So, you want toned arms and a strong chest? Or perhaps you’re concerned about getting strength and definition in your back. When it comes to your upper body, you can definitely get the physique you want if you do the right workout. But, what is the right upper body workout? If you’re not sure how to get started, check out these workout routines to find the perfect fit for your needs.
Whether you’re looking to bulk up and get that Greek god body or you simply want to tone and build your strength, these workouts will outline the combination of exercises you need to know for well-rounded upper body workout routines. In this article, we’ll detail which muscles each exercise works, how to do them and which ones to do together for the best results.
An Intro to Upper Body Muscle Groups
A full upper body workout targets these major areas of your upper body:
Arms: Who doesn’t want defined arms? Not only are defined arms attractive, but strong arms also help you with day to day lifting and activities. There are many muscles in your arms. Your biceps are one of the most noticeable muscles found in your upper arm. However, many upper body workout routines also feature an exercise to target triceps. Your triceps are on the back of your upper arm. If you’re getting flabby in this area, building muscle can help you slim down and get toned.
Shoulders: Your shoulders are also an important part of the upper body, principally featuring the rotator cuff. Another key muscle is the deltoid, a muscle which stretches over your shoulder and upper arm.It’s important to strengthen this muscle to avoid injuries which can be devastating, even for performing tasks associated with everyday life. Strengthening your shoulder and neck muscles can also help reduce pain and discomfort associated with sitting and using electronic devices.
Back: The back is home to many different muscles. The main ones you should know include the following muscles:
- Latissimus dorsi: Often simply called “lats” these muscles are the largest back muscle, stretching along your spine from your waist all the way up to your underarm.
- Trapezius: Making up the majority of your upper back, this muscle runs along your spine from your neck to your mid back. Triangular in shape, it reaches over to your shoulder as well.
- Rhomboid major and minor: These muscles are just underneath the trapezius muscles and also run along the spine.
Of course, there are other back muscles including the scapula, and teres muscles, among others. However, the muscles outlined above are the largest. Improving your back strength can help reduce back pain and can also reduce injuries while doing other activities like running.
Abdominals: There are several muscles that work together in your core, including several abdominal muscles. Your back and abdominal muscles work together to keep you upright. If you experience a lot of back pain, it could be because of weakness in your abdominals. Aside from the muscles that make up a washboard stomach (the abdominis rectus), there are also muscles on the sides of your stomach known as your obliques, and deeper muscles known as the abdominis transversus.
Chest: Mainly made up of the pectoralis muscles which are often called “pecs”, the chest also includes muscle groups that run into it from other areas of the body. For example, the deltoids run into the chest muscle from the shoulders. Then, obliques from the abdominal area also reach up to the chest. Doing a great chest workout can help you get the chest you’ve always wanted.
Now that you’re familiar with the major muscles in your upper body, let’s talk about how you can work them to grow stronger and get that definition you want.
1. The Upper Body Bodyweight Workout
The best upper body workout doesn’t have to include lots of gym equipment and weights. You can complete an excellent upper body workout routine using just your bodyweight to work your muscles. If you know the right moves to do, you can do an upper body workout at home that will effectively target your muscles for amazing results. Check out this quick routine that will give your upper body a great workout:
Exercise 1: Diamond Pushups
A modification on traditional pushups, these pushups are great for strengthening most of your upper body muscles, including your core. However, the main muscles worked are your chest muscles. This exercise is just as effective at building muscle as using weights in a bench press when a similar weight load is used, one study showed. So, do pushups with confidence, knowing it will help you build great chest muscles. You don’t even have to go to the gym to do it!
How to do it: Start in the plank position, arms fully extended and in line with your shoulders, supporting the weight of your body. Your legs are also fully extended and your body’s weight should also be resting on your toes. Then, bring your hands together, using your index fingers and thumbs to form a diamond. Then, perform the pushup, getting as close to the ground as possible. Straighten your arms, pushing through your hands, back to your plank position. Repeat 10 times.
Too hard? Modify this exercise by resting your weight on your knees.
Exercise 2: Climber Push Ups
We already know pushups are great. But this one gives your arms a bit more of a workout. Targeting your core, this push up also hits your triceps and shoulders.
How to do it: Start in the plank position, but this time on your elbows. Then, climb up to the extended arm position, one hand at a time. Perform the pushup, concentrating on keeping your body’s line straight (don’t let those hips sag!). Then, come back down to your forearms, one arm at a time. Repeat 10 reps. Make sure you alternate which arm you use first to climb up and down from the elbow to the extended arm position.
Exercise 3: Back Bow Pulls
This works your core and back muscles, but you’ll also notice that your glutes (buttocks) get a good squeeze out of this one. Also known as the superman hold, this exercise might not look like much, but you’ll feel the burn!
