Ah… thought number 1: the bad rep Upright Row, cousins to bad rep Leg Extensions and Reverse Lunges and even little brother to the “horrible” Overhead Presses. These are all terrible exercises because some person once upon a time got injured doing them so they must be bad for everybody. Better throw Lat Pull Downs and Lateral Raises into the fire as well.
Or thought number 2: The issue is not the exercise, but the way it’s commonly performed. Any exercise done incorrectly can create issues for even the most healthy and well trained; and any exercise done perfectly in strict, flawless form can also create issues for certain individuals.
I’m going with thought number 2.
Consider the technique of many other exercises in which we move a weight implement in the same manner… power cleans, high pulls (at least the way it should be completed), snatches, etc. In these exercises the elbows do not travel much higher (if at all) than shoulder height before the shoulders start to rotate externally.
The issue with the Upright Row, as it is most commonly performed is the excessive internal rotation created by bringing the elbows too high at the top of the movement. The higher the elbows or the lower the wrists in relation to the elbows the greater the risk for shoulder impingement. To reduce this risk the exercise can be modified so that the elbows don’t come much higher than shoulder height and the humerus is not greater than 20 degrees above horizontal (parallel to the floor).
I had shoulder surgeries myself, and just cringe at the mere thought of doing an upright row.Thus, I have been passing my personal bias onto my clients and don’t do them.
The upright row works the deltoids and upper trapezius as well as some bicep. You can focus more on the trapezius by changing the grip to a more narrow one.
While I do believe they can be risky if performed incorrectly, they can be added (like other exercises) occasionally for some variety in good form. I agree with LaRue on this one.
Like most other exercises, they do have a utility, and CAN cause injury if performed incorrectly. I don’t necessarily agree that they are a useless or outdated exercise with no real merit. In my opinion, with the correctly limited ROM they can be useful, and add variety to an exercise routine.