Killer Upper Body Workout: Effective Upper Body Exercises, Tips & Routines for Muscle Growth, Strength and Toning!

There aren't too many things more impressive than a well-rounded upper body displaying a nice set of arms, round shoulders, defined chest and a good back...whether you're male or female, adding muscle in just the right places and reshaping your upper body can make you look like a celebrity with or without clothes on.

The most common mistake when training the upper body is to overemphasize a "favorite" region, such as Chest or Arms, which causes a disproportional look and muscle imbalances leading to injury. For the vast majority of people, a more balanced approach to training all the major muscle groups is a much better way to go. Of course, bodypart specializations do have their place, but only after gaining a significant amount of experience with lifting weights.

The other major issue is exercise selection, choosing too many isolation movements instead of focusing on the compound exercises that deliver results more efficiently. A good upper body workout plan should focus on a few compound exercises, and then supplement each specific bodypart with some isolation moves for targeted development. In other words, its all about putting more energy into the biggest, baddest exercises and then fine tuning & reshaping with targeted exercises.

For men, the classic V-Taper shape is the most desirable look. It all begins with a nice set of shoulders, especially the lateral deltoids, and a wide set of Lats(back) complemented by a slim waist(visible Abs without bulky obliques). This look is further enhanced by a prominent upper chest, a good biceps peak and triceps that aren't too much bigger than the biceps. Of course, without a nice lower body, your overall appearance can never reach its very best.

Women, on the other hand, don't need to emphasize the width of the shoulders or lats(back) as much, but they still need to develop all of these regions fairly equally to have a feminine "fitness" look. Don't worry, unless you load up on the calories and supplement with testosterone, it'll be nearly impossible to look "bulky" like a man.

The rest of this page gives a nice summary on the basics of upper body training, including tips and sample workouts. For answers on issues such as Exercise Selection, Sequence, Reps & Sets and much more, we highly recommend reading our 4-Part Weight Lifting Tips Series before moving any further.

Quick Tip: The best approach to training your Arms is to include them in a well-structured, total body workout program that scientifically plans all of these things for you: 1) volume, 2) intensity, 3) frequency, 4) progression, 5) exercise selection, 6) periodization & MUCH more...

 Discover the Secrets to Developing a Perfectly Balanced, Ripped Physique (95% of Gym Rats Have No Clue About This)

Here's an outline of the rest of this page:

1) Introduction of the major upper body muscle groups
2) Upper body exercises
3) Quick training tips
4) Sample upper body workout

Introduction & Basic Anatomy

As you can imagine, there are a bunch of large & small muscle groups that make up your upper body. Excluding the core region, there's the Chest, Back, Shoulders & Arms, so click the links below to take a closer look at each:

Chest Anatomy: Pectoralis Major & Minor

Back Anatomy: Mainly the Trapezius, Rhomboids, Lattisimus Dorsi and Erector Spinae

Arms Anatomy: Biceps Brachii, Triceps Brachii, Brachialis and Brachioradialis

Shoulders Anatomy: The Anterior, Lateral & Posterior Deltoids and the Rotator Cuff

Knowing the very basic anatomy, or the main segments of each muscle group allows you to select targeted exercises and direct your mental focus on specific regions when working out.

Major Upper Body Exercises (just a sample)

Incline Bench Press

- Sit on incline bench.
Hold weights in hands, arms out to sides, elbows bent.
Lift arms up and overhead as shown.
Lower and repeat.
 

Dumbbell Flies

- Lie on back on bench.
Hold weights in hands, palms up, elbows slightly bent as shown.
Lift arms up and inward while straightening elbows.
Lower and repeat
.

Barbell Bent Over Rows


- Begin with barbell on floor in front.
- Stand with knees slightly bent and feet about hip distance apart.
- Bend forward at hips, keeping low back straight.
- Lift barbell up to abdomen.
- Lower and repeat.

Pullups

- Place hands on pull-up bar, palms out.
- Slowly pull chin up to bar and lower back down.
- Repeat

Hammer Curls

- Stand with feet hip distance apart.
- Begin with weights in hands, palms inward.
- Bend elbow of one arm, bringing weight up and out slightly to outside of shoulder. - Keep palms inward.
- Lower while raising other weight in same manner.

SkullCrushers

- Stand with barbell in hands overhead.
- Bend elbows, lowering bar behind head.
-Straighten elbows.
- Lower and repeat.

Barbell Press

- Sit on incline bench.
- Grasp bar and lift off of support.
- Lower bar to chest.
- Raise bar up.
- Repeat.
When finished replace bar on support.

Lateral Raise

- Hold weights in hands.
- Begin with arms at side elbows straight.
- Lift arms out to side, up to shoulder level.
- Keep elbows straight or slightly bent.
- Return to start position and repeat.

See More Arm Exercises & Quick Training Tips

See More Chest Exercises & Quick Training Tips

See More Back Exercises & Quick Training Tips

See More Shoulder Exercises & Quick Training Tips

Quick Training Tips

  • Most compound exercises that target the Chest & Back also work the Triceps & Biceps, respectively. Therefore, when training the upper body, the volume(workload) and frequency(how often) of training the Arms has to be carefully considered.
     
  • In general, its best to start with the larger muscle groups first, and then move on to the smaller muscle groups. So the chest, back & shoulders would be trained before biceps, triceps & forearms.
     
