How To Build Your Own Upper-Body Workouts

A lot of women love to train legs but aren't quite sure how to train their upper body. Learn how to build amazing workouts for your arms, shoulders, back, and chest from Jamie Eason!

Upper-body training is important for everyone, but many women seem to feel more comfortable doing leg exercises. You may feel that your legs need all the work, but if you want a balanced physique that's all-over strong, you need to take a break from working your lower body and whip up some awesome upper-body workouts!

Just because your lower body may not look as great as you want it to doesn't mean you should ignore the other half. In fact, rounder, sculpted shoulders and great-looking arms only come from building muscles in your upper body, and they'll go a long way toward making you look great in any outfit. Plus, a great upper-body will also make your waist look smaller. Who doesn't love that?

Rounder, sculpted shoulders and great-looking arms only come from building muscles in your upper body, and they'll go a long way toward making you look great in any outfit.

If you want to start working on your upper body, there are a number of great ways to implement specific upper-body work into your training program. (Of course, if you need a complete training program, just check out my LiveFit Trainer!

Picking the Right Exercises

Depending on your goal and your preferred training styles, you can organize your workouts in a variety of ways. Let's start with the exercises themselves. There are hundreds of upper-body exercises, but here are some of my favorites for each body part:

Shoulders

Chest

Back



Biceps

Triceps

If you have other favorite exercises, you can definitely include them in your workout; the exercises above are just suggestions. Once you have your favorite exercises in mind, you can start to build your workouts.


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Organizing Your Workouts

Before we get into how to build your workouts, there are a few upper-body training rules you should know.

  • Unless you're doing a "chest day," perform more pulling exercises than pushing exercises as a general rule. Why? Because most people's shoulders roll forward and in. The best way to combat that is through back training!
  • Biceps and triceps exercises should never make up the majority of your upper-body work. In fact, those tiny muscle groups should make up maybe a quarter of your upper-body workouts. Your chest, back, and shoulder girdle are bigger muscle groups that, when trained, will have the biggest impact on your physique.
  • Include upper-body training into your workout regimen at least twice per week.

Now that you know the rules, here are some fun ways to organize your workouts!

Circuits

I really enjoy circuit workouts because I get the conditioning I need without having to do much extra cardio. To do a circuit, choose about five exercises (1-2 from each list) and perform them, one after the other, without rest. I always suggest somewhere between 8-12 reps per exercise and 2-4 roundstotal, depending on your initial fitness level.

Because you're doing five exercises in a row, you may have to use a lighter weight than you're accustomed to. Remember, you don't rest between exercises, but you should rest between rounds for 1-2 minutes. If you create more than one circuit, make sure you're training your body evenly and selecting exercises for each major muscle group.

Jamie's Sample Circuit
Perform 2-4 rounds
1
Incline Dumbbell Press Incline Dumbbell Press

Dumbbell Row

8-12 reps
One-Arm Dumbbell Row One-Arm Dumbbell Row
Front Dumbbell Raise Front Dumbbell Raise
Dumbbell Alternate Bicep Curl Dumbbell Alternate Bicep Curl
Seated Triceps Press Seated Triceps Press
Note: Resting 1-2 minutes between each circuit.


Straight Sets

Straight sets are easy to organize and are usually the best choice if you're a beginner. To do them, perform all the sets of one exercise before moving on to the next. The best upper-body workouts structured this way are typically those that have a particular focus. So, if your shoulders are a weakness, start with a heavier shoulder exercise before progressing to lighter isolation exercises.

Lat pull-down

For the most muscle-building power, do 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps of each exercise, and rest 1-2 minutes between sets. Because you get so much rest, you should be using a challenging weight that pushes your limits in that rep range. If you want to decrease the rest to keep your heart rate more elevated, rest 30-60 seconds between sets.

If you want to focus on strength, choose a compound movement like the bench press, push press, or pull-up to start your workout. Do fewer reps, and focus on moving as much weight as you can.

Jamie's Sample Shoulder Workout
1

Push Press

3-4 sets of 5-8 reps
Push Press Push Press

45-degree Lying Lateral Raise

3-4 sets of 8-12 reps
Dumbbell Lying Rear Lateral Raise Dumbbell Lying Rear Lateral Raise

Front Dumbbell Raise

3-4 sets of 8-12 reps
Front Dumbbell Raise Front Dumbbell Raise

Cable Fly

3-4 sets of 8-12 reps
Flat Bench Cable Flyes Flat Bench Cable Flyes

Lat Pull-down

3-4 sets of 8-12 reps
Wide-Grip Lat Pulldown Wide-Grip Lat Pulldown

Concentration Curl

3-4 sets of 8-12 reps
Concentration Curls Concentration Curls

Triceps Push-down

3-4 sets of 8-12 reps
Triceps Pushdown Triceps Pushdown
Note: Rest 1-2 minutes between sets.


