Wide Grip Upright Rows – Not Only Safer But Scientifically Superior in Targeting Mid Shoulders (and Traps)

high pull or wide grip upright rows pisarenko

What is the best grip distance for Shoulder Upright Rows? Is doing your upright rows close grip the most efficient and effective way? Is it safer and more logical to utilize a wider grip (aka: High pulls)? Those are just some of the questions that we will answer today, using SCIENCE!

Let science do the work!!

SCIENCE doing the work


First off let’s address the “safety” issues:

Upright rows are a staple shoulder-crafting lift in the bodybuilder’s arsenal. Unfortunately this has suffered scrutiny amongst “educated” fitness gurus who recommend avoiding the move altogether. As “intelligent” as they are, what they fail to inform you is that there is a risk vs. reward associated with every lifting move, especially if one executes them haphazardly with their egos over their heads:

Any move can cause injury if the trainee’s ego writes checks that his body cannot cash!

URR’s Can be safe:

If you already have shoulder impingement and rotator cuff injuries or you are experiencing pain when executing upright rows, then avoid it! If not then just quit going too heavy on your upright rows – 8-12 slow reps is best for URRs since its main focus is on building mass and stimulating hypertrophy. Power lifters will also utilize explosive high pulls as a part of their training regimen but that’s a different story.

Wide grip is safer:

Wide grip Upright rows -Aka High pulls (olympic version) by Antoly Pisarenko:

high pull or wide grip upright rows pisarenko


Doing wide grip upright rows is also safer for your shoulders than doing narrow grips (you will feel the difference when you do it yourself) – also, make sure that you never raise the bar above SHOULDER LEVEL! Doing so is a sure-fire way to tear your rotator cuffs. So keep that in mind and concentrate on the feel and time under tension. More importantly prioritize wide grip upright rows; your shoulders will be grateful; and now for the main event:

Wide grip Upright rows – not only safer but more effective:

I am going to share with you a study that demonstrated the superiority of wide grip upright rows over its narrow grip counterpart.

The researchers used electromyography to determine the activity of each muscle groups with respect to each grip variations of the upright rows. This determined which got the most amount of involvement per grip range. By the way what the hell is an electromyography anyway – (EMG) is an electro-diagnostic medicine technique for evaluating and recording the electrical activity produced by skeletal muscles (per Google).

Here’s the Abstract:

Effect of grip width on electromyographic activity during the upright row.
McAllister MJ1, Schilling BK, Hammond KG, Weiss LW, Farney TM.

The upright row (URR) is commonly used to develop the deltoid and upper back musculature. However, little information exists concerning muscle recruitment during variations of this exercise. Sixteen weight-trained men completed 2 repetitions each in the URR with 3 grip conditions: 50, 100, and 200% of the biacromial breadth (BAB). The load was the same for all grip conditions and was equal to 85% of the 1RM determined at 100% BAB. Repeated measures analyses of variance were used to compare the maximal activity of the anterior deltoid (AD), lateral deltoid (LD), posterior deltoid (PD), upper trapezius (UT), middle trapezius (MT), and biceps brachii (BB) during the 3 grip widths for eccentric and concentric actions. Significant differences (p < 0.05) were noted in concentric muscle activity for LD (p < 0.001) and PD (p < 0.001), and in eccentric muscle activity for AD (p = 0.023), LD (p < 0.001), UT (p < 0.001), MT (p < 0.001), and BB (p = 0.003). Bonferroni post hoc analysis revealed significant pairwise differences in the concentric actions from the LD (50% vs. 200% BAB and 100% vs. 200% BAB) and PD (50% vs. 200% BAB and 100% vs. 200% BAB), and eccentric actions of the LD (all comparisons), UT (all comparisons), MT (50% vs. 200% BAB and 100% vs. 200% BAB), and BB (50% vs. 200% BAB), with large-to-very-large effect sizes (ESs). Moderate-to-large ESs were noted for several nonsignificant comparisons. The main findings of this investigation are increased deltoid and trapezius activity with increasing grip width, and correspondingly less BB activity. Therefore, those who seek to maximize involvement of the deltoid and trapezius muscles during the URR should use a wide grip.

Narrow grip URR – more like a Bicep move:
So there you go! In layman’s terms it showed that narrow grip upright rows are more of a “bicep” move than a shoulder lift since it has been shown to activate more of the biceps brachialis than the deltoids itself per EMG analysis whereas the wide-grip variation has been proven to involve more of the medial deltoids and trapezius.

“Therefore, those who seek to maximize involvement of the deltoid and trapezius muscles during the URR should use a wide grip”

McAllister MJ1, Schilling BK, Hammond KG, Weiss LW, Farney TM


So, if wide grips Upright Rows (AKA – High Pulls) heavily involve your mid delts more than anything else; it is a great move to get more capped and wider shoulders!

So if you are lagging in your shoulder development, or if you are experiencing severe pains when doing narrow grip upright rows; give wide grip URRs a shot – your shoulders will thank you later! Eat your eggs, people!

A-Lifter- Don't forget to leave your comment/feedback below.  If this article was helpful, I am sure our book Real Talk Muscle will help you even more in your quest for muscle gain. Check it out you can read the first few chapters as well.
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