How to master upright rows and grow big shoulders and arms with this pull-day staple exercise

Row your way to rounded shoulders and a bigger biceps

How to master upright rows: Bodybuilder secures a barbell collar on a barbell in a gym
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you want big arms, start with building big shoulders. And if you wish to have boulder shoulders, you need to start doing upright rows asap. This compound exercise works the shoulders and also bombs the biceps, giving you a pump every time you include it in your workouts.

In our biceps curl-obsessed world, we often forget how beneficial compound exercises are since they use more than just one muscle group. Compound movements such as push-ups and pull-ups burn more calories, help improve muscle coordination and are the best way to pack on mass.

Learn how to do upright rows, what muscle this awesome exercise works and what are the best upright row alternatives right here.

The upright row exercise performed in a photo studio


(Image credit: Future)

How to do upright rows 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, weight(s) resting in front of your feet.

If you're using a barbell, 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 weight(s) (using your glutes, like if you were to deadlift) and stand tall, shoulders open. Pull the weigh(s) up in a straight vertical motion without overexerting your wrists. Don't try to lift to eye level; chin height is just fine.

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

Barbell upright row variations and alternatives

  • 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
Fitness Editor

Matt is T3's Fitness Editor and covers everything from smart fitness tech to running and workout shoes, home gym equipment, exercise how-tos, nutrition, cycling, and more. His byline appears in several publications, including Techradar (opens in new tab) and Fit&Well (opens in new tab), and he collaborated with other fitness content creators such as Garage Gym Reviews (opens in new tab).