The 10 Best Upper Body Strength Training Exercises (2024)

This article reviews ten of the best upper body strength training exercises you can do to get stronger, build muscle, and look and perform your best.

You might think you need dozens of complex movements for optimal upper body development. That’s not true!

These ten exercises cover all major muscle groups in your upper body and best of all – they are tried and true classics that have proven themselves in the gym and real life for decades.

Benefits of a Strong Upper Body

Strong upper body muscles translate into improved performance in and out of the gym, all sports, and everyday tasks. And let’s not be shy about it – muscles look good. That sculpted look can be a confidence booster and, let’s face it, a head-turner.

Athletic Performance

A powerful upper body improves performance in almost any sport, even those that mainly involve your legs. It helps you throw farther, swing harder, and even run faster (yes, your arms aren’t just for show in sprinting).

The stronger your upper body, the more oomph you’ve got for activities like throwing, swimming, or even rock-paper-scissors (okay, maybe not the last one). Plus, you’ll be less likely to get injured, which means more playtime and less downtime.


A well-toned upper body turns heads. It balances out your proportions, making you look more like a Greek god and less like a stick figure. Building muscle in your upper body makes you look great and signals health and vitality. Plus, clothes fit better, and you look sharper in your attire.

And let’s not forget the confidence you gain from looking and feeling strong. This inner confidence is often more attractive than your muscles themselves.

Health and Everyday Tasks

Strengthening your upper body improves posture, which is super important in many of our lives, where we spend so much of our time sitting. It also helps in everyday tasks like lifting groceries, playing with your kids, moving furniture without throwing your back out, and giving piggyback rides.

In addition, maintaining muscle mass is key to healthy aging, helping us stay independent and reducing the risk of injuries.

Without further ado, let’s jump straight into the ten best upper body strength training exercises and learn what they do, their benefits, and step-by-step instructions for performing each one safely and in the most effective way.

Primarily free weights and bodyweight exercises, but you’ll find alternative exercises for most movements if you prefer machines.

1. Bench Press

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The barbell bench press is the most popular exercise in the world and is often hailed as the king of upper body exercises. It’s like the celebrity of the gym: everyone knows it, everyone talks about it, and everyone wants to be able to handle some serious weight in it.

While a few other exercises might challenge its claim to the throne, it is like a royal decree for your upper body and fantastic for building strength, power, and lean muscle mass.

Bench presses primarily target your pushing muscles, the pectoralis major (the biggest of your chest muscles), the triceps brachii (back of your arm), and the anterior deltoids (front of your shoulders). In addition, they rally your lats and biceps to a lesser degree and even get the core to bend the knee.

Bench Press Benefits

  • The bench press helps build majestic pecs and front delts. It’s like the monarch of Muscle Town, presiding over chest and shoulder mass gains. It also builds your triceps, but not as effectively as doing direct triceps work like tricep extensions.
  • As for strength, bench press is the gold standard for measuring upper body strength.1 Powerlifters agree, as it is one of the three competitive lifts, and you generally don’t argue with powerlifters.
  • The bench press doesn’t just build muscles that look good in a tank top or help you in the gym; it also boosts functional strength. You’re training your body to push things – which is handy if you ever fall asleep in your car in a snowstorm, get snowed in, and need to shove the door open forcefully. Bench press strength also translates well into many sports where pushing is a thing.

Bench presses come in different flavors – flat, incline, and decline. Each variant puts a slightly different spin on muscle engagement. The flat bench press is your go-to for overall strength and development, while the incline bench press targets more of your upper chest and shoulders, and the decline bench press gives your lower chest a high five.

And that’s why the bench press is one of the best upper body strength training exercises and first on this list!

How to Bench Press

  1. Lie on the bench, pull your shoulder blades together and down, and slightly arch your back.
  2. Grip the bar slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  3. Inhale, hold your breath, and unrack the bar.
  4. Lower the bar with control, until it touches your chest somewhere close to your sternum.
  5. Push the bar up to the starting position while exhaling.
  6. Take another breath while in the top position, and repeat the movement for your desired number of repetitions.

