Training the upper body, especially the arms, not only helps prevent injury, but also improves posture, strength and your overall physique. Exercises that target the arms also create the strength and mobility needed to perform everyday activities like carrying and lifting items.
Each one of these exercises specifically engages muscles in the upper body like the biceps, triceps and shoulders. To work on upper-body strength, I like to include a combination of dumbbell, bodyweight and resistance band exercises into a training plan. Targeted stretches are also important for reducing tension in the upper body that can negatively affect our posture.
For the dumbbell exercises, you can use 3-pound weights to start and work your way up to 5 or even 8 pounds. For the resistance bands, I recommend a medium-strength resistance.
Rotating your arms in circles is a great way to get your blood flowing and warm up your arms and shoulders before trying a bicep curl. Simply straighten your arms out to your sides and begin rotating in small circles. Completing 10 rotations forward and then 10 rotations backward.
Another great way to warm up the arms is to perform the bicep curl motion without the weights! Release the arms down by your sides and open your palms up so they’re facing away from you. Curl the arms up so that your hands almost touch your shoulders, and then release down. Repeat 10 times.
Alternative grip bicep curls
Hold one dumbbell in each hand and turn the arms so that the palms face your body. Hug the elbows in toward your waist and curl the weights up. Reach the weights toward your shoulders as you keep the elbows hugged in. Lower the weights back down by your sides and repeat 10 times.
Single-arm bicep curl
Perform the bicep curl, but with one arm at a time. Instead of curling both weights up together, curl up the right arm first, then lower it down. Curl up the left arm, then lower it down. Alternate for 10 reps.
Resistance band bicep curl
Step on the band with both feet hip-distance apart. Grab a handle in each hand with your arms down by your sides, palms facing forward. Slightly bend your knees and pull your abs in. Keeping your elbows hugged into your your sides, pull both arms up toward your shoulders into the bicep curl and release. Repeat 10 times.
Hold one dumbbell in each hand. Reach the arms down along your sides and plant your feet onto the ground with your feet as wide as your hips. Pull the abs in. Then extend the arms out to the sides and up as high as the shoulders, keeping the arms straight. Relax the neck. Lower the arms down to the starting position. Repeat 10 times.
Gradually increasing the intensity of a move is essential in performing it correctly, especially if you’re new to strength training. By performing modified pushups, you’re slowly working your way up to the full move. To perform a modified pushup, come down on to all fours. Shift your legs back, balancing on your knees, so that you form a straight line from your head to your knees. Engage the core by tilting the pelvis forward. Bending at the elbows, lower your chest toward the floor. Push back up to the starting position. Perform 10 repetitions.
Another pushup modification is to use a wall. This changes the amount of gravity you’re working against and how much of your bodyweight you have to “push up,” making it slightly easier. Place your hands flat on the wall with your body at an angle, legs straight out behind you. Perform a pushup by lowering your chest toward the wall and then pushing back up to the starting position. Perform 10 repetitions.
Holding a dumbbell in each hand, start with the arms in a goal post position. The upper arms will be parallel to the floor and as high as the shoulders. Press the weights up and in front of your head slightly so that with your peripheral vision you can see the weights above you. Be careful not to reach the weights behind your head as that will strain your neck. Lower down to the starting position and repeat 10 times.
Overhead press with resistance band
Start in the same goal post position as the last exercise, but with one foot forward, standing on top of the band, and the other foot back behind you. Switch your grip, grabbing the handles from underneath so that your palms are facing forward, away from you. Hold the handles at shoulder height. Press the band up over your head, extending both arms fully. Release back down to the starting position and repeat 10 times.
Stand with your feet as wide as your hips, knees slightly bent. Hold on to one weight in each hand, and let your arms hang down toward your knees. Hinge at the hips so that your chest is tilted down toward the ground. Hug your elbows into your sides and pull your elbows up into a row. From here, keep the elbows stationary and extend the forearms back into the tricep kickback. Come back to the row position and then repeat the kickback. for 10 reps.
Sitting on the ground, reach your hands behind you with your fingers pointing toward your body. Move your butt back toward your hands and press down through your feet to lift your butt up off the ground. Keep your knees bent. Bend your elbows straight back to lower down into a dip, then press down through your hands to come back up to the starting position. Repeat for 10 repetitions.
Neutral grip shoulder press
This arm exercise targets the muscles in the shoulders. Grab one dumbbell in each hand and position them at your shoulders with the elbows in line with your side body. Turn the weights so that your palms face in toward each other. Extend your arms up above your head until your elbows are no longer bent. Slowly return back to the starting position. Repeat for 10 repetitions.
Stand with feet hip-distance apart. Holding a dumbbell in each hand, rest your arms naturally by your sides with palms facing forward. Keep your elbows hugged into your sides and engage your biceps to lift the dumbbell up toward your shoulder. Make sure to keep your shoulders back and down. Slowly return back to the starting position. Repeat for 10 repetitions.
Start in a tabletop position (on your hands and knees) and grasp one dumbbell in each hand. Push up into a plank position (if this is too challenging, you can also perform this in a modified plank position on your knees). Make sure to keep your back straight and core engaged, and your hips and shoulders square to the floor. Drive your left elbow up toward the sky, bringing the weight up to your chest. Lower back to the starting position and perform on the right side. Repeat, alternating arms until you’ve performed 10 repetitions on each side.
Stand with both feet shoulder-width apart. Extend both arms out in front of you at shoulder height. Cross both arms across your chest. Hold for a few seconds and then switch which arm is on top and which is on the bottom. Continue alternating the crossover for 30 seconds.
Standing tall, reach both arms behind your low back. Clasp your hands together. With a deep inhale, straighten out your arms as you extend them behind you. Keep your hands clasped together. Hold for 15-20 seconds, and then release.