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The 6 Best Workouts for Upper Body Strength

Want to build your upper body strength like a bad-ass? Skipping Leg Day is never a good idea (your legs are what power your body when you move), but you can't spend all your time working your lower body either. You have to give your chest, back, arms, and shoulders plenty of attention in order to be truly fit.

Here are the best workouts to help you build upper body strength.


When it comes to building pure strength, nothing beats weightlifting. Your muscles are designed to adapt when your activity demands more of them than they are capable of. The only exercise that truly pushes your muscles past their limits (forcing your body to increase energy storage capacity) is to lift heavy weights. In terms of raw power and strength, the heavier the better! Dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, and weight machines will all help to strengthen your upper body.

Bodyweight Training

Bodyweight training is effective for developing upper body strength, but it focuses more on stamina and endurance than raw power. The movements use only your bodyweight, so your muscles don't endure the same amount of strain or carry as heavy a load. This means there is less muscle fiber damage the body needs to compensate for, so the results are less visible. You develop a lean, tough strength that won't translate into raw power, simply better fitness overall.


Rowing is one of the best forms of cardio, and it can seriously shred the muscles in your upper body. The movement of your oars focuses mostly on your back, shoulders, and biceps, but your triceps and chest get a bit of a workout as well. Rowing is excellent for developing the posterior muscles, as well as increasing core and leg strength and cardiovascular endurance.


Haven't you noticed how ripped Michael Phelps is? It's all thanks to his years of swimming! Swimming develops serious upper body strength, as your arms (powered by your chest, shoulders, and back) have to do half the work of propelling you forward. It's a truly effective workout that will help you hit your cardio like a bad-ass as well!

Martial Arts/Boxing

Boxers have heavy shoulders, barrel chests, and strong arms and upper backs thanks to the power they develop in their boxing training. Their upper bodies are doing all the work in the boxing ring, while they legs are helping them to move around. Boxing training is amazing for developing core strength as well, as you have to have a tight midsection to duck and weave. Martial arts like Karate and MMA can also be excellent for developing upper body strength, but there is more emphasis placed on the lower body as well.


Yoga and Pilates can help you to develop muscular endurance rather than raw power. You never push your muscles past their limits, but it is a non-stop workout from the beginning to the end of your Yoga or Pilates session. Yoga and Pilates practitioners develop long, lean muscles — perfect for those who want to get strong without bulking up!

These six workouts are the best to help you develop strength in your upper body. If you're looking for stronger chest, shoulders, back, and arms, they're the ones you want to try.

[Image via Shutterstock]

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