Upper Body Supersets - Strength and Endurance Challenge

When working your upper body, you can improve both your strength and endurance.

Increasing your strength requires that your muscles get enough time under tension. This forces them to build more muscle fibers and grow stronger. One way to do this is to change the tempo of your exercises, such as adding a small pulse after each rep.

You can also build endurance in your chest, back, shoulders, biceps, and triceps by doing supersets. In these supersets, you alternate two different exercises for the same muscle group with no rest in between. This adds intensity and forces your muscles to work harder.

See your doctor before trying this or any other workout if you have any injuries, illnesses, or other health conditions. Also, modify or skip any exercise that causes you pain or discomfort.

How To Do This Upper Body Strength and Endurance Workout

Start this workout by warming up for five to 10 minutes. You can either do this by performing some type of light-intensity cardio exercise, or you can do warm-up sets of the exercises used in the main portion of this workout.

Once your body is ready to exercise safely, perform the exercises in each superset, one after the other, for the number of repetitions or reps indicated. Try not to rest between the exercises if you can.

Aim to do each superset once or twice, with a short rest in between. For a harder workout, perform each one three times. This workout can be completed in 30 to 45 minutes, depending on how many sets you do and how much rest you take between sets.

Also, use heavy-enough weights so you can only do the suggested number of reps, but no more. This means the last rep should be doable with good form. If your form slips, stop early or switch to a lighter weight.

Equipment Needed

The equipment you'll need to do this workout includes a barbell, various weighted dumbbells, a bench, a step or exercise ball, a medicine ball, and a medium-tension resistance band. If you don't have a barbell, substitute with dumbbells or some other type of resistance.

Superset 1: Chest

Man doing chest press in gym

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1.5 Chest Presses

Begin this chest press by sitting on a bench or ball with your weights resting on your knees. If you choose a ball, this also challenges your balance, so consider the amount of weight you're using. You may need to go lighter.

Next, lie back and hold the weights up over your chest without locking your elbows. Bend your elbows and lower the weight down until your elbows are just below your torso.

From here, press the weights halfway up, lower them back down, and then press them all the way up.

Do 12 reps. (Each rep includes a half-press followed by a complete chest press.)

Alternating Chest Flies

Lie on a bench or ball and hold your weights over your chest with your palms facing in. Use a slightly lighter weight than the chest press, if needed.

Brace your abs to keep your body stable. With your right elbow slightly bent, lower your right arm out to the side and down to just below torso level. If you're on an exercise ball, this will be a challenge for your entire core.

Lift your right arm back to the starting position and repeat the chest fly with the left arm, again bracing your abs and keeping your left elbow slightly bent.

Continue alternating arms for 12 reps. (One rep includes both the right and left arms lifting.)

You can repeat this superset for a more intense workout or move on to the next one.

Superset 2: Upper Body

Athlete working out with medicine ball
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Staggered Pushups

Get into a pushup position on your knees or toes, with your hands under the shoulders. From this position, walk your left hand forward while keeping your right hand directly under the right shoulder.

Slowly bend your elbows and lower into a pushup. You should feel more tension in your right arm from this staggered position. Push back up.

Do 10 reps before switching sides and completing 10 more repetitions with your right arm forward.

Pushups With a Medicine Ball

Get into a pushup position on your knees or toes and rest your right hand on a medicine ball. If this feels too unsteady, try propping your hand on a step or other raised platform.

Bend your elbows and lower into a pushup. Push back to the starting position. Switch the ball to your left hand, and repeat.

Continue alternating hands on the medicine ball for 12 to 20 reps.

Repeat this superset for a more intense upper body workout or move on to the next superset.

Superset 3: Lats

Man doing one-arm bent over row
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One-Arm Rows

To do a one-arm dumbbell row, place your left foot on a step or, if you have a bench, rest your weight on your left knee with your left hand supporting you. You can also do this exercise while kneeling or by tipping forward at the hips and bracing your elbow on your thigh to support your lower back.

Begin with the weight in your right hand and hanging down towards the floor. Squeeze your back and pull your right elbow up in a rowing motion until it is level with your torso.

Lower and repeat 12 times, then switch sides.

Alternating Dumbbell Bent Over Rows

Alternating dumbbells bent over rows work your lats, the V-shaped muscles in your mid-back that connect your arms to your spine. However, because you're bent over, your lower back and core get more of a workout.

Begin with your feet hip-width apart and hold weights in both hands. Tip forward from your hips, keeping your abs braced and your back flat. Try to get your back parallel to the floor if you can, or aim for a 45-degree angle if this bothers your back. Bend your knees to further protect your lower back.

Pull both elbows up in a rowing motion. Keep your left arm in place and your back contracted, then lower your right hand towards the floor. Squeeze your back to pull your right arm back up and then lower your left arm.

Continue alternating rows on each arm for 10 reps. (One rep includes both the right and left arms.)

Repeat this superset for a more advanced upper body workout or move on to the next superset.

Superset 4: Upper Back

Horizontal Dumbbell Rows

While the last superset worked the lats, this one focuses more on the upper back and the area between the shoulder blades.