How to do it: Lie face down. Your arms should be extended fully, straight out from your shoulders. Legs are also fully extended. Then, simultaneously lift your legs, arms and head off the ground, contracting your back muscles to do so. Avoid using jerking motions. Pause and then lower your extremities and head slowly to the ground. Repeat 10 times.
Too easy? While still maintaining your legs and arms off the ground, move your arms above your head and back to your sides, contracting the whole time. Then rest, extend your arms out and begin again.
Exercise 4: Scapular Wall Hold
This exercise is great for improving your posture, as it works some of the muscles in your center back known as the scapular muscles. Research shows scapular exercises really work for reducing pain and improving posture. Get rid of that hunched-over look that comes with sitting too much during the day with this exercise.
How to do it: Stand with your feet about 6 inches away from a wall and rest your back against the wall. Bend your arms to push your elbows into the wall. Keeping your body nice and straight (engage those abs!), drive your elbows away from the wall and pinch in your shoulder blades to stand up completely straight. Then, slowly return your back to the wall again. Do 10 reps.
Increase difficulty by planting your feet slightly farther away from the wall.
Exercise 5: Squat Thrusts
Also known as burpees, this exercise works nearly every muscle in your upper body, but also brings the lower body into play. You may also find yourself short of breath if you perform enough reps thanks to the jumping motions.
How to do it: Start in a standing position. Then, squat down, arms by your feet. In one motion, shoot your feet out behind you to get in the plank position. Perform a pushup. Then, bring your feet and hands together in a jump motion, putting you in a squatting position again. Stand up and do a full body jump, raising your hands above your head. Repeat 10 times.
Too hard? After getting in the plank position, do the pushup from your knees.
2. Upper Body Dumbbell Workout
Grab a set of dumbbells and you’ll be ready to do an upper body dumbbell workout. In this upper body workout, you’ll use weights to strengthen your upper body and sculpt those muscles! Not only will you look great, but weightlifting in general may help you live longer. So, invest in a good set of dumbbells and make this workout part of your regular exercise routine.
First, a note on how much weight to use. When performing a workout with dumbbells, the weight you’re using helps create resistance and build your muscles. However, if you use too much weight, you won’t be able to perform the exercises using the proper form. Too little weight means you won’t work your muscles hard enough. So, choose a weight that allows you to perform the exercise comfortably enough to complete 8 reps or so. If you can easily do more reps, up your weight. If you can’t make it through even 5 reps, lower your weight.
Ready to work out? Here’s your upper body dumbbell workout:
Exercise 1: Bench Press
This exercise mainly works your chest muscles. However, your arms and shoulders are also working when you do the bench press.
How to do it: Grab your dumbbells and lie down on a weight lifting bench, your back flat on the bench and your knees bent at 90 degree angles, your feet flat on the ground. Position your arms at your sides, elbows bent a few inches below your back. The dumbbells at the nipple line, parallel to the floor and right beside your chest. Then, push the dumbbells upward, turning your arms so that your palms face each other and the dumbbells come together. Don’t lock your arms. Slowly lower to your starting position. Do 10 reps.
Exercise 2: Pullover
This exercise works your back muscles and chest all at once. You’ll only use one dumbbell for this exercise, so you can select one that’s slightly heavier since you’ll use both arms to do it.
How to do it: Lie on your back on the weight lifting bench with your head just hanging off the end of the bench, legs bent and feet flat on the floor. Extend your arms and hold the dumbbell between your two hands, palms facing up, thumbs and fingers curved around to support it. Lower the dumbbell slowly above your head, going as far as you can comfortably go. Then, slowly return to the starting position. Do 10 reps.
Exercise 3: Military Press
You can do this exercise either standing up or sitting upright on a weight bench. This exercise has you push up towards the ceiling, and really works your shoulder muscles.
How to do it: Hold your dumbbells at shoulder level, elbows pointing to the floor, palms facing forward. Slowly push your arms straight up above your head until your arms are fully extended. Don’t bring the dumbbells together or lock your elbows. Lower to the starting position again. Take care not to scrunch your shoulders as you do this exercise. Do 10 reps.
Exercise 4: Bicep Curls
Can you guess which muscle this exercise works? Your biceps! Get that attractive bulge in your arm by doing a variety of different bicep exercises. Here’s a basic one to start with.
How to do it: Hold a dumbbell in each hand, arms at your sides and palms facing out. Without swinging your body (engage those abs!), pull your arms up so that the dumbbells reach shoulder height, bending your elbow. Return to the starting position. Do 10 reps.
Pro tip: For an added challenge, wrap a small washcloth around the dumbbell. This will create a larger grip, making your forearm muscles work harder to grasp the weight.
3. Upper Body Workout for Women
Women may share many of the same fitness and upper body workout goals as men, but they also have goals that are unique to women. For example, many women may want to tone their abdominals, improve their posture and firm up their upper arms (hello, triceps!) to eliminate pesky flab. However, while many men want to gain a chiseled chest and bulk up their arms, most women don’t.
