THE BEST UPPER BODY WORKOUT
Guys, I’ve covered the upper body A LOT, but you’re in for a real treat with today’s article.
Not only am I going to break down the perfect push workout, but I’m also giving you the perfect pull workout program. Both types of training days in ONE strength training workout plan designed to help you build muscle mass.
In other words, no more excuses for not training your upper body. I’m literally giving you the perfect upper-body workout that you can start today.
This workout is going to cover EXACTLY what to do for each day of the week. And you better get ready because you’ll be hitting your upper body no less than three days every week.
No matter if you want to build muscle mass, get lean, or skyrocket your upper body strength, this upper body workout is what you’ve been looking for.
So, let’s get right to it.
ANATOMY OF THE UPPER BODY MUSCLES
Let’s start by understanding the anatomy of each major muscle in the upper body that you’ll be targeting in this upper body work.
Naturally, we’ll start with the larger muscle groups.
I’ll also provide examples for strength training moves that are ideal for targeting each muscle group. Keep in mind that these upper-body exercises are just examples to illustrate a point – They are NOT necessarily the ones I’ll be including in your upper body workout.
Let’s start with the pulling muscle groups followed by the pushing muscle groups since that is the order of the upper body workouts you’ll be performing.
The Lat Pulldown, Barbell Rows, and Body Weight Pull-Ups are perfect for targeting the latissimus dorsi.
UPPER AND LOWER TRAPS
Barbell Shrugs and the Overhead Farmer’s Walk are some great strength training moves to target the upper and lower traps.
LOW BACK / ERECTOR SPINAE
Try a Bent Over Row or a Russian Kettlebell Swing to target the lower back.
Side-Lying External Rotations are one way to get the rotator cuffs fired up.
You might be surprised to learn that the Dumbbell Pullover is a great way to hit the teres major.
SHORT HEAD (inner biceps)
LONG HEAD (OUTER BICEPS)
If you’re going after the biceps, you can’t go wrong with Dumbbell Curls, Barbell Curls, and Chin-Ups.
Okay, now it’s time to cover the pushing muscles of the upper body muscle groups.
An Incline Bench Press is your best friend for targeting the upper chest muscles.
A traditional Dumbbell Fly will hit the middle of the chest.
Your traditional Decline Bench Press is a great go-to exercise for this part of the pecs.
SHOULDER: FRONT DELT
Try some Front Raises to hit the front delts.
SHOULDERS: REAR DELT
Rear Delts respond really well to Rear Flys and Face Pulls.
SHOULDERS: MIDDLE DELT
Lateral Raises and the Seated Arnold Press will take care of the middle deltoid muscle.
TRICEPS: LATERAL HEAD
TRICEPS: MEDIAL HEAD
TRICEPS: LONG HEAD
Triceps Extensions and Close-Grip Bench Presses will do the work on your triceps muscle fibers.
THE PERFECT UPPER BODY WORKOUT BREAKDOWN
This upper body workout is actually a part of a PPL split – or a Pull, Push, Legs split.
During the next several weeks, you’ll start this PPL split with a pull workout, then a push workout, and wraps things up with a legs workout before starting it all over again. The catch is that you will NOT be performing the same push workout or pull workout in the same week.
If you’re not sure how to break up your split, there are two ways you may choose to split these routines from week to week.
Your first option is to repeat this routine for six days in a row before taking a day off and repeating the process.
Your second option is to do these three workouts one after the other, then take a rest day. Once your rest day is up, you begin again with a pull workout. Perform three more workouts followed by another rest day. This is known as an asynchronous split.
Some people like to work out every day. But with an asynchronous split, you get more days off. This means you can recover better than if you worked out every day.
The only “downside” is that these days off are not always set in stone so some people might not like that if you want a concrete schedule. But I think it is worth it because of how much better the rest days make me feel compared to only having one rest day per week.
ONE WORKOUT IN FOUR PARTS
Don’t let the title intimidate you. You’re getting four total workouts – two Push Workouts and two Pull Workouts.
Together, these workouts are going to make up the perfect upper body workout without the monotony that you might have if you’re doing a traditional Push-Pull split or Bro Split.
Why the alternating workouts?
You’ll perform some pretty taxing exercises that work together to build a balanced physique. These workouts complement one another, ensuring no stone is left unturned. In other words, every muscle group gets equal attention.
