Barbell Upright Row

Barbell Upright Row (How To, Muscles Worked, Benefits)

Upright Rows are a great upper back exercise. They’re also a good supplemental movement for bigger Olympic movements like Snatches and Cleans.

Here is how to do a Barbell Upright Row, what muscles this exercise works and a few alternatives if you’re unable to do upright rows with a bar.

How To Barbell Upright Row

Equipment Needed

  • Barbell
  • Bumper Plates (or Iron Plates if not dropping the bar after sets)

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Starting position is with your feet shoulder-width apart, slight bend in the knee.
  • Grasp bar about shoulder-width apart.
  • Hold the barbell with an overhand (pronated) grip.
  • Start with the bar at arm’s length.
  • Pull the bar upward along the abdomen and chest toward the chin.
  • At the top, the elbow should be higher than the wrist, and above the shoulders.
  • Lower the bar slowly and under control to the front of the thighs.
  • Do not jerk.
  • Keep the bar close to the torso.

Coaching Points

The biggest mistake I see, by far, with Upright Rows is swinging way too much to lift the bar. A little swing is okay if you’re trying to grind out the last rep or two of a set.

However, if you’re having to rock your torso for every rep then the weight is too heavy. Take some weight off the bar and use proper form.


The Barbell Upright Row is an upper body exercise that is primarily used to strengthen the muscles in the upper back, shoulders, and arms.

Some of the benefits of this exercise include increased upper body strength, grip strength and improved posture. Additionally, because the barbell upright row is a compound exercise, it can also help to increase overall muscle mass and improve coordination and balance.

How Many Reps?

Barbell Upright Row is an upper-body supplemental strength exercise. I generally program upright rows as 2 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps per set.

Muscles Worked

Upright Rows work the entire Trapezius as well as the Deltoideus and Brachialis. In plain English – the upper back, shoulders and biceps.

Barbell Upright Row Variations

Wide Grip Upright Row

By simply sliding your grip a bit wider, the Upright Row almost becomes a new exercise. The wider you place your grip, the more the row emphasizes the deltoids.

So, you can alter your grip depending on if you want to focus on the trapezius or the delts. For a bit of both, go with the shoulder-width grip that is described in the step-by-step instructions above.

Barbell Upright Row Alternatives

If you’re unable to do barbell upright rows, for whatever reason, or you’re just wanting to mix up your workout a bit here are a few alternatives.

Need more options? Here are 10 of my favorite alternatives for Barbell Upright Row.

Dumbbell Upright Rows

Sometimes Barbell Upright Rows can irritate some lifters’ shoulders, wrists or even elbows. However, Dumbbell Upright Rows give the lifter more flexibility in the path of the movement and that little bit of a difference can be a game-changer for some.

Using a single dumbbell in place of the bar can also work well for anyone who is limited on one side of their body.

Kettlebell Upright Rows

Like Dumbbell Upright Rows, using a kettlebell for Kettlebell Upright Rows is another great upright row variation.

It all depends on what equipment you have access to. Or, they’re also great just to add some variety to your workout.


Barbell Shrug Muscles Worked
Barbell Shrugs work the upper trapezius. (Photo Credit: Makatserchyk /

While not an exact substitution, Shrugs are another great upper back/trapezius exercise. Shrugs come in multiple variations as well – barbell or dumbbell and different grip widths on the bar all can change up the lift.

More Links and Info

Need more Upper Body Strength Exercises? I have a growing collection of guides in my Exercise Library – all available for free.

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