Alternative exercises: dumbbell chest press, machine chest press.

Surprise! You don’t have to do bench presses with a barbell! Dumbbell chest presses or machine chest presses are viable alternatives for strength and muscle growth. And even if you’re a dedicated barbell bench press aficionado, some variation now and then can spice up your upper body training.

2. Push-Up

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The push-up is a classic bodyweight exercise and a staple in upper body workout routines for a bunch of reasons, and not just because you can do it anywhere, anytime, without splurging on fancy equipment (though that’s a massive bonus).

Primarily, push-ups work your chest muscles, triceps, and deltoids. Your core muscles, glutes, and legs also join in to stabilize your body, making them more than your ordinary upper-body exercise – it’s like getting the benefits of several exercises in one.

Push-Up Benefits

  • Research shows that push-ups are as effective as the bench press for building your chest and triceps muscles, especially for beginners.2 And even advanced trainees can continue building muscle with push-ups by using a resistance band to increase the load.
  • Push-ups mimic natural movements like pushing open a heavy door or saving your face from a faceplant. The latter makes them not just a workout but a practical life skill.
  • You can modify push-ups to suit any fitness level, from wall push-ups for beginners to one-armed feats for the pros. You can start with the kneeling push-up or incline push-up, work your way up to regular push-ups, and advance to push-ups with your feet elevated to challenge yourself. Each variation targets your upper body muscles slightly differently or increases the difficulty, so there’s always a new challenge waiting.

The push-up isn’t a modern invention. It’s been around since the Roman era. And astronauts on the International Space Station use a modified push-up device to exercise. Even in zero gravity, you can’t escape push-ups!

So, next time you drop and give 20, you’re not just doing one of the best upper body exercises. You’re engaging in a historic, astronaut-approved upper-body workout.

How to Perform Push-Ups

  1. Begin by lying face down on the floor. Place your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, with fingers pointing forward. For regular push-ups, extend your legs back, balancing on the balls of your feet. Keep your knees on the ground for kneeling push-ups instead of extending your legs.
  2. Ensure your body forms a straight line from your head to your heels (regular) or knees (kneeling). Engage your core muscles to prevent your hips from sagging or sticking up in the air.
  3. Inhale as you slowly bend your elbows to lower your body towards the floor. Aim to lower until your chest or chin nearly touches the floor. Your body should remain straight throughout the movement, with your lower back in a natural curve. Avoid any sagging or arching.
  4. Exhale as you push through your hands to straighten your elbows, lifting your body back to the start position. Maintain that straight body line as you push up.
  5. Repeat the movement for your desired number of repetitions.

3. Pull-Up

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The pull-up is the ultimate showdown between you and gravity. It’s one of the most iconic upper body strength training exercises and supremely effective for building a stronger and broader back. Pull-ups are also a fantastic way to measure your fitness progress: when you can do one more pull-up than the last workout, you know you’re doing something right.

The pull-up is a compound exercise that simultaneously targets multiple muscle groups. First and foremost, it hits your latissimus dorsi muscles. They are the broad muscles on the sides of your back, which look almost like a pair of wings and give you that V-shape when fully developed. In addition, your biceps, trapezius, deltoids, and even your core get in on the action, keeping you stable and making sure you’re not swinging like a pendulum.

Pull-Up Benefits

  • Stronger lats mean improved performance in many other exercises in the gym. For example, they hold the bar in place and protect your spine when you squat, and assist your posterior chain when you deadlift.
  • Pull-ups also improve functional strength, which you use in everyday activities – like pulling yourself out of a pool or reaching the top shelf without summoning a ladder.
  • You can do pull-ups almost anywhere. No gym? No problem! Find a sturdy tree branch or a playground bar, or install a pull-up bar in a doorway at home, and you’re all set to show gravity who’s boss!

Remember, pull-ups are super rewarding but challenging. If you can’t do one yet, no sweat! Start with assisted pull-ups (have a gym buddy hold your feet or ankles and help push you up, use an assisted pull-up machine, or loop an elastic band around the bar and stand on the other end of the band) and work your way up. You’ll be a pull-up pro before you know it.

