Many trainers instruct their clients to keep the elbows high when performing an Upright Row which may create excessive internal rotation of the shoulder and potentially creating impingement of the shoulder girdle. The higher the elbows the greater the potential risk – you can modify the exercise by keeping the elbows lower so that the humerus is not greater than 20 degrees above horizontal (parallel to the floor). If there is any pain or discomfort during the movement or any unusual or abnormal pain following the movement can be eliminated from the exercise program.
Additionally, I often have my clients perform a variation of the upright row in which they externally rotate their shoulders (this rather prevents excessive internal rotation in relation to the start point) while lifting the weight upward so that their wrists are just slightly lower than their elbows and more forward as well. This reduces risk for impingement issues while developing the Deltoids in the same manner. Doing the exercise this way does bring the weight forward as well as upward so resistance should be decreased as it is further away from the mid line of the body creating more load on the muscles being developed.
I think upright rows are great, especially for people who have bad posture or forward rounded shoulders. That muscle imbalance thing can really cause a lot of people issues. They must be taught how to do them correctly though, like Jonathan said, to where theyre not internally rotating the shoulders but pulling the shoulders back and squeezing the shoulder blades. Movement coming from the shoulders as opposed to the hands or elbows. Doing it that way it becomes a natural movement.
The Upright Row exercise is done to develop the shoulders and traps. Holding a barbell or dumbells in front of your with a close, overhand grip, you pull the weight up to your chest, keeping it close to your body, leading with yor elbows.
The Upright Row is one of the most harmful exercises you can expose your shoulders to. The problem with the exercise lies in the position your arms must be in in order to perform the movement. This position is called “internal rotation”.
To demonstrate internal rotation, hold your arms straight out to the sides with your palms down. Now rotate your hands forward as if you were pouring out a glass of water in each. To do the upright row, the arms are bent at the elbow then internally rotated.
Internal rotation itself is not necessarily bad for your shoulders. The problem comes when you raise the arms up and add resistance in that position. Every time you raise the weight, a small tendon in your shoulder gets pinched (known as impingement) by the bones in the shoulder.
This may not hurt immediately; it may not even hurt for a long, long time. The problem is the tendon will gradually become worn down and damaged. You may not even know you have a problem until one day the tendon snaps!
Instead Of Upright Rows Do:
Front Dumbbell Raise.
When it comes to any exercise, it is recommended to take into consideration your client’s body awareness and level of fitness.
With a thorough assessment, you will be more confident in prescribing exercises that are either more advanced or require more body awareness – like upright rows. Some ways to assess the shoulders are: the Impingement Test (a.k.a. Shoulder Crossover Test); Shoulder Rotation Test; Shoulder Flexion Test. NASM’s CES program goes into some depth on the tests and the relevant corrective exercise programming.
Once assessed, and you also feel confident with the clients body awareness, performing the upright row would be a great way to work the detloids, traps, biceps and to a lesser degree the glutes, lumbosacralis group and abs. However, as with the body as a whole, BALANCE the training of all the muscles in the shoulder group and keep communicating with your client – be aware and avoid any pain or feelings of friction or “cracking/grinding.” You definitely do NOT want your client to push through such things.
The beauty of balance is that there are numerous ways to safely challenge your client, build strength and build your client’s confidence!
As others have said, there many risks and not enough benefits. Shoulder impingement, excessive wrist/ulnar deviation, going from closed chain to open chain with the same load, going from shoulder internal rotation to shoulder external rotation at the top, going from one plane of motion to another, etc. If done with dumbbells, not going too high(1/2 way up?) would be better, but there are so many better exercises. For upper trapezius work, nothing beats shrugs. For middle deltoid, a proper side raise(neutral grip) will get it done. For those fans of it, you have 60 degrees of abduction of the shoulder in the internally rotated position before it’s bone on bone in the shoulder, you’re trying to go past that. Does that sound like a good idea?
Mike Campbell RTS