Barbell Upright Row (How To, Muscles Worked & Alternatives)

Barbell Upright Row

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

  • Grasp bar about shoulder width apart.
  • Hold barbell with palms down.
  • Start with bar at arm’s length.
  • Flex knees slightly.
  • Pull bar upward along abdomen and chest toward chin.
  • At the top, the elbow should be higher than wrist, and above shoulders.
  • Lower the bar slowly and under control to the front of 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 weight off the bar and use proper form.

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 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.

DB Upright Rows

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

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


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.

Ryan Horton

Horton Barbell was created by Ryan Horton who has served as a Sports Performance Coach for almost 20 years. My mission is to create a training resource to help as many coaches and athletes as possible maximize athletic potential.

Recent Posts