Supersets

If you've been in the gym awhile, you're probably familiar with supersets. To do a superset, perform two exercises, one after the other, without rest. The trick with supersets, though, is to perform antagonist exercises, or exercises that work opposing muscle groups.

For example, you can pair a chest and back exercise or a biceps and triceps exercise to get the most out of this technique. Supersets are great because they add intensity to your workouts and allow you to train two body parts at the same time without completely exhausting them. That means you can reach for that heavy dumbbell!

Wide-grip Push-up

Aim for that 8-12 rep range, and rest 1-2 minutes between supersets. Complete all rounds of one superset before moving on to the next pair of exercises.

If you want to add some strength work to this type of workout, choose a compound movement like the bench press or push press, and do a few straight, heavy sets of that exercise before beginning your supersets.

Jamie's Sample Superset Workout
Superset
1

Wide-grip Push-up

2-4 sets of 8-12 reps
Pushups Pushups

Pull-up

2-4 sets of 8-12 reps
Pullups Pullups

Superset
2

Dumbbell Fly

2-4 sets of 8-12 reps
Dumbbell Flyes Dumbbell Flyes

Narrow-Grip Lat Pull-down

2-4 sets of 8-12 reps
Close-Grip Front Lat Pulldown Close-Grip Front Lat Pulldown

Superset
3

Dumbbell Shoulder Press

2-3 sets of 8-12 reps
Dumbbell Shoulder Press Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Dumbbell Row

8-12 reps
One-Arm Dumbbell Row One-Arm Dumbbell Row

Superset
4

EZ-Bar Curl

2-3 sets of 8-12 reps
EZ-Bar Curl EZ-Bar Curl

Dip

2-3 sets of 8-12 reps
Dips - Triceps Version Dips - Triceps Version


Compound Sets

Compound sets are similar to supersets, but instead of training opposing muscle groups, you'll pair exercises that work the same muscle group. Doing two exercises that train the same muscle group is a great way to add some spice to your workouts. Not only will your muscles feel totally exhausted after just a few sets, but your spiked heart rate will help you burn even more calories.

Doing two exercises that train the same muscle group is a great way to add some spice to your workouts. Not only will your muscles feel totally exhausted after just a few sets, but your spiked heart rate will help you burn even more calories.

As with all of the other workout types, aim for 2-4 sets of 8-12 reps. Because these sets are so intense, you may have to lighten the load a little bit in order to reach all of the reps, especially on those later sets. Rest 1-2 minutes between compound sets.

In this case, you can pair a multijoint exercise with a single-joint, a heavy exercise with a bodyweight exercise, or even a machine with barbells or dumbbells. Many people like to start with a heavy exercise and then hit the same muscle group with a lighter follow-up, but the choices are endless and will dependent on your goals.

Jamie's Sample Compound Workout
Compound set
1

Wide-Grip Lat Pulldown

2-4 sets of 8-12 reps
Wide-Grip Lat Pulldown Wide-Grip Lat Pulldown

Pull-up (or assisted pull-up)

2-4 sets of 8-12 reps
Pullups Pullups

Compound set
2

Rear-Delt Raise

2-4 sets of 8-12 reps
Seated Bent-Over Rear Delt Raise Seated Bent-Over Rear Delt Raise

Shoulder Press

2-4 sets of 8-12 reps
Barbell Shoulder Press Barbell Shoulder Press

Compound set
3

Arnold Press

2-4 sets of 8-12 reps
Arnold Dumbbell Press Arnold Dumbbell Press

Cable Fly

2-4 sets of 8-12 reps
Flat Bench Cable Flyes Flat Bench Cable Flyes

Compound set
4

Rope cable curl

2-4 sets of 8-12 reps
Rope cable curl Rope cable curl

Incline Curl

2-4 sets of 8-12 reps
Incline Dumbbell Curl Incline Dumbbell Curl

Compound set
5

Skullcrusher

2-4 sets of 8-12 reps
Lying Triceps Press Lying Triceps Press

Triceps Push-down

2-4 sets of 8-12 reps
Triceps Pushdown Triceps Pushdown


What's Next?

The only thing left to do now is start! Choose one of these sample workouts, and hit the gym. Once you feel comfortable with the types of workouts you like, you can start building your own. Just follow the templates, and don't be afraid to experiment!

When you're really feeling confident with the basics, you can add other techniques to these upper-body workouts such as dropsets, in which you lift to failure, immediately drop the weight by 20-25 percent, and lift to failure again; one-minute cardio bursts between exercises; or even some glute or ab training between sets or after your sessions if you need to hit your weaknesses a little more.

Add your own favorite upper-body techniques, exercises, and workouts to the comments section below!


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