Having a solid resistance (weight) training routine is critical for weight loss, long-term weight management, and overall good health. Regularly performing a combination of both upper and lower body exercises is also crucial, the former of which I’m focusing on here. The upper body is generally made up of five muscle groups encompassing the chest, back, shoulders, triceps, and biceps.
Both the chest muscles (or pectorals) and those of the back are comprised of upper, middle and lower parts while the shoulders (or deltoids) can be divided into front, middle and rear sections. The triceps and biceps are the muscles that make up the arms. The triceps are located on the back of the arms while the biceps are located on the front. I should also mention the forearm muscles, which are situated between the elbow and wrist, as they generally work with the biceps to perform certain movements.
To completely train your upper body you must perform weight training exercises that develop all these muscle groups. In the following sections, I’ll discuss each in detail and also highlight strategies for building them up and fully sculpting them. Now, given all these groups, this discussion is definitely going to be on the lengthier side. So, go ahead and sit back, relax, and read on.
Strong pectorals are essential for performing many activities like pushing a shopping cart or a lawn mower, throwing, and even serving in tennis. A strong chest is also crucial for shoulder stability. For women, toned and sculpted pectorals give an appearance of fuller, firmer and shapelier breasts, which can greatly enhance the overall appearance of the upper body.
The upper, middle and lower parts of the chest are relatively easy to target with weights. So, in order to build a sculpted chest, here are five exercises I recommend performing at least once a week.
- Flat dumbbell or barbell press
- Incline dumbbell or barbell press
- Standard or modified pushups
- Bent-arm dumbbell pullovers
- Dumbbell flyes
To completely train the back you must perform exercises that develop each of its parts. The upper back includes the trapezius muscles (or traps) and the rear deltoids while the middle back is primarily comprised of the latissimus dorsi (or lats) and the rhomboids. Finally, the lower back is made up of several muscles collectively referred to as the erector spinae. This is the most mobile part of the back that allows a range of movements like turning, twisting, or bending.
Strong and well-developed back muscles are critical for good posture and balance. Obviously, with so many different muscles, the back workout should indeed be one of the most extensive during weight training yet many people, especially women, only work a very small fraction of their back. In addition, with so many people sitting in chairs and in front of computers these days, the back, particularly the lower back, has become one of the most vulnerable areas to chronic pain and injury.
And, from a vanity standpoint, toned and sculpted back muscles look fabulous in backless dresses and bathing suits. In order to build a sculpted back, here are five exercises I recommend performing at least once a week.
- One-arm bent over rows
- Wide-grip lat pulldowns
- Close-grip lat pulldowns
- Seated rows
- Barbell deadlifts
Strong deltoids are essential for performing any activity that requires overhead arm motions like hanging curtains, painting, washing walls, swimming, and throwing. For women, toned and sculpted deltoids give the impression of a small waist, contributing to the coveted hourglass figure. Well-developed deltoids also give an appearance of slimmer hips, which is especially valuable if you’re like me and have a pear-shaped figure tending to carry excess body weight in your lower body.
As with the back, to completely train the deltoids you must perform exercises that develop each of its parts (front, middle, and rear). In order to develop beautifully sculpted shoulders, here are four exercises I recommend performing at least once a week.
- Arnold dumbbell press
- Seated or standing barbell military press
- Dumbbell lateral raises
- Reverse flyes
The triceps muscles are essential for performing any activity that requires pushing such as opening doors, pushing a shopping cart or a lawn mower. In addition, the triceps play a major role during many sports including basketball, baseball, boxing, swimming, golf, and tennis. During most pushing motions, the triceps work in conjunction with the muscles of the chest and shoulders.
Triceps are often forgotten during weight training and, as a result, these muscles tend to atrophy, which essentially means they’ve lost their size and strength. Muscle atrophy, as well as excess body fat, tends to contribute to that jiggly appearance that can be seen on the back of the arms. From a vanity standpoint, well-developed triceps give an overall appearance of sleeker arms. In order to achieve this, I recommend performing the following four exercises at least once a week.
- Rope pushdowns
- Bench or machine dips
- Dumbbell overhead extensions
- Dumbbell kickbacks
As I said before, the biceps and forearm muscles tend to work together and are essential for performing activities like climbing, lifting, pulling, carrying things, and twisting the wrist. From a vanity standpoint, well-developed, sculpted biceps give an appearance of ‘guns’ and look fabulous in sleeveless tops and dresses while the muscles of the forearm cap off the look of the arms. In order to build strength and definition in these muscles, there are four exercises I recommend performing at least once a week.
- Standing dumbbell or barbell curls
- Standing hammer curls
- Concentration curls
- Standing dumbbell reverse curls
For all these exercises, you should generally perform at least 2-3 sets of 8-15 repetitions using either a light-to-heavy or heavy-to-light progression. In other words, you can either increase or decrease the amount of weight you lift for each consecutive set. These exercises can be performed back-to-back and even in combination with lower body exercises with minimal rest between the sets. The heavier you lift, the longer your rest periods can be.
Now, if you’re unfamiliar with the exercises I’ve described, you can find them on Bodybuilding.com. This is a valuable online resource that offers free demos for over 300 exercises and I highly recommend using it. If you prefer a book instead, Strength Training Anatomy is another good resource with over 600 full-color illustrations.
So, hopefully I’ve provided you with some good information and valuable strategies for building a sculpted upper body. If you’re unfamiliar with some of the fundamentals I’ve highlighted here like repetitions and sets, be sure to check out “Weight Training 101: What You Need To Know Before You Lift” and learn everything you need to know about this type of training.