The 25 Best Upper Body Workout For Strength and Mass

If you are a beginner, intermediate, or an experienced gym-goer, and If you’re looking for the best workout that will pump your upper body strength and increase muscle mass. So, you’re at the right place. In this article, I’m going to share the 23 best weight training exercises that can help you build a strong upper body.

This post is especially for those who train in the gym; because the exercises I’m going to mention here are a combination of bodyweight, free weight such as barbell and dumbbell workout, and machine weight.

If you’re a beginner or intermediate, try these upper body exercises, and I hope it will surely make an impact if you also properly care about your diet.

I’ve also shared a designed upper body workout plan that can help you gain muscle and build strength at the same time.

According to several studies, weight training or resistance training is crucial for developing overall muscle growth.

Why is weightlifting necessary for muscle development in terms of strength & size?

A study published by the McMaster university stated that consistent weightlifting creates new proteins within the muscle that can increase the size of the cells within the muscle to make them larger and this process also known as hypertrophy.

Whether you adopt lightweight more reps or heavyweight fewer reps, weight training is necessary for the gains in skeletal muscle size and strength. (check out: Light Weights Vs Heavy Weights)

It is said to lift heavier weights for muscle gain. However, a comparative study published in 2016 revealed no meaningful differences between heavyweight straining and lightweight resistance training. Both types of training showed similar improvements in lean mass and strength in 8 weeks of training.

Although, a small portion of multiple studies suggested lifting heavier weights is suitable for increasing mass gain while lifting lighter weight is better for lean body mass. So, If your aim to develop muscle mass and strength at the same time, I would suggest you include both types of training.

What Upper Body Muscle to Train?

When we talk about upper body training, we need to focus on the five major muscles, such as the chest, shoulders, triceps, back, biceps, and core.

upper body muscle anatomy
upper body muscle anatomy
  • The chest muscle is also known as pecs, and it has three parts; upper, middle, and lower pecs.
  • The shoulder muscles basically include front, medial and rear deltoids as well as the upper traps.
  • Triceps are larger than biceps and located on the back of your upper arms. They included three heads; long, medial, and short head.
  • The back is one of the superficial muscles in the upper body, and within the back, there are four important muscles; latissimus dorsi, the trapezius, rhomboids, and the erector spine.
  • The bicep is smaller than the triceps and has two smaller muscles, such as the long head and the short head.
  • The core is one of the important muscles of the upper body. And to strengthen the core muscles, we need to train them separately.
  • I’ve also included a couple of exercises for the smaller muscles, such as the wrist and forearms.

Overall, you’ll need to work out on these primary muscles to build an athletic and attractive physique.

Getting a stronger upper body is a bit challenging but also motivating. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced, you can achieve sturdy upper body structure by regular workout and proper diet. You must keep one thing in your mind that hitting the right muscles with the right exercises and in the right way will help you to achieve the desired result faster.

Let’s start with the list of upper body strength exercises…


Best Upper Body Exercises For Strength (Chest)

1. Bench press

The bench press is an essential workout for upper body muscular development. This compound movement is one of the must-do exercises for overall upper body growth. Many people think that the bench press is only a chest workout, however, the reality is when you perform correctly, it will work on your arms, shoulder, glutes, and core.

Best Upper Body Exercises For Strength (Chest)
Bench press

How to do a Bench press

  1. Lie on a flat bench on your back holding a barbell with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart with your palms facing upward. Hold the bar just over your just.
  2. Keep your feet flat on the ground, brace your core, and inhale. And then, press up the bar over your chest until your arms are completely straight.
  3. Exhale, and make sure to squeeze your pecs at the top for a second and two, and then slowly lower the bar close to your chest level. That’s one rep!
  4. Perform 3 sets of 8-10 reps each with 2 minutes gap between each set.
  5. Keep your lower back in an arc position while pressing up the bar as it will help you maintain a neutral spine and keep your back tight and protected.
  6. Perform each and every rep slowly and in a controlled fashion.

Tips: After completing suggested sets and reps, go for the incline variation of chest press. Incline chest press builds your upper chest which is necessary for overall chest growth.

To perform the incline bench press, set the bench to a 30-degree incline and lie on your back. Grab the bar firmly with your hands and keep them wider than shoulder-width, and the rest steps will be the same. And make sure, when you lower the bar, make sure it comes above your upper chest.


2. Dumbbell Bench Press

The dumbbell bench press is a compound exercise and crucial for upper body development.  It’s considered to be one of the best workouts to build a stronger chest.

The dumbbell press target many muscles in comparison to the flat bench press. In a finding, it’s been revealed that out of the 15 exercises, dumbbell bench press found to be the most productive compound exercise for the activation of chest muscles. The study also suggests that the higher you use the weight, the more your muscles gain and increase strength.

Best Upper Body Exercises For Strength (Chest)
Dumbbell Bench Press

How to do a dumbbell bench press

  1. Grab one dumbbell in each hand and lay down on a flat bench on your back. Your palms should be facing upward.
  2. Bend your elbows, and hold the dumbbells at your sides to your chest level.
  3. Tight your abdominal muscles, take a deep breath and press the weight upward until your arms are directly over your mid-chest.
  4. Exhale, hold for a sec at the top, and then return to the initial position. That’s one rep!
  5. Perform 3 sets of 10 reps with 1-2 minutes rest between each set.

It is also recommended to do an incline dumbbell chest press as it will build the upper portion of the chest.

