A strong upper body truly makes everyday life a breeze. Consider this: By regularly performing upper-body exercises, carrying an overflowing laundry basket up the stairs or moving your fave armchair across the living room will feel effortless. You may even see improvements in your posture, enhance your mobility, build a sturdy core, and keep pain and injury at bay. (Plus, ripped arms like you see on Natalie Portman, Halle Berry, and Jennifer Lopez also come with the territory.)
To score all those benefits, you’ll want to create an upper-body workout with exercises that target the muscles in your shoulders, back, chest, and core, plus your biceps and triceps, says Keri Harvey, CPT, pain-free performance specialist at Form Fitness Brooklyn. To ensure you’re giving all those muscles some love, aim to include a mix of “push” exercises (think: pushups, chest presses) and “pull” movements (think: biceps curls and rows) in your upper-body workout, she suggests. You’ll also want to throw in an isometric movement (a type of exercise during which your muscles contract but there’s no visible change in their length) Harvey advises.
The good news is hitting that trio is easy. This list of the best upper-body exercises check off all those boxes. Pop them into a circuit workout, and you have an effective upper-body session. “I’m a big fan of circuits because they enable you to keep moving through the workout at a reasonable pace,” says Harvey. “You can group three of your exercises together into a circuit. Once you’ve gone through the first set of all three, you rest and then restart.”
When blasting an upbeat, Taylor Swift-filled playlist, you may feel energized enough to power through your reps at lightning speed. But Harvey has a word of caution: “Just remember to take your time in the movements and really pay attention to connect with the muscles being used,” she recommends.
Time: 45 minutes | Equipment: set of medium-weight dumbbells, a chair, and/or a resistance band | Good for: arms, shoulders, back, chest, and core
Instructions: Choose five to seven moves from the list below (keeping in mind the push, pull, and iso trainer tips) and split them into two circuits. Do 1 set of 10 to 12 reps of each exercise in the first circuit. Rest for two minutes, then repeat for a total of 3 to 4 sets. Finally, repeat the process with the second circuit.
Benefits Of Upper Body Exercises
Make everyday activities easier. Training your upper body regularly can make daily movements feel less taxing, whether you’re carrying four fully loaded grocery bags inside all at once, pushing your child’s stroller up a hill in your neighborhood, or picking your dog up off the floor, according to Harvey.
Support healthy posture. A strong upper body means a strong posture, says Harvey. A plethora of your upper-body muscles are responsible for healthy posture, including the core (which stabilizes the spine) and the traps and erector spinae (which stabilize other joints during movement). A strong serratus anterior—a muscle located below your armpits that connects your shoulder blades to your ribcage—also ensures proper posture of the shoulder complex, research suggests.
Work your core. Surprise: Your upper body also includes your core muscles, which play a role in supporting and stabilizing the spine. “So when we strengthen our upper body, we can also strengthen our core,” Harvey explains. “This will not only help you feel stronger, but it also will help [reduce the] chances of injury.” Core training helps you better transfer and control force throughout your body during athletic movements, research shows. Plus, core stabilization exercises may help reduce injury rates additional studies suggest.
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