  • Compound exercises are given a higher order or priority than isolation exercises. For example, the Bench Press would come before Dumbbell Flies, or the Military Press before Lateral Raises.
     
  • Supersetting between antagonist muscle groups can be an effective way to save time and increase intensity. For example, the Chest & Back are antagonist muscle groups, as are the Biceps & Triceps. Supersetting means to do a Chest Exercise immediately followed by a Back Exercise, and then taking a rest.
     
  • Another way to superset is to perform a compound movement followed by an isolation move for the same muscle group. For example, doing Bench Presses immediately followed by Dumbbell Flies, or Military Presses followed by Lateral Raises with no rest in between.
     
  • The upper body can be "split up" and different regions can be trained on different days. The most common way is to train Chest & Back together, Biceps & Triceps together, and Shoulders on separate days.
     
  • Another way to do a more advanced, higher volume training split is to only train Chest on one day, Back on another, Arms on another, and Shoulders would have a dedicated day as well. This type of training split is typically only for advanced trainees that can handle the volume.
     
  • In general, the optimal training frequency for larger muscle groups is twice a week with moderate volume, and three times a week with low volume. Larger muscle groups can handle an overall greater workload but also need more time for recovery.
     
  • For more detailed answers on exercise selection, sequence, sets, reps, warming up and much more, please read the 4-Part Series on Weight Lifting Tips. Also follow the links below for more detailed training tips on each muscle group:
     

Sample Upper Body Workouts

It can be tricky to the train the upper body because there are a variety of exercises to choose from, various rep ranges and ways to sequence and structure the exercises...

The 2 sample workouts below are a snapshot of how typical upper body workouts should look like. However, upper body training needs to be effectively periodized, meaning that there should be a long term plan to change the exercises, the rep schemes, and the overall structure of the routines.

Full Upper Body Workout:
Incline Bench Press: after warming up, 2 sets of 8-10 reps
Bent-Over Barbell Rows: 2 sets of 8-10 reps
Flat Dumbbell Flies: 2 sets of 10-12 reps
Lat Pulldowns: 2 sets of 10-12 reps
Military Press: 2 sets of 8-10 reps
Barbell Curls: 2 sets of 10-12 reps
Lateral Raises: 2 sets of 12-15 reps
SkullCrushers(French Press): 2 sets of 10-12 reps
Dumbbell Shrugs: 2 sets of 12-15 reps

*The above workout can be done 2x a week, with rest times of 2-4 minutes between sets depending on your goals & conditioning level.

For Fat Loss/Toning Emphasis: perform the routine in a circuit style, where you do 1 set of an exercise and immediately move on the next exercise without taking a break. So completion of 9 consecutive sets, one for each exercise, would equal (1) circuit, and you can add a 2nd circuit over time to increase volume. Repetition ranges of 12-15 reps will help burn more calories. See more information on circuit training workouts here


3-Day Split:
See more detailed information on bodypart split workouts here

Note: The following training split focuses on the classic V-Shape development by emphasizing Shoulders(middle deltoid) & Lats slightly more. Please note, this small emphasis should not be considered a specialization of the shoulders & lats.

Day 1: Chest & Back
Incline Bench Press: after warming up, 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps
Bent-Over Barbell Rows: 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps
Barbell Shrugs: 2-3 sets of 8-10 sets
Flat Dumbbell Flies: 2-3 sets of 10-12 reps
Lat Pulldowns: 2-3 sets of 10-12 reps
Wide Dips: 2-3 sets of 12-15 reps
Dumbbell Shrugs: 2 sets of 12-15 reps
Dumbbell Pullovers: 2 sets of 10-12 reps

Day 3: Shoulders
Military Press: after warming up, 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps
Wide-Grip Upright Rows: 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps
Rear Delt Dumbbell Flies: 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps
Arnold Dumbbell Press: 2 sets of 10-12 reps
Front Raises: 2 sets of 12-15 reps
Lateral Raises: 2 sets of 12-15 reps

Day 5: Arms
Barbell Curls: after warming up, 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps
SkullCrushers (French Press): 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps
Incline Dumbbell Curls: 2-3 sets of 10-12 reps
Tricep Rope Pressdown: 2-3 sets of 10-12 reps
Preacher Curls: 2-3 sets of 12-15 reps
Bar Dips(close grip): 2-3 sets of 12-15 reps
*Optional*: to promote forearm development, 1-2 of the preacher curl sets can be done with palms facing down. Barbell curls with a slightly wider than shoulder width grip also emphasize forearms.

*The above weekly routine includes 3 workouts in a week, with a rest day between each session. Between sets, rest 2-4 minutes depending on your goals & conditioning level.

Remember that effective Upper Body training means that you should be changing rep schemes and exercises over time, as well as using different variations of grips, angles, stances & equipment(barbells/dumbbells) to emphasize different regions.

Click the link below to learn how to maximize your upper body development over the long term:

 Discover the Secrets to Developing a Perfectly Balanced, Ripped Physique (95% of Gym Rats Have No Clue About This)

 

Upper: Abs | ArmsBack | Chest | Shoulders | Forearms | Biceps | Triceps | Lats | Full Upper
Lower: Quadriceps | Hamstring | Glutes | Calves | Full Lower