At-Home Workouts for the Upper Body

Recently Suite101 has reported on the fitness trend of designing your own workout for little or no money. Beginning with the upper body, here is a list of specific exercises you might include in your routine. Recommended equipment includes a couple of pairs of lightweight dumbbells and a resistance band with handles at each end, all of which you can pick up for under $30 at a sporting-goods store like Dick’s or Sports Authority. For video demonstrations of any unfamiliar exercises, refer to the web: both YouTube and PhysicalFitNet have extensive free video libraries.

Dumbbell Exercises for Upper-Body Strength

Beginners may want to start with a 5-pound and a 7-pound set, while the more advanced might choose weights 10 pounds and up. Use your heavier dumbbells for large-muscle-group exercises like rows or chest presses, and your lighter weights for shoulder raises, biceps curls, and triceps extensions. Aim for 2—3 sets of 12—20 repetitions.

  • Back: To work your upper back, bent-over rows are a good bet. You can performing these standing, bent at the hips, with 2 dumbbells, or with a hand and knee propped on a chair or coffee table using a single dumbbell.
  • Chest: You can do presses or flys by lying on your back on the floor or on a raised surface like your coffee table.
  • Shoulders: You can do military (overhead) presses either seated or standing, as well as front or lateral shoulder raises. Use heavier weights for presses and lighter weights for raises.
  • Biceps: Vary your grip while performing biceps curls, with either palms facing forward or in toward your sides (known as a hammer grip).
  • Triceps: You have a few options for triceps extensions. Stand bent forward (like you would for rows) extending both dumbbells behind you; stand upright and extend 1 or 2 dumbbells overhead; or lie on your back on the floor with your elbows over your shoulders and extend toward the ceiling.

Resistance-Band Exercises for Tone and Definition

Resistance bands, aka tubing, generally come in light, medium, and heavy resistance. For most exercisers, the medium band will offer the most versatility. Many of these exercises can be performed by standing on the tube with a handle in one or both hands, while some require attaching one end of the tube to a door or railing (many are sold with an attachment). Aim for 2—3 sets of 15—20 repetitions.

  • Back: Standing rows can be performed by wrapping the center of the tube around a railing (a vertical bar is ideal) or using the attachment to anchor the middle of the tube to a door at around chest or stomach height. Stand back to determine the appropriate resistance and, facing the midpoint of the tube, pull with both hands.
  • Chest: Use the same set-up as you did for the rows but face outward to perform chest presses or flys.
  • Shoulders: To perform overhead presses, using one hand at a time is ideal. Stand on the tube with one or both feet (to vary the resistance, move sideways along the tube to create more or less slack) and holding one handle, press one arm overhead. For raises, adjust the slack on the tube for less resistance and raise a single arm either straight in front of you or straight out to the side.
  • Biceps: Stand with both feet in the middle of the tube and curl both arms together or alternate.
  • Triceps: Standing on the tube with both feet, bent forward at the hips and extend both arms behind you. Alternately, hold one handle only and extend a single arm overhead.

Bodyweight Exercises for Fat Loss and Sculpting

While there are fewer options available for the upper body than for the legs or core, these exercises, which use only your own body for resistance, are no less effective. Aim for 2—3 sets of at least 10 reps, ideally going all the way to failure.

  • Push-ups: These are possibly the gold standard of upper-body exercises, if performed correctly. They work your chest, arms, back, shoulders, and core. Beginners should do these on their knees; build up to incline push-ups (hands on a step, table, or other elevated surface), then to regular military push-ups. Keep your abs pulled in tight at all times and don’t let your head fall forward.
  • Triceps Dips: For the triceps, shoulders, and chest. You can do these off a table or chair as well as on the floor (in a “crab-walk” position). Beginners should bend their knees to about 90 degrees with feet planted flat on the floor; advanced exercisers should straighten their legs with heels down and toes up.
  • Planks: While technically a core exercise, variations on this classic yoga move can give you an incredible shoulder workout. The basic version looks like a raised push-up, only with hands positioned directly under your shoulders, not wider. Hold the position as long as you can with your body in a tight, straight line. More challenging variations include walking your hands side to side, up and down a step, or, for an added challenge, coming down onto your elbows (one at a time) and walking back up onto your hands (also one at a time).

You’ll want to work each muscle group as listed above at least twice a week, and you should choose 4—6 exercises from this list to include in your total-body strength workout. Look for similar Suite101 articles in the coming weeks on at-home exercises for the lower body and for the core.

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