Upper Body Workout for Chest, Back, Shoulders, and Arms

Creating a strength training program can be daunting, especially when it comes to choosing your exercises. How do you know what to include in a basic upper body workout? One approach is to choose one or two different exercises for each muscle group, which is what this effective and efficient, workout includes.

You'll hit the chest, back, shoulders and arms with classic moves you'll easily recognize. This workout is great for just about any fitness level.

Precautions

See your doctor if you have any illnesses or medical conditions.

Equipment Needed

Various weighted dumbbells, an exercise ball and/or a bench or step.

You can also do any of these with no weight and simply use your bodyweight.

How To

This plan is tailored to beginners and those who are intermediate/advanced:

  • Warm up with light cardio or warm up sets of the exercises
  • Rest for 30–60 seconds between sets and exercises
  • Beginners: Perform 1 set of 12–16 repetitions
  • Intermediate/advanced: Perform 1–3 sets of 8–12 reps using enough weight that you can only complete the desired number of reps.
1

Bench Press

Bench press

 Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Start your upper body workout with a large muscle group, the chest. The smaller muscles that help out, like the arms and shoulders, are rested so you can usually lift a little heavier here. You can use small weights in each hand or a barbell. If you are using heavier weight, make sure you have someone to spot you.

Bench Presses: Lie on a bench or step and begin with the weights in each hand straight up over the chest, palms facing out. Bend the elbows and lower the arms down until the elbows are just below the chest—arms should look like goal posts. Press the weights back up without locking the elbows and bring them together over the chest. Lower and repeat.

Reps/Sets/Duration

1–3 sets of 8–16 reps

2

Push-Ups

pushup

 Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Move on to push-ups after chest presses once the muscles are warm. This version involves using an exercise ball, which can make it harder or easier, depending on where you rest your legs on the ball.

Push-Ups: Begin by rolling forward onto the ball until the ball is under the thighs (easier), shins (a little harder), or feet (hardest). Make sure you keep the hands under the shoulders...you may tend to drift back if you don't control the ball. Bend the elbows into a pushup, push back up and repeat.

Reps/Sets/Duration

1–3 sets of 8–16 reps

3

One Arm Row

one arm row

 Verywell / Ben Goldstein

After the chest, move on to the next big muscle group: the back, or more specifically, the lats. One-arm rows work those big muscles on either side of the body and the biceps get some bonus work, too.

One-Arm Row: Place the left foot on a step or platform and rest the left hand or forearm on the upper thigh. Hold a weight in the right hand, tip forward keeping the back flat and the abs in, and hang the weight down towards the floor. Bend the elbow and pull it up in a rowing motion until it is level with the torso or just above it. At the top of the movement, squeeze the back while keeping the hips square and the abs engaged.

Reps/Sets/Duration

1–3 sets of 8–16 reps

4

Back Extensions on the Ball

Next, hit another area of your back, your lower back. This one uses a ball, but you can easily do this move on the floor if you prefer by laying on your front and lifting hands behind your head, slowly rising and falling by reaching your upper body toward the ceiling.

Back Extensions: Roll forward onto the ball and, balancing the knees against the ball (easier) or toes (harder), place the hands behind the head. Curl forward over the ball and then lift the chest up, bringing it just to torso level (you don't want to hyperextend here). Try having someone stabilize the ball if you need. Lower and repeat.

Reps/Sets/Duration

1–3 sets of 8–16 reps

5

Overhead Press

dumbbell overhead press

  Verywell / Ben Goldstein

The overhead press works the next largest muscle group, the shoulders. The shoulders have three heads—the front, middle, and rear deltoid. Your upper body workout should include exercises that hit all three heads. The overhead press works the middle and front deltoid.

Overhead Press: Stand with feet about hip-distance apart holding weights with the elbows bent to 90 degrees, palms facing out and arms like a goal post. Press the weights overhead, without locking the elbows and keeping the back straight, abs braced. Lower back to start and repeat.

Reps/Sets/Duration:

1–3 sets of 8–16 reps

6

Reverse Fly

delt flies

  Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Also known as a rear lateral raise, the reverse fly works the rear deltoids, making this a great compliment to the overhead press. It also works the upper back, a nice bonus.

Reverse Fly: Sit on a bench or chair (or you can stand and bend over), bend forward (back should be flat) weights behind the calves. Keeping the neck in good alignment and the abs braced, lift the arms straight up to about torso level, elbows slightly bent. Try not to jerk the arms up, but really use the shoulders to lift the weight. Lower and repeat.

Reps/Sets/Duration

1–3 sets of 8–16 reps

7

Concentration Curls

curls

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Move on to a good biceps exercise, the concentration curl. As you will feel, in this position and at this angle, you really concentrate all those muscle fibers in the biceps muscle.

Concentration Curls: Sit on a chair or bench (or kneel) and hold a weight in the right hand. Rest the right elbow on the inside of the right thigh for leverage and curl the weight up towards the shoulder. Avoid curling the wrists and, as you lower the weight, try not to completely straighten the arm, but keep a little tension on the muscle at the bottom of the movement.

Reps/Sets/Duration

1–3 sets of 8–16 reps

8

Kickbacks

kickback

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

For the last muscle group, the triceps, work on some kickbacks. This exercise is perfect for targeting all three heads of the triceps muscle and you also get some extra bonus work on the core.

Kickbacks: Hold a weight in the right hand and bend forward, resting the forearm on the left thigh for support. The back should be straight, abs braced. Start by pulling the elbow up next to the torso, like you're squeezing something in your armpit. Hold that position as you extend the arm behind you. Lower and repeat, but try not to swing the weight. 

Reps/Sets/Duration

1–3 sets of 8–16 reps

9

Triceps Extensions

tricep extension

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Triceps Extensions: Lie on the floor or sit a bench/ball and extend the arms straight up over the chest, palms face in. Bend the elbows and lower the hands until they're next to the ears, elbows at about 90-degree angles. (Watch out for your face!) Squeeze the triceps to straighten the arms without locking the joints. Lower and repeat.

Reps/Sets/Duration

1–3 sets of 8–16 reps

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