Beginner Upper Body Workout

If you're just getting started with lifting weights, you probably know you need to lift weights for all of your muscle groups: The chest, back, shoulders, biceps, triceps, core, and lower body.

That sounds like a lot, but you don't need to do tons of exercises to get the benefits of lifting weights.

Some benefits include losing more body fat, getting stronger, feeling confident and making other activities in your life easier.

Typically beginners will often start with a total body workout program, but that isn't the only option, especially if you're on a busy schedule. You can easily split your workouts so that you're working different muscle groups on different days. Your workouts are shorter and will fit into a busy day.

This upper body workout is perfect for beginners who want to get started. It includes easy-to-follow classic dumbbell exercises that target all of the muscles of the upper body as well as the core. Included is the muscle group you're working so you can start to learn which moves work which muscles.

That will help you focus on that muscle as you're doing the exercise, which makes the move more effective. The idea here is to start to build strength and muscle so you can create a strong foundation that will allow you to move on to more challenging workouts. If you need help figuring out how much weight to use, learn how to choose your weights.

It's always better to err on the side of caution when you're just starting out and use lighter weights so you can perfect your form. Focus on doing the exercises correctly and, once your body is used to them, focus more on using heavier weights.


If you have any injuries or other conditions, please see your doctor to get cleared before you try this or any workout.


Various weighted dumbbells and a resistance band.

How To:

  1. Begin with a 5-minute warm-up of light cardio or use very light weights with each exercise to warm up the whole body.
  2. Perform each exercise for 1 set of 15 repetitions, using light-medium weights. The last rep should feel challenging but doable.
  3. Perform this workout 2-3 times a week, with at least one day of rest in between.
  4. Modify or skip any exercise that causes pain or discomfort.

Modified Pushups (Chest)

Young pretty blonde working out on grass in park doing knee push-ups

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Starting on the hands and knees, walk your hands forward until your back is flat and the hands are wider than the shoulders.

Bend the elbows and lower into a pushup, going as low as you can. It's okay if you can only go a few inches at first. Just make sure your head and neck are in alignment and that you aren't leading with your chin.

If this feels very challenging, walk the hands back a bit to take some of the weight off the upper body. You can also try a modified version such as an incline pushup or a wall pushup if floor pushups are challenging. You may need to build both upper body and core strength to move on to more challenging pushups.

Repeat for 10-15 pushups.

Chest Flies (Chest)

Young male lying on an exercise bench, using dumbbells

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Lie on a step, bench, or floor and hold light-med weights—about 5 to 8 pounds for women or 8 to 15 pounds for men. Hold the weights straight up over the chest with the palms facing in.

Brace your core to keep the body stable and keep a slight bend in the elbows as you slowly lower the arms out to the sides.

Take the arms out and down so that they're just under chest level. Going too low will involve the shoulders and you want to keep the emphasis on the chest. Also, the chest is usually stronger than the shoulders, so you can strain your shoulder muscles if you go too low.

Lift the weights back to start and repeat for 15 reps.

Lat Pulls With Bands (Back)

lat pull starting position

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Sit or stand and hold a resistance band in both hands. Your hands should be about 2 or 3 feet apart, although you may need to adjust your hand position to get more or less tension.

The closer your hands are, the harder the exercise will be.

To start, hold the arms straight up and, keeping the left hand in place, squeeze the right side of your back and open the band, pulling the right elbow down towards your ribcage.

Return to start and repeat for 15 reps before switching arms.

Back Extensions (Back)

Back Extension Exercise

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Lie facedown on a mat and place the hands on the floor next to the ears, elbows bent.

Engage your abs and now slowly lift the chest off the ground, focusing on using the lower back muscles.

You can gently use your hands for support if you need to, but try to use your back muscles as much as you can.

Lower and repeat for 15 reps.

Another option is to put the hands behind the head, which is harder or, even more challenging, hold the arms straight out in front of you as you lift the chest off the ground.

Biceps Curls (Biceps)

Bicep curls

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

For this one, you may be able to use a heavier weight, around 8 to 12 pounds for women or 10 to 20 pounds for men.

Stand with feet about hip-distance apart and hold weights in front of the thighs with the palms facing out.

Brace your abs and bend the elbows, curling the weights towards the shoulders. Make sure your elbows don't come forward but stay right at your torso.

Slowly lower back down, without losing tension on the muscle and repeat for 15 reps.

Bent Arm Lateral Raises (Shoulders)

For this exercise, you'll want to go a little lighter, around 5 to 8 pounds for women and 8 to 12 pounds for men.

Stand with feet about hip-width apart and hold dumbbells with the arms bent to 90 degrees, palms facing in.

Keeping the 90-degree angle, lift the arms straight out to the sides keeping the elbows in a fixed position. Lift just to shoulder level and then lower, repeating for 15 reps. 

At the top of the motion your arms should be parallel to the floor.

Overhead Presses (Shoulders)

Shoulder Overhead Press

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

This exercise is usually a tough one, so you might start with a lighter weight—5 to 8 pounds for women and 8 pounds or more for men.

Start by standing with feet about hip-width apart. Begin by bringing the weights all the overhead, palms facing out. Make sure you're not arching your back, but keeping your core strong. If you do arch your back, you may need lighter weights.

Bend the elbows and bring the weights down so that they're at about the same level as your ears. Your arms should look like goal posts.

Press the weights ups and repeat for 15 reps.

Triceps Kickbacks (Triceps)

Tricep Kickback
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For this exercise, you can place your foot on a step or platform and support your body with one hand while the other side works.

Otherwise, hold a weight in the right hand and tip from the hips until your torso is at about a 45-degree angle or, if you can, parallel to the floor. Rest your left hand on the thigh to give your lower back some support.

Start by bringing the right elbow up so that it's right next to your back. Keep the arm in that position as you extend the right arm straight back, squeezing the back of the arm.

Lower and repeat for 15 reps on each side.

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