5 Great Upper Body Workouts
Looking for some awesome, muscle-building workouts to develop your upper body? Check out these top 5 workouts from Pull Up Mate.
The concept of strength is extremely subjective and can be defined and interpreted in several ways. For example, a man who can lift 300kg on a chest press machine may appear weak and get thrown around and dominated in a grappling contest by a much smaller man who has great core and functional strength.
Despite the vague interpretations of what ‘strength’ pertains, the vast majority of people who train with weights and perform resistance training exercises, or who are contemplating training with weights/resistance exercise, primarily want to build a strong-looking physique.
I believe that this can be achieved in conjunction with building functional strength, like core strength and balance, especially when using simple apparatus like PullUpMate, (as opposed to a machine which eliminates the need for any core or functional strength that may otherwise be required to perform a similar ‘real life’ movement).
Below are some workouts that have been designed to build functional strength, and muscle mass at the same time.
In relation to all 5 of the following workouts, I would highly recommend 5 minutes of steady state cardiovascular exercise and at least 3 lower-weight warm up sets before performing a set with maximal intensity. A cool down should also be performed, 5 minutes of low intensity, steady state cardio and then static stretching.
If you are a beginner, start off with the fundamentals, either the gym version, or the home-workout version.
Many people argue that the fundamentals are all that you need to create a great physique. Others say you should periodise your training to cover the fundamentals for a set period of time, and then switch back to a different training protocol. Either way, this workout is a great starting point and great training routine for a beginner.
- Barbell Bench Press – 3 sets of 8-12 reps
- Lat Pull Down – 3 sets of 8-12 reps
- Dumbbell Shoulder Press – 3 sets of 8-12 reps
- Standing dumbbell bicep curl – 2 sets of 10 reps per arm
- Cable Tricep Extensions – 2 sets of 8 – 12 reps
- Farmer’s Walk – 2 sets of Maximum distance
Note: The farmer’s walk is a great functional exercise for grip strength and is a great body-building movement for the trapezius muscle. Be very careful with this exercise and be mindful of your knees and balance as you walk. Choose a light weight to begin with and walk up and down the gym, wherever possible, until your grip fails and you have to drop the weights. Simply pick up the weight, squeeze your shoulders up and back slightly, and walk up and down until you start to lose your grip.
Fundamentals – Home Workout
- Chin up bar/PullUpMate
- Strength tubes/bands
- Weighted vest & Press up bars (optional)
- Press ups – 3 sets of 8-12 reps – increase resistance if required using a weighted vest, and/or elevating feet and using press ups bars
- Chin ups – 3 sets of 8-12 reps – For beginners, place feet on a chair to make it easier
- Strength Band cable shoulder press – 2 sets of 8-12 reps
- Strength Band Bicep Curls – 3 sets of 10 reps
- ‘Close grip’ press ups – keep hands as close together as possible – 3 sets of 8-12 reps.
Upper Body Power
Research suggests that training with plyometrics, in addition to resistance training; increases strength compared to resistance training alone. Make sure that you are thoroughly warmed up before attempting any explosive movements, and avoid plyometric press on hard surfaces. This workout is intermediate to advanced in terms of difficulty.
- Dumbbell Bench Press/Press ups with weighted Vest 2 sets of 6-10 reps
- Plyometric Press ups* 4 sets of 6 reps
- Kettlebell Clean & Press 4 sets of 10 reps (2 sets per hand)
- Explosive chin ups/body rows on Pull Up Mate 4 sets of 6 reps
- Optional – Sprints – 4 x 30m Sprints
*To perform plyometric press ups, try and push yourself off the floor, clap in mid air, then drop to the starting position, and explode back upwards and repeat 5 more times.
Complex Training & Eccentric Training
For optimal power training, combine resistance training with explosive exercises within the same set. This is great for increases strength, and explosive power, which is required in the vast majority of sports.
‘Eccentric’ lifting means focusing on the ‘lowering’ or ‘negative’ phase of a lift. For example, you would have someone help you to lift the weight on bench press, and then lower it down to your chest as slowly as possible. This is a proven way to increase strength and muscle mass, but carries a higher risk of injury, so make sure you are thoroughly warmed up, and start with a light weight.
Difficulty level – Advanced
- Lat Pull down or chin ups 1 set of 6-10 reps, followed immediately by medicine ball slams 1 set of 8 reps.
-Rest 2 minutes, and repeat twice-
- Barbell Bench Press/Weight Press ups 1 set of 6-10 reps, followed immediately by plyometric ‘clap’ press ups for 6 reps
-Rest 2 minutes, and repeat twice-
- 1 set of standing strength-band or dumbbell bicep curls – 10-12 reps
- 2 sets of negative/eccentric bicep curls
With 2 hands (be very careful not to flex your back awkwardly) or with a partner, lift the dumbbell and then with 1 hand, lower the weight back to the starting position as slowly as possible. Repeat 5 times and swap arms.
The Powerlifting movements, of bench press, squat and deadlift are seen by many as the fundamentals for building strength and muscle mass. Although squats are primarily an exercise for the legs, they are a foundation for many sport specific movements, that involve both upper and lower body. Front squats are also a great variation, as a Bulgarian split squats for those who struggle with a stiff back.
As a beginner, training 2 or 3 sets on each exercise would be an effective routine and would help to build a great base of strength and mass. However, as you progress, squat and deadlift would normally be performed on different days to avoid overtraining and burn out. These exercises are all fantastic for increasing both strength and muscle mass, but technique is crucial.
Difficulty Level – Beginner to advanced. This is a good routine for a beginner, but technique is paramount.
- Bench Press – 3 sets of 6-12 reps
- Deadlifts – 2/3 warm up sets, then 2 working sets of 4-6 reps. With deadlifts good technique is crucial to avoid back injuries. Look forwards throughout the lift, and squeeze your shoulders blades together. Do NOT round your back.
- Squats – 2/3 warm up sets, then 2 working sets of 8-12 reps
To add some variation, back squats can be performed one workout, and front squats during the following workout. Again technique is very important, as a beginner you should seek advice from a weightlifting coach or an experienced personal trainer.
N.B. When training for strength, especially with big compound exercises with deadlifts, rest periods should be longer between sets, between 2 and 5 minutes.
These workouts can be adapted to different sports, and should be altered slightly every 6 weeks or so, to prevent plateaus. Consider adding in an Olympic Lift such as barbell cleans, or a kettlebell exercise such as Turkish Get Ups in order to make the workouts even more functional in terms of strength and power development. Finally, consider splitting each workout so that it targets a separate body part(s) if bodybuilding is the primary goal.
Drew Griffiths MSc is a self-confessed fitness fanatic. He has a 1st Class Degree in Sport Science from Loughborough University, a masters in Exercise & Nutrition from the University of Liverpool and a diploma in Digital Marketing from the Oxford College of Marketing. It’s safe to say, he knows what he’s taking about. If you have any questions, you can contact him via his blog, Twitter or Google+.
Images taken at IPC Gym Wrexham