Learn the essential upper body workouts to maximize your muscle growth by building strength and conditioning the right way.
Building muscle can be a difficult task, and with the many hundreds if not thousands of workout techniques available to incorporate into your routine, choosing what’s best can also prove a substantial task. In this article, we make it easy for you, providing you with the 5 most important techniques to add to your upper body workout for maximum muscle growth. Each exercise should be performed with a weight you are comfortable with, using continuous smooth motions to optimize development while minimizing the risk of injury.
Generally, three sets of a particular exercise are sufficient, with each set comprising ideally ten repetitions. Once you are able to complete three sets of ten repetitions, increasing the weight by small increments will build your power and size.
Upper Body Workouts to Maximize your Muscle Growth
Workout 1: Bench Press
The bench press is the most basic, compound, and essential upper body workout to perform, and is the building block for much of the size we can build onto our chests. To perform a bench press we’ll require a bench with a rack, with a bar and any weights we’ll require to add on. We also recommend collars to secure the weights onto the bar. This is to maintain the position of the weights should your stability take some time to develop.
The first step in performing the bench press is to lie down on the bench beneath the racked bar. Your hands should be positioned greater than shoulder width apart, perhaps 6 inches to a foot more on either side. The closer your hands are on the bar when bench pressing, the more your shoulders and triceps will be engaged during the motion, removing stress from your chest. This may be your preference, but traditionally we use the bench press for our chests, so the wider grip is recommended.
Press the bar up off the rack and begin with the barbell raised over your chest. Lower the barbell down to touch your chest, but take care not to allow it to rest upon your chest. Immediately upon touching your chest begin the upward press of the barbell, dispersing the weight equally over each hand. At the top allow your arms to lock out momentarily before again lowering the bar in a continuous motion, repeating repetitions until you are fatigued. Have a lifting partner there to spot you if you are going for new maximums in terms of reps or weight.
Workout 2: Shoulder Press
The shoulder press is the meat and potatoes of shoulder workouts and is another key element of your upper body workout geared towards building size. The shoulder press requires a shoulder-press bench, which is a seat with a vertical back pad to rest against. The bench can either be mounted with a barbell rack overhead, or you can move such a bench to the smith machine at your gym, the standing press machine with latches.
Use the smith machine if you are unfamiliar with the shoulder press, as the barbell is kept on a track to ensure proper form, and the latches can be used to re-rack the weight in case of an issue.
Select a weight that is appropriate for you, and place your hands slightly farther than shoulder-width, perhaps 6 inches, apart on the barbell. Lift the barbell to remove it from the rack and move it to rest vertically above your chest. Lower the bar to the top of your chest, touching momentarily then pressing it back up overhead, following a straight line upwards in the motion. Only allow your arms to lock out for a brief moment, then lower again, maintaining continuous motions throughout your repetitions until fatigue is reached.
For the shoulder press bench with overhead barbell rack, there is often also a lower rack in the front, so that upon reaching fatigue, if you don’t have a spotter you can rack the barbell lower down in front of you with ease. This is the recommended method if lifting alone and you prefer a barbell.
Workout 3: Upright Row
Now we’ve provided a compound movement to build upon the strength of our chest and shoulders in our upper body workout, we must now address our back. To target the entirety of the upper back in addition to your locker back, the upright row is a highly effective exercise. For this version of the exercise, we will use a barbell with a low-mounted rack, although more advanced versions call for benches and dumbbells.
To begin, adjust the height of the rack to about knee-level, or if there is no rack available, you may rest the barbell on the floor, grip the barbell so that your hands are at the outside of your body, generally about 6 inches broader than shoulder-width. Leaving your arms hanging, raise up your back so that your body is parallel to the ground, keeping a slight bend in your knees. Your arms will be perpendicular to the ground, then pull the bar upwards into your chest, engaging your upper back to do so. Your elbows will bow outwards towards your sides.
At the top squeeze your upper back and hold for a brief moment before again lowering the weight. Pause for a brief moment at the bottom, then again lift the weight to your chest. Move at a smooth and continuous motion until fatigue sets in, then place the bar back onto the rack or ground to rest between sets. This compound motion will build upon the breadth of your back and add stability to your bench press.
Workout 4: Dead-lift
Having covered our chest, shoulders, and upper back, the lower and middle back must now be addressed to round out the upper body workout. The dead-lift is beneficial in many ways, as it is a compound movement that engages the muscles of your entire back, in addition to your legs and shoulders. This exercise will build upon your overall power and conditioning, building your muscle mass. For the dead-lift we require a barbell, weights, and collars.
The dead-lift must be performed correctly, as it can cause injury, so ask an experienced lifter at your gym or one of the personal trainers for an example if you aren’t entirely familiar with the form. To begin, we bend at the knees, taking care to keep the back upright, while allowing our arms to hang down in front of us. Grip the barbell with both hands, keeping one hand facing forward, and the other backward. This is to prevent the weight from rolling out of our hands due to the opposite clamping action.
Keeping our backs straight and our eyes looking upward, we begin by raising our legs, and as our legs straighten out, we press our pelvis forward while straightening our lower back. Both motions are performed simultaneously, with the weight ultimately resting at the mid-thigh above the knee at the top of the motion. Hold for a moment feeling the balance and tightness of your upper back as your fully straighten and grasp the weight, then with control lower the weight back down until your thighs are about perpendicular with the ground, and press up once again. Complete repetitions in a continuous motion to fatigue, resting a minute or two between sets.
Workout 5: Biceps Curl
We have now covered the back, chest, shoulders, and to a limited extent, the legs. The triceps are trained rather extensively alongside the chest and shoulders when performing barbell exercises as they also push and add to stability. To complete the upper body workout to maximize size, we now turn to the biceps, the most visible muscles of your arms and a central part of the “beach body” duo of chest and arms. For this, we’ll need a barbell and weights to add on, alongside a waist-height set rack.
Without a rack, lift the barbell from the floor, or un-rack it, with hands at shoulder width, palms facing forward. Some prefer to leave their thumbs on the same side as their fingers, but for beginners, this makes a risk of dropping the weight. First allow your arms to hang, then pull the bar upwards in a swiping motion towards your chest, finishing with the bar touching your chest for a brief moment. Immediately lower the barbell again, with control, pausing for only a brief moment at the bottom. Perform repetitions continuously until fatigued, resting a minute or two between sets.
When effectively constructed, your upper body workout can build significant size and strength in a relatively short time. Within two months through proper form, repetition and weight tracking, and ongoing improvements, you can generate noticeable gains in power and appearance that will keep motivating you to go back to the gym. Your upper body workout needn’t be boring or exceedingly difficult, it simply must be intelligently designed and diligently performed to generate the results you desire.
For more tips on how to maximize the outcome of your upper body workout and more, check back to Sexy Body Fitness.