All About the Best Upper Body Workouts at Home

Jul/24/2022 / by KT Hall
Women Showing her Muscles
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Upper Body Workout

“Let’s get physical, physical.” Ahh, the lyrics to Olivia Newton John’s famous song from the 80s. While the video depicts men flexing their biceps and pecs, it’s also important that women exercise their upper bodies. But how do you start an upper body home workout? And which muscle groups are the most important?

In this guide, we will explore the best upper body exercises for women. We will also cover sample workouts for beginners, intermediate and advanced users. That way you’re physical and flexible enough to pick up the groceries, your kids or your other daily activities!  

And away we go…

Upper Body Workout
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Upper Body Home Workout and Strength Training

When you think about exercising the top half of your body, your training should include a few specific muscle groups. Your workouts might target your triceps and biceps, your shoulders, back, and chest muscles.

When people exercise and create a strength training regimen, they might start a schedule with their entire upper body in a routine. They might also have different days when they work on a lower body routine.

Splitting up upper body home workout exercises might include 4 days where you exercise the top half of your body and 3 days where you focus on the lower, for example. While this guide focuses on upper body home workout routines, we will include a sample schedule with lower body exercises to help you set up your own fitness routine.  

Here’s a sample schedule of a 4-Day Upper body home workout with the lower body included:

  • Sunday: Upper Body
  • Monday: Lower Body
  • Tuesday: Rest Day
  • Wednesday Upper Body
  • Thursday: Lower Body
  • Friday: Rest Day
  • Saturday: Rest Day

Here is an example of a 3 day upper body home workout schedule with the lower body included:

  • Sunday: Upper Body
  • Monday: Rest Day
  • Tuesday: Lower Body
  • Wednesday Rest Day
  • Thursday: Upper Body
  • Friday: Rest Day
  • Saturday: Rest Day

While you don’t have to stick to the schedules above, use these as examples to help you set your own upper body home workout schedule. When creating your upper body home workout, factor in your work schedule, days off, and other obligations. Next, we’ll take a look at the types of exercises you can do for the top half of your body.

Upper Body Workout
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Best Upper Body Home Workout Exercises

Now that we’ve set up sample schedules, let’s focus our attention on the upper-body categories. Targeting these core areas is essential because you can train every muscle group and reduce the risk of injury.

Typically, upper body home workout exercises will include:

Horizontal Pushing

These entail movements in front of you, on horizontal planes away from your core. Examples are chest exercises.

Sample exercises might include:

  • Incline Bench Press and Decline Bench Press
  • Bench Press and Push-Ups
  • Cable, Fly and Dumbbell Machines
  • Flat, Decline and Incline Press Machines

Horizontal Pulling

These entail movements in front of you, on horizontal planes toward your core. An example is using a rowing machine.

Note that rear delt exercises are included in this category. While parts of the shoulder, these muscles are strengthened with horizontal pulling and other movements that stabilize the back muscles. 

Sample exercises might include:

  • Bent-Over Barbell Rows and Bent Over Dumbbell Rows
  • T-Bar Rows and Seated Cable rows
  • Inverted Rows and Chest Supported Rows
  • Machine Rows and Rear Deltoid Exercises

Vertical Pushing

These are vertical plane movements that focus on weights being pushed up from your core. An example is a shoulder exercise.

Note that front and lateral raises are not pushing movements, per se, but count as vertical raises.

Sample exercises in this category include:

  • Lateral Raises and Front Raises
  • Dumbbell Shoulder Press and Machine Shoulder Press
  • Barbell Shoulder Press 

Vertical Pulling

These vertical plane movements are when the weight is drawn closer to your core. An example is any pull-down or push-up exercise.

Sample exercises include:

  • Lateral or Lat Pull Downs
  • Pull-Ups and Chin-Ups

Elbow Flexions

These flexing of the elbow movements include when you pull a weight closer to your core. An example is a bicep curl.