The record for the most pull-ups in 24 hours is 8,600! Not suggesting you try to beat it, but… just saying.

How to Perform Pull-Ups

  1. Stand beneath a pull-up bar and reach up to grasp it with an overhand grip (palms facing away from you), slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Ensure your grip is secure and comfortable.
  2. Hang freely from the bar, fully extending your arms. Your feet should be off the ground.
  3. Engage your core muscles by squeezing your abs and glutes.
  4. Inhale and initiate the movement by pulling yourself up towards the bar by bending your elbows and squeezing your shoulder blades together. Focus on using your back muscles rather than relying on your upper arms.
  5. Continue pulling yourself up until your chin reaches or clears the bar. Keep your torso upright and avoid excessive swinging or kicking with your legs.
  6. Slowly lower yourself back down to the starting position while maintaining control and stability, fully extending your arms.
  7. Repeat the movement for your desired number of repetitions.

Alternative exercises: chin-up, lat pulldown.

Chin-ups and lat pulldowns are two excellent pull-up alternatives.

  • The chin-up is like the pull-up’s chill cousin. You use an underhand grip, which gives your biceps more of a workout.
  • The lat pulldown makes it easy to select the load you want. Whether you’re a beginner or advanced lifter, it’s a great lat exercise choice for your upper body strength workout.

4. Barbell Row

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The barbell row (also called the bent-over row) is like the granddaddy of back exercises and a true classic of upper body strength training exercises. It’s been around since strongmen were lifting in striped onesies.

The barbell row is a proper compound movement, targeting your whole back and giving you a time-efficient, full-service workout for your upper body. It hits your lats, rhomboids, trapezius, rear deltoids, biceps, and lower back muscles.

Barbell Row Benefits

  • Few exercises, if any, are more effective for building your upper back muscles. Barbell rows are one of your best bets for a thicker back.
  • It’s great for building a strong upper body and helps you hoist heavier weights in many other exercises. For example, beefing up your back sets the stage for mightier deadlifts and squats.
  • Barbell rows give you more than gym power; it’s real-world strength that mimics everyday activities like lifting a heavy box or a couch. It also helps you stand taller and keeps your posture in check, like a built-in corset.

You can play with the angle to target different areas of your back. Leaning forward until parallel is great for overall back development, while standing more upright targets your upper back and traps more. Switching your grip from narrow to wide and from an overhand to an underhand grip also hits your back and biceps slightly differently.

As the old gym saying goes, “You gotta row to grow.” And when it comes to rowing exercises, the barbell bent-over row is the cream of the crop.

How to Perform Barbell Rows

  1. Grasp the barbell with an overhand grip, slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Stand with your feet slightly wider than feet hip-width apart, bend your knees slightly, and hinge forward at your hips, maintaining a straight line from your head to your hips.
  3. Brace your core and keep your back straight. Pull the barbell towards your lower chest or upper core, keeping your elbows close to your body. Squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top of the movement.
  4. Lower the barbell back to the starting position in a controlled manner.
  5. Breathe out as you lift, in as you lower, like blowing out candles on a birthday cake, then inhaling the sweet smell of victory.
  6. Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions.

Alternative exercises: T-bar row, machine row, cable row, dumbbell row.

When it comes to alternatives to the barbell row, you have a host of excellent options to choose from.

  • TheT-bar rowis a fantastic exercise for targeting your middle back muscles.
  • Themachine rowis perfect for beginners, or to zero in on the parts of the back you prioritize, as it provides built-in stability and makes it easy to maintain good form. Plus, it often allows for single-arm work.
  • Seated cable rowsare easy to get right and nail proper form for optimal muscle engagement and control. Plus, you can easily change the attachments for different grips and angles, allowing for a neutral grip, which can be easier on your wrists.
  • Thedumbbell rowallows for a full range of motion, and you work each side of your body independently, ensuring that both sides are hit equally hard and no muscle gets left behind.

