Upright Row Muscles Worked

An exercise that you might have seen many people doing at the gym is the upright row.

Yes, the upright row is a staple in any gym, and for good reason. It's a fantastic compound exercise that works out a lot of different muscles and will often be found in a shoulder day or pull day routine.

But to fully understand when to use the exercise it is important to know what muscles upright rows work and some tips to correct form to protect your shoulders.


Upright Row Muscles Worked

Upright Row Muscles Worked

The upright row is a fantastic upper body exercise, one that targets a wide variety of muscles.

In fact, as far as targeting many muscles, the upright row is one of the best upper body exercises. Let's take a closer look at all the different muscles you work out when you do an upright row.

Related: Overhead Press - Muscles Worked



The trapezius is one of the most important muscles worked out by the upright row. In fact, both the upper trapezius and middle trapezius art worked out by the upright row.

The upper part of your trapezius muscle helps to elevate your shoulder blades, an important component of the upright row. Your upper trapezius is required to lift weights when your arms are raised up.

You then have your middle trapezius, which helps to retract the scapula, which pulls your shoulders towards your spine, therefore offering stability during the movement.

Having strong trapezius muscles is important for anyone who needs a lot of overhead strength and for maintaining proper balance and spine alignment.

There is also a lower trapezius, although you will need to see our guide to lower trap exercises if you want to target it.



Another muscle or muscle group that gets worked out by the upright row are the deltoids.

Specifically, here we're talking about the anterior or front deltoids and the lateral or side deltoids. Your anterior deltoids are responsible primarily for shoulder flexion, which is when you move your arm forward with a weight.

Your lateral deltoids are involved in shoulder adduction, which is when you lift your arms out to the sides. This part of your shoulder is especially targeted during the upright row, which helps to make your shoulders wider and rounder.

Having stronger deltoid muscles is important for a variety of reasons, including for pushing and lifting motions. Having strong lateral deltoids is also important for achieving A symmetrical and balanced shoulder appearance.

Related: Best Side Delt Exercises For Round Shoulders



Another set of muscles that get worked out by the upright row is your rhomboids.

Your rhomboids are the muscles that are found between the shoulder blades that work together with your trapezius muscles to stabilize the scapula and retract your shoulders during the rowing exercise.

In essence, your rhomboids are important for pulling together your shoulder blades as you lift up the dumbbells or barbells.

Having strong rhomboid muscles is also important for maintaining a stable and strong upper back.

This is therefore important for lifting a variety of heavy objects, for keeping good posture, and for pulling motions.


Biceps Brachii

Biceps Brachii

Although your biceps muscles aren't the primary muscles engaged by the upright row, they do help during the lifting phase. In this sense, your biceps function as elbow flexors, which help you bend your elbows as you pull your weight upwards.

Of course, having strong biceps muscles is important for a variety of reasons, mainly for helping to stabilize the arm, creating better grip strength, and to help you perform any kind of pulling action.


Brachialis and Brachioradialis

Finally, we have the brachialis and the brachioradialis, which are the muscles in your forearm that help you flex your elbow.

The brachioradialis is mainly involved in the lifting motion, particularly as your forearm moves from a pronated grip to a more neutral or supinated position while using dumbbells.

Having strong forearm muscles is important for a variety of reasons, both for pushing and pulling.


Your Core

Okay, so even though the upright row is not specifically a core exercise, it does still work out your core muscles to a certain degree.

This is true both in terms of your abdominals and your obliques, as well as your lower back.

The simple reality is that when you do an upright row, you need your upper body and core to remain stable so you don't tip over. This automatically works out your core muscles.


The Benefits of Doing Upright Rows

The Benefits of Doing Upright Rows

And now that we know what all of the different muscles are that the upright row works out, let's take a closer look at all of the different benefits you reap from doing upright rows.


Strengthening Muscles

Of course, one of the biggest benefits that you reap from doing upright rows is that they help to develop your muscles. This is a specific case in the upper body.

As mentioned above, the upright row targets your trapezius, your shoulders, your upper back, and more, all of which are crucial for your upper body strength. This is why we chose it as one of the best overall trap exercises.

Furthermore, this is a comprehensive shoulder workout that works all three important parts of your shoulders, including the anterior, lateral, and posterior deltoids.

It's all about achieving balanced shoulders. It's also a great exercise to help strengthen your back muscles, particularly your rhomboids. On that note, this is an exercise that also helps to increase overall core stability.


Enhanced Performance

By doing upright rows, you also gain a lot of functional benefits that can be applied to your everyday life.

For instance, the strength that you get from developing your trapezius and deltoid muscles helps with everyday tasks such as lifting and carrying.

Furthermore, if you need to engage in quick body movements or you need a strong upper body, such as tennis, baseball, and swimming, then the back and shoulder workout you get from upright rows can be extremely beneficial.


Better Posture

Better Posture

Yet another benefit commonly associated with doing upright rows is that they help to improve your overall posture.

Strengthening your rhomboids and trapezius muscles, which are needed for scapular retraction, helps to counteract poor posture often caused by long periods of sitting.

On that note, having a stronger upper back and shoulders also allows for the alleviation of stress and tension in the neck and back.

Overall, this can lean back doing upright rows can help decrease neck and back pain.


