Beginner Upper Body Workout and Exercises (The Ultimate Guide)

Building a broader back, rounded shoulders ripped chest, and burly arms is a dream of many newbies who have just started lifting weights. However, it requires proper nutrition, the best exercises, a well-crafted workout program, and a little discipline.

And in this article, I’ll share all the beginner upper body exercises to bolster the pecs, back, delts, biceps, and triceps and help you become stronger, healthier, and fitter.

I’ve included a mix of different exercises, such as body weight, free weights, and resistance machines.

Some of the exercises you can do at home without any equipment; some of them require dumbbells and barbells, and to do others, you need machines.

So, whether you want to build strength, gain muscles or improve upper body composition, you can follow this beginner upper body workout for maximum results.

List of Beginner Upper Body Exercises

Chest (1-7)

  • Bodyweight Pushups
  • Smith Machine Bench Press
  • Incline Hammer Machine Chest Press
  • Pec Deck Machine Fly
  • Dumbbell Squeeze Press
  • Parallel Bar Dips
  • Parallel Cable Fly

Triceps (8-14)

  • Diamond Pushup
  • Overhead Dumbbell Triceps Extension
  • Rope/Bar Cable Pushdown
  • Triceps Kickback
  • Bench Dips
  • Kickback
  • French Press
  • One-arm Cable Tricep Extension

Shoulder (15-21)

  1. Seated Machine Overhead Press
  2. Dumbbell Overhead Press
  3. Alternating Dumbbell Front Raises
  4. Dumbbell Lateral Delt Raises
  5. Reverse Pec Deck Fly
  6. 45-degree Chest-Supported Row
  7. Dumbbell Shrug

Back (22-30)

  • Front Lat Pulldown
  • Back Flat Pulldown
  • V-grip Lat Pulldown
  • Seated Cable Rowing
  • Bench Supported One-arm Dumbbell Row
  • T-Bar Row
  • Pull-ups
  • Inverted Row
  • Standing Rope Pulldown

Biceps (31-37)

  • Chin-ups
  • EZ Bar Biceps Curl
  • Straight Bar Cable Curl
  • Incline Dumbbell Curl
  • Preacher Curl
  • Concentration Curl
  • Alternating Dumbbell Curl

Abs and Obliques (38-40)

  • Hanging Knee Raises
  • Forearm Front Plank
  • Forearm Side Plank

Let’s see how to perform each exercise step-by-step.

CHEST

Here are the five best exercises beginners can do to train their pecs from every angle and build a firm and sizeable torso.

1. Pushups

exercises to build upper body strength for beginners

The pushup is a bodyweight compound exercise that targets many muscles simultaneously, such as the arms, shoulder, back, core, and especially the chest.

When I was a beginner, I loved to do pushups. I used to do standard pushups and diamond pushups usually. I did it for a couple of months at home before I started lifting weights.

Pushups helped me develop my strength and muscles, which helped me during the weight training.

So, it is always a good idea to start the exercise with your own body weight If you’re a beginner.

You can do pushups anywhere and anytime because they don’t require much space.

Steps to do a pushup:

  1. Get into a high plank position with your elbows extended and your body straight.
  2. Brace your abdominal muscle and bend your elbows to lower your torso until your chest is close to the floor.
  3. Pause for a moment and extend your elbows back to complete your first pushup.
  4. Do as many as possible in two to three sets.

If you can’t perform pushups on your toes, you can try these pushup variations on your knees.

2. Smith Machine Bench Press

upper body beginner exercises

The Smith machine controls your unnecessary movement, provides stability during movement, and helps you target the chest perfectly.

Using the Smith machine, you can do all variations of bench presses, such as flat, incline, and decline bench presses.

The flat bench press works on the entire chest, the incline mostly engages the upper chest, and the decline activates the lower chest muscles.

As a beginner, you should only perform flat and incline bench presses to hit your pecs effectively and build a sturdy torso.