5. Overhead Press

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The overhead press rests firmly in the upper echelon of upper body strength training exercises. It builds muscle, pushing strength, and overall body stability like few other exercises.

The primary movers during the overhead press are your front and side deltoids (shoulder muscles), assisted by your upper chest and triceps. Plus, if you perform it standing, your core muscles want in on the action to stabilize your torso.

Overhead Press Benefits

  • Pressing a heavy weight overhead is the best way to turn your shoulders into boulders. The overhead press is a classic among bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts for building broader shoulders that stand out in any crowd.
  • The barbell overhead press allows you to use heavy weights and overload your delts for gains. It also makes weight progression easier compared to dumbbell shoulder presses; you can slap a small weight plate on each side, and you’re good to go, while, the next pair of heavier dumbbells up the rack can be a pair oftoo-heavydumbbells.
  • The overhead press doesn’t just prep you for showing off at the gym. Whenever you doing everyday tasks like placing your carry-on in the overhead bin or hoisting a toddler into the air, you’re giving a nod to the overhead press.

Did you know the overhead press used to be part of Olympic weightlifting? That’s right! Until 1972, this move was one of the feats of strength Olympic athletes competed in. But it was dropped because they leaned back so much that it turned into a standing bench press. Talk about bending the rules!

Don’t make their mistake; keep your back straight to avoid strain and boost muscle gain.

How to Perform Overhead Barbell Presses

  1. Place a barbell in a rack at about chest height.
  2. Grip the bar slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and step close to it.
  3. Tighten your abdominal muscles, unrack the bar and let it rest against your front delts while you step back from the rack with your feet shoulder-width apart. This is your starting position.
  4. Push the barbell up, extending your arms fully, while exhaling.
  5. Bring the weights back down to your shoulders, slow and controlled, while inhaling.
  6. Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions.

Alternative exercises: seated overhead press, seated overhead press, push press, dumbbell shoulder press, machine shoulder press.

Looking for variety in your overhead pressing? Check these options out; they are all some of the best exercises for upper-body pushing strength:

  • Theseated overhead pressis excellent if you want to isolate your shoulders more and reduce potential lower back strain.
  • Behind-the-neck presseswork your side delts more than front presses but require more shoulder mobility to perform safely.
  • With a little leg drive for a bit more oomph and for handling heavier weights, thepush pressis superior for core muscle strength and activation compared to regular overhead presses.3
  • Thedumbbell overhead pressexcels when you want to make each arm work independently, increasing shoulder stability requirements and allowing for a more extended range of motion.
  • Machine shoulder pressesallow you to focus entirely on your delts but remove the core activation and stability part of the exercise.

6. Lateral Raise

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The lateral raise is the number one strength training exercise for building broad, rounded, and defined shoulders. It’s an isolation exercise, meaning it zeroes in on your shoulder muscles without involving the rest of your upper body, although your upper traps step in for stabilization.

Lateral Raise Benefits

  • They hit your side delts like no other upper body strength training exercises. When you’re after that sought-after broad-shouldered look, lateral raises are your best friend.
  • While the side lateral is not your go-to exercise for maximum strength gains, it can help you improve your performance in compound exercises like the bench press and the overhead press. It’s also great for maintaining or enhancing shoulder mobility in all directions.
  • No gym? No problem! You can do lateral raises with resistance bands, a couple of water bottles, or anything suitably heavy you have at hand. Perfect for home workouts or when you’re on the go and can’t take your dumbbell collection with you.

The main target of the lateral raise is your side delts, but you can vary your hand position to hit your shoulder muscles from different angles.4

  • Turning your thumbs up (external rotation) further activates your anterior deltoid (front delt).
  • Turning them down (internal rotation) hits your side and rear delts the most. However, it can increase the risk of compression in the shoulder joints, so be careful if it doesn’t feel good.
  • A neutral position (palms down) is an excellent middle ground with emphasis on your lateral (side) delts.

Remember to keep your form in check when doing lateral raises – no swinging or cheating! This is one exercise where you benefit from using lighter weights and making sure your form is on point.

