Safe Upright Row Variation To Eliminate Shoulder Pain

Upright Rows are a great exercise to work the traps, side, and rear deltoids. But the way most people do them can cause a lot of discomfort.

In this blog post you’re going to learn a safe variation that will allow you to perform the upright row pain free and allow you to maximize muscle activation from this exercise.

When doing the barbell upright row variation a lot of strain gets placed on the wrist joints because your hands are locked into a fixed position. And the higher your row the more it twists and kinks your wrists.

This makes the exercise painful to do and it also limits the muscle stimulation you are able to place on your shoulders. But there is a very simple variation that you can do that will totally eliminate this problem and allow you to perform upright rows pain free, just the video demo below…

Click PLAY To Watch The Video:

Note: if you are on an iPad and can’t watch the embedded video clip above,
you can watch it right on my YouTube Channel by Clicking Here

To overcome this problem, all you have to do is preform your upright rows from a low pulley cable and instead of using a straight bar attachment, use 2 single handle attachments (you could also use a rope attachment as well).

Having 2 separate handles will allow your hands and wrists to rotate in a natural movement as you row up making the exercise much more comfortable to perform. Not only that, but it allows you to get a better peak contraction throughout your upper back because you can row higher and squeeze your muscles hard through a full range of motion.

Low Cable Pulley Upright Row

Give this low pulley cable upright row variation a try for yourself and than leave me a comment below to let me know if you find it better than the barbell variation.

all the best,
Lee Hayward
(Your Muscle Building Coach!)

About The Author


Lee Hayward is a former competitive bodybuilder and muscle building coach who has been online coaching people since 1997. His work has been featured in several international magazines such as: FLEX, Muscle Insider, Muscle Mag International, Testosterone, Ironmag, and Forbes. Lee's main focus right now is with helping men over 40 - who don't want to be fat anymore - lose the gut, build muscle, and get back in shape. If you're ready to "Start Again" for the last time and finally build a lean healthy body that you can be proud of, just e-mail Lee to discuss a realistic action plan that's right for you...


  • Brad

    Great variation on an old exercise. Being over 50 years old I’ve had my share of shoulder injuries and many of the standard exercises cause me pain. I started what I called “upright rope rows” a couple of years ago and to me they seem to work just as well as the regular upright rows without the shoulder joint pain and I can get a good “squeeze” at the top of the movement.
    Always look forward to your advise/suggestion Lee!!!!!

  • Terence

    Excellent, this is exactly what I needed. Thank you Lee!

  • me

    you look like ivan rodriguez bro. the former catcher for the detroit tigers

  • gates

    Hi Lee,

    Quick question:

    Is this only recommended for those who have pain, or even for those who usually do not when doing it the conventional way?


  • Dick

    I was always instructed that it is wrong to have your arms beyond parallel when performing rows.

  • Miguel

    Great! worth giving a try.

    But what about stress on the shoulder joint though? isn’t it true that you are not supposed to bring your elbows above shoulder level??…

  • Al

    Wish I’d seen this before one of my sets of rows caused my bicep tendon to start subluxing – 6 months of surgery and rehab, sigh.

  • Great Tip–I will put it into practice

  • Have done this before and much easier than traditional barbell or tricep rows.

  • sam

    That can’t be good for the shoulders. Not a Great Tip!

  • pat 0o brien

    you done it again lee you the man

  • elmachraa abdelkrim

    quite practical but it doesn’t allow you to add more weight ! may be good for burning fat in the delts !

  • gates,

    If you can do barbell upright rows with no pain and you like them, than keep doing them. But if you can’t perform barbell upright rows, than this is a good alternative.

  • Dick,

    If you are using a barbell you can’t lift much higher than parallel, but you can with this variation because you have more freedom of movement with your hands and arms.

  • Afternoon Lee, This video is great But, I am having shoulder pain right now and it has to with upright rows. Others below have mentioned about the NOT having elbows higher than the wrist Here is a video explaining why by ( Athlean X = The WORST Shoulder Exercise for Bigger Shoulders – STOP!! ( )… You explain everything in your video but can you give me some insight on this explanation… Stay Strong Herc.

  • Joe

    I learned something new, thank you.

  • eric

    an easy curl bar is also a good alternative.i use it all the time

  • This is a great idea mostly for people who spend time in front of the computer the whole day and suffer from shoulder pains and needs to have some stretching. I wonder if there’s a way not to use any tools to do similar exercise for shoulder and neck pain?

  • Nelson,

    There are lots of folks who say “never do this” or “always do that” etc. But you need to realize that it’s just their opinion.

    Me personally I don’t believe in absolutes. I think there is a time and a place for pretty much everything and just because one person doesn’t like an exercise doesn’t mean everyone in the world should avoid that exercise.

  • Lee

    Great post.

    For the past 3 years I’ve had a partial thickness tear of my rotator cuff. It’s been lingering. I’m always looking for ways to isolated the shoulders without inducing pain. I enjoyed that video you posted on the rotator cuff strengthening exercises. I’ve been using those in my pre-warmup arsenal. Keep it up.

  • Alex

    I have some bands I’m going to try this with. I’ve had shoulder issues for awhile and haven’t been able to do these…I hope it works.

  • I love upright rows. I also come from a football background so all of our cleans and snatches are basically dead lifts combined with an upright row. I have always watched your videos Lee but this is the first time I am checking out your site. It looks really good. I like what you do. Keep it up!

  • Ryan


    So the reason upright rows are so frowned upon is because the movement goes against normal shoulder mechanics above the plane of the shoulder. Without externally rotating the shoulder you run the risk of impinging structures between the acromion and humerus (i.e. impingement). Simple example is trying to do a jumping jack keeping your palms facing down…it’s just not happening.

    The variation you’re showing which has you pronate the forearms (i.e. rotate them in) will cause even more internal rotation at the shoulder with the elbows higher that the shoulders, which is the whole idea why the exercise is often contraindicated. My suggestion is just scratch it from your workout and replace with exercises more biomechanically sound and safe like neutral grip overhead presses and open can lateral raises. Hope it helps, Ryan (PhD (ABD), MS, CSCS)