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Not all lifters should include all exercises in their workout routines. This is true of the upright row, the exercise where you lift a barbell up your torso to your chin. Although an effective shoulder exercise, performing the upright row comes with inherent risks. If you do include the upright row in your upper body routine, use a light to medium weight that allows you to complete 10 to 12 repetitions with good form.
Stand and hold the barbell in front of your thighs with an overhand, slightly closer than shoulder-width grip. Exhale and pull the barbell up your torso, leading with your elbows. Keep your elbows higher than your wrists and allow your wrists to flex as you reach the top of the movement. Stop the movement when the barbell reaches your chin. Pause for a count and then slowly lower back to the starting position. Keep your torso upright and your back straight throughout the exercise; do not arch your back or sway your hips.
The upright row is primarily a shoulder exercise, targeting the lateral, or side, deltoids, which are responsible for shoulder abduction, lifting the upper arms up and out to the sides. Several other muscles in the back and arms assist during the upright row, including the biceps, triceps, trapezius and forearm muscles.
A too-narrow grip during the upright row increases internal rotation, which is when the shoulder rotates toward the midline of the body, turning the upper arm inward. Internal rotation partnered with humeral elevation past parallel to the floor increases the risk of shoulder impingement, which occurs when the subacromial space narrows between the end of the humerus bone and the acromion -- the outer end of the scapula bone -- causing the bones to pinch the tendons of the rotator cuff muscles. Shoulder impingement can result in shoulder pain, tenderness and restricted movement.
To reduce the risk of shoulder impingement during the upright row, limit the range of movement of the exercise and maintain a proper grip width. Do not lift the upper arms past the point where they are parallel to the floor and keep your hands about shoulder-width apart; do not take a closer grip on the bar. If you experience shoulder pain when performing the upright row, consider using an alternative shoulder exercise, such as the dumbbell lateral raise.