How to Perform Dumbbell Lateral Raises

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold the dumbbells in your hands with your palms facing your thighs.
  2. Begin the movement by lifting both arms out to the sides, keeping a slight bend in your elbows, and raising the dumbbells until they reach shoulder height.
  3. Lower the dumbbells back down to the starting position while maintaining control.
  4. Repeat the movement for your desired number of repetitions.

Alternative exercises: cable lateral raise, machine lateral raise.

If you train in a fully equipped gym, cable lateral raises and machine lateral raises are excellent alternatives to standard dumbbell lateral raises.

In one aspect, they actually have an advantage over dumbbell exercises: they allow you to keep greater tension on the working muscle throughout the movement. With dumbbells, there is no tension on the muscle at the bottom of the movement, as gravity doesn’t work very well sideways.

7. Reverse Dumbbell Flyes

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The reverse dumbbell fly, also known as the rear lateral raise or rear delt fly, effectively targets your posterior (rear) delts, which are often overlooked but essential for well-rounded upper-body performance and shoulder development.

Reverse flyes primarily hit your posterior deltoids (those are the shy guys at the back of your shoulders). They also work several of your upper back muscles, including the rhomboids and trapezius.

Reverse Dumbbell Fly Benefits

  • Most people focus on the front and side delts, but the rear delts? Not so much. Some people’s idea of a workout week is bench press Monday, overhead press Wednesday, and bench press Friday, their front deltoids hogging all the limelight. The reverse fly gives those rear delts the attention they deserve for better balance and symmetry.
  • Reverse flyes strengthen your rear shoulder and upper back muscles, counteracting desk-job posture and helping you pull your shoulders back.
  • Your rear deltoids might be small, but they’re mighty important in keeping your shoulder joint stable and happy. By strengthening them, you build mobility and stability and reduce the risk of injury.

Like with the lateral raise, opt for form over load. Lighter weights allow you to keep your form as sharp as a ninja’s sword and target the right muscles.

How to Perform Reverse Dumbbell Flyes

  1. Grab a dumbbell in each hand and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, and your arms by your sides, palms facing each other.
  2. Bend forward at the waist, keeping your back straight until your torso is nearly parallel to the floor. Let your arms hang down towards the ground.
  3. Lift both arms out to the sides, with a slight bend in the elbows, until they reach shoulder level. Focus on squeezing your rear deltoid at the top of the movement.
  4. Reverse the movement and lower the dumbbells back towards the ground, maintaining control throughout.
  5. Repeat the movement for your desired number of repetitions.

Alternative exercises: reverse cable fly, reverse machine fly, face pull.

  • Just like with lateral raises, you can do reverse flyes with cables or in a machine to keep constant tension on the working muscles.
  • The face pull is another rear delt alternative and one of the best upper body strength training exercises for shoulder health that also strengthens your rotator cuff muscles.

8. Bicep Curl

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The bicep curl is the classic “show me your muscles” move. When you think of flexing, you’re probably picturing this exercise.

While back exercises like row and pull-ups involve your biceps, curls ensure they get the attention and workload deserving of the most important muscle in the body (or so the gym bros say).

Bicep curls mainly target, you guessed it, the biceps. The brachialis below your biceps and the brachioradialis, located on your forearm near your elbow, pitch in too.

Bicep Curl Benefits

  • Curl anywhere! Biceps curls come in many flavors (barbell curl, dumbbell curl, cable curl, machine curl). You can also use resistance bands or your own body weight for curling on the go. Which is best? That’s like asking whether chocolate or vanilla is better – both are great, just different flavors.
  • Regular curling sessions contribute to your arm strength, making you more adept at lifting, pulling, and carrying heavy things.
  • It’s the biceps! The universal symbol of strength – flex your arm, and everyone knows you’ve been working out.

When you curl, think form first. Good form ensures you’re isolating your biceps and getting the most bang for your curl. Cheat curls have their place for overloading the muscle and grinding out that last rep, but, in general, keep your elbows steady and don’t swing the weight for the best results.

