Upright rows are a movement which are embraced by some, and condemned by others. Some trainers and bodybuilders believe the movement is just plain awkward and causes injury. Others, most notably Bob Paris, owner of some serious cannonball deltoids in the mid-80s, believe they are essential for complete development. They hit the muscles of the shoulder like no other exercise, and are essential, they feel. A third group believes they are useful in a limited capacity in pre-contest training, when the shoulders cannot handle their normal training workload. Let’s take a look at each argument, and discuss the validity of each.
Never use upright rows
The upright row involves starting with a barbell at waist level, and hands about six inches apart. Bring the weight up almost to the chin, and then lower it back down. This exercise does put the shoulders in a position that many trainers do consider awkward, especially at the top of the movement. Rotator cuff injuries are extremely easy to acquire, and often require surgery and months of rehab in order to recover from. Be smart and just avoid this exercise. There are plenty of other movements which deliver success without such risk. Upright rows belong in a box with barbell presses behind neck and lat pulldowns behind head, with a big label that read ‘Do not open!”
Use upright rows all year long
Upright rows train the deltoids, the trapezius, and the upper back. Secondary muscles worked include the biceps, forearm, and grip. As long as you warm up properly, which all intelligent bodybuilders do, you’ll be perfectly fine completing this movement. No movement as succinctly brings together the muscles of the shoulders, neck, and traps. There are muscle fibers stimulated by this exercise which aren’t touched by another other movement in your gym arsenal. This movement is used by the greats of the sport, as well as gym rats around the world. Use it!
Only use upright rows in the pre-contest phase
It’s at this time that the shoulders are at their weakest due to caloric deprivation and extreme cardiovascular training. The repetitions are high, and the energy low. You’re training for a pump to bring out the detailed etchings of each muscle group, and shoulders are no exceptions. With low body fat, there is some serious danger in placing a heavy barbell in the barbell press position. Therefore, barbell upright rows should be used as a replacement.
The conclusion, of course, is that upright rows have a different role for all bodybuilders. Just as rookie phenom Ben White was able to build some of the best legs in the sport without squatting, or Masters Pro champion Bob Cicherillo was able to develop a world class chest while never using the bench press, it’s entirely possible to build an impressive set of shoulders without the use of upright rows. However, the use of this movement will just help move you to possessing better shoulders that much faster, if you’re willing to face a little bit of risk using the movement. The choice is yours!