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  • Writer's pictureDennis Romatz

5 Best Upper Body Strength Training Exercises

Hey there, it's Dennis Romatz from Dennis Romatz Fitness! Today, I want to talk to you about something near and dear to my heart: building upper body strength. Maybe your strength training your upper body for bulk, size, muscle mass, strength, hypertrophy, vanity (yes, we dudes train chest for vanity!) or functionality, I have you covered.

Whether you're training in person with me or joining me for a live online session, these 5 best upper body strength training exercises are absolute game-changers when it comes to sculpting a strong and powerful upper body.


5 Best Upper Body Strength Training Exercises For Strength & Mass

Bench Press for upper body strength
Bench Press for upper body strength

1. Bench Press

Let's kick things off with the king of upper body exercises: the bench press. You've probably seen me guiding clients through this exercise countless times, and for good reason. The bench press targets your chest, shoulders, and triceps like nothing else. Whether you're using a straight bar, dumbbells, or hitting the chest press machine, this exercise should be a staple in your routine.

  • Muscles Targeted: The bench press primarily targets the chest (pectoralis major), shoulders (anterior deltoids), and triceps, with secondary involvement of the back and core muscles.

  • Form and Technique: Maintain proper form by keeping your back flat, feet planted firmly on the ground, and gripping the bar slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Lower the bar under control to your chest, keeping your elbows at a 45-degree angle, then press the bar back up explosively.

  • Equipment Options: The bench press can be performed using an Olympic straight bar, dumbbells, or chest press machines.

  • Variations: Experiment with incline, decline, and close-grip bench press variations to target different areas of the chest and triceps.

  • Progression Tips: Gradually increase the weight lifted over time and focus on improving strength and technique.

Common Mistakes to Avoid:

  • Arching the back excessively

  • Flaring the elbows

  • Bouncing the bar off the chest

2. Pull-Ups/Chin-Ups

Next up, we've got pull-ups and chin-ups. These bodyweight movements are the bread and butter of back training.

Whether you're pulling yourself up to a bar or using an assisted machine, the benefits are undeniable. Strong back, strong body—it's that simple.

  • Muscles Targeted: Pull-ups and chin-ups primarily target the back muscles (latissimus dorsi, rhomboids) and biceps, with secondary involvement of the shoulders and core.

  • Form and Technique: Start from a dead hang with your arms fully extended, then pull yourself up until your chin clears the bar. Lower yourself back down under control to complete one repetition.

  • Equipment Options: Pull-ups and chin-ups can be performed using a pull-up bar or assisted pull-up machine.

  • Grip Variations: Experiment with different grip widths and hand placements to target different muscles and vary the difficulty of the exercise.

  • Assistance and Progressions: Use resistance bands or assistance machines to assist with pull-ups if needed, and gradually progress to unassisted variations.

Common Mistakes to Avoid:

  • Swinging the body

  • Partial range of motion

  • Neglecting scapular retraction

3. Overhead Press

Ah, the overhead press. This exercise is all about building strong shoulders and triceps.

Whether you're pressing a barbell overhead or going for dumbbells, the burn is real. And let's not forget about those stability muscles—you'll feel them working hard to keep you steady.

  • Muscles Targeted: The overhead press primarily targets the deltoid muscles of the shoulders, as well as the triceps and upper chest.

  • Form and Technique: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, grip the bar slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, and press the bar overhead in a straight line, fully extending your arms at the top.

  • Equipment Options: The overhead press can be performed using a barbell, dumbbells, or shoulder press machines.

  • Stance and Grip: Experiment with different stances and grip widths to find the most comfortable and effective grip for overhead pressing.

Common Mistakes to Avoid:

  • Leaning back excessively

  • Flaring the elbows

  • Lack of core engagement

4. Bent-Over Rows

When it comes to building a balanced upper body, bent-over rows are your secret weapon. This exercise targets your back muscles like nothing else, giving you that coveted V-taper.

Grab a barbell, some dumbbells, or hit the cable machine—it's all fair game.

  • Muscles Targeted: Bent-over rows primarily target the muscles of the upper back (rhomboids, traps), rear deltoids, and biceps.

  • Form and Technique: Hinge at the hips to lean forward while keeping your back flat, then pull the weight towards your lower ribcage, squeezing your shoulder blades together at the top of the movement.

  • Equipment Options: Bent-over rows can be performed using a barbell, dumbbells, or cable row machines.

  • Back Health: Maintain a neutral spine and engage the core to protect the lower back during bent-over rows.

Common Mistakes to Avoid:

  • Rounded back

  • Using momentum

  • Pulling the weight too high

5. Push-Ups

Last but not least, we've got the classic push-up. Don't let its simplicity fool you—this exercise is a powerhouse for your chest, shoulders, and triceps. Plus, you can do it anywhere, anytime.

No excuses!

  • Muscles Targeted: Push-ups target the chest, shoulders, triceps, and core muscles.

  • Form and Technique: Start in a plank position with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, lower your body until your chest nearly touches the ground, then push back up to the starting position.

  • Equipment Options: Push-ups require no equipment but can be varied by using push-up bars or performing them on an incline or decline surface.

  • Progressions: Experiment with different push-up variations, such as decline push-ups, diamond push-ups, or plyometric push-ups, to increase the difficulty as you progress.

Common Mistakes to Avoid:

  • Sagging or arching the back

  • Allowing the elbows to flare out

  • Not fully extending the arms

By paying attention to these key points and avoiding common mistakes, you can maximize the effectiveness of each exercise and achieve impressive upper body strength gains.

About the Author: Dennis Romatz is an Internationally acclaimed personal trainer, online fitness coach and nutrition coach with over 3 decades of strength training experience.

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