In an earlier exercise guide, we discussed the upright row, one that finds its way into many strength, power, and competitive fitness sporting movements. In that ultimate exercise guide, we discussed many upright row variations that coaches and athletes can use to maximal develop muscle groups and movement patterning necessary for movements like the snatch, clean, high pull, and more.
In this article we will discuss one of those variations in fuller detail to show why the dumbbell upright row can be a great unilateral exercise to develop muscle tissue and movement patterning.
The below muscle groups are targeted by the upright row movement. Using dumbbells in the upright row can help to increase unilateral muscle development and address any asymmetries and movement imbalances as well.
- Upper Trapezius
- Posterior Shoulder/Deltoids
- Anterior Shoulder/Deltoids
In the below video the dumbbell upright row is demonstrated. Note, that by manipulating the pulling and angles ranges of motion you can alter which muscles from above section are primarily used.
4 Benefits of the Upright Row Dumbbells
In the below section we discuss four(4) benefits of performing the upright row with dumbbells. Note, some of the benefits are inherent to performing any style of upright row, while others are a direct benefit of performing the upright row with dumbbells.
Address Muscular Hypertrophy and Strength Asymmetries
When working with barbells, cables (assuming not two independent handles) and other equipment that doesn’t involve two limbs working independently, unilateral muscle hypertrophy and strength may not be a highlighted benefit. While non-unilateral movements do allow for increased loading and minimize some complexity (which is good for some strength movements and moving loads), balancing in unilateral variations like the dumbbell upright row can be a great way to address any muscle development and strength asymmetries that may otherwise go unseen.
Address Movement/Range of Motion Imbalances
As discussed above, non-unilateral pieces of equipment, such as bars, machines, and cables (assuming you are using a bar attachment) has its benefits, however can also mask any movement asymmetries and differences in limb to limb ranges of motion. For some athletes who have range of motion and/or limitations in movement abilities between limbs in the upright row movement may find that dumbbell upright rows will force them to gain greater neurological control and movement patterning in a limb to limb basis. This can improve their abilities to then transfer better movement and coordination per limb to a barbell, machine, or other non-independent moving piece of equipment, enhance overall muscular and movement development, and potentially decrease the risk of injuries caused by overuse or poor movement patterning.
Increased Range of Motion
Increasing one’s ability to promote force and establish greater control via neuromuscular connections and training are two key aspects of increasing range of motion (with the third being that there must be sufficient mobility/flexibility). Once someone has established that mobility and flexibility are adequate the next step would be to teach and reprogram the muscle units and brain to be able to coordinate muscle control and contractions. This could be key for athletes who need to use the upright row movement (such as weightlifting, competitive fitness, sports athletes, strength sports) so that they can maximally recruit muscle and produce force.
Increased Hypertrophy and Strength (Muscles Worked)
Unilateral exercises have been correlated with increased muscle stimulation and activity, which can help to increase muscle fiber firings and growth rate in some athletes who may have a harder time isolating and developing under utilized muscle tissues. The ability to target limb to limb asymmetrical, muscle and movement imbalances, and customize the angles and ranges of motion of the movement via dumbbells can also lead to a different stimulus for growth on muscle tissues.
More Dumbbell Exercise Variations
Take a look below at some of the more popular dumbbell exercise variations to increase unilateral strength and fitness!
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