upright barbell row exercise

Why I can’t Stand The Upright Barbell Row

Time for our Workout Of The Month. Each month we take a look at a different exercise and break it down by movement, how to do it, and discuss some of the positive versus negative impact that it can have to you and your level of fitness. Some workout’s of the month breakdown how to do a common exercise, others feature a specific exercise. This month we breakdown the upright barbell row – and why it’s one of the exercises I think is pointless.

What Is An Upright Barbell Row?

The upright barbell row primarily moves your anterior deltoid – the deltoid is the ball of muscle that sits a top your shoulders. The deltoid is broken down into three sections: the front part (anterior deltoid), a middle part (lateral or medial deltoid), and the back part of your deltoid (posterior deltoid).

What the anterior deltoid does:

-Helps to abduct the arm and bring the arm up to the side away from the body
-Helps to bring the arm up in front of the body (horizontal flexion)
-Helps to bring the arms towards and across the chest (transverse flexion)
-Helps to rotate your arm inward (internal rotation)

Exercises That Use Your Anterior Deltoid

The problem with doing the upright barbell row is that too many people already do exercises that give the anterior deltoid a good workout. So it becomes a problem when large amounts of weight are added to an already overworked muscle. Add to the fact that most people don’t spend a lot of time on shoulder mobility exercises and the upright barbell row can lead to nagging shoulder pain.

Major Exercises That Use The Anterior Deltoid

-The Bench Press
-Push Ups
-The Shoulder Press (both barbell and dumbbell)
-Front Squats
-Clean and Jerk/Hang and Pull

As you can see, there’s a lot of MAJOR and HEAVY weight exercises that already involve the anterior deltoid. My guess is also that if you’re reading this you already spend a lot of time with some pretty heavy weights involving the bench press and shoulder press. Add even more to that if you spend time with body weight exercises like push ups or power exercises like the snatch or clean and jerk. Let’s also be honest, how much time do you spend on shoulder mobility exercises in relation to working out? Probably not that much.

So why is it people still find the need to load up heavy weights to an already overworked muscle? It’s a recipe for shoulder problems caused by the upright barbell row. When this muscle becomes overworked it creates an imbalance in your shoulder creating a tightness where your arm is almost chronically internally rotated (turned inwards). Add this to the fact that we as a society spend a lot of time sitting while just adds to the problem.

The Bottom Line

You don’t need this exercise to help develop your deltoid. The human body is made to do three basic movements: pushing, pulling, and vertical lifting. Stick with the basic exercises such as shoulder presses and bench presses and you should have no problem getting your anterior deltoid to do work. Targeting the anterior deltoid with heavy weights through the upright barbell row can be a waste of time. IF you’re going to do this exercise, I would suggest doing it with lighter weights and more reps verses heavy weights and low reps. It just irks me to see people at the gym doing this exercises with heavy weights and low reps right after they’ve done heavy weight bench presses or shoulder presses.

Oh yeah, most of important of all, spend some time on shoulder mobility. Your body will thank you for it fifteen years from now.

Discussion: Do you spend a lot of time with the upright barbell row? Why or why not?

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