How To Do The Wide Grip Upright Row

What is an Upright Row?

An upright row is an upper-body weight-training exercise performed in a training program to hit a variety of muscle groups including the trapezius, rhomboids, deltoids, and biceps muscles.  Using an overhand grip, you can use multitudes of equipment ranging from dumbbells and kettlebells to barbells and cable ropes. By holding a more narrow grip, you will isolate more of the trapezius muscles. With a wider grip, you will target more deltoids. 

image of man doing dumbell upright row

Here are some examples of equipment that can be used to perform this exercise:

  1. Resistance Bands
  2. Smith Machines
  3. Kettlebells
  4. Barbell
  5. Cable Machine
  6. Dumbbells


Wide Grip Upright Row Instructions

barbell upright row demonstration

  1. Grab a barbell at a reasonable weight (not too heavy until the form is perfected).
  2. Stand facing the barbell, feet shoulder-width apart as you grasp the bar with an overhand grip (palms facing down) with the position being a tad wider than shoulder-width apart. 
  3. Keeping your back straight, bend at the knees to pick up the bar until standing with eyes facing forward.
  4. Making sure to keep the bar close to your body, lift the bar straight up to near chin height. 
  5. Lower the bar with control back to starting position.
  6. Repeat. 

Effect Of Grip Width On Muscle Activation During The Upright Row

Based on a study done to see the effect of muscle activity with grip variation, it was shown that with increased grip width, there was an increase in deltoid and trapezius activity and less biceps brachii activity (1).

To maximize involvement of the delotid and trapezius muscles during an upright row, a wide grip width is recommended. Another study was performed to examine the same idea as the previous study.

The main findings of said study showed an increase in muscle activity of the deltoids and trapezius muscles with a wide grip width during an upright row (2). The same as the previous study. 

Barbell Vs. Dumbbell Wide-Grip Upright Row

When differentiating between the two, the most obvious difference is the ability to carry the weight evenly.

A barbell wide-grip upright row is much easier the evenly distribute the weight lifted while with dumbbells, it is much easier to move each arm freely.

Dumbbells can help improve unilateral movements, and therefore muscle distribution. There is always one side stronger than the other and tends to take over to handle the majority of the load. With a barbell, there is more control over the resistance as you are able to pull the bar up evenly. 

Upright Row Concerns

There have been more than a few complaints about this exercise concerning shoulder impingement. Can it cause a shoulder injury? Yes. 

A lot of the issues with this exercise in particular have to do with the motion of the exercise. If you have healthy shoulders (a lot of people don’t), perfect posture (a lot of people don’t), and perfect technique (a lot of people don’t), then this exercise isn’t a problem.

But seeing as a lot of people don’t have all three of these, let alone simply one, then this exercise is not recommended for good reason.  

It is recommended to perform this exercise with dumbbells or kettlebells as it takes stress off of the wrists, shoulder joints, and biceps. It also helps unilaterally by targeting muscle imbalances.

There are plenty of other exercises that target the muscles the upright row zones in on that can be added to your workout plan. The best exercises to do so include:

  1. Dumbbell Lateral Raises (for shoulders)
  2. Cable Rope Face Pull (for upper traps)
  3. Dumbbell Military Press (for shoulders)
  4. Barbell Row (Trapezius muscles)
  5. Barbell Behind the Neck Shoulder Press (rear delts)
  6. Dumbbell Bent-Over Reverse Flyes (rear/side delts)
  7. Pull-up (Wide-Grip to target the trapezius muscles)
  8. Barbell Overhead Press (shoulders)

These exercises are popular with many lifters, especially in bodybuilding, with these muscles being properly targeted with minimal injury risk (based on proper form and technique). 

People Also Ask

What muscles do wide grip upright rows work?

Wide grip upright rows work the trapezius muscles and deltoids. 

Are wide grip upright rows safe?

They are not considered the safest exercise if you don’t have healthy shoulders (previous rotator cuff injury) or good form. If you have shoulder issues, this exercise can agitate those issues and possibly worsen them. Bad form, like with any exercise, can cause injury as well. The importance of proper form with any exercise is essential in preventing injury. 

Which grip is better to target the delts and traps?

The wide grip is proven to isolate the traps and delts more than the other grips. 

Which Upright Row Grip Should I Use?

If you’re trying to target the trapezius and delts more, a wide grip width is recommended. A narrow grip (also called close grip) width is good for targeting more biceps brachii, delts, and trapezius (but the last two are not as isolated). 
What Makes a Good Upright Row Alternative?

I’ve listed some examples earlier in this article but the military press can target the shoulders (lateral deltoids), a barbell row can target the back and trapezius muscles, and the dumbbell bent over rear flyes can target the rear delts. I've provided other options as well to widen the options! 


kaelyn buzzo  Kaelyn is a Certified Personal Trainer and Nutrition Coach (ISSA) with a Bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing (English) and a Minor in Nutrition from the University of South Florida. Read More.