However, these Push-Pull movements also have advantages on their own. To make things crystal clear, I’m going to lay out the workout in the order that you’ll be doing the training days:
- Pull Workout 1
- Push Workout 1
- Pull Workout 2
- Push Workout 2
- Repeat from the top
PULL WORKOUT ONE
All right, now that you know how this pull-push workout split will progress, let’s get down to business with your first pull day.
We begin with one of the fundamental basic compound movements for pulling muscles – and one of the best for muscle growth: the traditional Barbell Deadlift.
The deadlift is one of the advanced barbell exercises, so keep your form and technique perfect through this one. If you’re new to the deadlift exercise, I’d recommend checking out my other article on how to perform the perfect deadlift first.
Seriously, guys, I want you to have flawless form with this exercise to avoid risk of injury.
Starting position is with feet shoulder width apart, and hands shoulder width apart on the bar. keep an eye on those abdominal muscles and make sure to bring the bar up to your thighs. Core strength is going to be really important here.
Something to keep in mind is that this isn’t a one set exercise. You’ll first perform four warm-up sets and progressively work up to 80% of your one-rep max for your official one set of five reps.
Remember: Only progress if you have correct form for every rep.
To ensure you continue to improve, I’d recommend adding heavier weight in your next session, but only if you’re able.
CHEST SUPPORTED ROW
The next exercise is the Chest Supported Row.
Barbell Rows are effective exercises, but as your trainer and a physical therapist, I’d steer you toward this variation of the movement for a few reasons:
First, this starting position is better for your lower spine.
Second, this exercise activates the upper back muscles. Why’s that important? Well, I believe that most people don’t do enough to strengthen their upper back.
To hit your upper back more, just flare out your elbow joint a bit. Let’s say you’re wiped from deadlifts. Then what? Just tuck your elbows and this will shift the focus to the lats.
If you’re able to, I would highly recommend trying to get after the upper back version of this exercise. Again, keep those elbows out to the sides.
Do this for three sets of eight to 10 reps.
Now it’s time for your next pulling exercise, and that’s the Dumbbell Pullover. This pull exercise focuses primarily on the lats and not so much on your upper back.
This one is such a lat builder that Arnold called it the “squat of the upper body.”
Starting position is with a stable base with your feet flat on the floor, lying on a bench, gripping a dumbbell overhead with both hands and keeping your core muscles tight. You’ll get a great stretch in this position. By focusing the contraction directly on the lats, you’ll power through to the start position during the concentric contraction.
If you’re limited on equipment, this exercise allows you to use cables or a kettlebell on a weight bench instead of a pair of dumbbells.
Perform two to three sets in the 10 to 12 rep range, and make sure to choose a weight that allows you to fail within that range. If you’re able to do more than 12 repetitions with lighter weights, you need to increase the weight. Obviously, if you can’t get into that rep range because you’re using heavier weights, you need to lower the weight load.
DUMBBELL HIGH PULL
Let’s get back to the upper back with the Dumbbell High Pull.
This one might look just like an Upright Row, but it’s actually the complete opposite of an Upright Row. How’s that possible?
Well, this one focuses on external rotation, not internal rotation like you would do when performing an Upright Row. This helps to strengthen and secure your shoulder joint. You’re also shifting that focus to a vertical pull and hitting the upper traps, upper back, and posterior delts.
Start with a light dumbbell and perform three sets of 10 to 12 repetitions. Eventually go up in weight as you progress. Elbows should be at about a 90-degree angle when you hit the top of the movement.
BICEP CHIN CURL
It’s time for a Bicep Chin Curl, which means you’re moving to the biceps curl portion of this pull training plan. And guess what else: This one is a superset exercise.
When you want muscle in those arms, you need some direct bicep curl work. And that means an underhand grip with hands.
Some of you might remember this exercise since it’s featured in most of my brutal bicep curl workouts.
Another reason why I’m including this one: You should throw in some decompression work following a Traditional Barbell Deadlift. No better way to do that than by hanging from a Chin-Up bar with a shoulder-width underhand grip.
Here’s the thing, guys, instead of doing a Traditional Chin Up, you’ll perform a Chin Curl. The difference here is that you’ll close the angle of the elbow down as you approach the top of the bar.
In other words, you’re performing the same mechanics of a Barbell Biceps Curl. Instead of bringing the bar up to you, you bring your body to the bar, but make sure to keep a slight bend in the elbows.
