How to Do Dumbbell Upright Rows: Sculpt Strong Shoulders

Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Published by Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC | Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Last updated: April 1, 2024
FACT CHECKED by James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
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After so many years of training fitness clients, if I needed to pick only one exercise for sculpting upper traps and shoulders, it would be the dumbbell upright row.

Through the years I spent in the gym, I realized it’s the movement many gym-goers still do wrong, risking injury and never getting the proper results.

That’s why I decided to collect what I know and pour it into this article to help you do a dumbbell upright row properly.

Let’s dive right in.

Quick Summary

  • Knowing how to do a dumbbell upright row properly is crucial, as it is highly effective for developing upper-body strength.
  • You should be careful while performing an upright row of dumbbells since it can quickly become dangerous if the movement pattern isn’t correct.
  • Approximately 70% of individuals initially perform the dumbbell upright row with improper form, highlighting the need for educational resources on correct technique.
  • In my opinion, the dumbbell upright row, when executed with proper form, is an underrated exercise that can significantly enhance shoulder development.

A Step-by-Step Guide

A person is doing a dumbbell upright row exercise

Before performing the dumbbell upright row, it’s crucial to select an appropriate weight that will allow you to maintain proper technique throughout the exercise.

Aim for 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions for optimal results.

Here are the steps: 

  1. Stand upright with your feet shoulder-to-hip width apart, ensuring that your shoulders are directly over your hips and your head and neck are in a neutral position. Tuck your chin in slightly as if you were holding an egg under it, and focus on creating a stable foot position.
  2. Grab a pair of dumbbells with an overhand grip in front of your waist at arm’s length, with your palms facing your legs. Your grip should be slightly narrower than shoulder-width, with a slight bend in your elbows.
  3. Slowly lift the dumbbells up towards your lower chest in a slow and controlled manner, keeping them as close to your body as possible. Your elbows should lead the motion and be higher than your forearms throughout the lift.
  4. Once the dumbbells reach shoulder height (almost touching your chin), pause for 1–2 seconds.
  5. Slowly lower the dumbbells back to the starting position, focusing on maintaining proper form and technique throughout the entire movement.

Tips and Variations

dumbbell lateral raise shoulder workout

The dumbbell upright row exercise can be tricky, so you must know your movement and consider only the safe variations.


Proper exercise technique is crucial to ensuring safety and effectiveness, especially when using free weights, so bear in mind these things:

  • To maintain tension in the targeted muscles and prevent injury, keep the dumbbells close to your body throughout the exercise and avoid letting them move away.
  • If you use momentum or lean forward, you may be lifting too heavy, so switch to a lighter weight. Remember, this exercise is not meant for lifting heavy things, so don’t let your ego get in the way.
  • An article published by the Cleveland Clinic suggests that to avoid shoulder impingement (pain and irritation), cap the lifting phase when your elbows reach shoulder height [1]. This will prevent an unnatural movement pattern of internal rotation and elevation, reducing the chances of injury.
  • For this reason, avoid variations like the barbell upright row and EZ curl bar, as they can be dangerous.
  • Beginners should start with light weights to master the correct technique, ensuring a solid foundation, preventing injuries, optimizing long-term results, and facilitating safe and effective progression in weight training.

4 Safe Variations to the Dumbbell Upright Row

Even though the dumbbell upright row gives your shoulder blades greater freedom of movement, you may consider some variations if repeating the same exercise becomes boring.

The most effective ones include the following:

  • Dumbbell Front Raise
  • Lateral Raises
  • Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press
  • Dumbbell Arnold Press

Benefits This Exercise Provides

A person with good shoulder muscles

Being a compound exercise that targets delts, traps, and lats, this is one of the best upper-body workouts.

Like most compound movements, it brings several benefits to the body:

  • Increasing Shoulder Strength. Dumbbell upright rows engage the shoulder joints and muscles, particularly the medial and front deltoids, increasing strength and stability.
  • Enhances Upper Back Development. The upper back muscles, including the trapezius and rhomboids, are also worked during dumbbell upright rows, leading to improved back development.
  • Improves Posture. Dumbbell upright rows can improve overall posture and help prevent rounded shoulders by strengthening the upper back and shoulders.
  • Versatile Exercise. Dumbbell upright rows can be performed with various grips and modifications, making it a versatile exercise tailored to individual needs and fitness levels.
  • Time-Efficient. Working multiple muscle groups at once, the dumbbell upright row is an efficient exercise that can be incorporated into a full-body or upper-body workout.

Related: Best Dumbbell Shoulder Exercises


Why Are Upright Rows So Hard?

Upright rows are hard because of the locked hand position, and if performed incorrectly, they may result in shoulder problems. However, avoiding an upright barbell row and using kettlebells or dumbbells can alleviate this issue, as they allow your hands to move more freely.

Do Upright Rows Build Mass?

Yes, upright rows build mass in the shoulder area when performed consistently and adequately. Dumbbell upright rows are compound exercises that hit the deltoids (front, medial, and rear delts), trapezius, and back muscles, which can contribute to increased muscle size and definition in these areas.


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About The Author

Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC is an ex-National Soccer player turned MMA and Kickboxing champion, with ACE CPT and PN1-NC certifications. His advice is rooted in education and experience, ensuring that readers receive scientific and battle-tested insights. His mission is to empower his clients and readers to realize their potential and become the best versions of themselves.
Learn more about our editorial policy
James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
James Cunningham, BSc, CPT holds a BSc degree in Sport & Exercise Science from University of Hertfordshire. He's a Health & Performance Coach from London that brings a unique blend of academic knowledge of health supplements and practical exercise experience to the table for his readers.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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