Upper Body - A Great Workout for Chest, Back, Shoulders and Arms

Upper Body Workout - A Short, Effective, Efficient Upper Body Workout

Getty Images/Lucia Lambriex

Creating a strength training program can be daunting, especially when it comes to choosing your exercises.  How do you know what to include in a basic upper body workout?  One approach is to choose 1-2 different exercises for each muscle group, which is what I've done in this effective, and efficient, workout.

You'll hit the chest, back, shoulders and arms with classic moves you'll easily recognize.  This workout is great for just about any fitness level.


See your doctor if you have any illnesses or medical conditions.

Equipment Needed

Various weighted dumbbells, an exercise ball and/or a bench or step

How To

  • Warm up with light cardio or warm up sets of the exercises
  • Rest for 30-60 seconds between sets and exercises

  • Beginners: Perform 1 sets of 12 to 16 repetitions
  • Int/Adv: Perform 1-3 sets of 8-12 reps using enough weight that you can ONLY complete the desired number of reps.

Let's get started with your first exercise: Chest Presses

Chest Press

Chest Press on the Step
Chest Press on the Step. Paige Waehner

I love to start my upper body workouts with a large muscle group, like the chest.  The smaller muscles that help out, like the arms and shoulders, are rested so you can usually lift a little heavier here.

Chest Presses: Lie on a bench or step and begin with the weights in each hand straight up over the chest, palms facing out.  Bend the elbows and lower the arms down until the elbows are just below the chest-arms should look like goal posts. Press the weights back up without locking the elbows and bring them together over the chest.  Lower and repeat.


1-3 Sets of 8-16 reps

Next Exercise:  Pushups


Ball Pushup. Paige Waehner

I love doing pushups after chest presses when the muscles are nice and warm.  Well, maybe 'love' is the wrong word.  The version I've chosen involves using an exercise ball, which can make it harder or easier, depending on where you rest your legs on the ball.

Pushups: Begin by rolling forward onto the ball until the ball is under the thighs (easier), shins (a little harder) or feet (hardest).  Make sure you keep the hands under the shoulders...you may tend to drift back if you don't control the ball.  Bend the elbows into a pushup, push back up and repeat.


1-3 Sets of 8-16 reps

Next Exercise: One Arm Row

One Arm Row

Paige Waehner

We've hit the chest, and now it's time for the next big muscle group - the Back or, more specifically, the lats.  I love one arm rows to work those big muscles on either side of the body and I also love the bonus work the biceps get with this exercise.

One Arm Row:  Place the left foot on a step or platform and rest the left hand or forearm on the upper thigh.  Hold a weight in the right hand, tip forward keeping the back flat and the abs in, and hang the weight down towards the floor.  Bend the elbow and pull it up in a rowing motion until it is level with the torso or just above it. At the top of the movement, squeeze the back while keeping the hips square and the abs engaged.


1-3 Sets of 8-16 reps

Next Exercise:   Back Extensions on the Ball

Back Extensions on the Ball

Back Extension on the Ball
Back Extension on the Ball. Paige Waehner

The one arm row worked your lats and now we hit another area of your back, your lower back.  For this one, I'm also using a ball, but you can easily do this move on the floor.

Back Extensions:  Roll forward onto the ball and, balancing on the knees (easier) or toes (harder), place the hands behind the head.  Curl forward over the ball and then lift the chest up, bringing it just to torso level (you don't want to hyperextend here).  Lower and repeat.


1-3 Sets of 8-16 reps

Next Exercise: Overhead Press

Overhead Press

Overhead Press
Paige Waehner

The overhead press works the next largest muscle group, the shoulders.  The shoulders have three heads - The front, middle and rear deltoid, so we want exercises that hit all three heads.  The overhead press hits the middle and front deltoid.

Overhead Press:  Stand with feet about hip-distance apart holding weights with the elbows bent to 90 degrees, palms facing out and arms like a goal post.  Press the weights overhead, without locking the elbows and keeping the back straight, abs braced.  Lower back to start and repeat.


1-3 Sets of 8-16 reps

Next Exercise: Reverse Fly

Reverse Fly

Reverse Fly. Paige Waehner

Also known as a rear lateral raise, the reverse fly works, as you might guess, the rear deltoids, making this a great compliment to the overhead press you did previously.  It also works the upper back, a nice bonus.

Reverse Fly:  Sit on a bench or chair (or you can stand and bend over), bend forward (back should be flat) weights behind the calves.  Keeping the neck in good alignment and the abs braced, lift the arms straight up to about torso level, elbows slightly bent.  Try not to jerk the arms up, but really use the shoulders to lift the weight.  Lower and repeat.


1-3 Sets of 8-16 reps

Next Exercise: Concentration Curls

Concentration Curls

Concentration Curl. Paige Waehner

I decided to go with one good biceps exercise, my favorite, the concentration curl.  As you will feel, in this position and at this angle, you really concentrate all those muscle fibers in the biceps muscle.

Concentration Curls:  Sit on a chair or bench (or kneel) and hold a weight in the right hand.  Rest the right elbow on the inside of the right thigh for leverage and curl the weight up towards the shoulder.  Avoid curling the wrists and, as you lower the weight, try not to completely straighten the arm, but keep a little tension on the muscle at the bottom of the movement.


1-3 Sets of 8-16 reps

Next Exercise:  Kickbacks


Kickbacks. Paige Waehner

Moving onto the last muscle group, the triceps, I've chosen kickbacks.  This exercise is perfect for targeting all three heads of the triceps muscle and you also get some extra bonus work on the core.

Kickbacks:  Hold a weight in the right hand and bend forward, resting the forearm on the left thigh for support.  The back should be straight, abs braced.  Start by pulling the elbow up next to the torso, like you're squeezing something in your armpit.  Hold that position as you extend the arm behind you.  Lower and repeat, but try not to swing the weight. 


1-3 Sets of 8-16 reps

Next Exercise:  Triceps Extensions

Triceps Extensions

Paige Waehner

Last on our list of exercises are triceps extensions.  I love this move for the triceps, if only because you get to lie down.  That's always nice.

Triceps Extensions: Lie on the floor or a bench/ball and extend the arms straight up over the chest, palms face in. Bend the elbows and lower the hands until they're next to the ears, elbows at about 90-degree angles.  Don't hit your face (duh). Squeeze the triceps to straighten the arms without locking the joints.  Lower and repeat


1-3 Sets of 8-16 reps

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