Top 5 Favorite Upper Body Exercises

Woman doing push-ups and upper body exercises

Do you want a nice-looking upper body? Do you want arms like Michelle Obama’s? If so, you need to make upper body exercises a regular fixture in your workout routine.

Not sure which upper body exercises will give you the best results? Read on to learn more about some of my favorites.

Will Upper Body Exercises Make Me Bulky?

People — women, specifically — can be weird about upper body exercises. A lot of women are hesitant to do upper body strength training exercises. Or, if they do work them into their routine, they limit themselves to really light weights and high reps so they can “tone” instead of “get bulky.”

I’ve talked about this before, but I’ll say it again for the people in the back: It’s really f*cking hard to get bulky if you’re a woman. Like, you have to eat a ton of food and lift really heavy weights for a long time. Even then, it’s still a challenge unless you’re adding in some questionable drugs to help you out.

Most men don’t need a lot of persuading to train their upper bodies. In fact, a lot of men could benefit from spending a little less upper body training and adding in some of my favorite leg exercises into their routines, so this section is mainly for women. I still wanted to touch on it, though, because I see a lot of women out there expressing concerns about getting bulky or being afraid to do a lot of heavy upper body strength training.

My Favorite Upper Body Exercises

If you’re convinced that you need to add more upper body exercises to your routine, start by working in these five moves:

1. Push-Ups

As far as upper body exercises go, push-ups are number one for me. You can do them anywhere, and there are lots of ways to switch them up to get more out of them.

For example, you can slow down the eccentric (lowering) portion of the exercise to increase your time under tension, you can do them on an incline or decline to make them easier or harder, and you can even add a side plank in between each rep to turn them into an awesome transverse plane exercise!

2. Pull-Ups

Pull-ups are another great option that you can do almost anywhere, assuming you have access to a bar from which you can hang and pull yourself up.

Like push-ups, you can switch up pull-ups in lots of ways to suit your specific needs. Slowing down the eccentric portion is a great way to build strength (especially if you can’t do a pull-up on your own yet). You can also switch up your grip to target different muscles and add an extra challenge.

3. Bench Press

Of course, it wouldn’t be an article about effective upper body exercises without mention of the bench press. Bench presses are great for the chest muscles, as well as the muscles in the shoulders and even the muscles in the back like the trapezius.

There are also lots of variations of bench presses that you can do depending on your skill level and desired results. From dumbbell bench presses for beginners to incline and decline bench presses for those who want to place more of an emphasis on the upper or lower portion of the pectoralis major, there are tons of options from which you can choose.

4. Overhead Press

Overhead presses are great for strengthening the shoulders. They’re a super functional exercise, too. If you perform overhead presses with good form, you’re improving your range of motion in your shoulders and improving your ability to lift an object over your head.

Don’t want to get hurt trying to put away a bag of flour when you get home from the grocery store? Make sure you’re adding some kind of overhead pressing exercise (it could be a barbell overhead press, a dumbbell overhead press, a resistance band overhead press, etc.) into your routine.

5. Rear Delt Flyes

My love for this exercise is two-fold.

First, rear delt flyes are great for giving you nice, shapely shoulders — if you don’t focus on your rear delt, you’re going to have a hard time getting that capped look that we covet so much (lookin’ at you, Michelle).

Second, rear delt flyes also can help to improve your posture. Strengthening the rear delts can help to correct postural issues like upper-crossed syndrome and keep you standing up straight and tall.

Try These Upper Body Exercises Today

There you go — my five favorite upper body exercises. If you’ve been a little shy about adding upper body training into your routine, start with these exercises. They’ll give you a lot of bang for your buck and help you get the kind of great-looking upper body you’ve been wanting.

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