May 29, 2009, Newsletter Issue #379: Upright Row

Tip of the Week

The Upright Row is a wonderful exercise to strengthen the muscles of your back. This is the machine where you sit down on a bench, grab the handle in front of you and pull the weight towards you. Unfortunately, most people pile on the weight way too heavy, compensating incredibly and not really working out their back at all. It truly is something that makes me sad when I see it in the gym. Let's remedy that, shall we? Here is the proper form for an Upright Row:
Sit down upon the bench with feet pressed upon pad in front, about hip-width apart. Grab handles and lean back so that back is straight up and down, perpendicular to the ground. As you perform the exercise, make sure that your head stays back almost behind your body, which will in turn help to not allow your shoulders to come forward. Contract the abdomen and glutes (butt) slightly, while pulling the weight towards you, keeping elbows close to the body as you pull. Your forearms should always be right in line with the cable, never pushing the weight downwards but instead trying to help the shoulders and elbows move back as far as possible. Pull until the arms cannot pull any farther back, still in upright posture and with the chest nice and facing up with shoulders back and down. Slowly return the weight forward, doing your best to not allow the shoulders to raise/come forward and therefore round the upper back. Pause, ensure that you are in proper upright posture and repeat.
Where most people destroy the benefits of this exercise for their back is during the pull towards them. The Upper Trapezius over-works, pushing the head forward, rounding your back and allowing the shoulders to come forward. This will ruin ones posture and diminish the ability for your body to stand upright. The Upper Trapezius is only meant to be involved in Scapular Elevation (or 'making your shoulders go up'), but works sometimes when it's unwanted. The trick is to sit-up extremely straight. Think of any Army/Navy/Air Force/Marine commercial you've seen: sit that tall, keeping an arch in your lower back the whole time. As you pull, your legs and core muscles should be stiff as a board, for really only your arms should be moving (ok, your back too). If you stay stuff, you're more likely to perform the Upright Row properly.
Another way to do this exercise is by putting your feet from the pad in front to the floor. That will make your legs and abdomen work much harder. Also this exercise can be done with resistance bands (as long as they're out in front of you :). Have someone watch your posture as you perform it the first few times, for trainers generally are happy to help people in need.

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