Get Strong With This Intense Upper Body Workout

This intermediate/advanced upper-body workout targets the chest, back, shoulders and arms with classic exercises designed to build strength and endurance. 

Some exercises suggest heavy weights. That means you should use enough weight that you can ONLY complete the assigned number of reps. The last rep should be difficult, but not impossible.

If you start losing form, stop early. On the other hand, if you feel like you could've done more reps, make a note of that for the next set or the next workout, if you're only doing one set.

Precautions

If you have any injuries, illnesses or other conditions, see your doctor before trying this workout, and modify any exercise that causes pain or discomfort.

Equipment Needed

A barbell, various weighted dumbbells, an exercise ball, and a step or platform.

How To

  • Warm up with a few minutes of light cardio or use light weights and do warm up versions of each exercise below.
  • Complete the three exercises listed in each series, one after the other, resting when you need to.
  • Repeat each series once for a lighter workout or 2 to 3 times for a more intense workout.
  • To modify, use lighter weights, do fewer reps or do only two of the exercises in each series.

Barbell Rows
Barbell rows. Paige Waehner

Hold a heavy barbell in front of the thighs, hands shoulder-width apart, and bend forward to about 45 degrees, abs in and back flat. Squeeze the back and the shoulder blades to pull the barbell up toward the belly button. Lower and repeat for 15 reps. Use your abs to protect your lower back.

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Alternating DB Row
Alternating DB row. Paige Waehner

Hold medium-heavy dumbbells, and bend over with a flat back and knees slightly bent. If you can, try to keep the back parallel to the floor. If that bothers your back, lift up to a 45-degree angle. Begin the move with the elbows pulled up to the torso, back contracted. Lower the right arm, keeping the left arm in place, then squeeze the back to pull the right arm up into a row. Keep the right arm stable as you lower the left arm, repeating alternating rows for 10 reps total. Keep the reps slow and controlled.

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One Arm Row
One arm row. Paige Waehner

Place the left foot on a step or platform, and rest the left hand on the upper thigh. Hold a heavy weight in the right hand and squeeze the back to pull the elbow up to torso level. Repeat for 8 regular reps, followed by 8 slow, controlled reps taking the arm halfway down.  Repeat on the other side.

Repeat 1-2 times or move on to the next set

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High Row
High row. Paige Waehner

Hold a medium barbell, with hands wide, and tip forward until the back is parallel to the floor, abs engaged and back flat. Squeeze the upper back, pulling the shoulder blades together to pull the weight toward the chest. Lower and repeat for 15 reps. If your lower back bothers you, lift up to a 45-degree angle.

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Reverse Fly
Reverse fly. Paige Waehner

Sit on a step or ball, and bend forward (back flat), holding medium weights under the knees. Lift the weights to shoulder level, elbows slightly bent, while squeezing the shoulder blades together. Lower and repeat for 12 reps.

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

Lie down on a ball, positioning it under the torso while resting on the toes (harder) or the knees. Place the hands behind the head and brace the abs as you lift the chest off the ball, squeezing the lower back. Lower back down, lightly touching the floor, and repeat for 12 reps.

Repeat 1-2 times or move on to the next set

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Barbell Chest Press
Barbell chest press. Paige Waehner

Lie down on a step or bench, and hold a heavy barbell just over the chest. Push the weight straight up, without locking the elbows, and lower back down. Repeat for 8 reps, followed by 8 slow pulses coming only halfway up.

If you don't have a barbell, feel free to use dumbbells.

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Incline Chest Fly
Incline chest fly. Paige Waehner

Lie on an incline bench or step and hold medium-heavy weights over the chest, palms facing each other. Keeping elbows slightly bent and in a fixed position, lower the arms down to shoulder level. Squeeze the chest to pull the arms back in, repeating for 12 reps.

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Alternating Chest Press
Alternating chest press. Paige Waehner

Lie on a ball or bench and hold heavy weights just over the chest. Push the right arm up and down and then the left arm, alternating for a total of 12 reps.

Repeat 1-2 times or move on to the next set

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Overhead Press
Overhead press. Paige Waehner

Choose a heavy weight you can safely lift, and press the arms straight up over the head (abs engaged, don't arch the back). Lower and repeat for 12 reps.

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Lateral Raise
Lateral raise. Paige Waehner

Stand holding medium weights in front of the body, palms facing each other. Leading with the elbows and keeping arms slightly bent, lift arms up to shoulder level (wrists straight) and lower.  Repeat for 12 reps.

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Overhead Press One Arm
Overhead press one arm. Paige Waehner

Sit on a ball or bench and hold a heavy weight in the right hand.  Begin the movement by bending the elbow and bringing the weight next to the right ear. Keep the abs engaged to stabilize the body as you press the weight over the head. Lower and repeat for 12 reps before switching sides.

Repeat 1-2 times or move on to the next set

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Barbell Biceps
Barbell biceps. Paige Waehner

Hold a heavy barbell with hands shoulder-width apart. Contract the biceps to curl the weight towards the shoulder. Lower back down and repeat for 12 reps.

Substitute dumbbells if you don't have a barbell.

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Biceps Curls
Biceps curls. Paige Waehner

Hold heavy weights and curl the weights up towards the shoulders, making sure you don't use momentum to swing the weights. Slowly lower the weights, keeping tension on the muscles and repeat for 12 reps total.

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Concentration Curl
Concentration curl. Paige Waehner

Sit on a step or bench, and hold a heavy weight in the left arm, elbow propped on the inside of the left thigh. Contract the bicep to pull weight toward the shoulder.  Lower and repeat for 12 reps.

Repeat 1-2 times or move on to the next set

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Skull Crushers
Skull crushers. Paige Waehner

Lie on a bench and hold a medium barbell in a narrow grip (hands about shoulder-width apart). Begin with the bar straight up over the chest, palms facing out. Bend the elbows and lower the weight down toward the head, stopping when the elbows are at 90 degrees. Push the weight back up and repeat for 15 reps.

Substitute with dumbbells if you don't have a barbell.

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Kickbacks
Kickbacks. Paige Waehner

Hold medium weights, and bend forward to 45 degrees or parallel to the floor, elbows bent and next to rib cage. Contract triceps to straighten elbows, bringing weight up slightly above hips. Lower and repeat for 12 reps. Try not to swing the weights.

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One Arm Triceps Pushups
One-arm triceps pushups. Paige Waehner

Lie on the right side, hips and knees stacked. Wrap the right arm around your torso and place the left hand on the floor in front of you, palm parallel to the body. Squeeze the triceps and push your body up. Lower and repeat for 10 reps before switching sides.

Repeat 1-2 times or move on to the next set

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