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How to Do Cable Upright Row ( Tips and Variations)

Tyler Sellers
Published by Tyler Sellers | Senior Coach
Last updated: August 2, 2023

You cannot undervalue the importance of keeping your shoulder joints and muscles strong.

The anterior, lateral, and posterior deltoids play a vital role in shoulder joint movement and stabilization, as well as being essential in moving your arm forward (flexion), backward (extension), and raising your arm out to the side (abduction).

In my opinion, one of the best exercises to increase and maintain strength in your shoulders is the cable upright row, so I decided to lay out the proper technique that I’ve been successfully applying and teaching my clients for almost a decade of being a professional fitness trainer.

Quick Summary

  • To perform cable upright row, attach a straight bar to the cable station, hold the straight bar with an overhead grip, pull up slowly before pausing, and lower back to the starting position.
  • The cable upright row is a form of compound exercise that uses different joints, and muscle groups when performing each rep.
  • Barbell upright row, dumbbell upright row, and kettlebell upright row are some cable upright row variations.

What Is a Cable Upright Row?

Doing a cable upright row

The cable upright row is a compound exercise, meaning it uses multiple muscle groups and joints during each rep.

It is a pull exercise that incorporates all the muscles required to execute a pulling movement.

The anterior, lateral, and posterior deltoids are just some muscles this exercise targets [1].

It is performed by holding a straight bar in an overhand position and pulling upwards, and as I’ve learned from my experience so far, it is one of the best exercises to increase strength in the upper arms, shoulders, and back.

More exercises for shoulders: 


What Is The Muscle Group Targeted By Cable Upright Rows?

The deltoids are the primary muscle group targeted by cable upright rows.

The importance of strengthening this muscle group and making this exercise part of your workout routine cannot be understated.

Spanning from the edge of the shoulder blade to the end of the collarbone, the deltoid muscle group plays a critical role in stabilizing the shoulder and contributing to a vast array of arm movements [2].

“Shoulders have the most mobility, so they’re also the most unstable…keep them strong by taking a ‘pre-hab’ versus a ‘rehab’ approach.”

-Tom Holland, MS, C.S.C.S.

Cable Upright Row Instructions

Cable upright row starting position

Here are the steps you need to complete in order to perform one proper rep:

  • Attach a straight bar to the cable station. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and knees slightly bent.  Pick up the straight bar and lift it to thigh height; this is your starting position.
  • Hold the straight bar with an overhand grip. Keep the bar close to your body and pull up slowly until you reach your chest, just below your neck. Your elbows will be high with your biceps parallel to the floor.
  • Pause briefly before slowly straightening your arms, lowering the bar back to the start position.
  • Pause at the starting position and then repeat.

Cable Upright Row Tips

Doing a cable upright row

For an effective shoulder workout, try cable upright rows using a rope attachment as a row variation to target the upper back muscles.

Here are some cable upright row tips that might help you get the most out of this exercise and avoid injury.

When it comes to the number of sets and reps, from my experience, the ideal range is 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions.

You should repeat as long as you can maintain good technique and perfect form, and more importantly, as long as you feel comfortable because pushing yourself past your limits might be counterproductive and cause injury - the very thing this exercise is supposed to protect from.

To further reduce the risk of injury, keep the elbows high with the biceps parallel to the floor. It is also essential not to use excessive weight when performing this exercise and also not to over-target the same muscle groups.

Make sure to allow ample rest between workouts before working the same muscles again.

Exercise Variations

Dumbbell and barbell upright rows

There are variations of the cable upright row if you do not have access to a cable machine.  Each variation has subtle differences in technique.

Dumbbell Upright Row

This variation requires holding a dumbbell in each hand with an overhand grip. Both hands must be level as you pull the dumbbells up in front of your body and then slowly lower them to the start position.

Barbell Upright Row

This variation most closely mimics the original using a weighted barbell. Start with the bar at your thighs, grip with your palms facing down and pull upwards, keeping the bar straight, your feet shoulder-width, and knees slightly bent.

Kettlebell Upright Row

A light-weight kettlebell is the best option as the grip requires both hands to be closer than other variations. Heavy weights can cause injury, including shoulder impingement.


Are Cable Upright Rows Good?

Yes, cable upright rows are not only good but among the best exercises to strengthen and stabilize the shoulder and upper arm.

These are vital to maintaining range of motion and reducing injury risk in exercise, weightlifting routines, and everyday tasks.

To perform cable upright rows effectively, use a cable machine, maintain proper form, and consider cable upright row alternatives to engage the shoulder blades.

How Do You Do Upright Rows at Home?

You can do upright rows at home by substituting a barbell, kettlebell, or dumbbells for the straight bar, as this will yield similar results.

Is There a Safe Way to Do Upright Rows?

Yes, the safe way to do upright rows is to first learn the proper form to keep this exercise shoulder-friendly.

Consulting a trainer or watching a video is the surest way to avoid injury.  Utilizing a mirror to self-evaluate your form during the exercise can be helpful.

Should You Include Cable Upright Row in Your Routine?

Incorporating cable upright rows into your regular workout routine is something you will not regret because well-developed deltoids create strong and stable shoulders and upper arms.

Incorporate row variation, like cable upright rows, to target the trapezius muscles and build muscle using free weights for multiple variations.

To keep motivated, perform this exercise easier and eventually stick to it for long enough, I usually advise my clients to take some high-quality pre-workout, especially in the first few months.


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