Rowing exercises are often reserved for back training day, but the upright row is an exception. This is not a back exercise, but rather one for your shoulders. By learning how to properly perform upright rows and which muscles the movement targets, you will be able to get the most bang for your buck from each rep. Training smart is just as important as training hard, so acquiring this knowledge will do wonders for your results.
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Learn the Basics First
To do an upright row, grab a barbell with both hands or a dumbbell in each hand, stand upright with feet shoulder-width apart and with your arms straight. Then lift the barbell or dumbbells no higher than mid-chest level. You must bend your elbows and raise your shoulders to accomplish this lift. It is imperative you do not exceed mid-chest height because raising the weight further from this point poses serious danger to your shoulder joint and surrounding muscle tendons. Once you reach mid-chest level, lower the weights down where you started.
Primary Muscle Primer
The primary muscle that you will target when doing upright rows is the deltoid. Specifically, the anterior and lateral deltoids, also called front and side shoulders due to their respective locations. These muscles contract when you raise your shoulders during the upward phase of the lift and then they lengthen during the downward phase. The wider your hand-grip, the better you will work these muscles.
Second Place is a Trap
The secondary muscle during the upright row movement is the upper trapezius, or upper traps for short. This muscle is located by the sides of your neck. It also raises your shoulders during the movement, specifically your shoulder blades. You can make the upper traps the primary mover by using a close hand-grip, one that is closer than shoulder-width apart.
The Three B's
There are three other muscles involved in the upright row lift. They are the biceps, brachialis and brachioradialis, three muscles located in your upper arm and forearm regions. Unlike the aforementioned muscles, these three muscles act on your elbow by bending it during the lift. If you turn your palms toward you during the motion, your brachialis and brachioradialis will be more active than your biceps. But if your palms are facing the other direction -- away from your body -- then the biceps will the most active of the three muscles.