Upper Body Exercises

Upper Body Exercises: The Best Muscle Building Routine

You’re probably wondering, what are the best upper body exercises?

There is no one right answer. It really comes down to what your goals are. If you want a bigger chest, then perhaps focus more on chest exercises like bench press, which you may consider one of the better “upper body exercises”.

upper body exercises

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Whatever your goal is, I am going to give as many upper body exercises as possible, and of course, tell you the best ways to do them.

Before I dive too much into that, let’s try and figure out what your main objective is.

Are you trying to build strength, size, or just trying to improve your endurance?

This will determine HOW you will do your upper body exercises.

If you’re wondering what I mean by “HOW”, I am simply just stating the number of reps, sets, and rest time you would aim for during your workouts.

These are all important factors and definitely come into play when you have a specific goal in mind.

Upper Body Exercises Tip #1-Build Lean Muscleupper body exercises

Assuming this is your main goal, then you are going to want to focus on incorporating a mix of HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) and Split routines.

If you are unfamiliar with HIIT, it’s simply a training technique where you give your all, one hundred percent effort through quick, and intense bursts of exercise, shortly followed by short periods of rest. A good example of this would be doing a circuit training exercise where you would rotate between push-ups, pull-ups, and sit-ups. In this case, you would do a round of each exercise with no rest in-between each exercise until you’ve completed one full round. Then this would be followed by a short period of rest before the next round.

Split routines are when you select only a few muscle groups for your workout routine. For example, I might do back and biceps together on Monday, and decide to do chest and triceps on Wednesday. This is different from full-body workouts, where you would try to hit as many muscle groups as you can in one workout.

Now we’ve gotten that out of the way, we also have to take into account the amount of rest time you want to include (primarily on you split routines). Since hypertrophy (building muscle) is your primary objective,  studies suggest that you should aim for 1-3 minutes of rest in between sets (1). We also want to shoot for 8-12 reps for each set.

Upper Body Exercises Tip #2 – Build Strengthupper body exercises

For building strength, we are going to want to focus primarily on split routines. Within our split routines, we want to shoot for 1-6 reps on each set.  In addition to that, we also want our rest time to be different from hypertrophy training.

Studies show that optimal rest is just as important if not more important than the other components within a resistance exercise program. It is recommended your rest interval last anywhere from 2-5 minutes for building strength (1).

Upper Body Exercises Tip # 3 – Eat Enoughupper body exercises

Whether your primary goal is building muscle or building strength, you are still going to experience some form of hypertrophy. That being said, you need to be consuming more calories than you are burning.

Consume more calories than you burn, you will experience weight gain.

Burn more calories than you consume, you will experience weight loss.

Obviously, you don’t want to lose weight if you want to obtain either of these goals, so you need to eat more than your burn.

How do I know If I am eating enough?

  1. You could guess, and hope for the best (I don’t recommend this).
  2. Or, you could gather the formula’s together and try and plug them in yourself (I wouldn’t recommend this either).
  3. The best option, plug them into a TDEE/Macro calculator and let it do the work for you.

Now that we’ve covered that, let’s focus probably the MOST IMPORTANT aspect of health and fitness…

Upper Body Exercises Tip # 4 – Eat Correctly

Feed your body clean and efficient energy, and it will run smoothly. Let your body run off chemically altered and artificial energy, it is likely to break down or at least have problems.

You want to make sure you are eating the correct kinds of nutrient-dense foods.

This should consist of lean protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats.

Here is a list of the foods you want to actually consume:

Protein –

Carbs-

  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Yams
  • Oats/Oatmeal
  • Brown Rice
  • Quinoa
  • Chia Seeds
  • Wild Rice
  • Legumes

Fats –

  • Olive Oil
  • Coconut Oil
  • Avocado
  • Olives
  • Almonds
  • Peanuts
  • Pumpkin Seeds
  • Walnuts
  • Flaxseed/Flaxseed Oil
  • Fish Oil
  • Sunflower Seeds

And of course, we can forget about fruits and vegetables. For Veggies, you want close to 3 servings or more each day. For fruit, only 1-2 servings since fruit is naturally high in sugar.

Alright! Enough with the d*** tips already, let’s get to these upper body exercises!

Upper Body Exercises #1- Barbell Bench Pressupper body exercises

The most popular exercise known to any strength training or bodybuilding routine!

I’m sure someone has asked you at least one time, “how much you bench” (I know I have).

That being said, you know it’s probably one of the better upper body exercises you should be including into your routine. The bench press exercise is also not a beginner friendly exercise either.

You first want to begin by lifting the bar up off the rack and moving forward so that the bar is parallel to the center of your chest. Next, lower the bar all the way to your chest while still maintaining that parallel positioning to your center chest. Now, press the bar back up until your arms are straight and hold the weight up there for one second, and repeat. Lastly, when you feel you can only push one more rep, bring the weight up and re-rack the bar.

Tip: This exercise should NEVER be done without a partner or at least a spotter nearby.

Upper Body Exercises #2- Tricep Overhead Extensionsupper body exercises

This exercise can be done with a dumbbell or a band. If
using a dumbbell, be sure to select one that’s not too heavy. If you are using a band, select one that
does not have too much resistance.

You want to start with the dumbbell over your head and begin to
slowly lower the weight behind you until you cannot lower the weight anymore. Next, raise
the weight again slowly until your arms are fully extended, and repeat. If using a band, you
will need something strong to which you can safely anchor the bottom handle of the band or
a person to stand on it.

