Upright row is an amazing exercise, but if you want to destroy your shoulder(s). I am not trying to say every person will suffer, because there is one important rule of individuality, but some serious amount of people will feel pain at some moment in the middle part of upper shoulder!
What often happens? With upright row, upper arms are in position of internal rotation and abduction. If you naturaly have tight subacromial space (or even big tendons) it could be shoulder unfriendly position because rotator cuff muscle (m. supraspinatus) can stuck between acromion and humeral head (upper arm bone). In that stuck position people feel strong pain in the middle of the shoulder (impingement syndrome).
Things become even worse if you are doing upright row with full range of motion (elbows above shoulders) because of less subacromial space (plus if you got some level of kyphosis it’s totally disaster)!
If you LOVE this shoulder exercise and have never felt pain during execution, I advise elbow-almost-horizontally end position (elbows little below shoulders). In narrow grip position (with regular barbell) there is also problem with wrist joint unfriendly forces (you can hurt some ligaments because wrist and forearm aren’t inline).
But, honestly, there is a ton of better arms, delts and upper traps exercises (face pull, shoulder press variations, push-press variations, shrugs, rowing variations – bent-over BB row is a much more shoulder friendly option for example…)!
You can check your shoulders with shoulder mobility clearing test (FMS). If it hurts, most probably you have problem mentioned above…
Maybe you have problem with inflamed bursa (bursitis).. Or m. biceps femoris long head impingement – maybe tendinitis (but rarely – because it’s mostly problem with external rotation in position of humeral abduction).
Some people could even have a problem with power clean and snatch variations (similar second part of the moves – middle to end of the second pull); shoulder press variations (not enough upward scapular rotation because of some muscles stiffness – rhomboids among others)… you never know… everything depends on individual anatomy! It make sense that pain could occur earlier during upper arm abduction if shoulder blade can’t rotate upward properly (m. supraspinatus “hit the roof” earlier ). Among other things, that’s why shoulder blade needs proper mobility around the rib cage, not just stability.
Plus if you got weak rotator cuff muscles pain could be felt even earlier during humeral abduction. Namely, the main role of rotator cuff muscles is stabilizing humeral ball inside shallow socket. In the case of weak rotator cuff, delts (agonists) could pull up humeral ball a bit during exercise execution so pinching may occur earlier. A proper strengthening of rotator cuff muscles is the something most important when it comes to shoulder health today in general (pinching is so often/common today among various population because, among other things, we have an epidemic of kyphosis – Upper Crossed Syndrome). Of course, don’t forget that we need to strengthen all other around shoulder blade muscles also!
Last but not least – archers may experience discomfort, handball players can feel discomfort or pain and any other throwing sport is high vulnerable. Don’t feed similar vulnerable position with this exercise. If you are an athlete – don’t gamble!
Thanks for reading and all the best,