Upright Barbell Rows - Are They Worth Doing?
Building some massive shoulders takes a lot of hard work and quality resistance training. The upright barbell row is an exercise that targets your shoulders.
This exercise is notorious for causing shoulder pain, but it is still a very popular exercise.
Upright Barbell Rows
Upright barbell rows have been considered one of the best muscle building exercises for your back and shoulders. This exercise targets your front and middle heads of your shoulders, your traps, rhomboids, and even biceps.
This exercise requires a critically-flawless form to avoid injury.
You’ll need to keep your back straight, your chest up, and your eyes focused ahead. Ideally, using an EZ-curl bar will allow you to grip the bar at an angle that helps reduce strain on your wrists.
Make sure not to lift the bar too high — this can cause shoulder impingement.
How to Perform Upright Barbell Rows
Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart. It doesn’t have to be exact, but find a stance you feel comfortable with.
Grab the barbell and allow it to hang in front of you — your palms will be facing you.
Brace your core, keep your back straight and lift the bar straight upward toward your chin. You will lead with your elbows and you will want to keep the bar close to your body.
You don’t need to go higher than parallel with the shoulders.
Take a slight pause at the top of the lift and let the weight slowly go back to your starting position.
Perform 3 sets of 10 reps and give yourself 45 seconds of rest in between sets.
Drawbacks to Upright Barbell Rows
There’s a reason that this exercise is notorious for injuring shoulders — our shoulders may not be able to handle them.
#1 - It Could Cause Shoulder Pain or Injury
Your upper arm rotates internally in your shoulder as you bring your arms up. This isn’t a bad thing if you have healthy shoulders, a perfect posture, and a flawless technique.
Chances are, if you sit a lot, are on your phone a lot, or you work at a computer for a long time, you may not have the healthiest shoulders.
If you’ve ever felt it, this exercise can cause a twinge of pain during your rep that just makes my skin crawl. If you already have shoulder issues, this exercise could exacerbate the problem.
Using dumbbells or kettlebells allow your hands to move freely — which can save your shoulders. Still, this exercise is simply not a healthy movement for our shoulders.
#2 - It Trains Typically Over-Developed Muscles
Do you like to press? Many lifters and athletes don’t train the front delts due to the overdevelopment from all pressing exercises.
These include bench press, overhead press, and push-ups to name a few.
Our poor postures and lack of exercise causes tonic muscles — this exercise just doesn’t add up.
Instead of training your front delts to further create an unhealthy imbalance in your shoulder, try to train your rear delts. Exercises like bent-over later raises will improve your shoulder health and you will be more resistant to injuries.
#3 - There a Lot of Exercises That Are Better for Training Your Shoulders
When it comes down to the effectiveness of this exercise, the muscles it trains, and the incredibly high risk of injury… there are other exercises that are better and safer.
If you are an athlete, do you really want to justify using an exercise that puts your shoulders at risk?
Instead of performing upright barbell rows, here are a few exercises so you can train all three of your deltoid heads effectively.
Front Delt Exercises
Like I said earlier, your front delts are already over-developed from all of your pressing exercises.
While that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t train them, we need to at least pick some safer exercises.
Compound exercises like seated overhead presses, bench presses, and Arnold presses are all great front delt exercises.
For isolation lifts, you could try front arm dumbbell raises or front arm cable raises.
Middle Delt Exercises
The middle delt gets trained by overhead presses, so choosing a few quality pressing exercises can go a long way. Finish off your shoulders with a couple isolation exercises for a great workout.
One-arm cable lateral raises are a great isolation exercise for your mid delt, along with the infamous lateral raise.
Both of these can be performed for four sets of 12 to 15 with about 45 seconds of rest between sets.
If you’re feeling adventurous, military presses, dumbbell overhead presses, Arnold presses, and push presses are all effective compound movements.
Rear Delt Exercises
Bent-over dumbbell lateral raises are great to build a stronger upper back and rear delt. Since many lifters omit training their rear delts, I invite you to try these or some face pulls. Perform these two to three times per week at the end of your training. You could end off your back and shoulder days with these.
Perform three to four sets of 12 to 15 reps and give yourself 30 seconds of rest in between sets.
Wrapping It Up
When performed correctly, you have healthy shoulders, you have great posture, and your form is impeccable, this exercise is great.
It’s rough on shoulders, and for most people, it is a matter of “when” are you going to get injured doing these.
Try out these other exercises, show some love to your rear delts and upper back, and strive to improve every muscle in your body.