YES – There are BAD Exercises (HERE’S THE WORST!)

If you have ever been told that there are no bad exercises, you’ve been lied to. There are most definitely bad exercises, and the one shown in this video is the worst of the worst. We’re talking about the upright row. It really doesn’t matter if this is being performed with dumbbells or a barbell, however with the barbell variation being more restrictive it tends to lead to even more problems in the long run.

Now, I understand that there are many people that will choose to defend the exercise saying that they’ve done it for years and years without getting injured. That is not necessarily how injuries to the shoulder joint happen, unless it is a result of trauma. Most shoulder breakdowns occur as a result of a long term gradual breakdown with high volumes accumulated over time. When the biomechanics of the shoulder exercise you are doing are literally fighting your own anatomy, you will quickly see that even if the repercussions don’t arrive quickly – they almost always eventually do.

But even that said, my biggest issue with the upright row is that there is an alternative that can be performed with either a barbell or dumbbells that is not only safe but equally effective. This preferred option is called the high pull. The big difference between the upright row and high pull is going to be the positioning of the hand in relation to the elbow.

In order to protect the shoulder joint you want to try and minimize internal rotation of the shoulder from an elevated position (especially an extreme elevated position above 90 degrees of abduction).

The upright row exacerbates this by requiring that you have your elbows higher than your wrists and hands at the top. In fact, many people perform this worst shoulder exercise by trying to get their elbows as high as they possibly can, and letting their wrists/hands and bar lag far behind.

The high pull however does the opposite, and in doing so, removes all of the negatives of the exercise. With the high pull, your hands need to be higher than your elbows at the top. What this does is put the shoulder in an externally rotated position rather than internal rotation. The elbows stay far lower than they would in an upright row but you still get a great degree of shoulder abduction which allows this to hit the middle deltoid head effectively without the negative side effects.

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40 thoughts on “YES – There are BAD Exercises (HERE’S THE WORST!)

  1. ATHLEAN-X™ says:

    *NEW “FAST ACTION” Q&A* – Leave your most burning question about this video or any other training, PT or nutrition question within the first 2 hours of this video’s release (AS A SEPARATE COMMENT!!) and I will pick 10 to get a detailed reply from me right here in the comments. Answers will be posted within the first 24-48 hours of you leaving the question. Good luck!

    • puppy machine says:

      okay, I have two – what would you recommend to do instead? AND – how can one detect a bad exercise that might cause impingement like this one does?

    • Bryce Watts says:

      I know you focus on a lot of external rotation exercises (rotator cuff). Do you suggest any internal rotating exercises? What are some other common/bad rotator cuff exercises?

      Thank you!

    • Chopped Artisan says:

      10 hours too late, but I really want you to review Jim Stoppani’s Smith Machine Upright Rows.

  2. Navers Kay says:

    If I had $100 for every time I’ve seen someone do an upright row, I’d probably be a millionaire. It’s so displeasing on the eye, just like dumbbell chest flies.

    • Dylan Morgan says:

      If i had 1 million dollars for every injury I’ve seen from doing upright rows I’d $1400 in savings.

    • B. Gómez says:

      @Brick Media Yes, they are fantastic, they stretch and fully contract the chest but the risk of injury is high compared to other exercises

    • Brick Media says:

      @Xirlio yeah i never go heavy doing those. I can feel the stretch so much. But because there is so much stress you dont need to go super heavy

    • Xirlio says:

      @Brick Media You can go heavy, just do it on the floor and make sure you can handle it so you don’t tear your muscles.

  3. Broken Controller Club says:

    Upright rows and chair dips are how I screwed up my shoulders for awhile. Not worth doing, and there’s better exercises out there that Jeff suggests.

  4. Jonny Deth says:

    *And I bet we are seeing what froze my upper back after tearing my rhomboids which seems impossible, but OMG when they tore I knew I ripped muscle that flexes to be inches thick.*
    I loved upright rows, and they would be fine in theory, had I not torn all those muscles over the years. It’s ultimately a compromising exercise, even when performed correctly, there are better.

  5. Lucky Pasta says:

    Heres my question, or more a suggestion really. I’ve seen alot of the times that many people struggle to understand certain exercises and when their scapulas or lats come into play, i’ve only recently just learned that you use lats as a stabiliser for some exercises, yet when i’ve asked people before (even gym go-ers that bash it for years) still don’t understand it. So really what i’m asking, is it possible to do a video on stabilising muscles and when/where they should be used. MIght seem like a very “newbie” question. But I think it’s important to understand when you should activate lats properly or when to squeeze the scapulas.

