Top 10 Upper Body Exercises

Bulging biceps, broader shoulders, and a big chest – these are only some of the reasons why upper body exercises are the favorite of gym-goers and bodybuilding enthusiasts. 

When executed right, these exercises will not only help you achieve leaner shoulders and arms, but they will also contribute to your overall health. 

Good thing; this workout shouldn’t be as complicated as others make it out to be. For as long as you’re hitting the major movement patterns, you’ll feel and see results in the long run. 

A toned and shredded upper body is a dream come true for many. It looks impressive on whatever you wear, be it a sweater or tank top, and it’s also great support for doing other lifts. It’s an achievement-unlocked moment that would inspire you to keep on going in your fitness journey!

In Cognitive Health and Wellness, we vigorously promote quality of life that meets the length of life. Read on how to achieve that through these upper body exercises in the list.

What are some good upper body workouts?

These are some of the best upper body workouts that you can incorporate into your strength training program. Have you been executing any of these?

(1) Bench press

A bench press is ideal in shaping up your shoulders, arms and pectorals. It increases the strength of your upper body, pumps up your pushing power and improves the health of your bones. You engage both your minor and major pectoralis muscles as you do this movement, which you mostly see in your rib cage. The gain you’ll get from this exercise is what others refer to as wings. 

How to do a bench press

bench press - upper body exercises
  • Lie your back flat on a bench. Grip the bar of your barbell with your hands a little wider than your shoulders.
  • Keep your hips stable on the bench and allow your feet to touch the ground through the movement firmly. 
  • Slowly lift the weights then lower them to your chest until your elbows are below the bench. Press your foot against the floor as you push your barbell forward.

If you are a beginner, ensure that you are not going too heavy, moving your shoulder blades or feet as you perform this routine. You should also set a stable grip width that you can be consistent with as changing this would affect your progress. Finally, to maximize this exercise, touch your chest for every repetition without bouncing your sternum. Just tap your chest and then press up. 

(2) Pull-up

Gone were the days when pull-ups were only standard in military drills. Today, a pull-up is a staple in everyday workouts, and it has built a reputation as an effective upper body workout. This exercise targets your latissmus dorsi, biceps, upper back and shoulders, and pectorals. 

A pull-up may not be the most straightforward upper body exercise, but it is a compound movement that works out various muscles. You only have to tweak it to focus on other areas. While routine would require you to exert sheer power, it would activate the weight of your body and use it to perform. 

How to do a pull-up

pull-ups - upper body exercises
  • Stand below a pull-up bar. Face your palms away from your body and make an overhand grip with your hands almost shoulder-width apart. If you are still a beginner and this is hard for you, you can use a box and stand on that. Hold the bar and be ready to move!
  • Lift your feet off the floor and hang from the bar. Isolate the movement in your core as you go up and down. Don’t forget to inhale and exhale as you pull your shoulders back and down. 
  • Bring your chin over the bar and engage the muscles in your arms and back as you do so. You’d have to bend your elbows to raise your upper body. In making this motion, don’t swing your legs or shrug your shoulders. Engage your shoulder blades.
  • Inhale when you are on top, and exhale as you go down. 

(3) Arnold press

Anybody who aims to achieve a bigger build looks up to Arnold Schwarzenegger. So, if your goal is to gain boulder shoulders, then the Arnold press is the upper body exercise for you. The actor’s unique twist on the known overhead press has gained much attention for its practical contribution to robust muscle growth. 

The move is decisive because it stimulates three sections of the deltoid. This is the round-like muscle that you see on the top of your upper arm. Incorporating this exercise into your routine would add width and thickness to your shoulders. 

How to do an Arnold press

arnold press - upper body exercises
  • Prepare by rotating your shoulders. Get ready to be in a position and posture that focuses on the right muscles for the movement. Grab a pair of dumbbells with your palms facing you. Bend your elbows. Ensure that your arms are stable right on your torso.
  • The starting position is when you fold your arms and contract your biceps. Afterward, raise your weight upward and rotate your palms until you’re lifting the dumbbells above your head. Fully extend your palms and let them face you oppositely. 

When performing this upper body exercise, avoid over-rotating. This might lead you to injury if you are not careful. Take your time and control your movement. The magic of Arnold press lies in the way you rotate and hit all parts of your delts. 

(4) Lateral raise

An upper body exercise list will not be complete without this one movement that tones the shoulder and upper back muscles, too – the lateral raise. 

The lateral raise develops deltoids and massive shoulders. This is the exercise you need to master in pulling off a V-shaped torso. You can only do so much with your abs, biceps, and pecs – if you’d let them hang on narrow shoulders, you are unlikely to realize the impressive torso you’ve been working hard for.

How to do a lateral raise

lateral raise - upper body exercises
  • Stand with your feet hip apart from each other, or be in a split stance. Grab a dumbbell for each of your hands and position them on your sides. Keep your grip neutral and closed. Your thumbs should be around the handles of your weights and let your palms face your body.
  • Isolate your abdominal muscles and let them contract. Pull your shoulders down and then back. Keep your head forward in a neutral position and ensure that it stays aligned with your spine. Stability is crucial here. If you have to bend your knees slightly, then do so. 
  • Raise your dumbbells to your sides in an up and down motion. Rotate them slightly when they are already at shoulder level. Stop only when your dumbbells are at a shoulder level that is parallel to the floor. 

