June 13, 2022 8 min read
The Smith Machine upright row is a variation of the upright row that can help get you bigger deltoids and trapezius muscles. The Smith Machine can give you an advantage over dumbbell upright rows or upright rows with a barbell.
This upper back and shoulder workout can effectively replace or complement deltoid raise and a lateral raise. The Smith machine is the perfect tool for the upright row, which is a finicky movement that requires balanced movement with every rep of the barbell.
Doing upright rows with a barbell or dumbbells can be an awkward movement for beginners.
Upright rows are a great exercise on their own, but the Smith Machine allows for an opportunity to increase stability in our lift and alleviate the need to focus on balance and spacing.
Due to the nature of the Smith Machine being on a track, once you establish your footing, it’s easy. The barbell is stuck in a vertical plane, so all you have to worry about is your arm spacing.
Extra stability is just one of the many benefits the Smith Machine upright row can provide.
Upright rows and Smith Machine upright rows are great exercises to isolate the delts, triceps, and upper back muscles, specifically the upper trapezius.
If you’re looking for a good upper body compound movement exercise to incorporate into your next back and shoulder day, then the upright row with a Smith Machine may be right up your alley.
The Smith Machine upright row is a good option for anyone who struggles with shoulder mobility during exercises like the lateral raise, delt raise, or rear delt fly.
It is easier to move since it can only go up or down. If your form with free weights is sloppy, the Smith Machine is your friend. The Smith Machine is a valuable tool that can help train and practice ideal form, but with overuse it can also become a crutch, making up for a lack of stability.
This variation of the upright row is popular in bodybuilding because of how extremely effective it can be at targeting the trapezius.
Tip: It should be noted that you want to be healthy enough to train the shoulders before attempting this exercise. Upright rows can exacerbate any musculoskeletal issues in the shoulders, rotator cuffs, wrists, and forearms. If you are dealing with any pains or sprains, chronic or acute, then try this exercise only with caution.
The Smith Machine row can be tricky at first, but once you master hand placement and elbow movement, it’s easy.
To perform a Smith Machine upright row:
The upright row can be beneficial for your upper body, but there are different ways to perform it in case the equipment isn't available, or you just want some variety.
The closest alternative to a Smith Machine upright row is the cable upright row. The cable will feel similar to a Smith Machine, because the range of motion is relatively static.
The cable can help you stay on track, but you will have more control than you would with a Smith Machine.
Another similarity with the cable is that it easily facilitates a slow, controlled descent. With a cable, you have the option of transforming the upright row into a time under tension upper body exercise.
To perform a cable upright row:
You can also do a close grip upright row on the Smith Machine. The benefit of a close grip upright row is that it allows your elbows to go even higher, thereby increasing deltoid engagement.
The close grip upright row also incorporates the bicep more than a shoulder-width grip or wide grip upright row.
A word of caution, however. Close grip upright rows do increase tension on the rotator cuff. If you have shoulder pain and/or mobility problems, attempt the close grip version of this exercise with caution. You do not want to cause rotation of your upper arm because you went too close and too high.
To perform a close grip Smith Machine upright row:
For those who are beginners at the upright row, you may want to start off with a wide grip. A stance where your hands are placed just outside of your shoulders is best to start out. Then, experiment with going wider. A wide grip upright row with a Smith Machine, according to Jim Stoppani, will target all three heads of the deltoid—the anterior deltoid, posterior deltoid and medial deltoid.
To perform a wide grip Smith Machine upright row:
The best overall deltoid engagement in the upright row can happen when lifters use a wide grip on the barbell.
The Smith Machine upright row is a great alternative to traditional dumbbell upright rows and barbell upright rows. The track simplifies the movement so effectively, that it makes deltoid engagement easy, and it is one of the best movements to target your trapezius muscles and the rest of your upper back and triceps.
Muscle growth in the delts will help you get that defined V-cut look that you are looking for, and the Smith Machine upright row is the way to do it.
If you are mindful of your range of motion throughout every one of your reps, your hand placement, and your keep the weight light enough to handle at least 10-20 solid reps, then you’re on your way to mastering the Smith Machine upright row.
For more advanced back exercises, check out the 10 best back exercises for strength.