Integrate these arm, shoulder, chest, and back exercises in to your routine to get an insanely strong upper half.
Christina Simonetti and Men's Fitness Editors 1 / 26
People throw around a number of different words they think are "synonyms" when it comes to strength training: weight lifting, resistance training... the list goes on. But really the term "strength training" incorporates body weight exercises, bands, machines, weighted equipment, and essentially anything that isn’t running, swimming, jump roping, or flexibility training (like stretching), according to Men's Fitness' Group Training Director Sean Hyson, C.S.C.S. So it's not synonomous with weight lifting—it's an umbrella term that includes it. And while weight lifting is great, there are tons of other strength-training moves that don't include actual weights that can help you sculpt a strong, muscular upper body.
In fact, the most effective strategy is to integrate a combination of compound exercises into your routine. Some of those will include barbells and dumbells and machines, yes, but others just require your own body weight and some call for resistance bands.
Here, we combed through our database of upper body exercises and Hyson narrowed it down to the top 25 strength-training moves, which will target and trigger muscle growth in your back, biceps, triceps, chest, forearms, and shoulders.
Most of these exercises can be modified, too. (I. e. one-arm row can be done with either a cable or a dumbbell, and a face pull can be done with either a band, TRX, or cable.) So, mix up the variations by using either your body weight, a resistance band, dumbbell, or a suspension trainer, depending on your personal fitness goals and the readily available equipment you have.
Not only will these moves increase your overall strength, but they will decrease your risk of injury, create a more symmetrical build, and will naturally improve your core strength for everyday functional fitness.
Place your hands on the floor slightly wider than shoulder width apart and extend your legs behind you. Brace your core and lower your body until your chest is just above the floor. Take two seconds to lower down and two seconds to press back up. Remember to keep your back flat throughout the movement, your elbows close to the sides of your torso, and to fully extend your elbows at the top of the pushup.
Lie on a flat bench and grasp the bar slightly wider than shoulder width. Lower the bar to your chest while keeping your glutes and abs tightened, your elbows slightly tucked, and your back arched. When the bar touches your body, drive your feet into the floor to press the bar back up. Adjust your weights accordingly for each set.
Set the bar up in a squat rack or cage, and grasp it just outside shoulder width. Take the bar off the rack and hold it at shoulder level with your forearms vertical. Squeeze the bar and brace your abs. Press the bar overhead, pushing your head forward and shrugging your traps as the bar passes your face.
Grab a barbell with an overhand grip and hold it at shoulder height. Keep your elbows up high and your upper arm parallel to the ground. Slightly bend your knees and drop down while keeping your torso upright and avoiding leaning forward. Explosively extend your knees and hips as you drive the barbell overhead and stand up tall. Slowly lower the barbell back to your shoulders before repeating.
Set an adjustable bench to a 30- to 45-degree angle and lie back on it with a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder level. Then arch your back, drive your feet into the floor, and press the weights over your chest.
Stand with feet shoulder width apart. Then, with your lower back arched, bend your hips back to lower your torso and grasp the bar with hands shoulder width. Extend your hips to lift the bar off the floor. When it gets past your knees, jump and shrug the bar so that momentum raises it and you catch it at shoulder level. Brace your abs and stand tall. Press the bar straight overhead.
Wedge the end of a barbell into a corner, or load it into a landmine station. Load the opposite end with weight and grasp it toward the end of the sleeve with your left hand. Stand with feet shoulder width and press the bar.
Grasp the bar (or dumbbells) with an overhand grip and bend forward so torso is parallel to the floor. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and row the weight to your neck. This is different than a barbell row to your chest, so be sure to use less weight than you would for a barbell row.
Grab a dumbbell in one hand and stand in a staggered stance with one foot forward. Bend at your hips and knees and lower your torso until it's almost parallel to the floor. Let the dumbbell hang at arm's length from your shoulder. Without moving your torso, pull the dumbbell to the side of your torso, keeping elbow close to your side. Pause and squeeze at top of movement. Lower dumbbell back to start position.
