According to Dr. John Rusin, strength coach, physical therapist and owner of John Rusin Fitness Systems, the Upright Row is a potent exercise for bodybuilders interested in developing the middle and front portion of their deltoids—i.e, the round muscles on the sides of their shoulders.
But outside of bodybuilding, the exercise doesn't have much of a purpose. In fact, Rusin says he's never had a client perform Upright Rows in his entire time in the industry. Rusin says that as you bring your arms up, the upper arm rotates internally in the shoulder. This isn't too problematic if you have healthy shoulders, perfect posture and perfect technique, but very few people have all three. "A vast majority of people don't have those requisites, so it becomes an injurious motion for them," Rusin adds. Doing this exercise might cause you to feel a twinge of pain during a rep that goes away after you finish, or you could exacerbate a pre-existing issue that can lead to a more serious injury.
Barbell Upright Rows are typically the most problematic variation because your hands are locked into position, which is more likely to cause a shoulder problem. Using dumbbells or kettlebells can alleviate this problem, because your hands are free to move, but the exercise still isn't an ideal motion for shoulder health.