Alex Silver-Fagan's Strong Moves Upper-Body Workout
There's no one way to build a strong, toned upper body. Blend different training styles into your routine with this well-rounded workout!
In the weight room, "heavy" means different things to different people. Regardless of your strength level, this workout will give you the chance to test it—and improve it.
After a solid warm-up, you'll work in the low-rep strength zone on the press that allows you to move the most weight: the bench. You'll also give solid attention to your back, shoulders, and core in three back-to-back higher-rep supersets.
This workout is very intense and includes a lot of different training styles. I recommend adding it into your routine once or maybe twice a week if working on your upper body is a big goal of yours right now. Let's get started.
Dumbbell Sumo Deadlift High Pull (Shown with kettlebell)3 sets of 10 reps
Alex's Technique Keys
Inchworm: Keeping your legs straight, reach down to tap your toes, and walk your hands out into a plank position. Once you're in a proper plank, with your body in a straight line from your shoulders to ankles and your core engaged, complete one push-up. Then, walk your toes in toward your hands. Repeat across the floor for reps.
T-spine rotation: Increase the mobility of your thoracic spine and hips with this sequence. Start in the same position you did for the inch worm, then straighten your legs and walk out into a plank. Bring your right leg to the outside of your right hand. Plant it there as you twist and reach your right arm up. Switch sides and repeat.
Shoulder sweep: Lying on your side, bring your knees up toward your chest at a 90-degree angle. Place your right arm out straight at your side, resting it on the floor. Place your left arm above that hand. Reach your left fingertips up and around your head, reaching toward the other side of your body, then bring it back down. The only parts of your body that should be moving are your shoulders and upper back. Keep your knees and your legs steady in that 90-degree position.
Crab reach: Get on all fours with your chest and upper-body facing toward the sky and your butt facing the ground. Pushing through your heels, reach your arm up and around, grasping behind you. Come back to the center before switching arms. Try to focus on the quality of your movement and not the number of reps completed.
Barbell bench press: Ease into this compound movement. Start with 2 warm-up sets, working your way up to 5 working sets of 5 reps. With each set, increase your load by 5 pounds or so, although the first time you perform the workout, it's OK if you don't know exactly what load to use. Keep your hands shoulder-width apart, and as you bring the barbell down to your chest, bring your shoulders back, squeezing and engaging your upper back. Go slow on the way down, make sure the barbell touches your chest, and exhale and explode all the way up. This exercise is meant to build strength. Over time, your focus should be on getting more weight on the bar.
Barbell Bench Press
Dumbbell sumo deadlift high-pull: With this rep scheme, you'll work more in the hypertrophy range. I want your heart rate to go up, and I want you to work hard. With the sumo deadlift high pull, you'll use two dumbbells. With your feet a little bit wider than shoulder-width apart and your toes facing out, assume a sumo stance. Reach down for the dumbbells by hinging at your hips, pushing your butt back and keeping a soft bend in your knees. Drive with your legs to explode all the way up, bringing the weights to your collarbone. Your elbows should go nice and wide and then reset. Short on dumbbells? Opt for a kettlebell instead.
Lateral raise: High pulls already work the shoulders, so supersetting them with lateral raises will really make your delts work. Don't expect to be able to use the same weights you used for the high-pull, though! Keep your feet fairly narrow, right underneath your shoulders, and keep a slight bend in your knees so that you have a strong base of support. I don't want you to bring this into your traps, so definitely keep your shoulders down and away from your ears throughout the movement. If you use heavier weight, you can have a soft bend in your elbows to make it easier to get the weights up there, but try to keep your arms as straight as you can, so you're really working the outside of that delt.
Single-arm dumbbell row: While you're working in a slightly higher rep range here than you were with the bench press, I want you to go heavy with this row. Think about driving your elbow up toward the sky and bringing the weight toward your ribcage, squeezing your back at the top.
Arnold press: I do a lot of my movements standing, so that my core is engaged, and the Arnold press is no exception. But there's no need to go super stiff; keep a soft bend in your knees as you lift the dumbbells up to your shoulders with your palms facing toward you. As you press the weights up and toward the sky, rotate them so that your palms are facing away from you at the top of the movement. Then, rotate them back around as you bring them back down.
Kettlebell windmill: This move might not be a regular in your routine, but it's one of my favorites and a great way strengthen your abdominals while engaging everything from your glutes and hamstrings to your shoulders and triceps. Starting with your right side, face your right toe forward and your left out to the side. Grab the kettlebell in your right hand, bring it toward your shoulder, and press it overhead toward the sky. Don't go too heavy while you're learning this movement—especially after all those Arnold presses! Hinge at the hips, and stick your butt back, pushing your hips toward the right as you reach your left arm down. Keep your right arm overhead and your eyes on the kettlebell for the entire movement.
Push-up: With push-ups, small cues can make all the difference. Keep your butt squeezed, and lower your entire body in unison. Think about bringing your nose in front of your fingers rather than in between, leaning over your hands instead of pulling back as you descend. Then, once you get to at least a 90-degree bend in your elbows, or lower if you want, explode back up.