Set a barbell in a power rack (or use a Smith machine) at about hip height. (About four rungs up should work). Lie underneath it and grab it with hands about shoulder-width apart with the bottom of your heels on floor. Hang from the bar so your body forms a straight line. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and pull yourself up until your back is fully contracted.
Grab the bar at (or slightly inside) shoulder width, with a supinated grip (palms facing you). While keeping core tight, pull yourself up until your chin is over the bar. Try not to use momentum to get your chin over the bar.
Stand with feet hip-width apart and bend your hips back. Grip the bar just outside of your knees. Keeping a flat back, extend your hips to stand up, and pull the bar up along your body until lock-out, as your hips drive through and your shoulders move back. While pulling, keep your eyes on the ground a few feet in front of you. Carefully lower the bar back to the starting position.
Hold an EZ bar (palms facing up) with a shoulder-width grip and arms extended with a slight bend at the elbows. Keeping your upper arms at your sides, curl the bar up. Take three seconds to lower the bar back down.
Stand or set an adjustable bench to a 45- to 60-degree incline and lie back against it with a dumbbell in each hand. Hold the weights with your palms facing up and a braced core. Then, keeping your upper arms vertical, curl the weights up. Pause for a second and slowly allow the weights to return to the starting position with arms fully extended. Remember to keep your elbows tucked at your sides, to squeeze the biceps at the top of the lift, and to lower the weight until your arms are fully extended.
Hold a dumbbell in each hand with palms facing your sides and arms extended straight down. Keeping your upper arms against your sides, curl both weights at the same time, minimizing momentum used during the curl.
Hold a dumbbell in each hand with arms hanging at your sides and palms facing the body. With an upright posture, slowly begin to curl one dumbbell up across your body to opposite shoulder. Pause for one second and slowly lower back to the starting position. Remember to keep your palms facing inward, elbows tight at your sides, and to squeeze the bicep at the top position.
Attach a rope handle to the top pulley of a cable station and grasp an end in each hand. Push the weight down to lock out your elbows and then let your elbows drift back slightly on the way up so you feel a stretch in your triceps.
Use dip bars if available, or place your palms on a bench or chair, and extend your legs in front of you. Lower your body until your upper arms are parallel to the floor, but no lower. Extend your elbows to come up.
Lying on a bench, hold the weights directly over your face. Keeping your upper arms at that angle, bend your elbows and lower the weights behind your head. Extend your elbows, keeping the same angle with your upper arms.
Start by holding the bar against your body with your hands at shoulder-width on the bar. Keeping your back in its natural curve, bend your hips and knees (as you would in a squat), lowering the bar to just above your knees. Explosively extend your hips as if jumping, while at the same time shrugging your shoulders and pulling the bar straight up in front of your torso. As the bar reaches chest level, bend your elbows and flip your wrists to catch the bar at shoulder level. In this stance, your palms should face the ceiling, and your shoulders should be pointing foward. Make sure at this stage that your back is straight, and that the bar is at your center of gravity. Bend your hips and knees as you catch the bar to absorb the impact.
Hold a dumbbell in each hand and, keeping your lower back in its natural arch, bend your hips back until your torso is about parallel to the floor. Allow your arms to hang. Now, squeeze your shoulder blades together and raise your arms out 90 degrees, with thumbs pointing up, until your upper arms are parallel to the floor.
Attach a rope handle to the top pulley of a cable station. Grasp an end in each hand with palms facing each other. Step back to place tension on the cable. Pull the handles to your forehead so your palms face your ears and your upper back is fully contracted.
Sit on a bench with an incline and your frontal body facing the seat. Then extend and raise your arms in the shape of a “Y” formation (thumbs upward) for the first position. Then bring them down to form a “T” (thumbs down). Follow with the last movement by putting your arms in the shape of a “W” by shrugging and squeezing your shoulder blades together and raising your arms like a field goal.
Hold dumbbells at your sides and stand with feet shoulder width apart. Bend your hips back to squat down until the weights are knee level. Now explode upward and shrug hard at the top. Reset your feet before beginning the next rep.