Enhanced Coordination

Interesting to note is that doing upright rows is also beneficial for your overall coordination. This is because when you do upright rows, you have to engage various joints and muscle groups at once.

This kind of practice helps to develop muscle memory. Eventually, doing such compound movements helps your body work together in perfect harmony.



Something else worth noting about doing upright rows is that they are extremely versatile. They can be done with resistance bands, dumbbells, barbells, and more. This allows you to adjust the exercise as needed.


How to do Upright Rows Properly

Before we move on and provide you with more information about the upright row, let's go through a quick tutorial on exactly how to do one. As you're about to see, doing an upright row is not overly difficult.

  1. Choose the piece of equipment that you feel the most comfortable using. Some people may use a barbell, some a dumbbell, some kettlebells, and some even cables. However, for the best possible wrist and arm position, which means keeping your wrists neutral, using an EZ bar is recommended. Now is also the time when you'll choose how much weight you want to lift, and starting small is generally best.
  2. Stand so that your feet are roughly shoulder width apart.
  3. Hold the EZ bar Using a regular overhand grip, which means that your knuckles are facing away from you and your palms are facing towards you. Your hands should also be in line with your thighs, and the bar should be hanging down in front of you at arm’s length.
  4. Your first step in this exercise is to raise your abdominal muscles as you breathe in. While you do this, make sure to keep your chest up and puffed out, your head facing forward, and your back straight.
  5. You're now going to raise the bar up towards your chin, leading with your elbows. If you do this motion properly most of the motion should be happening in your elbow joint. At the top of the motion, your hands should be at chest level, your upper arms parallel to the ground, and your elbows bent.
  6. Pause for one or two seconds to increase difficulty, and then release the hold and return back down to the starting position in a slow and controlled manner. Attempt to do anywhere between 10 and 15 repetitions, for up to four sets.


Upright Row Alternatives to Consider

Although we would recommend using either an EZ bar or a regular barbell, this doesn't necessarily have to be the case. There are also other types of workout equipment that you can use for this purpose.

  • Dumbbell Upright Row: The dumbbell upright row is a great variation to try if you don't have some kind of bar. This exercise could be considered slightly harder than a regular upright row because you have to balance both dumbbells and keep them in line with each other. It's also a good exercise because it allows you to work out both sides separately.
  • Kettlebell Upright Row: If you're looking to take advantage of the benefits of a close grip, and you only want a single weight that you have to control, doing a kettlebell upright row is a great option.
  • Cable Upright Row: If what you are looking for is constant and steady tension, using a cable machine to do upright rows is another great option. The cable machine allows you to adjust the weight as needed, it provides constant tension, and you can do this exercise starting in multiple positions.
  • Single Arm Upright Row: If you want to engage your core a bit more, you can try a single-arm upright row with any of the equipment above. But make sure to start off lighter as you will notice the movement feels very different for the first time.

Related: See a range of cable shoulder exercises in our guide.


Tips to do Upright Rows Properly

Tips to do Upright Rows Properly

Before we call it a day, let's go through some important tips that you need to know to do upright rows properly. These aren't just tips to do upright rows properly, but also to keep you safe.


Maintain a Good Range of Motion

One of the best tips to follow when doing upright rows is to maintain a good range of motion. The point here is that you need to engage in a full range of motion to ensure that all of those muscles get worked out properly.

Ideally, your arms should go from being fully extended to your hands being at chin height. However, if this range of motion is too much and causes pain for you, then only go up to chest height.


Control the Descent

One of the biggest mistakes that many beginners make when doing the upright row is not controlling the descent. The eccentric lowering phase of an exercise is extremely stimulating and is important for building muscle.

You need to control the weight on the way down, not just on the way up. There's also the fact that if you drop the weight too quickly, you might injure yourself by tugging harshly on your ligaments or joints.


The Bar Stays Close to the Body

Something else to ensure when doing an upright row is that the bar stays close to your body. If you arc the bar out and away from your body, it's not going to activate your muscles as much as it should. You need to keep your elbows up and the bar closer to your torso.


Keep it Light

Although this is something that you've probably heard a million times, the simple fact is that the upright row doesn't require all that much weight for it to activate your muscles.

Remember that your shoulder joint is complex and easily suffers injuries. Therefore, lifting far too heavy is not recommended.


Don’t Use Momentum

The other big mistake that many beginners make when doing the upright row is to use momentum. When doing an upright row, your torso should be completely stationary and your abdominal muscles should be kept braced.

You shouldn't be twisting, arching, or turning anything at all. Your chest should stay up, your eyes pointed forward, and your back straight. If you're using your legs, hips, or any other part of your body to generate momentum, then you aren't doing the exercise properly.


Final Thoughts

Upright Row Muscles Worked

At the end of the day, the upright row is a fantastic exercise to consider if you need to strengthen your upper body. It's a great compound movement that works out many muscles, and it ends up providing you with a litany of benefits.

Author's Photo

William Parrett

Will, co-founder of Home Gym Supply, launched the company in 2019 after 15-years in the fitness industry. His expertise stems not only from his professional background but also from his athletic pursuits. A former competitor in the World Beauty Fitness & Fashion (WBFF) and a competitive rugby player, Will has always been dedicated to health and fitness.