Sample exercises include:

  • Dumbbell Curls and Barbell Curls
  • Cable Curls and Preacher Curls
  • Hammer Curls

Elbow Extensions

These elbow-extending movements are when you push weights away from your core. An example is a tricep extension.

Sample exercises include:

  • Skull Crushers and Tricep Kickbacks
  • Tricep Pushdowns and Overhead Dumbbell Extensions
Upper Body Workout
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Reps, Sets and How Many Exercises to Do

The next area to turn our attention to is the number of reps and sets you should complete with each exercise or the volume/rate of exercise. Doing the optimal amount can help ensure you complete enough exercises for an effective workout.

Were you to do too many, it can lead to injury or you becoming burnt out which you also don’t want as it will hinder your progress. To find your sweet spot, we will explore volume and specific volume as it relates to upper body home workout exercises.

Finding the Optimal Volume With Exercise

Research suggests that 10 to 20 sets for each muscle group every week are ideal for most people who exercise. Beginners might steer to the lower end, while those that are advanced may add additional sets and reps.

Another factor is the secondary volume of your secondary muscles. When you exercise muscles like your shoulders, biceps and triceps are best for most people, with the low end likely being ideal for beginners, the high end for the advanced, and somewhere in between for intermediates/everyone else.

Hence, it’s a good idea to do additional sets (10-20) for your back and chest but limit sets for your shoulders, triceps and biceps.

Upper Body Workout
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Achieving Optimal Volume with Your Upper Body Home Workout

Ideally, if you use the sample upper/lower body split schedules from before, you will train both groups twice weekly. Factor in that for optimal sets your workouts should include for every workout:

  • Back and Chest: 5 to 10 sets
  • Biceps, Shoulders and Triceps: 2 to 5 sets

Likewise, with exercises for each muscle group, aim for:

  • Back and Chest: 2 exercises weekly
  • Biceps, Shoulders and Triceps: 1 exercise weekly

Creating Your Own Upper Body Home Workout Routine

A few steps can help you start your own custom upper body home workout. Factor in your individual weight loss/ gain and strengthening goals.

Step #1 Personalize It

Customize your workout around factors like your schedule, any injuries and strengthening goals.

For Your Chest

Pick two different horizontal pushing exercises here one is flat and the other is on an incline.

Select exercises like:

  • Compound Press Exercises: Incline dumbbell press, barbell bench press
  • Isolation Exercises: Pec deck, cable or dumbbell flys
  • Single Compound Press Exercises: Machine press, dumbbells or barbells

Do your first exercise with heavier weights and low reps (3-7) but take longer breaks (2 to 5 min). Your remaining sets can be high reps (10-15) with 60 to 120-second breaks. This approach incorporates metabolic stress with progressive tension for better muscle growth.

No time for the gym? Try push-ups. Listed as the best upper body workout at home, they don’t require weights as this full-body workout lifts your own body weight.

For Your Back

Select a horizontal pulling exercise like rowing. Pick another movement like a chin-up or pull-down, which are vertical pulling exercises.

Similar to the chest exercises, do the first set heavier and take longer breaks. Make the remainder high rep with short breaks.

For Your Biceps

With your elbow flexing exercises, pick EZ bar curls or dumbbell curls. Aim for high reps (12-15) with short breaks up to 120 seconds.

For Your Shoulders

For your side delts, choose a vertical lifting move like a lateral raise. Pick an exercise like an overhead press, which counts as your vertical pushing movement.

Select your shoulder exercise based on your chest movements.

For Your Triceps

To isolate your triceps, do skull crushers or tricep pushdowns. Like with your bicep movements, strive for high reps (12-15) and short breaks (up to 2 minutes).

Upper Body Workout
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10 Best Upper Body Home Workout Exercises for Women

Resistance or strength training is essential to your upper body home workout routine and it won’t give you bulky muscles. Regular exercise from an upper body home workout makes it easier to perform your daily tasks, it wards off diseases like osteoporosis and it can improve your posture.

