Who doesn’t love a good upper body day?
Consistent upper body workouts are key for gaining strength, looking defined, and can even help with your weight loss goals when combined with a good diet and cardio routine.
“Upper body” covers a bunch of different muscle groups, with your chest, arms, shoulders, and back being the most notable. If you love the look of toned shoulders, a defined chest, strong arms, and a rippling back, you should be hitting all of these muscle groups to stay balanced and build overall upper body strength.
While you might be comfortable pushing heavy weights to make upper body gains in the gym, you may be at a loss figuring out how to incorporate your upper body strength training workouts into your home fitness plan without all the equipment.
Don’t worry – you can still keep your upper body looking toned and feeling strong with little more than your own body weight and some basic fitness tools.
Every exercise here can be done with a simple pair of dumbbells, a resistance band, or no equipment at all. Read on to find out how to do some cornerstone workouts that challenge your entire upper body, all from the comfort of your own home.
While they're bittersweet to perform (hard to do, but rewarding when you can push them out), pushups are a reigning upper-body classic that work your arms, chest, and shoulders using nothing but your bodyweight.
To perform a classic pushup, start in a plank with your hands directly below your shoulders. Lower with control, being mindful of keeping your elbows close to your body, then push back up to the beginning position. You can always start with your knees on the ground and work your way up as you gain strength.
The best part about pushups? There are endless variations so you can work out your upper body with zero equipment. Do inchworms to challenge your shoulders, plank-ups to incorporate your core, inclines or declines to hit different parts of your chest, one-armed to force stability – the list goes on and on.
2. Tricep dips
You don’t need anything but something sturdy to give you some elevation for tricep dips – think a sturdy chair, table, couch, or even a bottom stair if it’s large enough. Face away from your elevated element of choice with your hands on it, fingers facing forward and legs straight out with heels on the ground. Engage your triceps to lower yourself down until your arms are fully contracted then push back up, keeping your heels on the ground and the focus on your triceps the entire time.
If you have no equipment at all, you can also do plank dips – sit on the ground with your hands on the ground, then push yourself up to a reverse plank with your heels and hands being the only point of contact on the ground. Lower slightly using your triceps, push yourself back up, and repeat.
Another fan-favorite, curls primarily work out your biceps. Take a pair of dumbbells and curl, focusing on controlling the motion with your bicep and not swinging (also, go slow and controlled when lowering the dumbbell after each curl).
You can also perform curls with a simple resistance band that gives you an adequate range of motion. Stand on one end of the band and curl up while holding the other side, or loop it directly in front of you around a sturdy pole or railing and “curl” it towards you.
There are several variations for bicep curls so you can work them from all angles. Hammer curls, preacher curls, and spider curls, for example, allow you to change up the focus and give your entire arm some love.
4. Overhead tricep extensions
Hold either one heavy or two lighter dumbbells above and behind your head so that your elbows are bent down and your upper arm is as straight up and down as possible. Use your tricep muscles to push the weights up to a full extension, then lower with control and repeat.
Combine explosive movement with muscle-building action with this more complex exercise.
Start with your legs wider than shoulder length apart and bend over, keeping your back straight and holding a dumbbell in one hand on the ground in the middle of your stance. In one explosive movement, shoot upwards with a straight arm so that you are standing straight holding your weight straight up above the respective shoulder. Return and repeat.
Be mindful of your form when performing this exercise to avoid back and shoulder strain and always control the weight.
6. Military press
This one puts the focus on your shoulders.
Stand with a dumbbell in each hand and position your arms so that you’re in a “cactus” position with weights up and shoulders level to an almost-90 degree angle. Use your shoulders to press up to a full extension, then release back down to the original position.
7. Bridge Floor Press
If you’re craving a good chest workout but don’t have a bench, you’re in luck. You can still do this exercise with just the dumbbells.
Lay down with your arms positioned in a normal bench press position and plant your feet on the ground. Now use your legs to push up the lower half of your body so that you are in a bridge pose with your upper back and shoulders still on the ground. Press your arms up in the same motion you would use to perform a bench press to work your chest.
Work your back with a bent-over row.
Plant your feet sturdily on the ground and bend forward at the hips so your upper body is parallel to the ground.
Hold a dumbbell in each hand and use your back muscles to pull your arm up so the weight is close to your body with your elbows are bent – you should feel a slight “pinching” in your back.
You can either do these with one arm at a time to isolate or with both arms together, and you can also do this movement by standing on resistance bands.
This move targets your pecs and doesn’t require a bench.
Lie on the ground with a dumbbell in each hand and feet planted. Think of the movement you would do with a chest fly on a bench, pulling your arms apart and to your side, but since you don’t have the same range of motion that you would with a bench, keep your elbows bent and weights straight up so that your elbows touch the floor. Press back in, all the while focusing on your chest muscles “knitting” together.
You can also do this move if you have two bands of equal resistance and somewhere to tie them – think two parallel poles. Stand in front of the anchors and hold a band in each hand, then use your chest muscles to press your arms forward and together.
You’re only a couple of exercises away from making gains and maintaining an attractive and toned upper body from home. Dedicate a day a week to exercising a particular muscle group or combine them all together in a fat-burning circuit to stay strong, lean, and muscled.