How to Build Upper Body Strength

Barbell bench press for upper body strength

When most people think of building upper body strength, they tend to focus on the biceps and triceps, but the upper body is made of so many more muscle groups that need attention too! Taking time to exercise all of the muscles in your chest, back and shoulders can make a huge difference in both your appearance and strength, as well as promote better muscle growth.

So why focus on building strength in the entire upper body?

The muscles in the chest and back are super important for many reasons, including:

  •         Maintaining proper posture
  •         Preventing lower back pain and injury
  •         Increasing speed and stability
  •         Growing muscle mass

Furthermore, working your upper body has benefits for the abdominal muscles as well, because a tight core is often needed to maintain the proper form necessary for these exercises.

Whether you are a beginner or an expert, these exercises can help you build up your upper body strength quickly and effectively.

Exercises for Upper Body Strength

Most upper body exercises can be divided into two different types: pushing exercises, which target the shoulders, chest, and triceps; and pulling exercises, which target your back and biceps. Doing a combination of both types of exercises ensures that you are working out all of the different muscles that you are trying to increase in strength and size.

Pushing Exercises

Pushing exercises are those that cause muscular contraction when pushing the weight away from your body and muscle lengthening as the weight moves back towards your body. Muscle groups that are usually included in this group of exercises are your chest, triceps and deltoid muscles.

Here are some examples of pushing exercises:

  1.      Barbell bench press: Lie back on a flat bench with a barbell (with weight) on a squat rack or cage system, and grab the bar with your hands far enough apart so that a 90-degree angle is created in the elbow joints as you raise and lower the weight. Lift the bar off of the rack and hold it above your chest with your arms locked. Slowly bring the bar down to your middle chest, pause and raise it back to the starting position. This is one repetition. An average repetition scheme recommendation would be 3-5 sets of 6-10 reps, depending on your fitness level.
    Barbell bench press for upper body strength
     
  2.      Tricep dips: Sit at the edge of a chair or workout bench and place your hands at about shoulder width apart on the bench. While keeping a slight bend at your elbow, straighten your arms, and then proceed to bend them until your elbow to push yourself back up.  This is one repetition. An average repetition scheme recommendation would be 3-5 sets of 6-10 reps, depending on your fitness level.
  3.      Push-ups: Push-ups are an oldie, but certainly a goodie. They are the one of the most basic, yet effective workouts for your upper body.  They work each of the major, upper body pushing muscles. Remember: It’s important to go slow and focus on form. Make sure that your back remains straight and that your wrists stay under your shoulders. Perform each movement slowly and deliberately. An average repetition scheme recommendation would be 3-5 sets of 6-10 reps, depending on your fitness level.

Pulling Exercises for Upper Body Strength

Pulling exercises, on the other hand, cause the muscle to contract when pulling the weight towards your body and lengthen as you push the weight away. Muscle groups that are exercised when performing pulling exercises include your biceps, abdominals, forearms, trapezius and latissimus dorsi muscles.

Here are some examples of pulling exercises:

Bicep curls: To best isolate the bicep muscle, sit on a bench or weight bench with a preacher curl attachment and make sure that the feet are firmly on the floor. Place the back of the right arm on the inside of your right thigh with your left hand on top of your left knee. For preacher option, place your upper right arm on top of the preacher pad. Hold the dumbbell in your right hand and slowly curl the right arm, pulling the weight up towards the shoulder, pause for a second and slowly release the curl. Finish the desired repetitions and repeat on the other side. An average repetition scheme recommendation would be 3-5 sets of 6-10 reps, depending on your fitness level.

bicep curls for upper body strength

Pull-ups: Pull-ups work all of your major muscles in your back and are a great workout for all of your pulling muscles. Hang from a pullup bar with your hands shoulder-width apart and palms facing away from you. Pull yourself up until your chin goes above the bar, and then slowly lower yourself down again. This is one repetition. An average repetition scheme recommendation would be 3-5 sets of 6-10 reps, depending on your fitness level.

Barbell row: Barbell rows work multiple muscle groups in your back and arms. Start with the bar on the floor. Bend over and firmly grasp the bar. Make sure to keep your arms approximately shoulder-width apart and your palms facing the floor. Keep your back straight as you lift the bar up to your lower chest and return the bar back down to the floor. Make sure you go through the motions slowly and focus on using the muscles in your upper back to lift and lower the weight. An average repetition scheme recommendation would be 3-5 sets of 6-10 reps, depending on your fitness level.

 

Barbell row for upper body strength

Getting Started

You’ll want to dedicate one workout to pushing exercises, and another to moves that work the pulling muscles. Make sure to separate your workouts by at least a day or two in order to promote rest and recovery for your upper body. Between upper body workout days, you may even consider fitting in a lower body and/or an abs routine. Don’t forget to shake up your routine a bit too – changing the exercises you do helps to keep muscles from becoming stagnant and unchallenged by the movements.

Finally, don’t forget to make time for cardio. Whether you run, swim, or do something else, cardio will help you shred extra fat. For an efficient cardio workout, try ending your sweat session with a quick sprint on the treadmill to save some time.

There are many benefits to breaking up your upper body workouts this way. By using the same group of muscles for several, different exercises, you’ll get a more out of your workout regimen much faster.  As a final note, you can split up your upper body into two sessions a week, instead of three or four, if you were to go by muscle group alone.

As always, before beginning any exercise program, consult your physician if you are not 100% sure you are able to.

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