Smith Machine Upright Row

Traditional barbell upright rows can be hard on your shoulders. And it’s also difficult to isolate the rear delts with this compound movement.

But the Smith machine upright row makes this exercise easier on your shoulders. Plus, the fixed-line motion helps you target your rear delts more.

This article shows you how to do upright rows on the Smith machine with proper form.

Smith Machine Upright Row

What Is A Smith Machine Upright Row?

With most rowing exercises, you pull the weight towards your body, somewhat like rowing a boat. But an upright row is when you pull the weight up your body from your thighs to your shoulders.

Often, you do the upright row exercise with a free-weight barbell. But you can also do it on a Smith machine with vertical rails that guide the bar’s path.

This vertical movement path changes the body mechanics and muscles worked.

Smith Machine Upright Row Muscles Worked

During a seated or bent-over row exercise, you target the muscles groups of your back. But upright rows work the muscles of the posterior deltoid and upper trapezius.

Those are the muscles on the back of your shoulders and the muscles that connect your shoulders and neck. These muscles are also called the rear delts and traps, respectively.

Smith Machine Upright Row Muscles Worked

How To Do Smith Machine Upright Row

This section will show you how to do an upright row on the Smith machine using a narrow grip. First, set the safety stops so the bar rests at about mid-thigh level.

Stand so the bar is about 1 inch from your thighs. Then grab the bar with an overhand grip and hands 6-12 inches apart.

Next, stand straight up to lift the bar off the safety stops. From this starting position, pull the bar straight up the front of your body until you reach about chest level.

Now lower the weight back down to your thighs. Continue this movement for the desired number of reps, then set the bar down.

To recap, here are the step-by-step directions:

  1. Set the Smith machine bar at the proper height
  2. Stand with your thighs about 1” away from the bar
  3. Grab the bar with an overhand grip, hands 6-12” apart
  4. Stand up straight with the bar at arm’s length in front of your thighs
  5. Lift the bar straight up the front of your body from your thighs to your chest
  6. Lower the bar back to the starting point and repeat for the desired number of reps

Smith Machine Upright Row Video

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Smith Machine Upright Row Form

With the Smith machine upright row, foot placement is more critical than it is with other variations. It’s best if you stand where the bar stays close to your body throughout the movement.

If you’re too close to the bar, it will rub against your torso during the exercise. And if you stand too far away, you’ll put unnecessary stress on your shoulders and lower back.

As you perform the exercise, think about pulling your elbows straight up towards the ceiling. This visualization can help you contract your rear delts and traps.

Smith Machine Upright Row Form

In addition, let your arms extend almost straight at the bottom of the range of motion. If necessary, stand on a platform to avoid hitting the safety stops as you lower the weight.

Smith Machine Upright Row Form Bottom

Smith Machine Upright Row Variations

So far I’ve shown you the close grip Smith machine upright row. But that’s not the only way to do this exercise.

Wide Grip Smith Machine Upright Row

Another variation involves holding the weight with a wider grip. A wide grip on this exercise is shoulder-width or slightly greater.

The wide grip emphasizes the posterior delts because you get more external shoulder rotation. And you use less traps since your elbows don’t travel as high.

Smith Machine Upright Row Muscles Worked

One Arm Smith Machine Upright Row

You can also do a Smith machine upright row with one arm. For this variation, you should grab the Smith machine bar in the center with one hand.

Then stand facing the bar and perform the exercise with a single arm. One advantage of this variation is that it’s easier to concentrate on squeezing the active muscle.

Behind The Back Smith Machine Upright Row

A third variation of the Smith machine upright row involves performing the movement behind your back. For this exercise, start by standing with your hamstrings facing the bar.

Grab the bar with a shoulder-width or slightly wider grip. Then pull the bar straight up your backside.

With this version, you won’t be able to go as high. And that puts more focus on the rear delts as opposed to the traps.

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Smith Machine Upright Row Alternatives

Of course, you don’t need a Smith machine to do upright rows. In this section, I’ll give you some alternatives using free weights and cables.

Barbell Upright Row

By far the most common way to do upright rows is with a standard barbell. This movement is performed exactly the same as the Smith machine version shown above.

However, the free weight barbell requires more balance and coordination since it is not on guide rails.

Dumbbell Upright Row

If you don’t have a barbell or Smith machine, you can also do upright rows with dumbbells. One benefit of using dumbbells is that each arm works independently, so the movement feels more natural.

Cable Upright Row

You perform the cable upright row with a low pulley and bar attachment. An advantage of this variation is that you can change the angle of the movement based on where you stand.

When you stand close to the pulley, the movement path is like the free weight variations. While stepping back makes the angle somewhat less vertical.

Smith Machine Upright Row Muscles Worked

Hypertrophy Training Program

The Smith machine upright row is an excellent alternative to the barbell upright row. And it can help you target your rear delts. But to reach your overall fitness goals, you need a complete resistance training plan designed for muscle gain.

To maximize muscle growth (aka hypertrophy), you should adjust ten specific training variables. Check out my free hypertrophy training program to see how to optimize your workouts.

Hypertrophy Training
Build More Muscle

With this information, you’re well on your way to building a better body. And if you found this article useful, I hope you’ll check out some of my other informative content below!

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