I can’t stress this enough: This is a fantastic exercise for biceps activation. Perform three sets to failure, but don’t think you have rest periods to look forward to afterward. You’re jumping right into the next exercise.
OVERHEAD TRICEPS EXTENSION
Like I mentioned above, you are going to superset the Bicep Chin Curl with a basic Overhead Triceps Extension. This is one of the most effective triceps exercises.
Wait, what? Why are you performing a triceps exercise on Pull Day? Guys, I want you to get some additional volume on the arms that oftentimes get shorted in a typical PPL split. Specifically, you’re targeting the long head of the triceps.
Starting position is facing away from a cable machine, gripping the ends of a rope attachment overhead. Remember to keep the bend in your elbows and concentrate on a strong contraction. Perform three sets of 10 to 12 reps.
ANGEL AND DEVIL
Your first pull workout wraps up with corrective work, and for that you’ll perform the Angel and Devil exercise.
This is a favorite to hit the back of the entire body (posterior chain), and I mean everything! The upper back, the lower traps, the paraspinals, the mid-section, and the lower back – every muscle is activated in this one.
Perform three sets of 15 to 20 reps.
Here’s your wrap up for your first Pull Workout routine of this upper body workout.
PUSH WORKOUT ONE
After your first Pull Workout, we move right into your first push workout.
And this push workout starts with a common compound movement, the Barbell Bench Press.
BARBELL BENCH PRESS
This pushing exercise is ideal for building upper body strength, which is one of our main mechanisms of driving growth through overload.
You’re aiming for a four-to-six rep range with this one, which means you need to adjust the weights accordingly to allow you to continue to fall within that range. Be sure to keep your ego in check. Avoid injury by aiming for this rep range and not your one-rep max.
Perform four sets of four to six repetitions, but do not take this to failure. You don’t want to burn out on your first exercise.
The next chest exercise is the Hi-to-Low Crossover, and it follows the previous exercise because it’s a complementary exercise to the Barbell Bench Press.
The crossover allows me to do what the Barbell Bench Press can’t, which is to get the chest into a fully contracted state by bringing the arm into the motion of being completely adducted across the body.
When you move through the high-to-low angle, you’re taking advantage of the orientation of the muscle fibers to target the lower chest fibers. And with that full adduction of the hands across the chest, you’re tapping into a great hypertrophy exercise.
Perform three sets of 10 to 12 reps.
DUMBBELL SHOULDER PRESS
You now move to the shoulders with the Dumbbell Shoulder Press.
You could do an overhead press with the barbell, but I prefer dumbbells in this case. Here’s why. The Barbell Overhead Press is a better strength building exercise and right now, you’re focusing on lean muscle mass. But don’t worry, you’re going to see that exercise in the best push workout – part two.
Starting position is standing holding a dumbbell in each hand. You’ll be doing the standing version of the shoulder press because the seated version can disrupt normal shoulder joint mechanics.
Perform four sets of 8 to 10 reps.
1 1/2 SIDE LATERAL RAISE
We then move on to the second shoulder exercise, which is going to complement the dumbbell overhead press.
The 1 1/2 Side Lateral Raise focuses more on the middle delt, especially for the purpose of hypertrophy. It does this by increasing time under tension.
Use this technique to lower a weight slowly. Start by taking the weight up to the top, then halfway down, and then returning to the top. Focus on high quality contractions. Perform three sets of 12 to 15 reps.
LYING TRICEP EXTENSION
You now move on to working the triceps, and you’ll be pairing a triceps (pushing) exercise with a biceps (pulling) exercise.
This will ensure you get that additional volume for your biceps on push day without messing up the other pushing exercises.
And we start this superset with the Lying Triceps Extension.
This triceps exercise hits the long head primarily by getting a nice stretch in the bottom position. Perform for three sets of 10 to 12 to failure.
DUMBBELL WAITER’S CURL
Without wasting any time, go right into the bicep curls movement: the Dumbbell Waiter’s Curl.
The Dumbbell Waiter’s Curl is also a long head exercise, and it complements the triceps exercise you did above.
Starting position is standing holding a single dumbbell in both hands. Lift the dumbbell up to shoulder level and then slowly lower. Perform three sets of 10 to 12 reps.
ROTATOR CUFF MUSCLE EXTERNAL ROTATION
To wrap up your first push workout for this upper body workout, it’s time for some corrective upper body exercises: introducing the Rotator Cuff External Rotation.