(5) Plank

You might not have expected planking on this list, but this exercise has always been an effective core and upper body workout that strengthens the necessary muscles for more compound movements. What a win-win! This won’t only be good for your abdominals and lower back, but it would also hit your shoulders, chest, biceps, and triceps. 

How to do a plank

plank - upper body exercises
  • There are variations, but the basic is holding the trunk part of your body parallel to the floor. 
  • Ensure that your butt isn’t sticking out or that you are not too low on the ground. 

Starting this position is easy, but staying on it is the real challenge. 

With this exercise, practice is the key. Supplement your upper body workouts with this. Increase the seconds and minutes! 

(6) Push-up

Push-ups are among the oldest upper body exercises, especially popular with men, which helps build the chest and shoulders. This workout attacks your core and back muscles more than you can imagine. 

How to do push-ups

push-up - upper body exercises
  • Your feet should be together, knees not touching the floor, hands flat on the ground, and arms straight. 
  • Lower your chest just below your bent elbow. 
  • Breathe in upon bending your elbows and breathe out as you push your body back up from starting position.

Push-ups have different variations. For example, close-grip push-ups only using your body weight and can pummel your triceps hard. You can do diamond press-ups instead of the standard military push-ups where your hands are wide apart. We recommend this if you want to focus more on triceps and biceps. 

Hand position variations can make a difference in activating specific muscles like your pectorals. Other variations are wall push-up, spiderman (sidekick) push-up, knee push-up, and shoulder tap push-up, etc. 

(7) Clean and press

Clean and press is an explosive exercise that is suitable for intermediate lifters. With a barbell, this movement is a magnificent boost to stamina, endurance, and strength. It is beneficial for the cardiovascular and muscular systems when done right. Practicing this enhances strength and speed, which is a valuable combination in weight lifting. 

With this routine, getting the correct form is the key. If you are a novice, start with lighter weights first and do a progressive overload. Take your time to perfect the stance and technique before challenging yourself to a heavier load. This would allow you to optimize your strength training!

How to do clean and press

clean and press - upper body exercises
  • Grab the barbell on its overhand grip by squatting down and your back straight.
  • Lift the barbell to your shoulders in a swift movement and follow it with a squat.
  • Drive force from your heels and push the barbell up until it extends to your arms over your head.
  • Drop the weights back to the floor by slowly lowering it to your shoulders and maintaining your back straight.

(8) Renegade row

Bodybuilding programs typically include renegade row as part of their upper body exercises. This workout activates your core muscles and obliques, as well as your rhomboids (back muscles) and triceps (arm muscles).

How to do a renegade row

renegade row - upper body exercises
  • You start from a plank position with one hand lifting a dumbbell and your back and legs in a straight line.
  • Rotate your shoulders outward to engage your lats. 
  • Maintain your alignment (tucked chin, squeezed quads and glutes) as you pull the dumbbell toward your hip.
  • Bend your elbow approximately 30-45 degrees away from your body.
  • Feel your shoulder blades retract upon pulling the weights toward your hip.
  • Keep your shoulders and hips squared toward the floor.
  • Switch sides or hands to complete 2-3 sets of 5-8 repetitions. 

(9) Dumbbell rear-delt fly

This exercise is sometimes known as dumbbell reverse fly. It helps define and strengthen your muscles, especially your posterior deltoids. If you’re sitting in chairs for hours, you tend to hunch over. Upper body exercises like this can help you have better posture and more muscular shoulders. 

How to do a dumbbell rear-delt fly

dumbbell rear-delt fly - upper body exercises
  • Hinge at your waist from a standing position making sure your feet are shoulder-width apart. (Your back should be at least parallel to the floor.)
  • Slightly bend your arms and bring the dumbbells up to your sides. 
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top. (This should contract your rear deltoids.) 
  • Maintain tightness in your core as you slowly bring your arms back down and then repeat. 

To stabilize your movement and prevent injury, avoid adding too much weight and bending your arms too much.

(10) Back squat

Upper body exercises usually target the shoulders. Back squat is one of them. However, it also targets the legs simultaneously, making this workout suitable for the lower extremities. 

How to do a back squat

back squat - upper body exercises
  • Hold the barbell from a standing position with both feet planted on the ground and shoulder-width apart.
  • The barbell should be across the back of your shoulders with your chest up. 
  • Engage your core when squatting down. 
  • Upon reaching a level where your thighs are parallel to the floor, go back up to starting position.

Upper body exercises – one day at a time

You can do these upper body exercises at home even without as much equipment as possible. Make sure to always warm up before starting any workout to avoid injuries. It takes discipline and consistency until you develop a habit. 

Don’t jump to extreme workout routines right away. Find your footing and you’ll develop good technique eventually. If you feel any discomfort or pain, stop immediately and listen to your body. Challenge yourself one day at a time.

Variations and alterations can be incorporated in your routine as you condition your body with increasing repetitions over time. Allow your muscles and core to do the work and don’t just be dependent on your momentum. You’ll be surprised at how strong your upper body, back, and core will become in the long run.

Your body needs to heal itself and for your muscles to recover. You need to rest approximately 24-48 hours before working out the same muscles again. Have enough sleep to achieve optimal results in your exercise program.

Additionally, as in any workout routine, it’s important that you eat the right food all the time. You will need food as your fuel to do these exercises. With everyday movement and a balanced diet, you have energy, a sound mind and body, and strength that can last you a lifetime.