As far as shoulder exercises go, if you do the barbell upright row with a close-grip (inside shoulder-width), it places a lot of the focus on the front delts and upper traps, since this hand position keeps your elbows in front of your body as you lift the bar (which targets the front delts) and allows you to end with your elbows much higher than shoulder height (which targets the upper traps).

That’s why I recommend gripping the bar out of shoulder width on upright rows; this allows the elbows to flare out to the sides more to hit the real meat of the shoulders: the middle deltoids. It also limits you from bringing your elbows much higher than shoulder height, thus limiting the involvement of the upper traps. Yet when many guys do wide-grip upright rows, it feels awkward and painful in the shoulder joint. To avoid this, I recommend doing one-arm upright rows in a Smith machine. 

Here’s how to do it:

  • Stand in the middle of a Smith machine with the bar set at about mid-thigh height.
  • Grab the bar with your right hand about four inches outside of your right thigh, using an overhand grip.
  • Unrack the bar and pull it up to chest height, leading with your elbow flared out to the side as much as possible.
  • After finishing all reps on the right side, repeat with the left arm.

This movement places the majority of the focus on the middle head of the deltoid and minimizes pain and injury risk in the shoulder. Another benefit of this exercise is that because you’re only using one arm you can isolate each deltoid to promote balanced development. 

Deltoid Isolation Workout

Exercise                                                       Sets       Reps       Rest

Dumbbell Shoulder Press                               4           8-10       2-3 min

One-Arm Smith Machine Upright Row           4*        10-12       1-2 min

Cable Lateral Raise                                        3           12-15     1-2 min

Dumbbell Bent-Over Lateral Raise                 3           12-15     1-2 min

*Switch from arm to arm without resting until four sets per side are completed. 


  • When you reach muscle failure with your right arm, switch immediately to your left arm. When you reach failure on the left, immediately switch back again to your right arm and continue in this manner until you’ve completed all sets for each arm.
  • Let your elbow flare out to the side as you lift the weight to place maximum tension on the middle delt and minimize upper trap involvement.

To see the one-arm Smith machine upright row in action, watch Stoppani’s video training series M&F Raw! – One-Arm Bandit