During any type of push workout, you’ll notice that you do a lot of internally rotating at the shoulders.
And by performing some external rotation, you can correct this and improve shoulder stability.
Grab a resistance band, attach it to a secure and stable point, and pull out to the side. Perform three sets of 15 to 20 reps.
Here’s the summary of Push Workout One:
PULL WORKOUT TWO
How are you feeling after your first Pull-Push combo? Think you’ll just repeat the same exercise from above? Think again.
It’s time for your second pull workout. And this workout is unique because it complements your first pull workout, but it also stands by itself as a great workout.
Get ready, guys, because your second pull workout starts with Snatch Grip Deadlifts.
SNATCH GRIP DEADLIFTS
The reason I want you to do this Deadlifting variation is because it focuses on reinforcing the hinge pattern. And by focusing on this, you’ll improve your overall performance in other workouts and exercises.
What’s more, the aim of this exercise is to ensure that you add some more volume, but not necessarily with a heavier load. Remember guys, I want you to stress quality over quantity. Don’t increase your risk of injury because you want bigger numbers. Trust me, guys, the injuries just aren’t worth it.
Stick with light dumbbells or a loaded barbell and focus on flawless form and contractions. Do three to five sets with a weight that you can use for around eight reps.
Your next pulling movement is a personal favorite. It’s the classic compound exercise that gets overlooked in favor of barbell-based exercises.
I’m talking, of course, about the Weighted Pullup with an overhand grip.
Add a weight plate by securing it around your waist with a dog leash.
This one pulling movement will help to build those lats along with your overall pulling strength. Here’s the catch: This is one instance where you might need to go heavier than you think.
Your goal is to perform between six to eight reps on the pull-up bar. So, choose a heavy weight plate and see if you fail in that rep range. If not, increase the weight of the weight plate accordingly.
DUMBBELL GORILLA ROW
Next, I want you to perform the Dumbbell Gorilla Row.
Why not the traditional Dumbbell Row? In my opinion, the asymmetrical setup with the knee and lower back is a negative aspect of this movement.
There’s a danger of developing a hernia when one knee is raised on a flat bench since it puts both legs in an unnatural position. Save your knees, save your low back, and save your goods with this variation.
With this Gorilla Row, you’ll get a grounded and balanced pull because you’re pulling from the floor.
Starting position is standing in a squat position but with toes pointed out. Grab the dumbbell from the floor and pull it up to chest height. Perform three sets of 10 to 12 repetitions on each arm.
STRAIGHT ARM PUSHDOWN
Next up, you have the Straight Arm Pushdown, which is fantastic for hitting the lats.
This one exercise also helps to build straight arm scapular strength, which makes it a corrective exercise as much as a strength exercise. Perform two to three sets of 12 to 15 repetitions.
Ready to hit your arms again? You’re back to the biceps and for this, you’re going to perform the Barbell Biceps Curl.
You know the rules by now: focus on a super tight contraction, bringing the barbell to shoulder height. And as long as you keep good form, feel free to add more weight than you normally would.
Perform three sets of six to eight repetitions.
Just like last time, you’ll superset the Barbell Biceps Curl with a Triceps Pushdown.
The difference is that you’ll focus on the lateral and medial heads and not the long head. And the classic Triceps Pushdown is the way to go.
Perform three sets of 10 to 12 reps.
Sadly, you’ve reached your last movement of your second pull workout: the Face Pull.
This classic exercise hits a whole lot of muscle groups that are critical for healthy musculature and upper body strength. This includes the entire upper back, the mid-scapular, and the rotator cuff muscles.
Just like with the other corrective exercises on this list, I want you to focus on quality FIRST. Worry about proper form and range of movement, not the numbers. Improper form will cost you so watch yourself.
Perform three sets of 15 to 20 repetitions.
Here’s the summary of what I just covered.
PUSH WORKOUT TWO
Let’s finish your upper body workout strong with your final push workout.
I can’t stress this enough: I’m not giving you a different workout just to give you a different workout.
This second push workout is designed to directly complement the first push workout – not to mention the pull workout exercises. And with that said, you’re doing to start off with the exercise I mentioned back in your first push workout: the Overhead Barbell Press.
OVERHEAD BARBELL PRESS
The barbell overhead press is the compound exercise that is focused on increasing your overall strength and power, and by doing so, it’ll support your goals for muscle building.
