6 Upper Body Strength Workout Ideas

6 Upper Body Strength Workout Ideas

Here's everything you need to know about working your upper body safely and effectively.

By PelotonUpdated January 17, 2023


There's no denying that exercise is crucial to your overall health. According to the CDC, physical movement improves brain health, manages weight, strengthens bones and muscles, reduces the risk of disease, and enhances the ability to do daily activities, such as carrying groceries or playing with your children.

There are a ton of benefits to creating a regular workout routine for yourself. Focusing on all areas of your body is important, but an upper-body strength workout can improve posture, help with or prevent back pain, and tone the muscles in your arms, shoulders, and chest.

This article will discuss how often you should work your upper body and how to do so safely and effectively!

Warming up your upper body

Warming up before exercising prepares you mentally and physically for the workout ahead. A proper warm-up for an upper-body strength workout should take five to ten minutes, increasing your heart rate and blood flow, so your muscles receive the oxygen they need to perform.

A solid warm-up can include dynamic stretching and a bit of light cardio, depending on your workout goal and the movements that work for your body. Here are a few tips to help you feel warm and ready to go before your next sweat session.

A light jog or a brisk walk outside or on a treadmill can raise your heart rate and warm those big muscle groups. If walking or jogging bores you, don't hesitate to mix it up by adding high knees, butt kicks, side-stepping, or jumping rope.

Use dynamic stretching to warm up your major muscle groups. Consider lunges in all directions, knee-to-chest stretches, plank walkouts, overhead side stretches, and trunk twists to get things moving. Remember, you want to move, not stretch statically.

Be progressive with your warm-up. Start slow and steady, perhaps with some side lunges, and finish fast with side-stepping or high knees. You want to allow the gradual warming of your core body temperature, reducing your risk of injury.

How often should you work out your upper body?

The frequency of your upper-body strength workout depends entirely on your fitness goals and your current fitness level. All upper bodies are different, so we'll make general suggestions regarding the upper-body workout and how often it can (or should) occur.

Working your upper body a few times each week will help you notice results in your strength and appearance. If you're at an advanced fitness level, consider upping that recommended number to four or five times weekly.

Overall, it's your body; only you know how it feels and what schedule works best for you. However, when it comes to effective upper-body workouts, aim for two to start!

Best workouts for upper body strength

Now that you know how to warm up and how often to put your upper body to work, we'll highlight the best workouts to build upper body strength. Variations and number of repetitions will vary from person to person, but these exercises are fantastic for creating muscle in your arms, shoulders, back, and core.


Traditional push ups work your pectoral muscles, shoulders, and the sometimes hard-to-tone tricep. When executed correctly, pushups can strengthen your core too.

How to do it:

  1. Come to a tabletop position (all fours) and place your hands a bit wider than your shoulders.

  2. Straighten your arms and legs, coming into a plank position.

  3. Lower your body, keeping your elbow at a 45-degree angle until your chest nearly touches the floor, with your abs pulled up and in to support your low back.

  4. Pause, and then push yourself back up.

Dumbbell Curl

Dumbbell curls can help anyone build bigger biceps while strengthening elbow flexion and increasing grip strength. As you become stronger, you'll be able to increase your repetitions or weight.

How to do it:

  1. Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, one dumbbell in each hand.

  2. Keep a slight bend in your knees, letting your elbows rest at your sides and your forearms slightly in front of your body.

  3. Bring the dumbbells to shoulder height by bending your elbows and squeezing each bicep as your arms curl.

  4. Release the curl slowly, and then repeat.

Pull Up

Pull-ups are incredibly effective for strengthening your back muscles. Pull-ups can be challenging, so feel free to enlist a workout buddyto help with your form, primarily if you're new to this exercise.

How to do it:

  1. Stand directly below the pullup bar for your starting position, placing your hands slightly further apart than your shoulder width. Palms should be facing away from you on the bar. If you can't reach it, you can place a box or sturdy flat bench beneath you to help.

  2. Lift your feet, so you're hanging from the bar, engage your core, and pull your shoulders back and down.

  3. Engage your back and arm muscles, bend your elbows, and raise your body toward the bar until your chin reaches the top.

  4. Inhale at the top of the movement, and lower back down to your starting position. Allow yourself enough rest time between reps.

Overhead Press

The overhead press is a classic upper-body strength training exercise. You can perform the overhead press seated or standing, and it significantly contributes to shoulder strength and muscle-building.

How to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet flat. Hold the bar with your hands shoulder-width apart, keeping your elbows directly beneath your wrists.

  2. Focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together to initiate the lift, tilting your head slightly backward to avoid the bar hitting your chin and nose as you keep it moving straight up.

  3. Keep your chest up so your back remains stable. Lower the bar slowly and repeat.

  4. If you don't have access to a bar or are new to overhead presses, try using one dumbbell in each hand, creating the same movement.

Bench Press

The bench press is the perfect upper-body enhancer, emphasizing working the arms, shoulders, and pectoral muscles. Most people perform bench presses on a flat bench, but you can do them on an exercise mat on the floor, swapping out the barbell for dumbbells.

How to do it:

  1. Lie on the bench, gripping a barbell with your hands slightly wider than your shoulders. The bar should be directly over your shoulders.

  2. Press your feet firmly into the ground, and your hips should remain on the bench throughout every rep.

  3. Engage your core, keep your spine neutral, and avoid arching your back.

  4. Lift the bar off the rack, lower it to your chest, and allow your elbows to bend at around 45 degrees.

  5. When your elbows are just below the bench, press your feet into the floor again and push the bar back up.

  6. Having a spotter present is always a good idea!

Bent Over Row

The bent-over row can help work your back muscles while creating trunk and hip stability. This exercise has many modifications for those with back pain, including the incline bench row.

How to do it:

  1. Stand holding a barbell (or dumbbells) with your palms facing up.

  2. Keep a slight bend in your knees, hinging forward at the waist. Your back should be straight, and your elbows will hug your body.

  3. Row the weight towards your chest, squeezing your back muscles as your lift.

  4. Return to the starting position and repeat.

Pacing yourself and other safety advice

Pacing yourself and other safety advicePreventing injuries is essential to exercise, even when you work out at home. Basic safety knowledge and pacing yourself can keep upper-body injuries at bay and your workout routine uninterrupted. The following tips can help.

  1. Dedicate ten minutes to your dynamic warm-up to loosen and heat your muscles and joints.

  2. Avoid lifting weights that are too heavy for you! Be patient, and let your body build strength.

  3. Know your limits. Listen to what your body tells you, and give yourself enough rest days. You've earned them!

  4. If you need clarification that your form is correct, speak with a fitness professional who can guide you in the right direction.

Final thoughts

A strong upper body can help improve your range of motion, increase muscle mass and bone density, and keep you flexible. Performing targeted upper-body exercises at least twice each week will contribute to your overall strength and fitness, improve your posture, and decrease your risk of injury when done safely.

Peloton has many upper-body-focused workouts you can do at home, perfect for keeping you strong enough to handle whatever life throws your way. Discover your strength today.