The Problem With Upright Rows

If the upright row is one of your go-to exercises at the gym, it may be time to find a new one or modify how you perform this lift. The reason for this is that the upright row puts the shoulder at a mechanical disadvantage and puts a lot of stress and strain on the shoulder joint, especially in the front. Remember impingement syndrome?

When performing the upright row, particularly with a barbell, the shoulder goes into elevation (flexion and abduction) along with internal rotation as the bar is pulled up. The closer the bar is held to the body, the more internal rotation the shoulder is forced into with the pull. This motion is creating the impingement, or “pinching” we’ve been talking about over the past few weeks. The most vulnerable structure with this movement is the supraspinatus tendon of the rotator cuff.

Another thing that can happen with this exercise is that it can unknowingly lead to improper movements with lifts like the hang clean or power clean, which are important for strength, speed, and power. With cleans, the bar is raised up to the shoulders or overhead by driving the feet through the floor, exploding up with the hips, and shrugging with the shoulders. The only reason the elbows bend is to snap under the bar to catch it, not to initiate or pull the bar up.

With the upright row, bending the elbows is the biggest requirement to pull the bar up. Since upright rows and cleans are similar in nature, over time patterns are grooved in the brain saying “bend the elbows” to initiate a hang clean or power clean. This can lead to poor mechanics and shoulder injuries!

Check out the video for an easy, effective way to slightly modify the lift while still hitting the same muscle groups : https://youtu.be/TLfWTYjBc1A

-Ryan Donahue, DC

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