Tip: If you decide to go a little heavier with the dumbbell, make sure you always have a spotter

Upper Body Exercises #3- Shoulder Pressupper body exercises

This exercise can be done sitting or standing. If you are standing, keep your
back straight. Grab the dumbbells and raise them to eye level. Make sure there is a 90-degree
angle between your bicep and forearm. Then lift the weights above your head until your arms
are fully extended. Bring the weights down slowly to starting position and repeat.

Tip: If you are sitting, make sure to keep your back flat against the chair. I like to put a pen between my lower back and the bench, if it falls (from me rounding my back), then I know I am not keeping my back pressed against the seat.

Upper Body Exercises #4- Bicep Curls

upper body exercises

This is my personal favorite, because who doesn’t want to have nice big guns!

This exercise can be done with a barbell, dumbbell, or band. Start with
your hands at your side and palms facing forward. Next, slowly bend your arms upward while
keeping your elbows locked at your sides. You want to curl the weight(s) as high as you can,
and then slowly bring the weight(s) back to starting position. Be sure to keep those elbows at
your side at all times.

Tip: Make sure to keep your body straight and never compensate by leaning back and using your shoulders (were focusing on the biceps, not the deltoids).

Upper Body Exercises #5- Bent Over Rows

This can be done with a barbell or dumbbell. First, get into a squat
position while slightly bending forward. Next, grab the weight(s) and slowly pull the weight
towards the lower portion of your chest. Make sure your elbows stay right along with your sides
and not away from your body. Then, slowly lower the weight back to starting position.

Tip: Make sure that the only parts of your body that are moving, are your arms.

Upper Body Exercises #6- Dipsupper body exercises

This is an exercise that can be with, or without equipment, and can be done at two different intensity levels.

The first way is if you have access to a gym and want to use the full weight of your body (for the advanced). Assuming you do not have access to a gym, you might have to get a little creative and find a playground or park that has two poles of equal height.

  1. You want to first make sure you have the dip bars set to close grip so that you are hitting your triceps properly. Next, jump (or kneel onto the designated platform if you are using assistance) up and grab the dip bars with your arms fully extended and locked with your knees bent. Now, begin to lower yourself until your shoulders are slightly below your elbows. Finally, push yourself back up to starting position with your arms straight and elbows locked, and repeat.

The 2nd way is going to be done using a bench or some sort of flat surface (table, chair, couch) where you can easily extend your legs in front of you and lower yourself down without your bottom touching the floor (for beginners).

2. To perform the exercise this way, you want to keep your elbows locked in with your legs straight. You
slowly lower yourself down, and then slowly push yourself back up. If you find this exercise too
difficult, bend your knees slightly and pull your feet in toward you a little.

Upper Body Exercises #7- Incline Bench Pressupper body exercises

This exercise can be done with dumbbells or a barbell. I personally prefer the dumbbells because it forces your body to incorporate a lot of the stabilizer muscles. Obviously, you are going to need an incline bench to do this exercise

First, you want to grab the weights, make sure they are in line with the upper portion of your chest, and begin to push the weights up keeping your arms shoulder-width apart. Once your arms are fully extended, begin to lower the weights slowly and repeat.

Once again, do these reps SLOWLY.

Upper Body Exercises #8- Pectoral Fly’supper body exercises

This is an exercise that can be done with just resistance bands, or it can be done with dumbbells. For the purposes of explaining this exercise, we are going to be focusing on dumbbells.

You’re going to want to find a bench that you lay on flat and grab some weights. Next, begin to lower the dumbbells by expanding your arms out with a slight bend at the elbows. SLOWLY bring them down until you feel a slight stretch across the center of your chest. Make sure that your palms are facing each other at all times!

Now you want to bring the weights back up by bringing your arms back together while still having a slight bend in the elbows. Your arms should be fully extended above your head when you finish the exercise.

Make sure your reps are SLOW and controlled! You will engage the muscles much more effectively this way.

Upper Body Exercises #8- Lat Pull-Down

For this exercise, you are going to need access to a gym or the proper equipment. This is my favorite back exercise, also probably the most effective if done correctly. 

You want to begin with your arms shoulder-width apart and grip the lat-pulldown bar. Next, position yourself so that you are leaning back slightly, and the bar is in line with the center of your chest. Now, begin to slowly pull the bar down until it reaches the center of your chest or slightly above it. Make sure to keep yourself in the SLIGHTLY leaned back position.

Tip: To ensure that you are using your lats (back muscles), roll your shoulders back and pull them down before you pull the lat bar towards you. Do this for every rep!

Upper Body Exercises #9- Tricep Pull-Down

This exercise can be done in a couple of different ways. I personally prefer the rope when I’m at the gym and use resistance bands when I’m at home.

First, you want to grab a rope and start with the handles of the rope at shoulder height. Next, make sure palms are facing in, grab the rope, and pull the weight down with your elbows locked at your sides.

Next, make sure right before you reach the end of the movement, you rotate your hands so that your palms are facing behind you and your elbows are fully extended.

Slowly bring the weight back up and repeat.

Tip: Make sure you do no raise your shoulders, they should not move AT ALL during this exercise!

Upper Body Exercises #10- Reverse Curls

Not to be confused with a regular bicep curl, which obviously focuses on working the biceps. Reverse curls focus mainly on forearm development.

I prefer to do this standing, but this can be done sitting as well. For this exercise, the best way to do this is with a preacher curl bar. You want to grab the appropriate weight and begin with the arms fully extended and palms facing down.

Slowly raise the weight as high as you can while making sure your elbows are locked in at your sides. Next, slowly lower the weight back to the starting position and repeat.

Alright, that’s it for the upper body exercises! 

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