You are here

Our 15 Favorite Upper-Body Exercises

  • Assisted Chin Up

    Chin-ups are one of the most efficient upper-body exercises you can do, targeting your back, chest, arms, and shoulders. Use an assisted chin-up machine until you're strong enough to lift your body weight without it.

    • Adjust the weight to where you are comfortable. Place your feet (or knees depending on the machine) on the lower level.
    • Place hands on the upper bar, wider than shoulder-width apart.
    • Squeezing your back muscles, begin lifting your body weight.
    • Complete 3 sets of 10 reps.
  • Deadlift Row

    The deadlift row forces you to engage your core, while strengthening your back muscles.

    • Grab a dumbbell or kettlebell in your hands in front of you.
    • Keeping your back flat, hinge forward, then lift the weight back to chest height.
    • Remember to keep knee loose—don't lock your knees in place.
    • Complete 3 sets of 10 reps.
  • Breast Stroke

    The breast stroke (yes, as in, the swimming stroke) sculpts your back muscles as the squat position strengthens your legs.

    • Begin in a squat position. Hold dumbbells in each hand and raise to chest height.
    • Extend the arms straight overhead. Then circle them out to the sides.
    • Bring weights back to chest.
    • Continue the motion for 3 sets of 10.
  • Pom-Pom Circle

    The circular motion engages your back and shoulder muscles.

    • Begin with weights in your hands in a low V position.
    • Move your arms in small circle while slowly circling until your arms are in a high V position.
    • Reverse the direction—arms circling up and back down is one rep.
    • Do 3 sets of 10 reps.
  • Back Row with Tap

    This move sculpts the muscles around your shoulder blades.

    • Begin with arms holding dumbbells in front of you. Get into squat position.
    • Row the arms back as you alternate tapping your toes behind you.
    • Remain in the squat position as you row and tap, like in an isometric squat.
    • Complete 10 reps alternating taps for 3 sets.
  • Balancing Biceps/Triceps

    Toned biceps and triceps score major tank top points. These balancing curls target both.

    • Begin standing with dumbbells in each hand. Begin standing, then bend right foot behind you, balancing on your lift.
    • Curl weights up toward your shoulders for 10 reps.
    • Switch legs so you're balancing on your right leg. Hinge forward at the waist.
    • Bring arms to your chest and hinge behind you. Continue for 10 reps.
    • Do 3 sets of 10 reps of each exercise.
  • Curl to Press

    This compound motion works your shoulders and biceps.

    • Holding dumbbells in each hand, begin standing with arms at your sides.
    • Keeping an upright posture, curl your arms toward your shoulder with palms facing inward.
    • Press directly up overhead. Back to shoulders and uncurl at sides.
    • Finish 3 sets of 10 reps.
  • Triceps Dips

    The triceps dip is one of the best (and easiest!) ways to tone your triceps—no equipment needed.

    • Begin sitting on the floor. Place feet flat and hands behind you, fingers facing heels.
    • Lift your hips, then lower elbows. Be sure to use your arms to lift and not legs or hips.
    • Continue for 10 reps; do 3 sets.
  • Wide Push Up

    The traditional push-up is a great way to tone your arms. Make it more difficult and target your triceps by trying this wider modification.

    • Begin kneeling on the ground with hands on the floor, arms straight.
    • Your arms should be wider than shoulder-width. Lift knees off the ground so your legs are straight behind you.
    • Start bending your elbows to lower your chest to the floor and lift back to start.
    • MAKE IT EASIER: Keep knees on the ground in a modified push-up position.
    • Complete 10 reps for 3 sets.
  • Monkey Row

    There's still time to tone up your biceps and triceps for bikini season with this monkey row move.

    • Place hand on a stability ball, slightly bent forward with legs straight.
    • Holding a dumbbell in your opposite hand begin lifting it to chest level.
    • From chest level, extend arm out to the side. Then back to chest and lower to the side.
    • The four-part movement is one rep. Complete 10 reps on each side for a total of 3 sets.
  • Shoulder Press Progression

    The shoulder press progression begins with one motion and advances as you get stronger.

    • Stand with feet hip-width apart and knees slightly bent.
    • Holding a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder height, press the weights together over your head.
    • Then lower them back down in a controlled motion.
    • Continue presses for 10 reps; do 3 sets.
    • INTERMEDIATE MOTION: Lower weights to your sides, palms facing thighs.
    • Raise weights to chest level, bringing elbows out to the sides. Repeat for 10 reps.
    • ADVANCED MOTION: Complete 10 reps of chest presses, then immediately do 10 reps of lateral raises.
  • Three-Point Row

    Banish the bra strap bulge with this three-point row. The motion works your back, medial, and rear deltoids.

    • Place your right foot slightly in front of your left foot and lean forward with your hand supported.
    • Holding a dumbbell in your left hand, palm facing inward, row dumbbell behind you.
    • Straight arm, turn hand so knuckles point out, and row back again.
    • Return to start and turn palm so it faces out. And row again.
    • Three rows is one rep. Finish 3 sets of 10 reps on each side.
  • Alternating Shoulder Raise

    This move—which targets your shoulders, thighs, and calves—was practically made for a mini dress.

    • Stand with feet hip width apart with dumbbells at your sides, palms facing in.
    • Rise onto the balls of your feet. Lift your right arm to the side and left arm to the front, hold for two breaths.
    • Lower and switch arms. Continue alternating for 10 reps. Rest and repeat for 3 sets.
  • Serving Trays

    Servers have some serious upper-body strength thanks to the real-world variation of this upper-body exercise.

    • Stand with feet shoulder width apart. Hold weights palms up with elbows bent.
    • With control, rotate hands to the side until thumbs point toward the wall behind you.
    • Be sure to keep shoulders down and chest lifted. Repeat for 3 sets of 10 reps.
    • MAKE IT HARDER: Engage your core and lift one leg.
  • Strap-Happy Shaper

    Ditch the dumbbells for this last shoulder-sculpting exercise. We can guarantee you'll feel this one in your shoulders, back, and core.

    • Begin in a plank position with forearms on the ground beneath your shoulders. And legs lifted straight behind you.
    • Start rocking your chest forward and back. Repeat for 3 sets of 10 reps.