Upright Row Alternatives

In this article we take a deeper look at the upright row, either performed with the barbell or dumbbells. While this movement is common among lifters and athletes, we may want to find upright row alternatives based on progression/regressions, injury concerns, or simply to spruce up the training program.

Upright Row Exercise Demo

The below video is a good demonstration of the upright row, which can be beneficial for increasing shoulder, strap, and upper back mass and hypertrophy. Additionally, the movement pattern, when used with a variety of grip-widths can have a good carry over to snatches, cleans, and other fitness movements.

Muscles Worked

The upright row is a pulling movement that targets the below muscle groups.

  • Posterior Shoulder (Rear Deltoids)
  • Upper Traps
  • Anterior Shoulder (Front Delts)
  • Forearms and Biceps
  • Rhomboids

Upright Row Alternatives

While few movements can replace the upright row, some of the ones below can be viable alternatives in the event an upright row is painful. Many times, that pain can be decreased by widening the grip (snatch grip) or changing the angle of the pull to a more horizontal angle (face pull). The upright row works the traps, posterior deltoids, and some anterior deltoids. Similar muscle groups are worked in the below alternatives (lateral side raise). Therefore, in the event you are looking for alternatives for the upright row, note that many of these alternatives will lack a true carry over as the upright row is a unique movement.

Snatch High Pull

The snatch grip high pull is more than just an Olympic weightlifting movement that can translate over to the snatch. This upright row variation has the lifter take a wider grip (snatch grip) which in turn forces the bar to stay closer to the body in the pull via increasing the elevation of the elbows. By doing so, you are able to hit the upper back and posterior shoulders effectively. Below is a video of the snatch grip high pull in all of it’s glory.

Seated Muscle Snatch

This movement, like the snatch grip high pull, is an Olympic weightlifting accessory movement that is pretty effective at building serious boulder for shoulder and massive traps. By doing this movement, you get to have the same benefits as the high pull, however also work the external rotation and shoulder pressing that can really make this movement about as balanced as can be. Seated versions of the muscle snatch really take the legs and hips out of the movement and force the athlete to use the posterior shoulder, traps, and upper body during the pull. Note, the seated muscle snatch is the first exercise is the below shoulder complex.

Lateral Raises

In a previous article we covered the lateral raise and all of it’s variations. The lateral raise is very effective at increasing shoulder hypertrophy (posterior, anterior, and medial heads) depending on the angles and grip. While this does not increase trap hypertrophy primarily or cover the same joint and movement pattern as the high pull, it does increase muscle mass in very similar muscle groups to the upright row. In the below video the lateral raise and specific variations are discussed in detail.

Face Pulls

The face pull is a great movement to increase trap, posterior deltoid, and rhomboid hypertrophy. The movement is technically a horizontal row, however can be changed to come from lower positions to high to be a hybrid horizontal and vertical row. By using this exercise, you give the lifter a more custom positioning with the grip and angles at which to train at. Below is a video on how to perform horizontal cable face pulls, however you can very easily drop the cables lower and perform a high pull on a more vertical angle to increase posterior delt, trap, and upper back engagement (or vice versa).

Build a Better Back

Take a look at the below articles and uncover the true strength of your lower back, traps, and lats!

Featured Image: @ michelandrehervasux on Instagram

Mike Dewar

Mike Dewar

Mike holds a Master's in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor's in Exercise Science. Currently, Mike has been with BarBend since 2016, where he covers Olympic weightlifting, sports performance training, and functional fitness. He's a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and is the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at New York University, in which he works primarily with baseball, softball, track and field, cross country. Mike is also the Founder of J2FIT, a strength and conditioning brand in New York City that offers personal training, online programs for sports performance, and has an established USAW Olympic Weightlifting club.

In his first two years writing with BarBend, Mike has published over 500+ articles related to strength and conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, strength development, and fitness. Mike’s passion for fitness, strength training, and athletics was inspired by his athletic career in both football and baseball, in which he developed a deep respect for the barbell, speed training, and the acquisition on muscle.

Mike has extensive education and real-world experience in the realms of strength development, advanced sports conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, and human movement. He has a deep passion for Olympic weightlifting as well as functional fitness, old-school bodybuilding, and strength sports.

Outside of the gym, Mike is an avid outdoorsman and traveller, who takes annual hunting and fishing trips to Canada and other parts of the Midwest, and has made it a personal goal of his to travel to one new country, every year (he has made it to 10 in the past 3 years). Lastly, Mike runs Rugged Self, which is dedicated to enjoying the finer things in life; like a nice glass of whiskey (and a medium to full-bodied cigar) after a hard day of squatting with great conversations with his close friends and family.

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