What Is The Best Alternative To Upright Row?

Are you using the upright row to increase your shoulder size and muscle? 

Would you also like to build bigger traps and improve your ability to clean and snatch?  

Then steer clear of the upright row. There is no better way to mess up your shoulders than by doing upright row exercises.  Is there an upright row alternative that could help?

Instead, there are many safer upright row alternatives that you can do at home.

So what is the best upright row alternative?

Well, the lateral raise is the best upright row alternative since it offers all the benefits of the upright row with reduced risk of a shoulder injury. 

During the lateral raise, the muscles on the front and sides of your shoulders move similarly as they do during the upright row making it an excellent alternative.

Similar exercises like the one mentioned above increase the strength and size of your back and shoulders. 

It also works your side deltoids and upper traps. 

These alternatives will also help work your front and rear deltoids, forearms, biceps, and your rhomboids too.

Upright Row Alternatives to Increase Muscle Growth

Man Exercising

Professional bodybuilders would agree that the upright row is one of the most notorious routines to cause shoulder injuries.

The traditional upright row causes added anteriorly-directed joint stress to the shoulder girdle. 

This is especially when the thoracic spine positioning and shoulder mobility are less than perfect. Or in other words, you have bad posture.

Bad posture, in turn, creates an internally rotated movement at the glenohumeral (shoulder) joint which reduces the area of structures so it can glide through safely. 

Additionally, bad posture prevents the shoulder blades from working correctly.

Therefore, trying upright row exercises with dysfunctional posture is a sure recipe for disaster or in this case, excruciating pain. 

Instead, focus on the next few exercises, which are all the best upright row alternatives:

Dumbbell Lateral Raise

As mentioned earlier, depending on the grip and angles used, the lateral raise is a highly effective way of increasing the shoulder posterior, anterior, and medial heads. 

It’s a simple upright row alternative exercise as well.  With dumbbells in your hands, lift your arms at the side with a slight bend in the elbow.  Keep raising your arms until they are parallel with the floor and then lower back down.  This exercise is a great upright row alternative for your shoulders.  You can also do single-arm lateral raises as you get used to this upright row alternative.  Make sure you keep your palms facing the floor during this exercise and try not to swing the dumbbell.  All of the movements in this exercise need to be controlled to really work the deltoids. 

It may not increase trap hypertrophy significantly but does increase muscle mass in similar muscle groups to the upright row.

The good news is there are several ways to do a dumbbell lateral raise.  You can even do them with a resistance band under your feet. 

Face Pulls

If you want to increase posterior deltoid, upper trapezius, and rhomboid hypertrophy, this is an excellent movement. 

It is more like a horizontal row; however, it can be customized to resemble a hybrid horizontal and vertical row when you come from lower positions.  The starting position is feet shoulder-width apart and hold the cable with your arms out straight with an overhand grip.  Pull the cable towards your face and activate the shoulder and back muscles.  The cable should come out to either side of your face and then return it to the starting position.  Can you believe you ever even did an upright row after feeling how good this exercise feels?

This exercise offers more customized positioning with the angles and grip at which to train.  Everyone’s range of motion is different so take it where you can. 

Seated Muscle Snatch - A Great Alternative to the Upright Row

For those looking to build serious boulder for shoulder and huge traps, this is well known Olympic weightlifting movement you need to add to your training program. 

This exercise offers some of the benefits of the high pull but also works the shoulder pressing and external rotation that ultimately makes the movement well balanced. 

The traps, posterior shoulder, and upper body are forced to move during the pull as the seated muscle snatch takes the hips and legs out of the movement.

Barbell High Pull or Snatch Grip High Pull

The snatch grip high pull is much more than an Olympic movement. 

It’s a slight variation of the upright row and encourages you to take a snatch or wider grip.  High pull the barbell up to your chest level and then lower it back down.  The barbell high pull is done with an explosive movement.  Think to pull the barbell high to the top of the movement and then lower it back down slowly.  

When performing a barbell high pull, you want to keep the bar closer to your body. The technique is performed is by increasing the elevation of the elbows.  Also, keep your feet about shoulder-width apart for more stability for your lower back if you need it.

The upper back and posterior shoulder are consequently worked out more effectively here than with an upright row.

Reasons To Choose an Alternative to the Upright Row

While there are many benefits to the barbell upright row, it can cause weakness and pain in the shoulder.

Shoulder Impingement Happens with an Upright Row

The risk of shoulder impingement is also heightened due to the movements that occur during an upright row.

Shoulder impingement occurs when the fibrous bodies and tissue inside the shoulder joint become squeezed between the bone protrusion on the bottom of the scapula and the top of the upper arm.  We literally just cringed reading that.

This happens as the arm rotates in the shoulder capsule which can happen during an upright row especially if your form is not good.

This condition causes a lack of functionality due to shoulder pain and weakness in the shoulder. Over time, shoulder tendons could fray and can cause rotator cuff muscles to tear.  Of course, this will cause shoulder pain and might lead to surgery to fix.

So barbell upright rows should be avoided if you have trouble with reaching behind your back or generally with overhead activities.

High Amounts Of Loading

Two of the main groups responsible for the upright row movement are the shoulder and deltoids. 

Issues arise when heavy loads are moved through shrugging, heavy arm pulling, and hip extension as opposed to a targeted and smooth contraction from the shoulder muscles.

So this exercise becomes a problem when you do not understand how to slate a muscle/movement or have the ability to move freely in the shoulder joint.

Excessive Internal Rotation

The upright row involves significant amounts of internal rotation as you place your shoulder in when getting your grip on the bar. 

This is also a poor technique that ultimately leads to excessive loading.

As a rule of thumb if you experience any joint pain due to an exercise or routine, stop immediately and get checked out by a medical or trained professional. 

Follow any and all medical advice thereon even if it means refraining from exercise for a while.

Related Questions

Are Upright Rows Really The Devil?

Some individuals swear that it is the most dangerous upper body exercise while athletes and coaches swear that they are useful in building shoulder and back muscles. 

However, if you have impingement issues, upright rows should be avoided like the plague.

How To Tell If You Have Shoulder Impingement?

If you have shoulder pain while doing upright rows, you probably have shoulder impingement. 

One sure way to get confirmation of this is to have a Neer Test conducted under the guidance of a trained professional.

What Are Upright Row Alternatives Good For?

These are shoulder and back exercises that will help you widen your shoulders and narrow your waist while working out your trapezius and deltoid muscles.  Some of the other exercises like lateral raises and high pulls can work your shoulders and back and reduce the risk of injury.  

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