Carries are the ultimate exercise to enhance posture and promote better breathing patterns and serves as a really great alternative to the upright row. These will force your shoulders to stay back and your spine to stay neutral to avoid any uncomfortable feelings with the exercise. Since your chest is more elevated, your breathing will be easier so you can nail down better patterns for more advanced exercises. As a great strength and conditioning exercise, Farmer’s Carries allow you to lift a heavy load while giving your cardio a bit of a boost.
Single Arm Kettlebell Upright Row
Similar to the dumbbell upright row, the single arm kettlebell upright row is a nice variation when you don’t have a bar but works well for those seeking maximum range of motion and muscle growth. Targeting similar muscles, it really gets to the core of the issue when it comes to shoulder health and back growth by giving you a different grip to work with on top of a great accessory fitness tool in the kettlebell.
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The upright row is perfect for developing strength and size in both your back and shoulders, while also working to give those stabilizer muscles a nice boost for growth. Simple and convenient, nailing down proper form is key to avoid injury but you won’t be disappointed with the results. These alternatives will really work your muscles the same and provide for good benefits while also adding variety into your workouts. Give these exercises a try and really feel the gains you know you’ll love.
*Images courtesy of Envato
- Schoenfeld, Brad; Kolber, Morey J.; Haimes, Jonathan E. (2011). “The Upright Row: Implications for Preventing Subacromial Impingement”. (source)