Upper Body Progression - Beginner through Advanced

This Upper Body Progression Workout shows some examples of how to progress from beginner exercises to more advanced versions. You'll know you're ready to move on to the next progression once you've mastered the move and can easily perform 2-3 sets of up to 16 reps with perfect form.

To use this progression as a workout you can either do each exercise listed under the various fitness levels (e.g., all exercises under the Beginner column), one after the other (for up to 16 reps) or one at a time for 1-3 sets of 10-16 reps. You can also pick and choose exercises from different levels (e.g., Pushups on knees, chest press on ball, back extension, etc). See your doctor if you have any injuries or medical conditions.

Pushups Progression

Paige Waehner

Beginner:  Pushups on Knees
The beginner version is with the knees down to give your back support.

Intermediate: Pushups on toes
By taking the knees off the floor, you now have your entire body involved with the move.  You need a strong core to do this move without sagging.

Advanced: Pushups on ball
By elevating your feet on an unstable surface, you're making this an advanced exercise.

Chest Press Progression

Paige Waehner

Beginner: Chest Press On Floor/Step
Chest press on the floor or step gives you some stable support while you work your chest.

Intermediate: Chest Press on Ball
By moving to a ball, you add instability to the move so you work the legs and core at the same time you work the chest.

Advanced: One-arm Chest Press on Ball
The ball adds plenty of intensity, but try one arm at a time and you'll really feel your entire body work on this exercise.  Another progression is the Incline Chest Press.

Chest Fly Progression

Paige Waehner

Beginner: Chest Fly on Step or Floor
The fly is a classic chest exercise targeting the outer portion of the chest.  You want to keep the elbows slightly bent as you lower down to torso level.

Intermediate: Chest Fly on Ball
Doing the chest fly on the ball means you have to use your legs and core to keep you balanced as you lower the weights. 

Advanced: One-Arm Chest Fly on Ball
Using one arm at a time is a challenge, especially if you're already on an unstable surface, such as an exercise ball.  Another option:  Incline Fly.

Back Extension Progression

Paige Waehner

Beginner: Back Extension
The basic back extension is a simple, easy way to work the lower

Intermediate: Back Extension, Upper & Lower
You can add intensity by lifting both the chest and legs off the floor at the same time.  

Advanced: Back Extension On Ball
An exercise ball adds instability and, therefore, intensity to the traditional back extenstion.

Lat Progression

Paige Waehner

Beginner: Lat Pulldown w/ Band
This is a great exercise for beginners that targets the lat muscles, the large muscles on either side of the back. 

Intermediate: Dumbbell row
The row also targets the lats and is a bit harder because you're bent at the waist, which challenges the abs and back.  

Advanced: One-Armed Row on One Leg
Standing on one leg makes this move very challenging.  Keep the hips square to the floor throughout the move.

Overhead Press Progression

Overhead Press
Paige Waehner

Beginner: Seated Overhead Press
This move is great for the shoulders and can be done seated or standing.  

Intermediate: Overhead Press On One Leg
Make the exercise more difficult by standing on one leg for a balance challenge.

Advanced: Shoulder Pushup
The shoulder pushup is a very advanced way to work the shoulders. Be careful with this move and only do it when you're ready.  Easier Option:  One-Arm Press.

Triceps Progression

Paige Waehner

Beginner: Tricep Extension - Band
There are different types of extensions and this version is great for beginners.  Keep one hand in place as you straighten the other arm, squeezing the back

Intermediate: Chair Dips
 Dips are a version of pushups that target the triceps.  You want to keep the hips close to the chair/step as you bend the elbows and only lower to about 90 degrees.  You can add intensity by taking the feet further out.  If you have shoulder or wrist problems, you may want to skip this exercise. 

Advanced: Ball Dips
By using a ball instead of a chair or step, you add difficulty to this exercise.  This is a tough exercise and your balance will be compromised so you may want to prop the ball against the wall the first time trying this move.

Bicep Progression

Paige Waehner

Beginner: Bicep Curls
You can't get more classic than a standard bicep curl.  You want to make sure you don't swing the weights and that you keep a slight bend in the elbows rather than locking the joints.  You can use dumbbells, a barbell, resistance bands, cables, etc.

Intermediate: Bicep Curls on One Leg
By standing on one leg, your balance is challenged right along with your biceps.  

Advanced: Preacher Curl
One way to add difficulty to bicep curls is by changing the angle of the move as in the preacher curl.  You should keep this exercise slow and controlled to avoid injury.

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