Steps to do a Smith machine bench press:

  1. Position a flat bench under the Smith machine, set the bar in the rack at an appropriate height, and insert the desired weight.
  2. Lie on the bench with your face up, and grab the bar firmly with your hands wider than shoulder-width apart and palms facing up.
  3. Keep your feet flat on the ground, unrack the bar, and hold it just above your lower chest with bent elbows.
  4. Brace your core, inhale, and slowly press the bar over your pecs until your arms are straight.
  5. Hold there for a moment, then return to the start. That’s one rep!

3. Incline Machine Chest Press

Incline Machine Chest Press

The incline machine chest press primarily targets the upper pecs, improves the appearance of the chest muscle, and builds a firm upper body.

It is safe and helps beginners to train their upper chest with ease.

Steps to do an incline machine bench press:

  1. Lie on the bench with your feet firmly on the floor.
  2. Hold the handle firmly, and keep your wrist straight and core tight. That’s the start.
  3. Inhale and press the weight until you feel the contraction in your pecs.
  4. Pause for a moment, then slowly lower the weight to the start. That’s one rep!
  5. Squeeze your chest muscles while pressing the weights.

4. Seated Machine Fly

Pec Deck Machine Fly

The seated machine fly is an isolation exercise that activates the pectoral muscles safely and effectively.

It provides decent stretches to the pectoral muscles and improves muscle definition.

Steps to do a seated machine fly:

  1. Select the weight, sit on the bench of a machine, and place your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Grab the handles firmly and bring them together against your chest.
  3. Pause for a brief moment, then take your arms to the start.
  4. Focus on contracting your pecs muscles during the movement.

5. Dumbbell Squeeze Press

The dumbbell squeeze press targets the pectoral muscles from a different angle and helps sculpt the chest.

Steps to do a dumbbell squeeze press:

  1. Holding one dumbbell in each hand, lie on a flat bench with your feet on the floor.
  2. Keep your arms just over your chest with your elbows slightly bent and palms facing each other.
  3. Squeezing your chest, push your arms straight over your pecs.
  4. Contracting your pecs return to the start. That’s one rep!

TRICEPS

The triceps is a three-headed muscle located on the back of the upper arms. It works when you extend your arms.

Strengthening the triceps is crucial for performing various push exercises, such as overhead presses, bench presses, and dips.

In this beginner upper body workout guide, I’ve shared the top five exercises that will help you forge triceps and build bigger arms.

1. Diamond Pushups

Diamond Push-ups

The diamond pushup is a bodyweight exercise that highly activates the triceps heads, engages pectoral muscles, and builds up the muscular torso.

Steps to do a diamond pushup:

  1. Get into a high-up position and keep your hands together in a triangle shape. Your arms must be straight underneath your chest.
  2. Lower into the down position of a pushup, then extend your arms to return to the start.

If you can’t perform a diamond push on your toes, do it on your knees.

2. Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extension

The overhead arms extension targets the triceps lateral and long head and helps build stronger arms.

Steps to do it:

  1. Grab the top of a dumbbell and hold it behind your head with your elbows bent and pointing forward.
  2. Keeping your elbows locked, extend your arms until you feel the complete contraction in your triceps.
  3. Pause for a second, then return to the start. That’s one rep.

3. Cable Pushdown

Tricep isometric Exercises and its benefits

The pushdown is an excellent exercise to shape the triceps muscles, increase pushing strength, and develop brawny arms. You can pair it with overhead triceps extensions to achieve better results.

Steps to do it:

  1. Anchor the rope to a higher section.
  2. Set the weight according to your strength.
  3. Grab the rope firmly, stand in the staggered position, and slightly lean forward.
  4. Push the rope down until your elbows are fully extended.
  5. Pause for a moment and then return the rope to the start.
  6. Try using arms power only and not moving other’s body parts during the exercise.

If you want to focus more on the contraction, try isometric triceps exercises. Isometric exercises are a low-impact but effective way to increase strength.

4. Triceps Kickback

Triceps Kickback

The arms kickback primarily isolates the triceps heads, stimulates muscle growth, and helps mold attractive arms.

Steps to do it:

  1. Holding a pair of dumbbells, stand upright and keep your arms straight by your sides.
  2. Push your hips back, lean forward, raise your elbows, and tuck them to your sides.
  3. Extend your arms back until they are fully extended.
  4. Hold for a second and return to the starting position. That’s one rep!

