5 Effective and Simple Upper Body Strength Routines

Tom Kelso

Coach

Strength and Conditioning

upper body workouts, shoulder workouts, arm workouts, chest workouts

 

There are thousands of ways to resistance train. Provided you work hard and safely, document the results, allow enough recovery time between workouts, and then train progressively, resistance training will work within your genetic endowment and nutritional intake habits.

 

 

Regarding the upper-body, you can use a variety of tools and overload protocols to address the upper body muscles: the pectorals, deltoids, lats, traps, biceps, triceps, and other associated muscle structures. There are chest, incline, and overhead presses, dips, pulldowns, low rows, and upright rows, and a variety of direct biceps and triceps exercises using barbells, dumbbells, and selectorized or plate-loading machine. And these can be done for high, medium, and low repetitions - or a combination of them - using various overload protocols.

 

It can be overwhelming with so many options. So, here are five sure-fire upper body routines that can be a part of any strength, power, weight-loss, and/or general fitness program. I’ve also attached recording forms for you to log your workouts. (Click here to download them.) I promise you, if you use these routines consistently, work as hard as you can, and recover between workouts, you will see results, guaranteed.

 

General workout guidelines

  1. Complete the workout in the exercise order format listed (note examples A & B). INSERT YOUR EXERCISE CHOICES ON THE WORKOUT FORM.
  2. Work to achieve muscular overload with a resistance that fits the exercise prescriptions (Rx) listed.
  3. Record the training date ("DATE"), the resistances ("WT") used and the repetitions ("REPS") achieved for each workout performed.
  4. Attempt to progress each workout in terms of doing more repetitions and/or using more resistance according the exercise prescription (Rx).
  5. The "NOTES" section on workout form: space to record machine seat/back/handle settings, the device used (i.e., barbell, dumbbell or machine) or other pertinent information that facilitates the proper performance of the exercise.
  6. Use proper exercise technique and be safety conscious. Use a spotter on certain exercises and stop when safe exercise technique cannot be maintained.

 

Workout #1: Big 4 @ 3 Rounds

An upper body workout that alternates the four major multi-joint movements: chest push, row/low row, overhead push, and pulldown for three rounds, decreasing the repetitions each round. The triceps and biceps are then addressed.

 

Specifics:

  • Choose a chest push, row/low row, overhead push and pulldown and do each for all three rounds.
  • Rest 1:00-1:30 between exercises each round and 2:00-3:00 between rounds.
  • Complete the workout with a tricep and bicep exercise.
  • All sets performed to volitional muscular fatigue.

 

Exercise order format:

Example A:

Example B:

CHEST PUSH

BARBELL BENCH PRESS

DUMBBELL BENCH PRESS

ROW/LOW ROW

SEATED ROW

BENT-OVER ROW

OVERHEAD PUSH

DUMBBELL OVERHEAD PRESS

MACHINE OVERHEAD PRESS

PULLDOWN

WIDE GRIP PULLDOWN

CLOSE GRIP PULLDOWN

CHEST PUSH

BARBELL BENCH PRESS

DUMBBELL BENCH PRESS

ROW/LOW ROW

SEATED ROW

BENT-OVER ROW

OVERHEAD PUSH

DUMBBELL OVERHEAD PRESS

MACHINE OVERHEAD PRESS

PULLDOWN

WIDE GRIP PULLDOWN

CLOSE GRIP PULLDOWN

CHEST PUSH

BARBELL BENCH PRESS

DUMBBELL BENCH PRESS

ROW/LOW ROW

SEATED ROW

BENT-OVER ROW

OVERHEAD PUSH

DUMBBELL OVERHEAD PRESS

MACHINE OVERHEAD PRESS

PULLDOWN

WIDE GRIP PULLDOWN

CLOSE GRIP PULLDOWN

CHEST PUSH

BARBELL BENCH PRESS

DUMBBELL BENCH PRESS

ROW/LOW ROW

SEATED ROW

BENT-OVER ROW

OVERHEAD PUSH

DUMBBELL OVERHEAD PRESS

MACHINE OVERHEAD PRESS

PULLDOWN

WIDE GRIP PULLDOWN

CLOSE GRIP PULLDOWN

TRICEPS

TRICEP PRESS

TRICEP PUSHDOWN

BICEPS

MACHINE BICEP CURL

BARBELL BICEP CURL

 

Workout #2: 14 – 8 Circuit

An upper body workout that alternates three different push & pull exercises for two rounds: 12-16 repetitions (average = 14) & 6-10 repetitions (average = 8) to volitional muscular fatigue with a 1:00 rest between exercises & 2:00 - 3:00 rest between rounds.

