Upper Body Supersets - Strength and Endurance Challenge

When you're working your upper body, the focus is usually on both strength and endurance. Part of that is making sure your muscles get enough time under tension so that they're challenged enough to grow stronger.

When you lift heavy weights with more time under tension, your muscles are forced to adapt to that challenge by building more muscle fibers so your body is ready for the challenge the next time.

One way to increase your time under tension is by changing the tempo of some of your exercises. For example, in the chest press below you increase the intensity by adding a small pulse after each rep.

You'll also build endurance in the chest, back, shoulders, biceps, and triceps by doing supersets. In these supersets, you'll alternate two different exercises for the same muscle group with no rest in between, which also adds intensity and forces your muscles to work harder.

This workout can be completed in about 30-45 minutes depending on how many sets you do and how much rest you take between sets.

Precautions

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

Equipment Needed

A barbell, various weighted dumbbells, a bench, step or exercise ball and a medium-tension resistance band. If you don't have a barbell, feel free to substitute with dumbbells or some other type of resistance.

How To

  • Warm up for 5-10 minutes with light cardio or warm up sets of the exercises below.
  • Perform the exercises in each superset, one after the other, for the reps indicated. Try not to rest between the exercises if you can.
  • Repeat each superset 1-2 times, with a short rest in between.
  • For a harder workout, perform 3 sets of each superset.
  • Use enough weight that you can only do the suggested number of reps. That means the last rep should be doable with good form. If your form slips, stop early or switch to a lighter weight.

1
Superset 1: 1.5 Chest Presses

Woman doing bench press
Getty Images/Cultura RM\Holger Thalmann

To work your chest, begin sitting on a bench or ball with weights resting on the knees.

Using a ball will add a balance challenge, so consider the amount of weight you're using. You may need to go lighter.

Lie down and hold the weights up over the chest without locking the elbows.

Bend the elbows and lower the weight down until elbows are just below the torso.

From here, press the weights halfway up, lower the weighs and then press the weights all the way up.

Continue repeating for 12 reps; each rep includes a complete chest press followed by a half-press. 

2
Alternating Chest Flies

Using a slightly lighter weight than the chest press (if needed), lie on a bench or ball and hold weights over the chest, palms facing in.

Brace your abs to keep your body stable and keeping your elbow just slightly bent, lower the right arm out and down to just below torso level.

If you're on an exercise ball, this will be a challenge for your entire core.

Lift the right arm and now do a fly with the left arm, again bracing the abs and keeping the elbow slightly bent.

Continue alternating arms for 12 reps (one rep includes both the right and left arms lifting).

Repeat this Superset or move on to the next Superset.

3
Superset 2: Staggered Pushups

Get into a pushup position on the knees or toes. Your hands should be just under the shoulders.

From this position, walk the left hand forward while keeping the right hand directly under the right shoulder.

Slowly bend the elbows and lower into a pushup. You should feel a challenge in the right arm a little more from the staggered position.

Push back up and repeat for 10 reps before switching sides and completing 10 reps with the right arm forward.

4
Pushups with Medicine Ball

Get into a pushup position on the knees or toes and rest the right hand on a medicine ball. 

If that feels too unsteady, try propping your hand on a step or raised platform.

Bend the elbows and lower into a pushup. Push back to start, roll the ball to the left hand and repeat.

Continue alternating hands on the medicine ball for 12-20 reps.

Repeat this Superset or move on to the next Superset.

5
Superset 3: One Arm Row

Place the left foot on a step or, if you have a bench, you can rest your weight on the left knee with your left hand supporting you.

If you don't have either, you can do the move while kneeling or you can tip from the hips and brace your elbow on the thigh to support your lower back.

Begin with the weight in the right hand, hanging the weight down towards the floor.

Squeeze the back to pull the elbow up in a rowing motion until it is level with the torso.

Lower and repeat for 12, then switch sides.

6
Alternating Dumbbell Row

Alternating dumbbells rows also work the lats, but because you're bent over, your lower back and core get more of a workout.

Begin with the feet about hip-width apart and hold weights in both hands.

Tip from the hips keeping the abs braced and the back flat. Try to bring the back parallel to the floor if you can. Bend the knees to protect the lower back or come up to a 45-degree angle if this bothers your back.

Pull both elbows up in a rowing motion to get into your starting position. Keep the left arm in place, back contracted, and lower the right hand towards the floor.

Squeeze the back to pull the arm back up and then lower the left arm. Continue alternating rows on each arm for 10 reps (one rep includes both the right and left arms).

Repeat this Superset or move on to the next Superset.

7
Superset 4: Horizontal Dumbbell Rows

While the previous exercises worked the lats, this superset focuses more on the upper back and between the shoulder blades.

Prop the left foot on a step, supporting the body with the left hand on the thigh. You can also use a bench and rest the left knee there to support the lower back.