How to Perform Bicep Curls

  1. Stand up straight with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Hold a barbell with an underhand grip (palms facing forward) around shoulder-width or slightly wider. You can also use a pair of dumbbells or a cable attachment.
  3. Bend elbows and curl the weight up towards shoulder height, keeping your elbows close to your sides.
  4. Continue curling until your forearms are nearly vertical. Squeeze your biceps at the top of the movement for a second to maximize the contraction.
  5. Lower the weight back to the starting position with control.
  6. Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions.

9. Barbell Lying Triceps Extension

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The barbell lying tricep extension, also fondly known in the gym as “skull crushers” – though, let’s not take that name too literally – is one of the top upper body strength training exercises that isolates your triceps, the muscles at the back of your arms.

The main target of triceps extensions is – surprise! – your triceps. They consist of three heads (long, medial, and lateral) that will thank you (or curse you) the day after. Since it’s a focused movement, your triceps get the spotlight without other muscles stealing the show.

Barbell Lying Triceps Extension Benefits

  • Stronger triceps mean better performance in other pressing movements like shoulder presses and push-ups.
  • Lowering the weight down behind the head puts your triceps in a position that promotes up to 40% growth in the long head compared to other tricep exercises.5
  • Bored of the barbell? Swap it for dumbbells, a cable machine, or even resistance bands. It’s like a Choose Your Own Adventure book with multiple storylines, all ending happily ever after with increased tricep strength and muscle mass.

Pressing exercises, like the bench press and overhead press, work your triceps. However, they miss the most sizeable part of the muscle, the long head, which makes up ~50% of the triceps. And since the triceps make up roughly 2/3 of your upper arm muscle mass, some direct triceps work is a good idea, with the lying tricep extension being the cream of the crop.

How to Perform Barbell Lying Triceps Extensions

  1. Lie down on a flat bench with your feet on the floor and your head close to the edge.
  2. Hold a barbell over your chest with an overhand grip and your arms extended. Keep your hands relatively close together, spaced approximately 6 inches (15 cm) apart.
  3. Keep your elbows pointing straight up and lower the barbell behind your head, bending your elbows.
  4. Lower the barbell as far as you comfortably can while maintaining control and tension in your triceps muscles.
  5. Reverse the motion and extend your arms back up to the starting position.
  6. Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions.

Alternative exercises: dumbbell lying tricep extension, pushdown.

If you train at home without a barbell, the dumbbell lying tricep extension is the perfect alternative. You can do it directly on the floor or a yoga mat. Also, give dumbbells a go if barbell extensions give your wrists or elbows a hard time.

You can also do pushdowns to train your triceps. It’s the ultimate triceps move for beginners, as learning and getting it right is straightforward and easy.

10. Kneeling Ab Wheel Rollout

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Many fitness enthusiasts have a love/hate relationship with the ab wheel rollout, like a cruel and unusual punishment for your abs that you can’t help but love. On the one hand, they are incredibly effective for building a strong core. On the other hand, they are more challenging than most other upper body strength training exercises.

Kneeling ab wheel rollouts are like the lite version of a full rollout since you’re not fighting gravity, but don’t be fooled; they’re still a powerhouse for core strength.

They primarily target your rectus abdominis (the six-pack muscles) but invite a host of other muscles to the party. Your obliques, upper and lower back, shoulders, arms, hip flexors, and even the pecs join in to provide stability and power. In addition, they involve those often-forgotten but oh-so-important deep core muscles.

Ab Wheel Rollout Benefits

  • Whether you’re lifting groceries or swinging a golf club, a stronger core makes you more efficient and less prone to injuries.
  • If you want six-pack abs, the ab wheel will build them. You still need a low body fat percentage to see them, but rollouts can lay the foundation for that chiseled midsection.
  • Whether you’re sporting a six-pack or a party keg, a strong core is essential for everything physical you do, and ab wheel rollouts are like building a fortress around your midsection, improving performance all around.

Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of the ab rollout – just because it’s a wheel and a handle doesn’t mean it’s a walk in the park. This exercise requires strength, balance, coordination, and a solid dose of willpower. But keep at it; soon, you’ll be rolling out like a pro with the core strength to prove it.

