Flex your biceps and build BIG shoulders with this pull-day arm exercise

Row your way to rounded shoulders and a bigger biceps

Pull day shoulder exercise arm workout biceps exercise
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you want big arms, start with building big shoulders. In our biceps curl-obsessed world we often forget how beneficial compound exercises are, since they use more than just one muscle group. The exercise detailed below works not only your shoulders, but your biceps, too, helping you achieve those godly arms you yearn for. Blame Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans wanting them in the first place.

The exercise we'll discuss here is the upright row, a perfect pull-day complimentary move to the military press, both featured on our two day push-pull upper body workout exercise list. Another benefit of the upright row is that apart from working your shoulders, it also works traps, making your neck look less like a chicken's and more of bull's. Who said that shoulders can only be worked on push days?

Better to be safe than sorry

As with all resistance exercises, performing the exercises with the correct form is way more important than lifting heavy. Should it be performed incorrectly, the upright row can put a lot of unwanted (and unnecessary) pressure on your wrist and shoulders.

No need trying to impress strangers in the gym with ridiculously heavy plates on the barbells. Be safe and sensible and always do a couple of warm up sets with smaller weights, so your muscles are properly primed for the heavier weights.

Also, to aid muscle repair and building, take some protein within half an hour after you finished your workout.

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If you want to push more, you can also consider taking creatine monohydrate, a supplement proven to increase performance. You won't need more than 3-5 grams per day and it can be mixed into anything you drink, including water, juice, or a beverage of your choice.

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Best way to stay motivated is to get a training buddy or get help from a personal trainer. The former is free and the latter is not, but whilst the former can only supply you with broscience facts, the latter is most usually trained to give solicited advice. Your call.

upright row

Upright rows are most usually performed with a barbell

(Image credit: Future)

Upright row – how to perform and muscles worked

Upright row muscles worked: upper traps, delts, biceps, core

How to do an upright row: To perform an upright row, stand with legs shoulder width apart, barbell resting in front of your feet. Reach down and grab the barbell with a narrow overhand grip (so not the bicep curl way). One way people measure the distance between the hands is to extend both thumbs towards each other, and the position where they almost touch is how much apart your hands should grip the bar.

Lift the bar up (using your glutes, like if you were to do a deadlift) and stand tall, shoulders open. You want to pull the up in a straight vertical motion, to a height where it still feels comfortable to hold the bar. Don't try to pull it up too high; that would put your wrist in an unnatural position, basically twisting the bar out of your hands.

You also don't need to touch your chin with the bar, or even worse, lift up the bar in front of your face. You want to work your shoulder muscles, not sprain them. The pulling motion should be slow and concentrate on flexing your biceps and your shoulders as you row.

Be careful when lowering the bar not to hit your body, and be especially careful when placing the bar down on the floor between sets. Remember, to use your glutes, bending your knees, keeping your back straight as you place the bar down on the floor.

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Barbell upright row variations and alternatives

Upright rows can be performed with a variety of equipment, let it be the aforementioned barbell, dumbbells, kettlebells or even resistance bands.

  • Dumbbell upright row: use two dumbbells and perform the row in a similar fashion like you'd do using a barbell
  • Kettlebell upright row: Use one kettlebell.
  • Resistance band upright row: hold the resistance band down with your feet, or tuck it under an object that can securely hold it while you pull away from it.
  • Cable machine upright row: adjust the cable machine so the pulley is in the lowest position. Use the straight bar attachment and lean slightly backward as you perform the upright row.
  • High pull: this exercise uses a lot of momentum and looks like the middle part of a power clean motion. Athletes use it to lift heavier weights.
Matt Kollat
Matt Kollat

Matt is a fitness fanatic (a.k.a. fitness and nutrition writer) who's been rambling on about all things health and fitness for over two years now here at T3. His achievements include a short-lived fitness podcast called Fit Mentality Podcast and being a judge on the Fit&Well Awards 2021. In his free time, he works out at home, runs, cycles and loves a good ol' walk around the city. He writes about general fitness stuff, fitness tech, workouts, workout gear/equipment, nutrition and much, much more.