1. Health

Your suggestion is on its way!

An email with a link to:


was emailed to:

Thanks for sharing About.com with others!

Most Emailed Articles

Low-Carb Snacks

Print-Friendly Format

Upper Body Strength

This intermediate/advanced upper-body workout targets the chest, back, shoulders and arms with classic exercises designed to build strength and endurance.  Some exercises suggest heavy weights (enough weight that you can ONLY complete the assigned number of reps), so make sure you can lift the weight safely or you have a spotter nearby, if needed.   

If you have any injuries, illnesses or other conditions, see your doctor before trying this workout, and modify any exercise that causes pain or discomfort.

Equipment Needed
A barbell, various weighted dumbbells, an exercise ball and a step or platform.

How To

  • Warm up with a few minutes of light cardio or the warm-up exercise below
  • Complete the three exercises listed in each series, one after the other, resting when you need to
  • Repeat each series once for a lighter workout or 2 to 3 times for a more intense workout
  • To modify, use lighter weights, do fewer reps or do only two of the exercises in each series
Warm up:  Pushups on the Ball
Warm up the upper body with 15 push-ups, either on the ball or on the floor.
1.  Barbell Row

Hold a heavy barbell in front of the thighs, hands shoulder-width apart, and bend forward to about 45 degrees, abs in and back flat.  Squeeze the back to pull the barbell up toward the belly button.  Lower and repeat for 15 reps.
2.  Alternating Dumbbell Rows

Hold medium-heavy dumbbells, and bend over with a flat back and knees slightly bent.  Begin the move with the elbows pulled up to the torso, back contracted.  Lower the right arm, keeping the left arm in place, then squeeze the back to pull the right arm up in to a row.  Keep the right arm stable as you lower the left arm, repeating alternating rows for 10 reps total.  Keep the reps slow and controlled.
3.  One-Arm Rows

Place the left foot on a step or platform, and rest the left hand on the upper thigh.  Hold a heavy weight in the right hand and squeeze the back to pull the elbow up to torso level. Repeat for 8 regular reps, followed by 8 slow, controlled reps taking the arm halfway down.  Repeat on the other side.
Repeat 1-2 Times
1.  High Rows

Hold a medium barbell, with hands wide, and tip forward until the back is parallel to the floor, abs engaged and back flat.  Squeeze the upper back to pull the weight toward the chest.  Lower and repeat for 15 reps. Watch your lower back on this exercise!
2.  Reverse Flies

Sit on a step or ball, and bend forward (back flat), holding medium weights under the knees.  Lift the weights to shoulder level, elbows slightly bent, while squeezing the shoulder blades together.  Lower and repeat for 12 reps.
3.  Lower Back Hyperextensions

Lie down on a ball, with the forearms on the floor, the legs straight, and toes resting on the floor. Keeping the legs together, lift the legs up until they're level with the hips. Lower back down, lightly touching the floor, and repeat for 12 reps.
Repeat 1 to 2 Times
1.  Barbell Bench Press

Lie down on a step or bench, and hold a heavy barbell just over the chest.  Push the weight straight up, without locking the elbows, and lower back down.  Repeat for 8 reps, followed by 8 slow pulses coming only halfway up.
2.  Incline Chest Flies

Lie on an incline bench or step and hold medium-heavy weights over the chest, palms facing each other.  Keeping elbows slightly bent and in a fixed position, lower the arms down to shoulder level.  Squeeze the chest to pull the arms back in, repeating for 12 reps.

Lie on a ball or bench and hold heavy weights just over the chest.  Push the right arm up and down and then the left arm, alternating for a total of 12 reps.
Repeat 1-2 Times
1.  Overhead Barbell Press

Choose a heavy weight you can safely lift, and press the arms straight up over the head (abs engaged, don't arch the back).  Lower and repeat for 12 reps.
2.  Lateral Raise

Stand holding medium weights in front of the body, palms facing each other. Leading with the elbows and keeping arms slightly bent, lift arms up to shoulder level (wrists straight) and lower.  Repeat for 12 reps.
3.  One-Armed Shoulder Press
ohpressonearm.jpg (78917 bytes)
Sit on a ball or bench and hold a heavy weight in the right hand.  Begin the movement by bending the elbow and bringing the weight next to the right ear. Keep the abs engaged to stabilize the body as you press the weight over the head. Lower and repeat for 12 reps before switching sides.
Repeat 1-2 Times
1.  Barbell Curls

Hold a heavy barbell with hands shoulder-width apart.  Contract the biceps to curl the weight towards the shoulder.  Lower back down and repeat for 12 reps.
2.  Alternating Bicep Curls

Hold heavy weights and curl the left arm up toward the shoulder.  Lower down and curl the right arm up.  Continue alternating curls, without swinging the weights, for 12 reps total.
3.  Concentration Curls

Sit on a step or bench, and hold a heavy weight in the left arm, elbow propped on the inside of the left thigh.  Contract the bicep to pull weight toward the shoulder.  Lower and repeat for 12 reps.
Repeat 1-2 Times
1.  Skull Crushers

Lie on a bench and hold a medium barbell in a narrow grip (hands about shoulder-width apart). Begin with the bar straight up over the chest, palms facing out. Bend the elbows and lower the weight down toward the head, stopping when the elbows are at 90 degrees. Push the weight back up and repeat for 15 reps.
2.  Kickbacks

Hold medium weights, and bend forward to 45 degrees or parallel to the floor, elbows bent and next to ribcage. Contract triceps to straighten elbows, bringing weight up slightly above hips. Lower and repeat for 12 reps.
3.  One-Armed Tricep Pushup

Lie on the right side, hips and knees stacked. Wrap the right arm around torso, and place the left hand on the floor in front of you, palm parallel to the body. Squeeze the triceps and push your body up. Lower and repeat for 10 reps before switching sides.
Repeat 1 to 2 Times
Related Video
Building Upper Body Strength in Children
Explore Exercise
By Category
    exerciseExercisehealthHealthaf50328b8e001b49f480849e2f538dcbc4000114ac00bd46http://exercise.about.comod526F6F747009livePaige Waehnerexerciseguide39o000EQzNIP11970-01-0110/od/index.htm0526F6F741approved/od
  1. About.com
  2. Health
  3. Exercise

©2015 About.com. All rights reserved.

We comply with the HONcode standard
for trustworthy health
information: verify here.