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?
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:
- Dumbbell shoulder press
- Dumbbell front raise
- Lying rear-delt raise
- Cable rear-delt fly
- Arnold press
- Push press
- Bench press
- Incline bench press
- Wide-grip push-up
- Cable fly
- Dumbbell fly
- Bent-arm dumbbell pull-over
- Wide-grip lat pull-down
- Narrow-grip lat pull-down
- Single-arm dumbbell row
- Inverted row
- Seated cable row
- Alternating biceps curl
- Concentration curl
- Rope cable curl
- EZ-bar curl
- Incline curl
- Close-grip push-up
- Incline-bench skullcrusher
- Overhead triceps press
- Triceps push-down
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.