Upper body exercises are a great way to carve your back, shoulders, and abs, and they can also prevent you from getting flabby arms. Or help you get rid of them if you already have them. These exercises also make you stronger and make everyday tasks easier.
We at Bright Side prepared these exercises to help you get the upper body that you’ve always wanted. Do them at least twice a week and don’t forget to do a light warm-up before you start.
We are all different and we may have very different goals. While one person wants to build 19-inch arms, another one worries about turning into the Hulk. The exercises listed in this article can be used for any purpose, you just need to select the right routine and number of repetitions.
- Circuits are an excellent fitness program. Choose up to 10 exercises, do each exercise for one minute, moving to the next one without a break. Do as many repetitions as you can, but don’t compromise your technique. Have a one-minute rest after completing the last exercise and then start the circuit again. Do 3 circuits, each round should take about 15-20 minutes.
Supersets are the best for building muscle. One superset means doing 2 or 3 exercises, one after the other, with no rest in between. Take a one-minute rest and move on to another superset.
For full upper-body training, doing one exercise at a time is suitable for any purpose, you just have to adjust the weight accordingly. Repeat each exercise 3 times with 10 seconds of rest between each set and 30-seconds of rest between each exercise. Generally speaking, if you want to build mass, you should use heavier weights and do fewer repetitions, about 6-8. If you want to work on getting strong and lean muscles, your target should be 12-15 reps.
Splits are for serious bodybuilders who are used to training at such a high-level that they need a separate day for each muscle group to get results. Frankly speaking, if you don’t know what split training is, don’t worry about it, leave it for the big guys.
1. Dumbbell punches
This exercise is a good one to start with as a warm up to prepare your arms, shoulders, and back for your training session.
- Hold one dumbbell in each hand and place your hands at chest level;
- Alternately extend one arm forward at shoulder level in a punching motion, keeping your hands at shoulder level, and turning the palms in during the punch;
- Continue for 1-2 minutes.
2. Dumbbell bicep curls
This exercise works on your biceps, shoulders, and upper back.
- Stand straight with feet shoulder-width apart;
- Engage your core and squeeze your shoulder blades back;
- Hold the dumbbells, one in each hand, with the palms facing inward;
- Bring the dumbbells up to your shoulders, pause for a second or 2;
- Then bring the dumbbells down.
Note: You should always keep your elbows tucked and steady, they practically never change position.
You can do alternating bicep curls or both hands at a time, whatever you prefer.
3. Dumbbell bench press
This exercise works on your entire upper body. It targets chest muscles, shoulders, biceps, and abs.
- Sit on the edge of the flat bench with your knees bent at 90° and your feet flat on the floor, slightly wider than shoulder-width;
- Slowly lie back on the bench holding the dumbbells near your chest with elbows at a 90° angle;
- Next, fully extend your arms above your body. Try to hold the weights steady;
- Lower your arms back to the starting position.
Note: Adjust the dumbbells’ weight to the point that you can hold them steady and control the up and down movements.
4. Bent over lateral raise
This exercise not only works on making your upper back, shoulder, and arm muscles stronger, it also improves your posture.
- Start by squatting down and bending slightly, keeping your back straight;
- Place a dumbbell in each hand with your arms in front of you, palms facing each other;
- Bend the elbows slightly;
- Lift the arms up and out to the sides, keeping them in line with the shoulders;
- Return the arms to the starting point.
5. Tricep kickbacks
As you can probably guess from the name, this exercise works on your triceps. Triceps are tricky muscles, we don’t use them much in everyday tasks and if you don’t do any isolated tricep exercises, you may very likely be on your way to flabby arms.
- Stand straight and hold one dumbbell in each hand;
- Bring your left leg forward, bending your knee;
- Bend forward slightly;
- Place your right hand bent at your side, keeping your elbow close to your body. Rest your other hand and dumbbell on your leg;
- Kick that right dumbbell back, straightening the arm;
- Return to the initial position;
- Repeat with the other arm.
Note: Make sure that your upper arm doesn’t move, and only the forearm is involved in the exercise.
6. Shoulder press
This exercise targets the shoulders and the upper back.
- Start by standing straight and placing a dumbbell in each hand;
- Put your arms out and bend your elbows at a 90° angle. Your arms should be parallel to the floor;
- Raise the dumbbells straight overhead;
- Return them to the starting position.
7. Upright row
This exercise works on your shoulders and upper back, and opens up your chest.
- Start by standing with your feet hip-width apart, keeping your back straight;
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand in front of you, palms facing your legs;
- Lift the dumbbells up until they are near your chest and your elbows make a straight line with your shoulders;
- Return to the initial position.
8. Russian twist
This exercise works the entire upper body.
- Sit upright, then bend your knees and tilt your back slightly backward;
- Hold a medicine ball near your chest, in the center;
- Twist to your left taking the medicine ball to that side;
- Return to the center and repeat on the right side.
You can use a medicine ball, a kettlebell, a dumbbell, or no weight at all. If you want to make it harder, lift your legs up and keep them off the ground during the twist.
Push-ups can work on different muscles depending on where you place your hands.
If your arms are shoulder-width apart, you will be working on your back and shoulders. With the narrower push-ups, when hands are placed closer together, you will be targeting your triceps.
- Start in high plank position;
- Flex your elbows and lower down, keeping your body in a straight line;
- Return to the starting position.
You can do push-ups on your toes or knees, depending on your strength.
You can monitor your overall progress by how many push-ups you can do and you can choose to do them at the end of the workout or on their own, as long as you continue to monitor them under the same conditions. But never forget that the quality should never be compromised by the quantity.
Let’s use this scale for monitoring, but you can always set your own, since this is very subjective:
- Level 1, beginner — 1-5 push-ups;
- Level 2, intermediate — 6-10 push-ups;
- Level 3, advanced — 11-20 push-ups;
- Level 4, expert — more than 20 push-ups.
Everybody loves plank. This exercise improves not only your abs, but also your shoulders and arms. And really, it’s good for all the muscles in your body.
There are more than a few ways to plank, so you can always find the one that suits you best.
What are your favorite upper body exercises? Tell us about them in the comments.
Illustrated by Daniil Shubin for Bright Side