Hold a weight in your right hand with the arm hanging down just like in the one arm row. The difference here is that you'll rotate the hand so that the palm is facing the back of the room.

Engage the shoulder blades (rhomboids) to pull the arm up to shoulder level, perpendicular to the body. Lower and repeat for 12 reps.

8
Rear Upper Back Squeezes

You can do this move standing or sitting.

If you're standing, begin with the feet about hip-width apart and hold a resistance band with the hands about a foot apart.

You may need to bring the hands closer if you need more tension or further apart if there's too much tension.

Take the arms straight out in front of you with the palms facing the ceiling.

Squeeze the shoulder blades together and pull band open so that arms are out to the sides like airplane wings.

Repeat for 8 slow reps, followed by 8 small, pulsing reps.

Make sure you check your band for any small tears before you do the exercise so it doesn't snap on you.

Repeat this Superset or move on to the next Superset.

9
Superset 5: 1.5 Overhead Barbell Press

You can do this move with a barbell or dumbbells.

If you're using a barbell, begin with the feet shoulder-width apart and hold the bar with hands just wider than the shoulders.

Begin the move by pressing the weight overhead. Brace the abs and try to avoid arching your back. 

Bend the elbows and bring the weight down to about chin level.

Now, press the weight halfway up and then lower back to chin level.

Repeat for 10 reps. Each rep includes a full overhead press and a half overhead press. 

10
Alternating Overhead Press

Stand holding weights and take the feet about shoulder-width apart, abs braced.

Begin the move with the elbows bent ane the weights just at the level of the earlobes. Your arms should look like goal posts.

Keeping the abs braced and the left arm in place, press the right arm overhead without locking the elbow. Lower the weight back to start and repeat the move on the other side.

Continue, alternating right and left, for 10 reps. One rep includes both the right and left sides.

Repeat this Superset or move on to the next Superset.

11
Superset 6: Upright Row

If you have any shoulder or rotator issues, you may want to avoid this exercise.

Stand with the feet hip-width apart and hold dumbbells or a barbell with the hands a just inside the shoulders and the palms facing your body.

Keep the shoulders down and the chest up as you bend the elbows, pulling them up towards the ceiling and bringing the weights to chest level. This is a vertical lift.

Lower the weight and repeat for 12 reps.

12
Incline Front Raise

For this exercise, you'll want to use an exercise ball or an incline bench.

If you're using a ball, sit and hold lighter dumbbells or put the dumbbells on the floor in front of you. Slowly walk the feet out, getting into an incline position, knees bent with the ball positioned around your mid-back. Make sure you use a mat or shoes that don't slip.

Keeping the arms straight, lift the arms straight up to shoulder level with your palms facing in.

Lower and repeat for 12 reps.

Repeat this Superset or move on to the next Superset.

13
Superset 7: 1.5 Barbell Curls

You can do this exercise with a barbell or a set of dumbbells.

Begin by standing with the feet hip-width apart, weights in front of the thighs with the palms facing out.

Bend the elbows and squeeze the biceps to curl the weight towards the shoulders. Keep the elbows static the entire time.

Lower the weight all the way down and then lift halfway up. Lower the weight back down and continue for 10 reps. One rep includes a full curl and a half curl. 

14
Alternating Dumbbell Curls

Stand with the feet hip-width apart and hold dumbbells with the palms facing out.

Bend the right elbow, squeezing the biceps and curl the weight up. Lower and as you're lowering the weight, do a biceps curl with the left arm.

Continue alternating sides for 12 reps. One rep includes both the right and left arms.

Repeat this Superset or move on to the next Superset.

15
Superset 8: Close Grip Bench Press

Lie on a bench or ball and hold weights or a barbell. If you're on the ball, brace the core and make sure your head and neck are supported.

If you're using a barbell, place your hands about shoulder-width apart and the palms facing out.

Start with the weight straight up and then bend the elbows and keep them close to the body as you lower the weight, hovering just above the ribcage.

Squeeze the triceps to push the weight back up, keeping the weight centered over the torso. You'll also feel this in the chest as well.

Bend the elbows, keeping them close to the body, and lower them to just below the torso, bringing the bar to a hover over the ribcage.

Repeat for 12 reps.

16

Sit on a step or chair with the knees bent and the hands next to the hips.

Push up onto the hands and keep the hips close to the bench. Keep the knees bent for an easier version or take them out further for a more challenging version.

Bend the elbows and lower into a triceps dips, going down until your elbows are at about 90-degree angles. Keep the shoulders down and the hips very close to the bench so you don't strain the shoulders.

As you press up, extend the right leg, reaching for the toe with your left hand. Lower the leg and arm for another dip, this time extending the left leg and reaching out with your right hand.

Continue dipping and alternating sides for 12 reps.

Repeat this Superset or move on to the next Superset.

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