5. Chair Dips

Chair Dips

The chair dip is an incredible exercise to reinforce triceps muscles, improve muscular definition, and build up athletic arms.

Steps to do it:

  1. Sit on the chair with your arms straight at your sides.
  2. Lift your butt off the chair and slightly move your torso forward while keeping your arms.
  3. Spread your legs in front of you, heels touching the ground, and toes pointing toward the ceiling.
  4. Take a breath, bend your elbows, and lower your butt toward the floor as low as you can.
  5. Exhale and then press your arms on the chair until your elbows are fully extended. That is your one repetition.

You can also perform different dips variations to build chiseled triceps at home.


SHOULDER

The shoulder is primarily a group of three muscles – front, lateral, and posterior delt. And these muscles work together with other torso muscles to perform various activities, such as pushing, pulling, and throwing.

Whether you’re a beginner or intermediate, training shoulders is crucial for achieving a toned and muscular upper body.

Here, I’ve shared the five best shoulder exercises you can integrate into your beginner workout routine.

1. Smith Machine Overhead Press

beginner upper body exercises

The Smith machine overhead is a safe and effective exercise to build solid shoulders.

It has two variations – front and rear overhead press. The front one is more effective and suitable for beginners.

Steps to do a front overhead press:

  1. Set the bar to an appropriate height and insert the desired weight.
  2. Sit on a bench with your back resting on it.
  3. Grab the bar with an underhand grip with your hands shoulder-width apart.
  4. Press the barbell over your head until your arms are entirely straight.
  5. Hold for a second at the top and then return to the beginning position. That’s one rep!

2. Dumbbell Front Raise

The dumbbell front raise is an isolation exercise to hit the anterior delts and build sculpted shoulders.

Steps to do it:

  1. Grab a pair of dumbbells with a neutral grip and stand upright.
  2. Keep your arms straight against your thigh with your palms facing.
  3. Raise your arms in front of you until they are parallel to the floor.
  4. Hold for a moment, then return to the initial position.
  5. Keep your back straight and chest up during the movement.

Those of you who work out with dumbbells can check out the best dumbbell shoulder exercises.

3. Lateral Delt Dumbbell Raises

The dumbbell lateral raise train middle delts and helps develop sizeable shoulders.

Steps to do it:

  1. Grab one dumbbell in each hand and stand straight in the shoulder-width stance.
  2. Keep your arms straight at your sides with your palms facing in.
  3. Push your hips back, slightly lean forward, and maintain a neutral spine position.
  4. Brace your core and raise your arms to the sides (20-30 degrees in front of your shoulders) until your elbows and delts are in line.
  5. Pause for one second, then return to the start. That’s one rep.

4. Incline Dumbbell Rear Delt Fly

The incline dumbbell rear delt fly bolsters the posterior delts and helps build firm and define shoulders.

Steps to do it:

  1. Lie on a 45-degree incline bench with your chest lying on the edge of it.
  2. Grab one dumbbell in each hand with a neutral grip.
  3. Extend your arms below your shoulders with your palms facing each other.
  4. Raise the dumbbells out until you feel the full contraction in your delts.
  5. Hold for a second, then return to the start. This is your one repetition.

You can also perform reverse pec deck fly to hit your rear delts in a safe and efficient way.

5. Shoulder Shrug

The Shoulder shrug targets the upper trap, which is located on either side of the neck. The solid upper traps make your shoulder look more defined and improve your posture.

Steps to do it:

  1. Stand straight with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a pair of dumbbells with a neutral grip.
  2. Keep your arms straight at your sides with your palms facing your body.
  3. Shrugs your shoulder blades without bending your elbows.
  4. Pause for a couple of seconds, then relax your shoulder to lower the weight.
  5. Keep your back straight and chest up during the movement.

BICEPS

The biceps is located on the front of the upper arms and is made of two heads, long and short. It works when you flex your arms.

Bigger biceps improve the look of your upper body and help you perform better during the various pull exercises.

Here are the six best exercises you can do to train your two-headed upper arms from every angle and build bigger biceps.

1. Barbell Curl

Barbell Biceps Curl

The barbell curl increases biceps strength, promotes muscle growth, and develops stronger arms.

