Are Upright Rows Safe – Q&A

Question: Are upright rows safe?  Googling yields tons of different results. What is your opinion on that?

Answer: As always, the short answer is that it depends.  Mainly on how they are done and the person doing them.  Frankly, this is truly the only way to analyze if a given exercise is ‘safe’ or not, any exercise can be relatively more safe or unsafe for a given individual for a given set of circumstances.  That said, the upright row does tend to be surrounded by it’s share of ‘unsafe exercise’ beliefs so let’s look at why.

I think the first place I saw it asserted that upright rows were categorically unsafe was in the old 7-Minute Rotator Cuff Solution from Health for Life (a now defunct company that put out a variety of different manuals).  And this was based on the mechanics of the movement.  Specifically, upright rows put the shoulder in an internally rotated and horizontally abducted position.  And this is a potential problem because it puts the shoulder/rotator cuff at risk for impingement.  Hence, to avoid shoulder problems, upright rows became one of the big no-no exercises.

But is this strictly true?  In my opinion, no and much of it has to do with how the exercise is performed.  Certainly, the traditional bodybuilder method of performing the exercise is pretty high risk.  I’ve shown the typical form below.

Traditional Upright Row
High Ouchie Potential