With summer right around the corner, tank tops, sundresses and swimsuits will expose bodies hidden under layers all winter. Many exercises, such as running, walking and cycling, emphasize the lower body, but you also must work your upper body. Training the upper body not only makes you stronger, but can give you more confidence in your warm weather attire.
Because women in particular tend to store less fat in the upper body, they can see results fairly quickly from a consistent, challenging routine that targets the chest, back, shoulders and arms. Strength training will provide the best gains, but you also can incorporate arm work into some cardio regimens.
For optimum fitness, aim to exercise 3-6 times per week, doing cardio, strength and flexibility exercises. When working with resistance, such as weight machines, barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells or resistance bands, perform 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps, using a load that makes it tough to complete the final few reps. If the weight is too light, you won’t see results, so don’t be afraid to pick up something challenging. Once you’ve mastered a specific weight, increase the resistance slightly and continue to progress.
To make it easier to get started, try these popular and effective exercises for productive upper-body workouts. If you’re not sure how to perform them, ask a fitness professional at the gym or check online images and videos:
- Push-up: While we know that this exercise tends to foster a love-hate relationship, it is unbeatable at working the chest, shoulders, triceps and core. And all you need is your body. If you can’t do full push-ups, start on your knees and gradually try one or two reps on your toes, increasing as you get stronger.
- Chest press: Again, hit the chest, shoulders and triceps using a barbell or dumbbells or a machine for this classic exercise.
- Row: Hit the upper back in a standing, seated or hinged position, using a machine, dumbbells or a barbell and varying your grip – wide, narrow, underhand, overhand. You can also do rows with a cable and pulley machine or a resistance band.
- Front and lateral raise: Using dumbbells, kettlebells or a cable and pulley system, hit the front and side portions of your shoulders to add definition.
- Biceps curl: Hit the very visible biceps with curls using a machine, dumbbells, barbells, a resistance band or a cable and pulley. For variety, try narrow curls, wide curls, hammer curls, supinating curls, concentration curls and more.
- Triceps extension: Holding dumbbells or cable and pulley handles overhead, bend and extend the arms from the head to the ceiling to tax the back of the upper arms, which tends to be a trouble spot for many women.
- Cardio options: Note that you can incorporate upper-body workouts into some cardio modalities, but this should just be a supplement to the strength exercises listed above. These alone won’t deliver sculpted results, but they are a great way to add to cardio routines.
- Rowing – Your arms get a great workout and keep you moving on the rower.
- Elliptical – Don’t let your arms just go along for the ride, but consciously engage them to push and pull. Increase the resistance to ensure that your upper body is working hard.
- Air bike – Octane’s AirdyneX is ideal for taxing your entire upper body while maximizing your effort.
- Climbing – Machines like the VersaClimber engage your arms with every stroke.
- Upper-body ergometer – This is like a bicycle for the arms only, and moves forward and in reverse. Vary your resistance level and RPMs throughout.