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Upper-Arm Exercise: Upright Row

Tighten Your Upper Arms With the Upright Row

Sizzling temps mean it's just too hot for sleeves. After all, your arms wouldn't mind a little time in the sun. To help your shoulders feel great when you slide off the sleeves, we've got one quick and easy exercise for you to do: the upright row! This classic arm-toning move doesn't just target the arms, it also tightens up the upper back. To help make sure you've got the form down and make the most of this move, we've enlisted the help of Youfit Health Clubs' Fitness Education Expert, Raphael Konforti, MS, CPT.

How to do the upright row

Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography

Like every exercise, it's important to make sure you've got the form down pat. More than being safe, you'll make the most of your time exercising so you can get on with your busy day. According to Konforti, the upright row is an easy exercise to learn as long as you follow a couple key form cues. Here are his three tips.

  1. Start standing and hold a light barbell at your hips with a shoulder-width grip. Do your best to hold onto the bar without squeezing it too tight. It should feel like you're holding a glass of lemonade instead of juicing a lemon.
  2. Then start by lifting the elbows up toward your head — it's important to always lead with the elbows rather than the hands on this move. Exhale as the bar comes up, lifting till the bar reaches your collarbones and the elbows are up by your head.
  3. Then, slowly lower the bar back to starting position as you inhale. Again, the most important part to remember is to always lead with the elbows. You'll know if you're doing the move correctly if your elbows are always higher than your hands.

When to do it

Getting the form down is a great start, but knowing when to do the upright row is just as important. Pairing exercises is like picking out an outfit; everything should complement each other. Luckily you have plenty of options of how to do this move and what workouts to pair it with.


Konforti's Trainer Tip: "There's plenty of flexibility when it comes to integrating the upright row into your workouts. Since it focuses on the arms and shoulders it's a no-brainer to add to any arm or upper-body workout — it's even great for full-body workouts. As a compound exercise (more than one joint moves at a time, in this case the elbows and shoulders) it can really be placed anywhere within a workout. Usually upright row works best as a finisher at the end of a workout. Or add it to the middle before you do any isolation work on specific body parts and after your other big exercises like push-ups or overhead presses have been done."

Now we know when to do it, but how many sets and reps should you do? "Three sets of 10 to 12 repetitions is ideal. It's important that the weight feels challenging at the end, but it shouldn't be so heavy that you can't reach 10 reps," Konforti recommended.

What equipment should you use?

This move is very versatile, making it easy to do at any gym, even if it's your home gym that's equipped with more remotes than weights. You can really do this exercise with whatever equipment you have available. Most people prefer to do this move with a bar because the motion is easy to master and it allows you to find a comfortable grip. According to Konforti: "You can absolutely do this move with a kettlebell as well; it's actually a great way to build up to more complex kettlebell moves. Dumbbells are always in as well. Truly anything that has a little bit of weight and you can get a grasp on will work. If you've ever picked up a toddler by the arms and lifted them up and down, you've already gotten creative and used them as weight for an upright row!"

Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Diggy Lloyd
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