Beginner Upper Body Workout - Get Started on Your Upper Body

If you're not sure where to start with strength training, this upper body workout is perfect for you. Here you'll find classic, easy-to-learn exercises that target all of the muscles of the upper body including the chest, back, shoulders, biceps, and triceps.

The idea here is to start to build strength and muscle so you can move on to more challenging workouts. If you need help figuring out how much weight to use, learn how to choose your weights.

It's always better to err on the side of caution when you're just starting out and use lighter weights so you can perfect your form.


If you have any injuries or other conditions, please see your doctor to get cleared before you try this workout.


Various weighted dumbbells and a resistance band.

How To:

  1. Begin with a 5-minute warm-up of light cardio or use very light weights and do warm up sets of each exercise. 
  2. Perform each exercise for 1 set of 15 repetitions, using light-medium weights. The last rep should feel challenging but doable.
  3. Perform this workout 2-3 times a week, with at least one day of rest in between.
  4. Modify or skip any exercise that causes pain or discomfort.

Modified Pushups (Chest)

Modified Pushups
Modified Pushups. Paige Waehner

Place hands on the floor, wider than shoulders, and rest the knees on the floor (back should be flat). Lower into pushup until elbows are about 90 degrees, if you can. Try not to lead with the chin, but keep the head and neck in alignment.  Easier versionIncline Pushup.  Another modification is to try a Wall Pushup if floor pushups are challenging.


Chest Flies (Chest)

Chest Flies
Chest Flies. Paige Waehner

Lie on a step, bench or floor and hold light-med weights over the chest with the palms facing in. Keeping the elbows slightly bent, slowly lower the arms out to the sides, stopping just at chest level. If you go lower than that, you'll involve the shoulders and we want to keep the emphasis on the chest. Lift the weights back to start and repeat for 15 reps.


Lat Pulls with Bands (Back)

Lat Pull with Band
Lat Pull with Band. Paige Waehner

Sit or stand and hold a resistance band in both hands. The closer your hands are, the harder the exercise will be. Keep tension on the band and squeeze the right side of your back as you pull the right elbow down towards the ribcage. Lift back to start and repeat for 15 reps on each side.


Back Extensions (Back)

Back Extensions
Back Extensions. Paige Waehner

Lie down on a mat and place the hands on the floor next to the ears, which is easier, or behind the head (more advanced). Engage the abs and contract the lower back to lift the chest a few inches off the floor. Lower and repeat for 15 reps.


Biceps Curls (Biceps)

Biceps Curls
Biceps Curls. Paige Waehner

Stand with feet about hip-distance apart and hold weights in front of the thighs with the palms facing out. Bend the elbows, bringing the weights towards the shoulders. Make sure your elbows don't come forward, but stay right at your torso. Slowly lower back down, without losing tension on the muscle and repeat for 15 reps.


Bent Arm Lateral Raises (Shoulders)

Bent Arm Lateral Raise
Bent Arm Lateral Raise. Paige Waehner

Stand with feet about hip-width apart and hold light to medium dumbbells with the arms bent to 90 degrees, palms facing in. Keeping the 90-degree angle, lift the arms straight out to the sides keeping the elbows in a fixed position. Lift just to shoulder level and then lower, repeating for 15 reps. 


Overhead Presses (Shoulders)

Overhead Press
Overhead Press. Paige Waehner

Stand with feet about hip-width apart, hold medium weights with the elbows bent like goal posts. The weights themselves should be just next to the ears. Press the weights up over the head without arching the back. Lower and repeat for 15 reps.


Triceps Kickbacks (Triceps)

Triceps Kickback
Triceps Kickback. Paige Waehner

Place a foot on a step or platform for support and hold a medium weight in right hand. Tip forward until the torso is at a 45-degree angle or parallel to the floor. Use the left hand on the thigh to support the lower back. Start with the right elbow at torso level and extend the arm out behind you squeezing the back of the arm. Lower and repeat for 15 reps on each side.


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