Smith Machine Upright Row: How To Do & Muscles Worked

Since beginners have big problems doing this exercise correctly, the Smith Machine Upright Row is a great way to learn how to master the technique. The athlete should focus to pull the elbows to the ceiling, bring them forward and in line with the hands and the with the bar. Typically beginners do the opposite and they pull the barbell to the chin by pulling the elbows back, bringing them behind the back and almost lowering them below the level of the hands. All these errors do not allow the deltoid muscles to be engaged in the correct manner. As a result, the trapezius muscle takes the workload by itself, and even this is not an effective exercise for the trapezius muscle, which could also lead to an injury. 

The Smith Machine eliminates all these errors because the athlete cannot change the trajectory of the barbell in the process. The exercise will be performed correctly if you take the correct starting position. With that said, experienced athletes will need the Smith Machine Upright Row only if they have some injuries that prevent them from doing the exercise with a free weight.

What Muscles Does Smith Machine Upright Row Work?

The Smith Machine Upright Row is an exercise for training the middle and posterior deltoid muscles of the shoulder. Primary focus is on the middle deltoid muscle.

Typically the working deltoid muscle is always the one that is located above the axis of the shoulder joint and therefore, this exercise can be called unique. This is because the middle deltoid muscle is small in size and therefore the posterior deltoid muscle and the trapezius muscle take on a significant part of the workload. The narrower you hold the barbell and the less you lean forward, the more the trapezius muscle works. But this does not mean that you need to stand up horizontally, just bend down slightly.

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During the execution of the Smith Machine Upright Row, only one joint works, namely the shoulder joint. The elbows receive a small workload. However, this exercise cannot be called traumatic and any of the joints, because the weight does not put pressure on the joint, it simply pulls it down.

You can get a shoulder injury if you do not do this exercise correctly and with proper form. Therefore, we recommend that beginner athletes learn to do Barbell Chin Raises with the Smith Machine.

upright row smith machine

How To Do Smith Machine Upright Row?

  1. Stand at the machine at such a distance that you can raise the bar until it touches your chest in the position in which you will do the exercise.
  2. The width of the grip should be such that the hands form an angle of 90° at the highest point as this angle allows you to achieve the peak contraction of the target muscle group.
  3. Do not lower your head down and do not bend your back. The pelvis is best pushed a little bit backwards, and the legs should be slightly bent at the knees. Place your feet shoulder-width apart and turn toes slightly to the sides.
  4. The shoulders should be brought forward. Turn your elbows slightly away from you so that they look straight at the ceiling. From this position, they need to be pulled up to the ceiling until the bar rests on the chest.
  5. Return the bar to its original position from the point where the bar touches the chest. Repeat the exercise as many times as necessary.
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  1. Pay attention to the position of the legs. How much weight you can lift depends on the firmness of the support. Therefore, the legs should be placed shoulder-width apart, and the toes can be turned slightly to the sides.
  2. The bar can be taken with an open grip in order to better feel the work of the deltoid muscles. Use wrist wraps to eliminate the possibility of the bar falling out of your hands.
  3. The inhale takes place in the negative phase, when you lower the barbell down. The exhalation is carried out with force.
  4. We emphasize again that the elbows should look up and be in a vertical line. Therefore, you do not need to raise the bar very high and never beyond the vertical.
  5. It is recommended to do the Smith Machine Upright Row for 8-15 reps since it is not a strength exercise.
upright row using the smith machine


The Smith Machine Upright Row is a good alternative to Barbell Chin Raises if the athlete is still learning how to perform this exercise. It is also possible that an experienced athlete wants to train the deltoid muscle in a large number of reps and sets.

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The position of the elbows, the slope of the body and the width of the grip are the key points in the exercise. Done correctly, it will provide maximum workload to the target muscle group.

The Smith Machine Upright Row is a unique shoulder exercise because there is no other isolated exercise for the middle deltoid muscle that will allow it to be more engaged. But this does not mean that the athlete should use it as a strength exercise. Be sure that the load does not go from the middle deltoid muscle to other muscle groups.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Smith Machine?

The Smith Machine is a weight training machine that is used to do exercises that simulate the movement of a barbell. It consists of a bar mounted on steel rails. Thanks to this, the bar moves only vertically or at a slight angle.

How Much Does the Bar Weigh on a Smith Machine?

The weight of the bar on the Smith Machine ranges from 20 to 45 lb (15-20 kg), depending on the model of the machine.


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