To start strength training at home, you will need a mat or towel, resistance bands and dumbbells or free weights of different weights.

CrossFit Training Female Athlete
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Start with a Warm-Up, End with a Cool Down

A 10-minute warm-up and stretch followed by 10-minutes of stretches are ideal ways to increase your circulation. Your pre- and post-stretches will also help prevent injuries. Warm-up with cardio by walking or jogging in place. Or, do arm stretches, windmills, arm circles or arm swings.

Try to engage your core with each exercise to stay safe. Stop if you feel any pain. Factor in that upper body home workout exercises might leave your muscles sore but you should not feel pain. If you’re unsure about your form, click the link with each exercise for video examples or consult a personal trainer.

Let’s start with arm exercises…

Dumbbell Curls

Dumbbell curls target the biceps and you can do these standing or seated.

  • Stand or sit down and hold a dumbbell in each hand. Keep your feet hip-width apart and your elbows close to your sides.
  • Rotate the weight in your hands so your palms face your body.
  • Breathe in and as you exhale, bring each weight up toward your shoulders in a curl that will contract the biceps. Hold that position for 3-5 seconds and then return to the starting position.
  • Do 12-15 reps for 3 sets total.

Tricep Kickbacks

With a bent-over posture, pushing weights behind you is an excellent workout for your triceps.

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand. Keep your palms facing in to your body and both knees slightly bent.
  • With your spine stiff and straight, bend forward slightly from your waist until you are almost parallel with the ground and tighten your core muscles.
  • Don’t bend your head but keep it in line with your back. Breathe in and as you breathe out, lock your upper arms and push your forearms back with the weights until they are straight. Hold that position for 2-3 seconds and then return to the initial position.
  • Do 12-15 reps for 3 sets.

Tricep Dips

With your arms supported by a bench, these dips target the shoulders and triceps.

  • Sit down in a stable chair and put your arms on the sides of the chair. Let your feet rest firmly on the floor in front of you.
  • Keep your hands with your palms down near your hips and hold the front section of the chair. Lift your body off the seat while holding onto it firmly. Keep a little bend in your knees and let your glutes hang over the ground. Your arms should extend fully to help support your body weight.
  • Take a breath in and start to lower your body until you reach 90-degrees. Hold that position for 3-5 seconds and then raise your body up back into the starting position.
  • Do 12-15 reps for 3 sets.

Here are a few back exercises to try…

Resistance Band Extensions Pull Aparts

Targeting the shoulders, triceps, biceps and back, engage your core with each band stretch.

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Keep your arms out in front of you near your chest.
  • Hold a resistance band in both hands so it is horizontal or parallel with the floor.
  • With your arms straight, start to pull the band apart but keep your hands near your chest. You should feel this in your mid-back area. Maintain a stiff spine as you pull the bands apart and your shoulder blades come together. Hold the position for 2-3 seconds and then return to the starting position.
  • Do 12-15 reps for 3 sets.

Dumbbell Rows (With Both Hands)

As you bend over at the waist and lift dumbbells, this exercise targets the shoulders, biceps, triceps and back.

  • Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and bend over from the waist until you are close to 90-degrees from the floor.
  • Keep a slight bend in your knees and extend your arms so each dumbbell is near your knees. Tighten your core abs with each move. While your upper body is stiff, use the muscles in your back to help you pull each dumbbell up to your side and try to draw them close to your ribcage.
  • Hold this position for 3-5 seconds before returning to the starting position.
  • Do 10-12 reps for 3 sets.

Wall Angels

While wall angels target your shoulders, neck and back, focus on keeping your arms flat.

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart and slightly away from a wall. Keep your back, shoulders, and head up against the wall. Have a slight bend in your knees.
  • Start to stretch your arms up over your head while you keep your back up against the wall. Let the back of your hands continue to touch the wall and start to stretch your arms straight above your head.
  • Engage your mid-back muscles as you push your arms down toward your shoulders and ensure your body is pushed up against the wall at all times. Once your hands are near your shoulders hold this position for 2-3 seconds and then go back to the starting position.
  • Do 18-20 reps for 3 sets.