 

Specifics:

  • Use the same three push and pull exercises for both rounds.
  • Rest 1:00 between exercises in each round.
  • Rest 2:00 - 3:00 between rounds.

 

Exercise order format:

Example A:

Example B:

PUSH

STANDING BARBELL PRESS

DUMBBELL BENCH PRESS

PULL

CLOSE GRIP PULLDOWN

BENT-OVER ROW

PUSH

WEIGHTED DIPS

MACHINE OVERHEAD PRESS

PULL

PULLEY UPRIGHT ROW

WIDE GRIP PULLDOWN

PUSH

MACHINE CHEST PRESS

BARBELL INCLINE PRESS

PULL

SEATED ROW

PLATE-LOAD HIGH ROW

PUSH

STANDING BARBELL PRESS

DUMBBELL BENCH PRESS

PULL

CLOSE GRIP PULLDOWN

BENT-OVER ROW

PUSH

WEIGHTED DIPS

MACHINE OVERHEAD PRESS

PULL

PULLEY UPRIGHT ROW

WIDE GRIP PULLDOWN

PUSH

MACHINE CHEST PRESS

BARBELL INCLINE PRESS

PULL

SEATED ROW

PLATE-LOAD HIGH ROW

 

Workout #3: Push – Pull

A higher-repetition upper body workout that alternates three pairs of push and pull exercises, then addresses the biceps and triceps.

 

Specifics:

  • Choose three different push and pull exercises each for the first three segments.
  • Do three sets of each exercise for the first segment and two sets of each exercise for the second and third segments.
  • Complete the workout by alternating a tricep and bicep exercise for two sets each.
  • All sets are performed to volitional muscular fatigue.

 

Exercise order format:

Example A:

Example B:

PUSH

BARBELL BENCH PRESS

MACHINE OVERHEAD PRESS

PULL

WIDE GRIP PULLDOWN

CLOSE GRIP PULLDOWN

PUSH

BARBELL BENCH PRESS

MACHINE OVERHEAD PRESS

PULL

WIDE GRIP PULLDOWN

CLOSE GRIP PULLDOWN

PUSH

BARBELL BENCH PRESS

MACHINE OVERHEAD PRESS

PULL

WIDE GRIP PULLDOWN

CLOSE GRIP PULLDOWN

PUSH

DUMBBELL OVERHEAD PRESS

WEIGHTED DIPS

PULL

SEATED ROW

BARBELL UPRIGHT ROW

PUSH

DUMBBELL OVERHEAD PRESS

WEIGHTED DIPS

PULL

SEATED ROW

BARBELL UPRIGHT ROW

PUSH

MACHINE INCLINE PRESS

DUMBBELL BENCH PRESS

PULL

HIGH ROW

BENT-OVER ROW

PUSH

MACHINE INCLINE PRESS

DUMBBELL BENCH PRESS

PULL

HIGH ROW

BENT-OVER ROW

TRICEPS

TRICEP PUSHDOWNS

TRICEP PRESS

BICEPS

DUMBBELL BICEP CURL

MACHINE BICEP CURL

TRICEPS

TRICEP PUSHDOWNS

TRICEP PRESS

BICEPS

DUMBBELL BICEP CURL

MACHINE BICEP CURL

 

Workout #4: 3 Strikes & Out

An upper body workout that alternates three push and pull exercises, then addresses the triceps and biceps by using the three strikes and out overload protocol: three consecutive sets to volitional muscular fatigue with the same resistance and a :30 rest between sets.