    • Antebellum says:

      @Troy Edwards But hamstrings are still active during a squat. They most certainly aren’t inhibited given that they assist with hip extension. Not sure reciprocal inhibition applies here since it’s a multijoint movement. There’s a level of coactivation necessary here that ensures a smooth movement, as opposed to doing the motion in every joint separately.

      While I disagree that you should actively contract your hamstrings for stabilisation purposes (though that is a result of coactivation), I’m not sure they are inhibited either.

    • MafionzoR says:

      Your lats stabilize the upper back. Engage your lats abs and glutes and your overhead press and any other exercise you do on your feet will instantly improve. Squeezing my butt and lats has changed how i do my overhead press dramatically

    • TributeCreator says:

      Stabilisation is mainly given you by bracing + acticating the right muscles at the same time. Take the deadlift, as you brace, you activate ur lats by turning ur arms inwards, if you doo that in the air, you will feel your lats + serratus activate just like in the Deadlift. Serratus: Keeps your shoulders back and retraced + stabilizes. Lats: Are responsible for internal Rotation, yet keep your body upright and help to stabilize.

      Take a bracing muscle, the Transversus Abdominis, an underlying stabilizer muscle trainedi n Deadlifts, Benchpress as well as OHP and Squats. By bracing, this muscle gets activated. If we for example talk about the abs + Core, many ppl think its 1 muscle, whilst its the opposite. The transversus abdominis counts as the CORE stabilizer muscle, whilst the abs count as the rectus abdominis, obliques etc.

    • T Money says:

      @TributeCreator serratus ant. ‘pro’tracts and upwardly rotated the shoulder blade (opposite of retraction). Stabilizer it is indeed though.

  6. perochialjoe says:

    Not a question just saying thanks for all of the great videos! Thanks to your videos I was finally able to do deadhang pullups and knew what to adjust once my shoulder started popping.

  7. Karsten Nielsen says:

    Great video as always.
    Been using a few videos as inspiration for my training.
    My question is about time between sets. How much rest time do you recommend between sets. And is there any difference in rest time if you do 4 sets or 3 sets.
    Im doing a fullbody routine inspired by one of your videos 3 x week.
    Regards +40 year old Danish wannabe atleat 🙂

  8. Alex Orr says:

    I spent decades doing these regularly as part of my shoulder and upper-body days. If you learned how to lift weights as a teen in the ’90’s via magazines like…well…basically anything in the Weider publishing empire, then upright rows were almost always included in the workouts. Fast forward to my forties and I’ve got labral tears in both shoulders. Not saying the cause was entirely due to upright rows, but it probably didn’t help. Listen to Jeff kids – don’t do this exercise.

    • SaraphL says:

      A lot of the people probably saw Arnold doing this. It’s important to realize that just because someone was a champion, doesn’t mean their workout routine couldn’t have been better. I don’t believe in the “old school ways” of doing things. For almost everything the current methods are the way to go and athletes are getting faster and stronger with each new generation.

    • Dan Ryno says:

      Same story here. My shredded wheat shoulders likely weren’t helped by upright rows. Power snatches probably didn’t help either. The exercises that Jeff has demonstrated throughout these videos have been lifesavers though. Lightweight shoulder exercises focusing on range of motion has helped me. You?

  9. KapteinKapsel says:

    I’ve been saying this for years and giving that exact explanation and people still wanna do it… lol

  10. Kung Fu Trading says:

    Damn! I just tried this workout several times last week. And this week my left shoulder feels a little pain, nothing bad. Like a 2 out of a 1-10 pain level. Just been doing legs all this week. Thanks !!! This the best fitness channel

  11. Zeruiah Zeruiah says:

    I had a great laugh from this. Thank you! Also glad upright rows are not great, did them for awhile about a year ago and never was fan of them. Awesome editing 😉

  12. Chadrithu Thundavisht says:

    I’m sick of seeing upright rows being labelled bad. Ask any exercise physiologist and they’ll tell you it is the most effective trap exercise at hitting the whole muscle. I do them all the time (up to 55 kg @ 8×5).
    Shoulder impingements happen if you don’t do them properly.

  13. Előd Herczeg says:

    what i noticed is that during many other exercises I position my shoulders incorrectly. I think it’s mainly because of bad posture and overall lack of muscle activation in my core or lower traps for stabilizing. since i constantly remind myself to position my shoulders correctly I can do fewer reps but with much better results. quality of quantity.

  14. Wali S says:

    I think the upright row is a great excercise , with light weights , I always do it with 15+ reps in mind . I normally do it as a burn out excercise to create metabolic tension on the delts. If u use a wider grip +/ a cable , the exercise can be done with no issues .

  15. Chris Mennella says:

    Glad you said that. I could never do them “successfully” without discomfort or pain. Thinking it was me, and that they were beneficial, I would try to modify the movement. No more! They’re out!!!!

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