How to Perform Kneeling Ab Wheel Roll-Outs

  1. Sit with your knees on a soft pad, and place the ab wheel on the floor in front of you.
  2. Go as far as you can without face-planting, then roll back to your starting position. Maintain a straight back throughout the movement.
  3. Reverse the movement with control, and return to the starting position.
  4. Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions.

Alternative exercises: hanging knee raise, crunch, plank.

If ab rollouts aren’t your cup of tea or you want some variety in your ab training regimen, try knee raises, crunches, or holding the plank position for as long as you can.

  • Doing hanging knee raises is like sending a fax directly to your core muscles – old school but efficient. If you’re strong enough, you can do hanging leg raises and lift your feet like you’re trying to kick a ceiling gnome in the face.
  • The crunch is the bread and butter of many core workouts. Lie on your back, knees bent, and curl up like a human shrimp, firing up your abs.
  • The plank is a classic bodyweight exercise for core strength and stability. Hold your body in a straight line, like a plank of wood balancing over a puddle of lava, and feel the burn in every core muscle.

Upper Body Strength Training Exercises: Exploring Other Options

These are ten upper body strength training exercises (and alternatives) you can’t go wrong with. That doesn’t mean there aren’t a ton of other excellent exercises you can incorporate into your workouts.

Check out our massive directory ofstrength training exercisesfor their how and why, with detailed instructions and videos showing how to perform them.

Upper Body Strength Training Exercises: Muscles Worked

Your upper body consists of more than 150 muscles, most of which you probably have never heard of, and with complicated names. Your forearm alone consists of 20 different muscles.

Fortunately, you don’t have to train each of them separately. They work together in muscle groups, and many of the best strength training exercises for the upper body recruit multiple major muscle groups simultaneously.

The best upper body workouts target these five major muscle regions (click on each image to enlarge it):

Chest Anatomy and Function

The chest, or pectoral muscles, consist of four muscles: the pectoralis major and minor, serratus anterior, and subclavius. Together, they help move your upper extremities in a wide range of motion.

Back Anatomy and Function

The latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, trapezius, and teres major work together to pull, lift, and stabilize your arms and shoulders.

In addition, your spinal erectors straighten your back and rotate it from one side to the other.

Shoulder Anatomy and Function

Your shoulders consist of three different segments:

  • The anterior deltoid (front delt)
  • The lateral deltoid (side delt)
  • The posterior deltoid (rear delt)

They bring your arms forward, raise them to your sides, and pull them back. They also aid in retracting your shoulder blades, stabilizing your shoulder joint, and rotating your shoulders.

Arm Anatomy and Function

Your upper arms consist of the biceps and the three heads of the triceps. The biceps flexes your elbow and rotates your forearm, while the triceps extend your elbow. In addition, the brachialis lurks below the biceps and is actually a significantly more powerful elbow flexor.

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Abdominal Anatomy and Function

Your abdominals consist of several muscles, including the rectus abdominis (the “six-pack” muscle), transversus abdominis, and the inner and outer obliques. They flex and support your spine, stabilize your body to keep you balanced and upright, keep your internal organs tucked in, assist in twisting, turning, and side-bending, and even help you breathe.

How Many Upper Body Strength Training Exercises Should You Do?

How many upper body strength training exercises you should do depends on several factors:

  • Your workout routine. Do you do full-body workouts or a body part split? If you train your entire body every workout 2–3 times per week, you might only need one exercise for each of your major muscle groups every session. On the other hand, if you split your body into multiple weekly sessions and train each body part once per week, you probably want 2 to 4 exercises per muscle group.
  • Your training experience. If you’re new to strength training, focusing on one upper body exercise per body part might be your best bet. But if you have years of training under your belt, your best upper body workouts can involve half a dozen upper body strength training exercises and a number of sets per exercise.
  • Time constrains and schedule considerations. People with busy schedules will want to focus on a select few exercises that give them the most bang for their workout buck. Once you’ve hit your muscles hard and heavy with the most effective exercises, more training is often called “junk volume” and only prolongs recovery.