The good news is that most women are in little danger of bulking up after a little strength training because we have less testosterone than men. Testosterone is a hormone responsible for building bone and muscle mass. With relation to the upper body, women are at a greater disadvantage. Women are typically stronger in their lower body than upper body. So, workout with confidence and without fear of bulking up. Just because we’re naturally weaker in the upper body doesn’t mean women can’t make improvements and grow stronger.
So, what’s a good upper body workout for women? Try adding in one or more of these exercises to the above workouts:
Eliminate flab on the back of your upper arm by working your triceps. All you need is a workout bench or couch to get started. Sit on the very edge of the bench with your hands on either side of your hips, gripping the edge of the bench. Your feet should be extended straight out in front of you, resting on your heels. Slowly, move your buttocks out into the air and bending your elbows, lower yourself until your upper arms are parallel to the floor. Then, raise yourself up so that your buttocks is in line with the bench. Do 10 reps.
Decline Shoulder Taps:
Use a bench or a step to do this exercise that works your core and arms. Put your feet on the bench, resting your toes there. Get into plank position. Then, lift one arm and touch your opposite shoulder before returning to the starting position. Do the same with the opposite arm. Alternate and continue the exercise, completing as many taps as you can in about 50 seconds.
4. Upper Body Workout for Men
What about men? Are there special exercises ideal for men looking for the best upper body workout? Sure! Men are often interested in getting defined, attractive chest and arm muscles, but may also want to strengthen their backs. Remember, a strong back can help you lift heavier weights, and let’s face it, will also help you look great at the beach.
Here are some additional exercises you can throw into the above workout routines:
You’ll need a resistance band to perform this exercise. Hold the band in front of you, your fists facing the ground. Your arms should be straight out, parallel to the floor. Then, pull the band by moving your arms out towards your sides, so that your arms are wide open. The band should rest tight on your chest. Then, slowly return to the original position. Do 10 reps. This exercise is great for working on your back muscles in a way that’s safe, but effective.
Give your pecs a great workout with this exercise. Similar to a dumbbell bench press, this exercise is fantastic for the chest. To do it, lie on a bench, your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Grab your dumbbells, palms facing each other, and extend your arms fully in front of you at about nipple level. Press the dumbbells together. Then, lower the dumbbells to your chest as you continue to push them together. Do 10 reps.
Tips for Upper Body Strength Workout Success
You can achieve great upper body strength by working out regularly. But, you have to do more than just go through the motions to achieve optimal results. Follow these tips to make excellent progress towards reaching your upper body strength goals:
- Form Over Quantity
When performing exercises, it’s easy to become obsessed with how many reps you can do. However, your goal shouldn’t be to do as many reps as you can, but rather, to have great form. If your hips get out of alignment, you use a swinging motion to do your bicep curls or you don’t engage your core, you can wind up with an injury from exercising incorrectly. Furthermore, you won’t get as much out of the exercises if you don’t do them correctly either. So, go for quality, not quantity. Take it slow and look in the mirror to check your form.
Pro Tip! Hire a personal trainer for one session to help you work on your form. Their pointers on your form will serve you in every workout you do on your own!
Don’t do the same workout every time you do an upper body workout. Instead, use a few different ones and rotate them. The slight variety in the exercises will allow you to work different areas of your muscles, resulting in the best results for your body. It’s easy to get stuck into a routine. But, once you get comfortable with one workout routine, try another! Then alternate the two routines on workout days so that you’re mixing it up a bit. A
Also, make sure you work both sides of your muscles. Imbalances in muscles that work together can cause injury. So, work your abdominals, but also your back. Work your biceps, but also your triceps.
- Combine With Other Workouts
Not everyday should be upper body workout day. Mix up your workout routines throughout the week so that you also get plenty of cardio and work for your lower body. If you only have 30 minutes daily, your workout routine for the week might look like this:
- Monday: Cardio or High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
- Tuesday: Upper Body Workout
- Wednesday: Cardio or High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
- Thursday: Lower Body Workout
- Friday: Cardio or High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
- Saturday: Upper Body Workout
- Sunday: Rest
- Upper Body Workout for Beginners
If you’re a beginner, adjust the workout so that you can make it the whole way through. Be patient with yourself! Just do as many reps as you can. For example, if it’s suggested that you do 10 reps, try to make it to 7 or 8. Then, as you get stronger, you can increase your reps to reach 10. You’ll also notice that for pushups, you can do them from the knees instead of from the toes. As you get stronger, do half of your reps on the knees and half from the toes until you can do all of them from the toes.
The Bottom Line on the Best Upper Body Workout
Get started working out today! If you’re ready to transform your upper body, pick a workout and go for it. There are really no excuses. You can do an excellent upper body workout without even hitting the gym simply by performing exercises that use your body weight in the comfort of your home. All you have to do is make a little time in your day and get started.
Do you already have a favorite upper body workout routine? Tell us about your favorite exercises in the comments below.