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The Upper-Body Big Muscle Workout Program

Build shoulders, traps, and forearms that will pop under even the bulkiest cold-weather clothing.

Sure, you don’t get a lot of props for your six-pack abs in fall and winter, when layers of insulation replace summer’s skimpy tank tops and tees. But your traps, shoulders, and forearms can still pop out and look powerful under long-sleeve shirts and sweaters. With this program, you’ll pack on muscle to these areas and get an upper body no amount of cloth can conceal.

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HOW IT WORKS:

While this routine has plenty of leg and ab work, it particularly targets the “sweater muscles” with exercises that train them heavy and hard. Hang snatch high pulls—an Olympic weightlifting move popular in CrossFit—will train your traps in a brand-new way, while rack pulls will add thickness to your shoulders and back.

You’ll also focus on the forearms—but by integrating them with other muscle groups for efficiency. Instead of wrist curls, we’re calling for hammers and farmer’s walks with a thicker dumbbell handle. This forces you to grip harder to hold on to the weight, firing up your forearm muscles without isolating them.

Jeb Stuart Johnston, C.P.T., is a trainer in New York City. Visit him at brooklynstrong.net.

DIRECTIONS:

Perform each workout (Day I, II, and III) once per week, resting a day between each session.

Exercises marked “A” and “B” are alternated, so you’ll do one set of A, rest, then B, rest again, and repeat until all sets are complete.

For a visual reference of each exercise, check out our gallery of all the exercises in The Upper-Body Big Muscle Workout Program.

Day 1

1. Hang Snatch High Pull

Sets: 8
Reps: 3
Rest: Every minute on the minute (see below)
Stand with feet hip-width apart and reach down to grasp the bar with hands double shoulder-width apart. Keeping your lower back flat and chest facing forward, stand up with the bar, then bend your hips back to lower it until it’s just above the knees. From there, explosively extend your hips, then jump and shrug. The momentum should pull the bar up in front of you until your upper arms are parallel to the floor and you’re on the balls of your feet. Control the descent and begin all subsequent reps from just above the knee.

Get a stopwatch and start it just before you begin your first set. Perform all your reps, then rest as long as it takes for a new minute to begin (for instance, if you finished your set at 00:10, you’ll do the next set starting at 01:00). This is known as "every minute on the minute," often shortened to EMOM.

2. Rack Pull

Sets: 4
Reps: 6
Rest: 90 sec.
Rest the barbell on the spotter bars of a power rack (or use rubber mats) so that it’s just below knee height. Stand with feet hip-width apart and bend your hips back until you can grasp the bar just outside your knees. Keeping your lower back flat, pull the bar into your body and extend your hips to stand up straight, squeezing your glutes at the top. Lower it back to the rack under control.

3A. Incline Dumbbell Press

Sets: 4
Reps: 12
Rest: 60 sec.
Set an adjustable bench to a 30- to 45-degree angle and lie back against it with a dumbbell in each hand. Press the dumbbells from chest level to straight overhead.

3B. Chest-Supported Row

Sets: 4
Reps: 15
Rest: 60 sec.
Set an adjustable bench to a 45-degree angle and lie on it chest down with a weight in each hand. Row the weights back to your hips, squeezing your shoulder blades together at the top.

4. Six-Way Shoulder Raise

Sets: 3
Reps: 10
Rest: 60 sec.
Stand holding a light dumbbell in each hand. Raise the weights out 90 degrees to your sides, then bring them in front of you to point forward (as in a front raise). From there, raise the weights straight overhead. Now reverse the entire process, lowering the weights to in front of you, moving them out to 90 degrees, and then back down. That’s one rep.

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Day 2

1. Front Squat

Sets: 3
Reps: 8
Grasp the bar with hands at shoulder width and raise your elbows until your upper arms are parallel to the floor. Take the bar out of the rack and let it rest on your fingertips. Step back and set your feet at shoulder width with toes turned slightly out. Squat as low as you can without losing the arch in your lower back.

2. Bulgarian Split Squat

Sets:4
Reps: 6 (each leg)
Rest: 90 sec.
Hold a dumbbell in each hand and stand lunge length in front of a bench. Rest the top of one foot on the bench behind you. Bend both knees and lower your body until your rear knee nearly touches the floor. Keep your torso upright. Push through your front heel to come back up. Complete all your reps on one side, then repeat on the opposite side.

3. Inverted Row

Sets:3
Reps: 10
Rest: 60 sec.
Set a barbell in a rack at hip level and grasp it with hands outside shoulder width. Hang from the bar and extend your legs in front of you so your body looks as if it’s in position to perform a pushup upside down. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and pull your body up to meet the bar.

4. One-Arm Fat-Grip Farmer's Walk

Sets:4
Reps: 100 feet (each side)
Rest: 90 sec.
Attach a Fat Gripz grip (fatgripz.com) to a dumbbell, or wrap a towel around the handle to thicken it. Grasp the handle and brace your core. Pick up the weight and walk with your chest out and torso straight. Switch hands and repeat.

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Day 3

1A. Dumbbell Overhead Press

Sets:4
Reps: 6
Rest: 60 sec.
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder level. Brace your core and press the weights straight overhead.

1B. Pullup

Sets:4
Reps: As many as possible
Rest: 60 sec.
Hang from a bar with hands at shoulder width and palms facing away from you. Pull your body up until your chin is over the bar.

2A. One-Arm Reverse Cable Pushdown

Sets:4
Reps: 15 (each side)
Rest: 30 sec.
Attach a single-grip D handle to a cable station and hold it in one hand with your palm facing up. Keeping your upper arm stationary at your side, extend your elbow, pushing the handle. Complete all your reps on one side and then repeat on the opposite side.

2B. Fat Grip Cross-Body Hammer Curl

Sets:4
Reps: 10 (each side)
Rest: 30 sec.
Attach Fat Gripz grips to dumbbells, or wrap towels around the handles to thicken them. Hold a dumbbell at your side. Curl the weight in front of and across your body with your palm facing your belly and your thumb facing up. Think of it like a hammer curl that’s flipped 90 degrees. Repeat on the other side.

3. Modified Dragon Flag

Sets:3
Reps: 12
Rest: 60 sec.
Lie on a bench and grasp it behind your head. Bend your knees 90 degrees and roll your knees back toward your head, raising your body up off the bench and onto your upper back. Brace your abs and squeeze your glutes. Take a sharp breath and hold it. Lower your body until your feet touch the bench, then come back up. If you can, perform the move with your legs fully extended.

For a visual reference of each exercise, check out our gallery of all the exercises in The Upper-Body Big Muscle Workout Program.

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