Upright Row

This old-school exercise is the perfect example of one that has been handed down for generations having a high risk-to-benefit ratio where there are safer alternatives to train same the muscles supposedly being targeted. What is the goal of an upright row? If you were to ask some people, or even some personal trainers, they may say Traps, Middle Delts, (shoulders), or maybe even External Rotators. True enough, these muscles are being worked to some extent throughout the range of motion, but let’s take a look at what actually is going on. As you hold a barbell at shoulders’ width in front of the body and attempt to pull it to upward, the shoulder is typically forced to abduct, (move away from the midline of the body), and externally rotate from an excessive internally rotated position. This motion, combined with the position of the shoulder at the beginning of the movement not only allows for a limited available range of motion, and improper loading of the muscles you are hoping to target, but worse, it places an enormous amount of stress upon and inside the joint itself, most notably, the risk of impingement of the biceps tendon, supraspinatus, (the top rotator cuff muscle), and bursae, (fluid filled sacks that provide smooth gliding within the joint). Stress is also placed upon the wrists as they are forced to adjust or deviate out of natural positioning having to accommodate holding a straight bar. To make matters worse, the amount of resistance most exercisers use for this exercise is excessive only compounding the detrimental effects discussed and incorporating bad posture, inertia/momentum, and compensatory patterns. Although variations to this exercise may prevent some of these maladies, such as using dumbbells or a cable, using a cambered bar, changing grip width, altering shoulder blade, (scapular), position, or changing the range of motion may help, the inherit risks of this exercise are still present. Which brings us back to our goal in the first place. What muscles are we looking to target and work? If emphasizing the middle portion of the deltoid is your goal, why not choose the lateral raise, that is its’ primary job, abduction, (move the arm away from the side of the body). The Upper Trapezius? Why not perform its natural movement: Elevation (shrugging) or Upward Rotation. In fact the Upper Trapezius along with the Serratus Anterior is heavily involved in overhead presses as it swings the scapula upward to provide a base of support for the arm. The External Rotators of the shoulder are best worked performing what they do best, external rotation from various degrees of abduction and directions of resistance using tubing or dumbbells. Correct application of the resistance is imperative and is beyond the scope of this current discussion. Check out the ‘Middle Delotid’ article for more info. Although some may argue that this is a beneficial and safe exercise and is a natural motion dictated in everyday life and athletics, a closer look at the facts will tell you otherwise.