You can do biceps curls with both straight bar and EZ bar, they are equally effective. You can do both exercises interchangeably.

Steps to do a straight-bar biceps curl:

  1. Grab a loaded bar and stand straight with your hands just outside your hips.
  2. Keeping your core tight, back straight, and elbows tucked at your sides, curl your arm until your biceps are fully engaged.
  3. Pause for a second, then slowly lower the bar back to the start. That’s one repetition.
  4. Inhale before lifting the bar and exhale when you reach the top.

2. Concentration Curl

Dumbbell Concentration Curl

The concentration curls allow you to focus on each rep, connecting your mind and muscles to function together, which is the reason it highly activates the biceps brachii and helps build rounded biceps. 1ACE Study Reveals Best Biceps Exercises by Scott Young, M.S., John P. Porcari, Ph.D., Clayton Camic, Ph.D., Attila Kovacs, Ph.D., and Carl Foster, Ph.D. – American Council of Exercise.

Steps to do it:

  1. Grab a dumbbell and sit on the edge of the bench with your feet flat on the ground.
  2. Slightly bend yourself and place the backside of your elbows on the inner part of the thigh.
  3. Curl your arm until it reaches your shoulder level without removing your elbow from your thigh.
  4. Pause for a second then returns your arms to the starting position. That’s one rep!

3. Alternating Biceps Curls

The alternating bicep curls allow you to lift one arm at a time and help train each bicep in a more efficient way.

Steps to do it:

  1. Holding a pair of dumbbells with a neutral grip, stand straight with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Keep your arms extended at your sides with your palms facing inward. That’s the starting position.
  3. Flex one arm and slightly rotate your wrist as you curl toward your shoulder so your palm faces your body.
  4. After a brief pause, uncurl your arm. At the same time, flex your other arm.
  5. Keep doing it until you complete 8 to 10 reps.

4. Incline Dumbbell Bicep Curl

The Incline dumbbell curl provides excellent stretch to the biceps brachii and highly activates the front upper arms.

Pairing this exercise with preacher and hammer curls will help you forge brawny biceps.

Steps to do an incline biceps curl:

  1. Holding a pair of dumbbells, lie on a 45-60 degrees incline bench.
  2. Keep your arms extended at your sides with a soft bend in your elbows.
  3. Brace your core, inhale, and curl your arms until you feel the full contraction in your biceps muscles.
  4. Pause for a moment, then uncurl your arms. That’s one rep.
  5. You can also perform alternating incline biceps curls.

5. Single-arm Dumbbell Preacher Curl

The preacher bench provides stability to your arms and allows you to focus on biceps contraction more effectively. It keeps your biceps under constant tension and stimulates muscle growth.

Steps to do it:

  1. Sit on the preacher’s bench, place your feet flat on the ground, and grab a dumbbell in one hand.
  2. Slightly lean forward toward the bench and place the back of the arm against the pad. Keep your arm extended. That’s the starting position.
  3. Flex your elbows until your biceps are fully engaged.
  4. After a brief pause, return to the starting position.

6. Cable Curl

The cable curl is not only effective but also safe for beginners as the cable is attached to machines that provide better movement and prevent imbalance.

Steps to do it:

  1. Attach the bar to the lowest section of the machine.
  2. Set the weight plate depending on your strength.
  3. Grab the bar firmly with an underhand grip, hands hip-width apart.
  4. Slightly lean your torso backward and keep your elbows tucked at your sides. That’s the start.
  5. Curl your arms toward the shoulder until you feel the contraction in your biceps.
  6. Pause for a moment and then return to the start. This is your one repetition.
  7. Make sure your elbows are not moving backward during the entire movement

BACK

The back is a superior muscle that is responsible for a broader and V-shape torso. It is a group of multiple muscles, primarily the latissimus dorsi, trapezius, and infraspinatus.

These muscles are engaged when you pull the weight up, down, or toward the body.

You can do myriad exercises to hit your every back muscle and develop a sculpted and wider upper body.

Here are the five best beginner-level exercises that you can do to bolster your back from every angle.

1. Lat Pulldown

Front Lat Pulldown, an isolation back exercise.