Get those feet shoulder width apart or just outside of shoulder-width. Use a bit more than a shoulder-width grip with the hands on the bar. Perform four sets of four to six reps, but again, do not go to failure here.
Make sure you adjust the heavier weights you’re using accordingly so that you can stay within that rep range on all four sets.
DUMBBELL UNDERHAND BENCH PRESS
Let’s put the focus on your chest with a bench press variation, the Dumbbell Underhand Bench Press.
I really like this strength exercise since it targets the upper chest while we’re in a flat bench position.
Best of all, it is great for those people who have shoulder and front delt issues because it removes the training overload and potential injury from the overhand grip version of the Incline Dumbbell Bench Press.
Perform three sets of 8 to 10 reps.
This might throw some of you off, but your next move is a pull-down movement.
Why a pulling exercise on push day? I want to make sure you’re able to offset any fatigue that has accumulated to this point, so you can keep going strong through the rest of this challenging workout.
It’s critical to lean forward and drive into abduction by rowing the arm back and out with extra rotation at the shoulder. Pay attention to the range of movement in this exercise.
You’ll be able to go a bit heavier on this exercise, but make sure you stay within the 8 to 10 rep range.
Perform three sets of 8 to 10 reps.
DUMBBELL FLOOR FLY
All right, guys, keep going strong as you move back to your chest with the Dumbbell Floor Fly.
There’s a reason you’re doing this dumbbell chest exercise on the floor. First, the floor acts as a safety net to make sure that you’re not over stretching the anterior shoulder. Second, you’re able to go heavier with this version of the exercise.
Starting position is with your spine flat on the floor, a dumbbell in each hand. Get those hands facing toward one another and keep it in the center of your chest. Perform three sets of 10 to 12 rep.
TRICEPS CLOSE GRIP BENCH PRESS
After that, we move back to the arm portion of this upper body workout. And just like last time, you’ll be supersetting your triceps with your biceps for extra volume.
Get ready to go heavy with the Triceps Close Grip Bench Press.
This exercise is a complement to the Triceps Extensions you did in the previous push workout, which focused on the long head.
Lying on a weight bench, take a closer shoulder-width grip on the bar. Perform three sets of six to eight reps.
DUMBBELL CURL OF CHOICE
For your final arms-focused exercise in this workout, I want you to do a Biceps Curl of your choice.
When you get right down to it, bicep curls – no matter the variation – are essentially the same. Choose one you enjoy and perform three sets of 10 to 12 reps.
It’s that time again: your final exercise for the workout, and this push-pull split.
I’d like to focus on scapula control and strengthening, but I’m also looking for a little more chest volume, which is why I want you to perform some pushups, but not just any pushups.
You’re going to do the Pushup Plus.
As far as proper form, go to the top of a push up, but continue pushing your upper body all the way through. Aside from scapular strength, you’ll also hit your serratus muscle, which is needed to perfect that complete six-pack look.
Perform three sets to failure.
Here’s the complete summary for Push Workout Two:
And there you have it: the perfect upper body workout.
Guys, keep in mind that it’s not just the exercises you choose that will help you get results; it’s also how well you perform them.
Forget the numbers and focus on your form if you want to see the best results.
If you’re looking for a training program that will help you build lean muscle mass and incorporates all the best workouts techniques, let me coach you. See which of our programs best fit your goals and equipment!
Program Selector ==> See which program best fits your goals
AX1 ==> Train at Home With Dumbbells and Minimal Equipment
XERO ==> Train at Home With No Equipment
- This upper body workout is comprehensive and provides you with two pull and two push workouts, hitting all of the upper body muscle groups and targeting the goals of muscle mass and strength.
- This upper body training plan should be paired with a leg day as well, and performed with a rest day after the first three workouts. After resting, do another three days of training and then another rest day. Repeat but be aware of the rotating rest day.
- You’ll notice these upper body workouts have a common format. You’ll start off with heavy compound movements, move to higher-rep exercises, and wrap up with corrective exercises.
- All of these workouts are meant to complement each other AND their direct opposites. Push days complement pull days and vice versa.
- Choose a weight that permits for failure in the prescribed repetition ranges, with an aim to add more weight over the course of your workouts.
- Finally, sleep for at least seven hours each night, eat protein-rich foods, and stay as committed to your rest days as you do your training days.