In general, to build muscle and strength in the upper body, the magic number usually ranges between 4 to 6 different exercises per workout for intermediate lifters. Beginners who train their entire body might do fewer, and advanced lifters and bodybuilders are often looking at significantly more.

Upper Body Strength Training Workouts for Muscle and Strength

With these upper body strength training exercises in your arsenal, you can easily design your own workout routines.

But what if you’re unsure how to go about it or don’t want to?

Follow one of ours!

Our workout log app has a boatload of training routines and workouts. It’s 100% free (and 100% ad free) to download with the button for your device:

The 10 Best Upper Body Strength Training Exercises (22)
The 10 Best Upper Body Strength Training Exercises (23)

Some of the programs and workouts require a premium subscription, but we offer a 14-day free trial, which you can activate in the app. Here are some of the most popular free ones:

Barbell Training Program for the Beginner

If you are new to strength training and want to get stronger and build muscle, give our Barbell Training Program for the Beginner a go. You train your whole body, and all the upper body strength training exercises are from the top 10 above. And even the two lower body exercises – the squat and the deadlift – work many major muscles in your upper body, too, especially the deadlift.

The 10 Best Upper Body Strength Training Exercises (24)

Push/Pull/Legs Workout Routine

One of the most popular training splits for intermediate and advanced training is the Push/Pull/Legs-split.

The 10 Best Upper Body Strength Training Exercises (25)

You train your pushing muscles (chest, shoulders, and triceps) in the first workout, your pulling muscles (back and biceps) in the second, and your legs in the third.

You’ll find both an intermediate and advanced Push/Pull/Legs workout routine in StrengthLog. They require a premium subscription, but we also have stand-alone Push, Pull, and Leg workouts you can follow for free.

Here is the Push Day workout in detail. It’s based around this list’s foundational exercises, with additional accessory work for a well-rounded workout.

The Best Push Day Workout Routine For Muscle & Strength

Bench Press36
Overhead Press38
Incline Dumbbell Press310
Dumbbell Lateral Raise312
Dumbbell Chest Flyes212
Barbell Lying Triceps Extension315

And here is the Pull Day workout.

The Best Pull Day Workout Routine For Muscle & Strength

Barbell Row38
Lat Pulldown310
Dumbbell Row210
Face Pull212
Barbell Curl210
Preacher Curl215

The Leg Day workout? Here you go! And you can find those exercises and more in our article about the best lower body exercises.

4-Day Upper/Lower Training Program

One of our most popular programs, theUpper/Lower Body Split Program, is also completely free to track inStrengthLog. Days one and three of the program heavily feature upper body strength training exercises from this list. Why? Because they are tried and true winners in building muscle and strength with a proven track record.

The 10 Best Upper Body Strength Training Exercises (26)

For more upper body workouts, check out our extensive library of training programs and workouts, where you’re sure to find what you need to build a stronger and more muscular upper body.

Final Words

There you have it: the ultimate lineup of upper body strength training exercises ready to transform you into a powerhouse!

Keep pushing, keep pulling, and keep striving to turn the upper body you’ve dreamt of into reality.

Thank you for reading, and good luck with your training!

Click here to return to our fulllist of strength training exercises.


  1. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 35(8):p 2121-2126, August 2021. Effect of Bench Press Load Knowledge on One Repetition Maximum Strength.
  2. Journal of Exercise Science & Fitness. Volume 15, Issue 1, June 2017, Pages 37-42. Low-load bench press and push-up induce similar muscle hypertrophy and strength gain.
  3. International Journal of Kinesiology and Sports Science, 31 October 2015. Activation of Selected Core Muscles during Pressing.
  4. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Sep; 17(17): 6015. An Electromyographic Analysis of Lateral Raise Variations and Frontal Raise in Competitive Bodybuilders.
  5. Eur J Sport Sci. 2022 Aug 11;1-11. Triceps brachii hypertrophy is substantially greater after elbow extension training performed in the overhead versus neutral arm position.

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