We've all experienced the frustration that can come with any kind of upright row. When done properly, they can be a phenomenal addition for growing the delts and upper back, but the mechanics underlying the movement can also have a nasty dark side.
Notoriously, upright rows can absolutely destroy the shoulder joint.
There are work-arounds to this issue (see my personal go-to: the "hybrid" upright row), but that still leaves us in a weird predicament...How do we get the benefits of this variation without banging our heads against the wall (or more accurately, our humeral head against the Acromion)?
The simple answer here is we need to move out of the frontal plane.
The aforementioned "hybrid" variation does this by working in the scapular plan and spawning a blend of the upright row and lateral raise. Our Upright Row to External Rotation is going to...you guessed it...add external rotation to the mix.
Why/how does this solve our problem of unhappy shoulder joints with traditional upright rows?
1) The load needed to create the stimulus is drastically lower.
2) By rotating through the top of the rep, we are effectively "making room" for our humerus (upper arm) by pulling our shoulder blades back, down and out of the way.
This allows the delts, upper/mid back and rotators of the shoulder to work effectively from start to finish without creating any jamming, pinching or grinding within the joint.
While I am championing this variation, I will stop short of claiming it as a "cure-all" due to the complexity of execution. There are multiple components and planes of movement that have to coordinate in order to see the benefits.
Let's touch on a few quick tips that will allow us to get the most out of the DB Upright Row to External Rotations:
1) Just think about "Pull and Flip"...It really is that easy if you can translate it
2) Keep the load lighter than expected and aim for high reps. This will give you the double benefit of more practice volume and not cause any damage even if some of the reps aren't perfect at first.
3) Perform them as a warmup, burnout, or within a superset/giant set to take advantage of the metabolic effect through the delts, traps and rotators. Trust me, these sneak up on you!
4) Avoid swinging the DBs away from your body by standing ~12in away from a wall while going through your sets. You'll be forced to keep the movement compact and "tight" which is what we want!
5) Don't try to reverse the motion from the top. This is somewhat counterintuitive but there will be no active eccentric component. From the 90º lockout, allow the DBs to fall back down to the bottom in a controlled fashion.
It will be very important to always remember what the intent is when performing this movement; trying to make it something it is not meant to be by going too heavy will just create the same problems we were looking to avoid with the traditional upright row.
Nail the execution. Lock on to the goal. Bulletproof those shoulders. And above all else, Pull and Flip!