Elements of a Great Workout: Upper Body Strength

Alright, does anyone out there have something they avoid? 


Oh is it just me?  Oh well, in that case I’ll just be honest right now and say upper body strength training isn’t something I gravitate towards.  Some upper body exercises come easier than others, but for the most part my muscles (or brain) tend to tire out quickly.  Sure, I could concentrate more on those since I need more work, but it’s just not something I’m naturally good at and with that, I tend to not focus on it.  On the flip side, where you most struggle and avoid is an area of most potential and growth.  How crazy is that?  I wouldn’t have to put too much effort into it, just a little more than I currently am.  It’s just that first hurdle to get past – STARTING!!!!

Okay let’s dive in.

So what are so positives to working out the upper body?  We have to start with motivation, otherwise, WHAT’S THE POINT???? 

Positives to upper body strength training:

  • Lift heavier things (like growing kiddos or pets)
  • Carry all the groceries in one trip
  • More defined upper body (say arms, back, shoulders, chest or All Of Them!)
  • Sit up straighter (partly from upper body and partly from core)
  • Challenging partner in a push-up contest and win!! (okay I’m not here yet, but one day)
  • Help move a friend and lift the heavy things 😉
  • Burn more fuel/calories while resting because of the extra muscle (heck yes!!) **

**Side note:  It takes more fuel/calories to keep muscles strong than to keep fat around.  So if you have more muscle on your body, it is burning more fuel/calories even at rest = higher metabolism.  This right here is something that keeps me coming back to strength training.  The fact that if I have more muscle, my body will need more fuel to keep going than if I didn’t have as much muscle.  And who doesn’t like to eat? 

Okay back to the topic at hand!  So now that we’ve listed some pros to training our upper body, let’s discuss how to go about it in a smart way.

When wanting to workout any muscles, we want to do so in a way that keeps us balanced and doesn’t introduce more imbalance than what we might already have.  So what does that mean?  We want to work muscles in opposition so one muscle group doesn’t get too strong and the opposing muscle weaker.  This could cause discomfort, pain or injury and personally I’d like to avoid all of that.

To get to the meat of it, here are the major areas of the upper body:

  • Arms & Shoulders
  • Back & Chest

When planning a workout, I think about how can I incorporate some, if not all of the major areas.  Let’s start with arms.  Everyone knows about the biceps and that fateful bicep or hammer curl, but did you know that the triceps need strengthened too?  The triceps can be worked by doing an overhead extension or bench dip.  These two oppose each other and help keep the upper arm balanced. Next let’s take the chest or the pectoralis/pecs as some people refer to them. These muscles get worked from doing pushups or bench presses.  To balance that out we would need to focus on the upper back or more specifically the trapezius/traps and rhomboids with a reverse fly or horizontal row.  Now let’s move on to the shoulders or deltoids/delts which are the movers for the front or side raises.  To balance out, we can incorporate movements from the mid-back or the latissimus dorsi/lats with bent over rows or lat pull-downs. 

For those of you who enjoy bullet points (my kind of peeps!), here’s a sample list of exercises one could incorporate in a workout and hit the major upper body muscle groups:

  • Bicep & Hammer Curl (Biceps)
  • Overhead Extension & Bench Dip (Triceps)
  • Pushup & Bench Press (Pecs)
  • Reverse Fly & Horizontal Row (Traps & Rhomboids)
  • Front & Side Raise (Delts)
  • Bent-over Row & Lat Pull-down (Lats)

To muddy the waters just a bit, some of the exercises I mentioned don’t just work one major muscle, they incorporate multiple ones in one movement.   But I wanted to simplify it to make it manageable, so I listed each exercise with one major muscle.  Sometimes it’s good to simplify things or we wind up in a worm hole and never get out. 

Speaking of worm holes, for my fellow nerds who want to know more, see below on some moves that have more than one major muscle.  For those who don’t care as much, you may skip this next part. 

  • Bicep:
    • Bicep Curl & Hammer Curl – mainly the Bicep
  • Tricep:
    • Overhead Extension – mainly the Tricep
    • Bench Dip – Triceps, Pecs & Anterior Delts (Front of Shoulder)
  • Pecs:
    • Pushup & Bench Press- Pecs, Anterior Delts (Front of Shoulder) & Triceps
  • Traps & Rhomboids:
    • Reverse Fly – Traps, Rhomboids & Posterior Delts (Back of Shoulder)
    • Horizontal Row –  Traps, Rhomboids, Posterior Delts (Back of Shoulder) & Biceps
  • Delts:
    • Front Raises – Anterior Delts (Front of Shoulder) & Pecs
    • Side Raises – Medial Delts (Side of Shoulder) & Traps
  • Lats:
    • Bent-over Rows – Lats, Pecs, & Biceps
    • Lat Pull-down – Lats, Pecs, Rhomboids & Biceps

[Stepping out of the worm hole…]

How do you feel?  Like in a fog?  Me too.  So many details and so little time, but thanks for joining me on this journey.  Today we got stronger intellectually as well as physically! 

Tune in next week for another great element to your workout: Lower Body Strength!