The lat pulldown is an isolation exercise that primarily targets the latissimus dorsi and helps build a firm and broad back.

There are multiple lat pulldown variations, such as the front and rear pulldowns and wide, medium, and neutral grip lat pulldowns. However, you don’t need to do them all.

Medium and neutral grip front lat pulldowns are enough for beginners.

Steps to do a front lat pulldown:

  1. Sit on a bench under the bar and grab the handles with an overhand grip, hands wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Slightly lean back and pull the bar down until it reaches chest level.
  3. After a brief pause, return to the starting position. That’s one rep!

2. Dumbbell Row

One-arm Dumbbell Row

The one-arm dumbbell row is a popular back-strengthening exercise that allows you to train each side individually and helps build a rock-hard and defined back.

Steps to do a dumbbell row:

  1. Grab a dumbbell in your right hand with a neutral grip.
  2. Place your left knee and left hand on a flat bench and your right foot flat on the floor.
  3. Keep your right arm straight below your shoulder and brace your abdominal muscles. That’s the starting position.
  4. Pull the dumbbell at your side until your hand reaches your stomach height.
  5. Hold for a few seconds, then slowly lower the dumbbells to the start. That’s one rep!

3. Seated Cable Rowing

Seated Cable Rowing

The seated cable row is an incredible exercise to stimulate traps and lats and helps build a beefy back.

Steps to do it:

  1. Set your desired weight on the weight stack and attach the D-handle to the seated row machine.
  2. Grab the handle with a neutral grip and keep arms fully extended, palms facing each other.
  3. Keep your back straight and legs slightly bent, your feet on the pad if available. That’s starting position.
  4. Now pull the weight toward you until it reaches your abs.
  5. Hold there for a moment and then return to the starting position. That’s one rep!

4. Bent Over Barbell Row

Barbell Bent Over Row

The bent-over barbell row is a compound exercise that targets the traps, lats, delts, and arms simultaneously and helps develop a muscular upper body.

Steps to do it:

  1. Grab a loaded barbell with an overhand grip and stand in the shoulder-width stance. Your hands should be just outside the hips.
  2. Slightly bend your knees, push your hips back, and lean forward.
  3. Keep your arms extended below your torso, back straight, chest up, and core tight.
  4. Driving your elbows up, pull the bar toward your lower abdomen until you feel the complete contraction in your back muscles.
  5. Pause for a sec at the top and lower the bar back to the starting position. That’s one rep!

5. Pull-up

The pull-up is an excellent bodyweight exercise that engages the lats and traps and helps build a broader back.

It also improves grip strength and your pulling ability.

If you can’t perform a full pull-up, you should at least do the bottom half pull-ups.


Forearms

The wrist and forearms are usually engaged during the biceps and back exercises. Training them specifically will improve your grip strength, sculpt your forearms, improve wrist mobility, and help you lift more during the pull exercises

You can do a couple of exercises to strengthen your forearms, such as wrist curl and wrist extension.

1. Palms up Wrist Curl

  1. Grab one dumbbell in each hand with an underhand grip.
  2. Sit on your knees on the floor and place your forearms on the edge of the bench with your palms are facing up.
  3. Adjust your arms so your wrists are hanging over the edge of the bench. That’s your starting position.
  4. Engaging your forearms, curl your wrist up and down.
  5. Keep your arms still when you twist your wrist.

2. Palms Down Wrist Curl

  1. Hold one dumbbell in each hand with an underhand grip and sit on your knees on the floor.
  2. Place your forearms on the edge of the bench with your palms facing down.
  3. Adjust your arms so your wrists are hanging over the edge of the bench. That’s the start.
  4. Engaging your forearms, curl your wrist down and up.
  5. Make sure you feel the contraction in your wrist.

If you want to do more variations of wrist curls, you can check out the complete dumbbell wrist curl exercises.


Abs and Obliques

Strengthening the core is crucial for overall upper body development. Core muscles are involved in various upper-body exercises, including the bench press, bent-over row, and overhead press.

You can do various exercises to hit your abs and obliques, but as a beginner, you don’t need to focus much on core workouts.

Below are the exercises that are enough to bolster your core strength.