Next, let’s take a look at a few chest exercises…

Chest Press with Dumbbells

Lying on a bench helps to engage your triceps, shoulders and chest as you lift dumbbell weights.

  • Lie back on a bench, mat or towel and hold a lightweight dumbbell in each hand.
  • Extend your elbows down to a 90-degree angle with the back of the arms near the floor but have the weights over your chest.
  • Breathe in and as you exhale, push your arms up until you can make the weights come close to touching. Hold this position for 3-5 seconds and then go back to the starting position.
  • Do 12-15 reps for 3 sets.

Mountain Climbers

Almost like you’re in the starting position before a race, this move targets your back, core, shoulders, chest and arms.

  • Lower yourself to the floor on a mat or towel as if you were starting planks or push-ups. Your feet should be hip-width apart and your hands should be flat on the floor and under your shoulders.
  • Engage your glutes and core and keep your hips lined up with your shoulders.
  • Quickly draw your left knee towards your chest. Then, as you push it back, draw your right knee towards your upper body. Alternate between both feet at a fast pace.
  • Do these moves for 30-60 seconds and 3 sets.

Next, we will cover a few shoulder exercises.

Front Raises with Dumbbells

The key with this move is maintaining a stiff back and engaged core to exercise your anterior deltoids and shoulders.

  • Standing with your feet hip-width apart, hold a lightweight dumbbell in each hand.
  • Keep your elbows straight with a slight bend and hold the weights in front of you near your legs.
  • Draw up the dumbbells until your arms are up and horizontal. Hold this for 3-5 seconds and go back to the starting position.
  • Do 12-15 reps for 3 sets.

Deltoid Raises with Weights

Mirroring a bird flapping its wings, this move targets your triceps, biceps and shoulders.

  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and keep a slight bend in your knees. Hold dumbbell weights close to your body with your palms facing you.
  • Bend over slightly from the waist and engage your core abs.
  • Raise your arms out at the sides until they get to shoulder height (like a bird’s wings fully extended) in a “T.” Hold that position for 3-5 seconds and then return to the starting position.
  • Do 12-15 reps for 3 sets.
Upper Body Workout
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Up, Up and Away!

With so many ways to create an upper body home workout and target core muscle groups, try the sample exercises listed above. Whether you are picking up groceries or your kids, strengthening your shoulders, chest, triceps, biceps and back will give you more strength and stability. Additional benefits include that your muscles are more toned and supportive, you can burn calories, decrease your injury risk and have healthier, stronger bones.

Start your workout routine slowly and gradually build your reps, sets and intensity over time. You’ve got this!

Upper Body Workout
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What is the most effective upper body exercise?

For the most effective upper body home workout results, try push-ups, pull-ups, the bench press, dumbbell press and parallel bar. All of these are examples of good upper body workouts that can tone and strengthen your muscles.

What exercise builds the upper body?

If you are looking for the best upper body workout, one of the best upper body home workout exercises is push-ups. They don’t require free weights or dumbbells and you don’t need a gym. Push-ups are a full upper body workout that engages the low back, your core abs, triceps, chest and shoulders.

How many times a week should you work out your upper body?

Typically, the average person should strive for 2 upper body home workout exercises every week and 2 lower body workouts weekly. Hence, that’s 4 workouts with 3 days off. Strive to work out every other day so you have a rest period. Hence you can have a total of two days for rest and recovery. Use the last day for your cardio or other types of exercise (walking, yoga, aerobics).

What are the 5 best upper body exercises?

Among the best upper body home workout exercises are the chest press, rowing arms, rotating arms, bicep curls and tricep lifts. For your gym workouts, try the elbow-out tricep extension, landmine press, man maker, windmills with kettlebells or plates and weighted plate chest squeezes.


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