Upright rows – shoulder health – Injury Prevention

Many olympic lifts (i.e clean and press, clean and jerk, and snatch) all have an upper extremity upright row motion. The traditional Olympic lifts applies a wide grip on the barbell in order to allow for proper arm clearance of the shoulder joint (glenohumeral joint) but more importantly to generate the hip torque through the body/arm and into the bar. Of course in an olympic lift the idea is to use form and leverage over raw strength in order to be explosive.

The natural progression in training would be to break the movement down and isolate the components. This methodology follows the SAID principle as well the GAS principle. As long as we maintain form, and use progressive overload things should be sound.

But somewhere along the way the movement was adopted for different purposes which also changed the form used.

In attempts to isolate the upright row with a more narrow grip, assuming more medial delt and upper trap activation we forgo the form and function.

It isn’t news to anyone who works in the orthopedic sport performance/rehab setting that placing the shoulder into any extreme of rotation can create tissue disruption. In fact when a professional is screening out the shoulder joint for what is known as a possible impingement sign, one of the special test performed placed the shoulder joint into internal rotation and then loads the tissue.











For clarity, a shoulder impingement occurs with there is an overuse or cumulative load placed on the subacromial tissues (this means below the acromion that is a projection of the scapula) namely the supraspinatus tendon, Long head of biceps tendon. Its quite obvious that there are many movements that place the arm into internal rotation, and are quite healthy for the shoulder. But, when the current status of “contra-indicated” by the ACSM and NFPT is placed on a movement such as the upright row (narrow grip) then we should all  perk up and listen.

Hence the adoption for form to function would be to use a wide grip upright row. Yes you can even isolate the movement, as long as you maintain the hands above or parallel with the shoulder joint. This improved form again based on the said principle will have a direct adaptation towards efficient and long-term movement. Longevity, recovery, and injury prevention are key to be successful as a lifter.

Doc Novo out.


Equally there are better ways to training the medial delt and upper trap. In a recent T-Nation article from Bret Contreras, titled Inside the muscle-Best Shoulder and Traps exercises; Bret goes into the real research behind creating an effective exercise prescription based on validated muscle activation. In other words, there are some exercises that are better than others which can give us the edge on progression.


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