1. Plank

Forearm plank

Plank is an isometric exercise that keeps core muscles under constant tension, solidifies the midsection, and enhances muscular endurance.

Steps to do it:

  1. Place your forearms on the floor underneath your shoulders and your toes on the ground.
  2. Keep your body straight from head to heels.
  3. Brace your abdominal muscles and hold in this position for 20 to 30 seconds.

2. Mountain Climber

The mountain climbing exercise is good for everyone. It is a great way to increase body temperature and fire up abdominal muscles. You can do it anytime you like, before, during, and after resistance training.

Steps to do it:

  1. Get into a high plank position with your arms straight below your shoulders. And hold lower body weight on your toes.
  2. Bring your knees inside toward your chest in a running motion.
  3. Do this for 15 to 20 seconds.

3. Crunches

You can do crunches to strengthen your core and improve the shape of your rectus abdominis.

Steps to do it:

  1. Lay down on your back on the floor with your knees bent to 90 degrees and feet flat on the ground.
  2. Raise your torso toward your knees until you feel your abdominal muscles contract. And then, return your body to the floor and repeat 10 to 12 times.

4. Leg Raises

Lying leg raises help you target your lower abs and help build six-pack abs.

How to:

  1. Lie on your back on the floor with your legs straight in front of you.
  2. Keep your arms straight at your sides and brace your core.
  3. Raise your both together until your feet are facing the ceiling.
  4. Pause for a moment and then lower your legs to the start.
  5. Do as many reps as possible.

Weekly Beginner Upper Body Workout Routine

You can pair the beginner upper and lower body exercises to form an effective muscle-building workout routine.

Schedule:

  • Monday – Upper Body (Chest and Triceps)
  • Tuesday – Lower Body
  • Wednesday – Upper Body (Back and Biceps)
  • Thursday – OFF
  • Friday – Lower Body
  • Saturday – Upper Body (Shoulder and Abs)
  • Sunday – OFF

Monday – Upper Body (Chest and Triceps)

ExerciseSetsRepsRest
SM Flat Bench Press312-152-3 min
Machine Incline Bench Press312-152-3 min
Seated Pec Deck Fly312-152-3 min
Bar/Rope Pushdown310-121-2 min
Bench Dips310-121-2 min

Tuesday – Lower Body

ExerciseSetsRepsRest
Front Dumbbell Squat410-122-3 min
Leg Extension410-121-3 min
Leg Curl410-121-3 min
Calf Raises312-151-2 min

Wednesday – Upper Body (Back and Biceps)

ExerciseSetsRepsRest
Front Lat Pulldown312-152-3 min
Seated Cable Rowing312-152-3 min
One-arm Dumbbell Row310/arm1-2 min
Preacher Curl310-121-2 min
Hammer Curl310-121-2 min

Friday – Lower Body

ExerciseSetsRepsRest
Stationary DB Lunges310/leg1-2 min
Machine Leg Press312-152-3 min
DB RDL/Leg Curl38-101-2 min
Glute Bridge312-151-2 min

Saturday – Upper Body (Shoulder and Abs)

It will be a superset workout.

You can take desired rest time between supersets.

ExerciseAbsShoulder
Mountain Climbing + Machine Overhead Press15-sec x 212 reps x 3
Crunches + Lateral Delt Raises10 reps x 212 reps x 3
Leg Raises + Reverse Pec Deck Fly10 reps x 212 reps x 3
Plank + Shoulder Shrug45-sec x 212 reps x 3

Final Words

When it comes to training the upper body, you should have a complete list of exercises for every muscle group, from the back, biceps, and core to the chest, triceps, and shoulders.

Having an ultimate list of upper body beginner exercises will be helpful while designing a workout routine.

I’ve outlined as many as 40 exercises above in this article and categorized them according to the muscle groups.

Those exercises build strength and size and will help you achieve your best shape over time.

You can also follow the above upper body beginner workout routine to take your fitness to the next.

You can also check out these great resources for beginners:

References

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Author
Murshid Akram
I'm an online personal trainer, fitness blogger, and fitness enthusiast. I love researching and writing about exercise and nutrition. I share science-based, practical, and logical information that can help you achieve your desired fitness goal.

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