 

Specifics:

  • Use three different push and pull exercises and any tricep and bicep exercise.
  • Use a resistance that allows for volitional muscular fatigue in the 1st set rep range set. Record the result (wt. x reps) in the space provided.
  • Rest exactly :30 and perform a second set to volitional muscular fatigue with the same resistance. Record the reps achieved in the "2nd" space provided.
  • Rest exactly :30 and perform a third set to volitional muscular fatigue with the same resistance. Record the reps achieved in the "3rd" space provided.
  • It is recommended to have a training partner time the :30 rest between exercises.
  • Rest 2:00 - 3:00 between exercises.

 

Exercise order format:

Example A:

Example B:

PUSH x 3 sets / :30 rest

DUMBBELL INCLINE PRESS

MACHINE CHEST PRESS

PULL x 3 sets / :30 rest

CLOSE GRIP PULLDOWN

SEATED ROW

PUSH x 3 sets / :30 rest

BARBELL DECLINE PRESS

DUMBBELL OVERHEAD PRESS

PULL x 3 sets / :30 rest

DUMBBELL BENT-OVER ROW

WIDE GRIP PULLDOWN

PUSH x 3 sets / :30 rest

MACHINE CHEST PRESS

DIP MACHINE

PULL x 3 sets / :30 rest

HIGH ROW

PLATE-LOAD ROW

TRICEPS x 3 sets / :30 rest

LYING TRICEP PRESS

TRICEP PUSHDOWN

BICEPS x 3 sets / :30 rest

BICEP CURL MACHINE

BARBELL BICEP CURL

 

Workout #5: Ultimate Super Set

An upper body workout performed in three super set segments: chest push and pulldown, overhead push and row, and incline press and another pulldown Minimal rest is taken between exercise pairs.

 

Specifics:

  • Choose a chest push and pulldown for the first segment (three sets each), an overhead push and row for the second segment (three sets each) and an incline press and another pulldown for the third segment (three sets each).
  • Perform the paired sets by alternating the opposing exercises with minimal rest between them (i.e., chest push x 8-12, immediately to pulldown x 8-12, immediately to chest push x MAX REPS, immediately to pulldown x MAX REPS, etc.) working each set to volitional muscular fatigue.
  • Either use the same resistance for all three sets or reduce the resistance for the 2nd and 3rd MAX REPS sets if more repetitions are desired.
  • Rest 3:00 between super set segments.

 

Exercise order format: Example A: Example B:

CHEST PUSH

DUMBBELL INCLINE PRESS

BARBELL BENCH PRESS

PULLDOWN

WIDE GRIP PULLDOWN

CLOSE GRIP PULLDOWN

CHEST PUSH

DUMBBELL INCLINE PRESS

BARBELL BENCH PRESS

PULLDOWN

WIDE GRIP PULLDOWN

CLOSE GRIP PULLDOWN

CHEST PUSH

DUMBBELL INCLINE PRESS

BARBELL BENCH PRESS

PULLDOWN

WIDE GRIP PULLDOWN

CLOSE GRIP PULLDOWN

OVERHEAD PUSH

MACHINE OVERHEAD PRESS

STANDING BARBELL PRESS

ROW

PLATE-LOAD ROW

SEATED ROW

OVERHEAD PUSH

MACHINE OVERHEAD PRESS

STANDING BARBELL PRESS

ROW

PLATE-LOAD ROW

SEATED ROW

OVERHEAD PUSH

MACHINE OVERHEAD PRESS

STANDING BARBELL PRESS

ROW

PLATE-LOAD ROW

SEATED ROW

INCLINE PRESS

BARBELL INCLINE PRESS

DUMBBELL INCLINE PRESS

PULLDOWN

CLOSE GRIP PULLDOWN

WIDE GRIP PULLDOWN

INCLINE PRESS

BARBELL INCLINE PRESS

DUMBBELL INCLINE PRESS

PULLDOWN

CLOSE GRIP PULLDOWN

WIDE GRIP PULLDOWN

 

Remember to click here to download your workout recording forms!

 

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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