To do this exercise, prop your left foot on a step, supporting your body by placing your left hand on your thigh. You can also use a bench and rest your left knee on it to support your lower back.

Hold a weight in your right hand and let your arm hang down like in the one-arm row. The difference here is that you'll rotate your hand so your palm is facing the back of the room. Engage your shoulder blades (your rhomboid muscles) to pull your right arm up to shoulder level so it is perpendicular to the body.

Lower and repeat for 12 reps.

Rear Upper Back Squeezes

You can do this move standing or sitting. If you're standing, begin with your feet hip-width apart. Hold a resistance band so your hands are about a foot apart. (Check your band for any small tears before you do the exercise so it doesn't break and snap on you.)

If you need more tension, you may need to bring your hands closer together. If it feels like there is too much tension in the band, move them further apart.

Hold your arms straight out in front of you, your palms facing the ceiling. While squeezing the shoulder blades together, stretch the band so that your arms are out to your sides, like airplane wings.

Repeat for eight slow reps followed by eight small, pulsing reps.

Repeat this superset to get a more intense upper body workout or move on to the next superset.

Superset 5: Upper Body

Woman doing shoulder overhead press

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

1.5 Overhead Barbell Presses

You can do this move with a barbell or with dumbbells. If you're using a barbell, begin with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold the bar at your chest with your hands just wider than your shoulders. If you use dumbbells, hold one in each hand, with your palms facing forward.

Begin by pressing the weight overhead. Brace your abs and try to avoid arching your back. Bend your elbows to bring the weight down to about chin level. Press the weight halfway up and then lower it back to chin level again.

Repeat this exercise for 10 reps. (Each rep includes a full overhead press and a half overhead press.) 

Alternating Overhead Presses

While holding your weights, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your abs braced. Bend your elbows so the weights are level with your earlobes, making your arms look like goal posts.

Keeping your abs braced and your left arm in place, press your right arm overhead without locking the elbow. Next, lower the weight back to the starting position and repeat the move on the left side.

Continue alternating between the right and left arms for 10 reps. (One rep includes both the right and left sides.)

Repeat this superset for a more intense workout or move on to the next superset.

Superset 6: Shoulders

Woman doing an upright row

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Upright Rows

Note: The upright row is a vertical lift. So, if you have any shoulder or rotator cuff issues, you may want to avoid this exercise.

To do an upright row, stand with your feet hip-width apart. Hold your dumbbells or a barbell with your hands just inside the shoulders, palms facing your body.

Keep your shoulders down and your chest up as you bend your elbows, pulling them up toward the ceiling and bringing the weight or weights to chest level.

Lower and repeat for 12 reps.

Incline Front Raises

This front raise requires that you sit on an exercise ball or an incline bench.

If you're using a ball, use a mat or shoes that don't slip and hold lighter dumbbells. Slowly walk your feet out, getting into an incline position, with your knees bent and the ball positioned around your mid-back.

Start with the weights at your sides. Keeping your arms straight, lift them straight up to shoulder level with your palms facing in.

Lower and repeat for 12 reps.

You can either repeat this superset to boost your upper body strength and endurance even more or move on to the next superset.

Superset 7: Biceps

Close-up of woman training with barbell
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1.5 Bicep Curls

You can do bicep curls with a barbell or a set of dumbbells. Begin by standing with your feet hip-width apart, your weights in front of your thighs, and your palms facing forward.

Bend your elbows and squeeze your biceps to curl the weight up, toward the shoulders. Keep your elbows static, or in the same position, the entire time. Lower the weights all the way down and then lift halfway up.

Lower them back down and continue for 10 reps. (One rep includes a full curl and a half curl.)

Alternating Dumbbell Curls

Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing forward. Bend your right elbow, squeezing your biceps to curl the weight up. Lower the weight and, as you do, begin a biceps curl with the left arm.

Continue alternating sides for 12 reps. (One rep includes both the right and left arms.)

Repeat this superset if you feel strong enough or want to work your upper body more, or move on to the next superset.

Superset 8: Triceps

Close-Grip Bench Presses

The close-grip bench press begins by lying on a bench or ball and holding weights or a barbell. If you're on a ball, brace your core and make sure your head and neck are supported. If you're using a barbell, place your hands shoulder-width apart with your palms facing out.

Start with the weight straight up. Then bend your elbows, keeping them close to your body as you lower the weight to hover just above your ribcage.

Squeeze your triceps to push the weight back up, keeping the weight centered over your torso. You will also feel this exercise in your chest.

Repeat for 12 reps.

Dips With Leg Extensions

Sit on a step or chair with your knees bent and your hands next to your hips. Push up onto your hands, keeping your hips close to the bench. (If you want a more challenging version, move your feet further away from the bench.)

Bend your elbows and lower into a triceps dip, going down until your elbows are at 90-degree angles. Keep your shoulders down and your hips close to the bench so you don't strain your shoulders.

As you press up, extend your right leg, reaching for your toes with your left hand. Lower your leg and arm for another dip, this time extending the left leg and reaching out with your right hand.

Continue dipping and alternating sides for 12 reps.

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