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

Strengthening your upper body is critical for continued mobility, flexibility, as well as physical performance. In addition, for some individuals, strength training may also help boost overall energy. Because strength and muscle mass tend to begin decreasing around the age of 35, it's important to find an exercise program that helps you maintain or build upper body muscle mass.

This efficient upper body workout includes exercises for any fitness level and focuses on the chest, back, shoulder, and arm muscles. These exercises can be done in a home gym or regular gym, with minimal or no equipment required.

Workout Tips

This plan is tailored to beginners and those who are intermediate or advanced. You'll hit the chest, back, shoulders, and arms with classic moves you'll easily recognize. 

Follow these basic tips to make the workout more effective:

  • Beginners should perform 1 set of 12–16 repetitions.
  • Intermediate and advanced exercisers can perform 1–3 sets of 8–12 reps using enough weight that you can only complete the desired number of reps.
  • Be sure to rest for 30–60 seconds between sets and exercises.
  • Warm up with light cardio, like jogging, or warm up sets of the exercises.
  • To help your body recover post-workout, do a short cool down, such as walking on a treadmill for 10 minutes. This can help gradually bring down your heart rate and blood pressure.
  • Repeat this workout 2 to 3 times per week with at least 48 hours of rest for your upper body in between high intensity workouts.


You can complete these exercises with no weight and simply use your bodyweight. You can also use various weighted dumbbells, an exercise ball, a bench, or a step.

Bench Press

 Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Start your upper body workout with the chest, a large muscle group. 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.

To prepare to do a bench press, lie on a bench or step.

  1. Begin with the weights in each hand or the barbell straight up over the chest, with palms facing out. 
  2. Bend the elbows and lower the arms down until the elbows are just below the chest. The arms should look like goal posts.
  3. Press the weights back up without locking the elbows and bring them together over the chest. 
  4. Lower and repeat the exercise, completing 1–3 sets of 8–16 reps.


 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.

To do this push-up variation, 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 drift back if you don't control the ball. 

  1. Bend the elbows into a push-up position.
  2. Push back up and repeat the exercise.
  3. Complete 1–3 sets of 8–16 reps.

Bent-Over Row

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

After the chest, move on to the back (specifically, the lats), the next big muscle group. Bent-over rows work these big muscles on either side of the body, and the biceps and shoulders get some bonus work too.

To do a bent-over row, hold a dumbbell in each hand, with your palms facing the body. Another variation to try is a one-arm row, which focuses on holding one dumbbell at a time, while in a lunge position.

  1. Hinge at your hips, at about a 45 degree angle, keeping your back straight and your core engaged. Breathe in.
  2. While exhaling, lift the weights straight up toward your body. Your arms should go no higher than parallel with the shoulders. In this move, your lower body remains stationary. Do not squat down and up after the initial pose. No movement of the legs occurs throughout the exercise.
  3. Lower the weights with control to the starting position while inhaling.
  4. Complete 1–3 sets of 8–16 reps.

Back Extensions on the Ball

Next, hit another area of the back, specifically the lower back. This exercise uses a ball. But, you can easily do this move on the floor by lying on your stomach and lifting your hands behind your head, slowly rising and falling by reaching your upper body toward the ceiling. If you have access to a gym, you can also do a machine back extension.

To prepare for this back extension, roll forward onto the ball and, balancing the knees against the ball (easier) or toes (harder), place the hands behind the head. Try having someone stabilize the ball if you need additional support.

  1. Curl forward over the ball so that the chest comes closer to the ball.
  2. Then, lift the chest up, bringing it just to torso level (you don't want to hyperextend here). 
  3. Lower and repeat the previous steps.
  4. Complete 1–3 sets of 8–16 reps.

Overhead Press

  Verywell / Ben Goldstein

The overhead press works the next largest muscle group, the shoulders. The shoulders have three heads, or parts, including 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.

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.

  1. Press the weights overhead, without locking the elbows.
  2. Keep the back straight, with abs braced.
  3. Lower back to start and repeat the exercise.
  4. Complete 1–3 sets of 8–16 reps.

Reverse Fly

reverse fly exercise move

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, which is a nice bonus.

Begin by sitting on a bench or chair, or you can stand and bend over. Bend forward (back should be flat), and hold the weights behind the calves.

  1. Keeping the neck in good alignment and the abs braced, lift the arms straight up to about torso level, with elbows slightly bent.
  2. Try not to jerk the arms up, but really use the shoulders to lift the weight.
  3. Lower the weights and repeat the previous steps.
  4. Complete 1–3 sets of 8–16 reps.

Biceps Curls

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Move on to the biceps curl, a good biceps exercise. Also known as arm curls, you will really concentrate on strengthening the biceps muscle, an important muscle when it comes to pulling and lifting movements.

Stand with feet hip-distance apart. Arms should hang alongside the body so that the elbows are close to the ribs. Place one weight in each hand. Start with palms facing forward.

  1. Bending at the elbow, lift each weight so that they come closer to the shoulders.
  2. Try not to let the elbows drift away from the rib cage.
  3. Lower the weights to the starting position and repeat the exercise.
  4. Complete 1–3 sets of 8–16 reps.


For the last muscle group, the triceps, work on some triceps 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.

To begin, hold a weight in the right hand and bend forward, resting the forearm on the left thigh for support. The back should be straight and abs braced.

  1. Pull the elbow up next to the torso, like you're squeezing something in your armpit.
  2. Hold that position as you extend the arm behind you.
  3. Lower and repeat, but try not to swing the weight. 
  4. Complete 1–3 sets of 8–16 reps.

Triceps Extensions

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

The last exercise in the series is another move for the triceps. It's called the triceps extension and it is usually performed in a seated position, although standing is also an option.

Sit on a bench or ball and place a weight in your hands. Extend the arms straight up over the head, with palms facing each other.

  1. Bend the elbows and lower the hands. The weight will come back behind your head. Keep the upper arms close to your ears.
  2. Squeeze the triceps to straighten the arms and return to the starting position.
  3. Complete 1–3 sets of 8–16 reps.

Safety and Precautions

To help you avoid injury, follow the exercise instructions carefully to ensure you have proper form. If you are using weights, make sure you can lift them comfortably, while still maintaining proper form. If repetitions feel too easy or too difficult, increase or decrease the weight.

If you are injured, pregnant, or have a medical condition, it's best to speak with your healthcare provider prior to starting a new exercise program.

Be sure to give your body 48 hours to recover before doing another strength training workout.

Whether you are looking to build or maintain upper body strength or flexibility, completing a workout that focuses on your back, shoulders, arms, and chest can help you reach your goals.

Be sure to always listen to your body while you exercise and reach out to a personal trainer if you have specific goals in mind or if you'd like additional support.

4 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Institute on Aging. How can strength training build healthier bodies as we age?

  2. American College of Sports Medicine. A road map to effective muscle recovery.

  3. Campos YAC, Vianna JM, Guimarães MP, et al. Different shoulder exercises affect the activation of deltoid portions in resistance-trained individuals. J Hum Kinet. 2020;75:5-14. doi:10.2478/hukin-2020-0033

  4. Harvard Health Publishing. 7 tips for a safe and successful strength-training program.

By Paige Waehner, CPT
Paige Waehner is a certified personal trainer, author of the "Guide to Become a Personal Trainer," and co-author of "The Buzz on Exercise & Fitness."