When it comes to your deltoid muscle group, there are few better exercises than the upright row or shoulder press. They are both at the top of their game for shoulder building exercises and are the biggest of a very limited range of exercises boasting activation of all 3 deltoid areas (anterior, lateral and posterior). That's all the more reason why you need to make sure you're picking the best in your workouts.

Doing that, however, is easier said than done. There's lots of benefits to both of them after all. Along with the good points though are still the bad points too. You need to build the full picture to get the best results, and we're breaking down all the information you need to solve the upright row vs shoulder press argument once and for all.

Let's do it.

Shoulder Press

woman performing the dumbbell missionary press

Starting us off is the ultimate shoulder exercise, the shoulder press. It is the more popular exercise of the two in the list, but is it really the best? It's a tough exercise to master with it having so many different variations, but once you do manage to get it perfected, you'll see rapid shoulder growth.

Let's see what it has to offer

Muscle Activation

First and formost, this exercise is one of the best compound exercises out there. The shoulder press is a great upper body worker because of the number of different muscles that it needs. You're hitting the front, side and rear deltoid muscles all at the same time and still uding the rest of your upper body as well. If making the most of your time is the biggest factor, it's hard to argue with that.

Equipment Variation

What's even more of a benefit of the shoulder press vs the upright row in particular is the variation you have to be able to do it. You can use just about any weighted equipment that you can find to do it. Landmine presses, kettlebells, dumbbells, barbellls, leverage gyms, fixed machines, cables... It really is effective with anything that you like to train with. That can do wonders for your trinaing, especially with a home gym.

Upright Row

Man performing the upright row with dumbbells

Just because the shoulder press is a real champion of exercise doesn't mean the upright row is bad either though. In fact, it's renowned as one of the best as long as you can nail it.

Muscle Activation

Because of the different movement style from the upright row, the side and front delts are hit way harder than they are in the shoulder press. This means that the upright row does have its edge in your training as long as you know what you’re doing in a balanced workout. It doesn't however use the rear delts or the arms as much as the shoulder press does. That means it has an edge for isolation, but not for compound strength. That's a big factor.

Injury Risks

The most common issue that people have with the upright row is the room for damage that it leaves. It's just too easy to get wrong and cause some serious damage. It makes it one of the fastest ways to get an instant injury which can be anything from a torn muscle or ligament, all the way through to more severe rotator cuff injuries that can have debilitating effects throughout the rest of your life. Your technique is everything with the upright row, and we wouldn't recommend it generally speaking.

The Upright Row Vs Shoulder Press Winner

This is one of the easier battles that have been done in the ToT series, which is always a change of pace. Both of the exercises are incredibly effective at what they do, and in an ideal world, should actually be done together in the same workout to make sure that you are overloading your muscles in the most effective way possible. This is a lot easier said than done though sadly, due to the risks that the upright row pose.

The shoulder press has to be the winner of the two. The compound nature of the exercise means that it does hit the entire deltoid group, and so is the more effective exercise. It's far safer as long as the movement remains in front of the body rather than behind the neck. Be careful in your training, as always, and you'll see good results from both of them none the less.

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Before beginning any exercise or nutrition program, consult your physician, doctor or other professional. This is especially important for individuals over the age of 35 or persons with pre-existing health problems. Exercise.co.uk assumes no responsibility for personal injury or property damage sustained using our advice.

If you experience dizziness, nausea, chest pain, or any other abnormal symptoms, stop the workout at once and consult a physician or doctor immediately.