Upper body workouts target the chest, shoulders, arms, and back. Although fitness equipment, like dumbbells or kettlebells, is useful for many upper body workouts, many exercises, such as push-ups or tricep dips, can be performed with bodyweight.
If your goal is to increase your physical strength, working out your upper body is an important part of that process. In addition to building muscle, these workouts also can make everyday tasks such as lifting objects and carrying groceries much easier. Upper body workouts like those found here allow you to build muscle and strengthen your chest, back, shoulders, and arms.
The upper body is made up of smaller muscle groups than the lower body, so you may wonder if upper body workouts are worth your time. But incorporating exercises that target your upper body will help increase your strength, improve posture, and reduce the risk of injury. In fact, research has shown that strength training in general also increases in lean body mass, metabolic rate, and bone density as well.
If your weekly routine consists of 2 to 3 strength training workouts, at least one should target the upper body. In fact, two upper body workouts a week may be necessary for those who want to optimize results. Research indicates that when training major muscle groups—like the upper body—you should plan to train at least twice a week to maximize muscle growth.
The weight recommended for use in a strength training session varies from person to person. Choosing a weight to use depends largely on your experience level and goals. If you’re a beginner, start with a lower amount of weight. For example, you may use 1- or 2-pound dumbbells to perform bicep curls as a beginner, but find that you can quickly graduate to 5- or 10-pound weights as you get more comfortable.
Upper body exercises include staples like push-ups, pull-ups, bicep curls, overhead press, chest press, tricep extensions, rows, and more. These are exercises that target the upper body muscles, including biceps, triceps, chest, back, and shoulders.
Strength training burns calories, which can help with weight loss or weight management. It also helps build muscle, which burns more calories—even at rest. What's more, a new systematic review and meta-analysis show it is possible to lose about 1.4% of your entire body fat through strength training alone. If your goal is to lose weight, pair strength training with a balanced diet for the best results.
An upper body workout can include a variety of exercises and depends largely on the equipment available to you. You can do a lot of upper body exercises with bodyweight or dumbbells such as front raises, kickbacks, and rows. But if you do not have access to these tools, you can use common household items, such as soup cans or water bottles, in place weights for some exercises.
Push-ups are upper body exercises that are traditionally performed with the hands and toes on the ground. Bend your elbows to lower your body closer to the ground and straighten your arms to push your body back to the starting position. You can even give incline push-ups a try if you are just getting started.
Kickbacks are exercises that target the triceps and usually require the use of dumbbells or resistance bands. You can do these exercises standing or bent over a bench. Hold a dumbbell in your hand, keep your elbow glued to your side, and extend your hand behind you while keeping your arm straight. When you perform these exercises you should feel your tricep engage.
The bench press is an upper body exercise that targets the chest. This exercise is usually done in a gym using a bench, barbell, and plates, but you can always substitute dumbbells at home. The bench press is performed lying down as you lift a weighted barbell away from your chest and lower it back down. This exercise targets your pectoral muscles.
Triceps are large, thick muscles located on the back of the upper arms. Exercises like kickbacks and extensions work your triceps.
The biceps are muscles located in the front of your upper arms. Exercises like dumbbell curls and hammer curls work the biceps.
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Schoenfeld BJ, Ogborn D, Krieger JW. Effects of resistance training frequency on measures of muscle hypertrophy: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sports Med. 2016 Nov;46(11):1689-1697. doi:10.1007/s40279-016-0543-8 PMID:27102172
Wewege MA, Desai I, Honey C, et al. The effect of resistance training in healthy adults on body fat percentage, fat mass and visceral fat: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sports Med. 2022;52(2):287-300. doi:10.1007/s40279-021-01562-2
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