To do the dumbbell incline chest press; start with lying on a 30-degree incline bench on your back, holding one dumbbell in each hand, and press it over your chest. Each step will be the same, only your bench position would be incline instead of flat.


Also check out: 10+ Dumbbell Chest Exercises For Home And Gym


3. Parallel Cable Fly Workout For Upper Body Strength

  1. Set the rack to your chest level, Stand in a staggered position exactly between the pulley machine with holding D-handle in each hand, palms are facing forward. Keep your arms straight out to the sides and chest up. That’s the starting point.
  2. Now, squeezing your pecs, bring your arms toward each other until they are straight in front of your chest. Hold for a couple of seconds and then return to the start. That’s one repetition.
  3. Suggested sets 3, reps 10 per set.

4. Machine Chest Fly

best upper body exercises for strength
best upper body exercises for strength
  1. Sit on the fly machine with your back resting on the back pad and feet firmly on the ground.
  2. Grab the handles firmly and maintain a tight core.
  3. Make sure the handles are at your sides and to your chest level. This is your start.
  4. Contracting your pecs, bring the handles toward each other until your arms are straight in front of your chest.
  5. Pause for a couple of seconds, squeeze your chest and then return to the start. That’s your one rep.
  6. Go for three sets with 12 reps each.

5. Parallel Bar Dip

upper body workout for strength and mass
upper body workout for strength and mass
  1. Stand straight in front of the bar dip machine, grab the bar handles firmly with your both hands.
  2. Press the bar until your arms are fully straight and lift yourself off the floor.
  3. Bend your knees behind and lean your torso forward (20 to 30 degrees) so that it works more on your chest instead of the tricep.
  4. Lower your body down until your shoulders are just below your elbows. You’ll feel stretch in your chest muscle. And then lift yourself back to the starting point. That’s one rep.
  5. Try to perform three sets of 8 to 12 reps each.

Best Upper Body Strength Workout for Shoulder

6.  Smith machine overhead shoulder press

The smith machine overhead shoulder press is a compound exercise. The overhead press not only works on the shoulder but it is also targeting other upper body muscles like the back, triceps, and chest. It’s very effective for muscle gain and strength.

Being a beginner you should use a smith machine because you don’t have to stabilize the weight to lift it unlike with a free weight barbell. So, it’s much easier to perform the movement. Smith machine overhead shoulder press.

How to do a smith machine overhead shoulder press

  1. Stand straight with your feet hip-width apart and adjust the bar to a height where you can comfortably perform the overhead press.
  2. Hold the barbell along with desired weight at your shoulder height. palms facing upward.
  3. Keep your elbows bend to the sides of the body and hold the barbell close to your shoulder.
  4. Raise the barbell over your head until your arms being fully straight.
  5. Hold for a moment then return to the initial position. That’s one rep!
  6. Complete 10 reps of 3 sets with 1-2 minutes gap between every set.
  7. Keep your back straight and chest up during the movement.
  8. Main targeted muscle: Shoulder

7. Arnold Press

The Arnold Press is also called dumbbell shoulder press workout and best for increasing shoulder muscles mass. Arnold press exercise target all three parts of the deltoid (rear, front, and middle) as well as upper traps.

How to do a Arnold Press

  1. Sit at the corner of a flat bench and hold one dumbbell in each hand at your chest level, palms facing your body.
  2. Start pressing up the dumbbells by twisting your hands so until your arms being fully extended above your head and palms facing forwards.
  3. Hold for a second and then slowly lower the dumbbells back to the beginning position. That’s one rep!
  4. Make sure to squeeze the shoulders while pressing up.
  5. Complete 10 reps of 3 sets of each hand with 1-2 minutes gap between every set.
  6. Main targeted muscle: Shoulder

8. Alternate Dumbbell Front Raises

upper body workout for strength
upper body workout for strength
  1. Holding one dumbbell in each hand, stand straight in the shoulder-width stance. Keep your arms straight in front of your thighs.
  2. Brace your core, maintain a neutral spine, and raise the dumbbell (right arm) in front of you until your arm reaches above your shoulder height.
  3. Lower your arm to the start and repeat on the opposite side to complete one rep.
  4. Go for three sets of 8 to 12 repetitions each.

Related: The Top 10 Dumbbell Exercises For Shoulders


9. Lean Away Cable Lateral Raise

  1. Set the D handle to the lower section of the cable pulley machine.
  2. Stand next to the machine with your feet facing forward and hold the handle with your hand that faces away from the machine (from behind your butt).
  3. Grab the machine with another hand for support.
  4. Slightly lean your body from the machine and maintaining a slight bend in your working elbow raise your arm until it reaches your shoulder level.
  5. Hold for a second and two and then lower to the start. This is your one repetition.
  6. Try to complete three sets of 10 reps each on each side.

10. Barbell Upright Row

Strength workout for upper boy muscle mass
Strength workout for upper boy muscle mass
  1. Put the desired weight in the bar, and place it close to your feet on the floor.
  2. Stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart, and pick the bar with your hands hip-width apart, and hold it in front of your thigh. That’s the start.
  3. Keeping your core tight and back flat, pull the bar upward until it comes just below your neck.
  4. Hold for a couple of seconds, squeeze your upper trap muscles, and then lower to the start. That’s one rep.
  5. Go for three sets with 10 reps each.

Upper Body Workout For the Back Strength and Mass

11. Wide-grip Pull-ups

The wide grip pull-ups are a strength gainer workout that not only builds a stronger back but also works on your chest, arms and shoulder. It’s a great movement to increase overall upper body strength. The wide grip pull-ups are comparatively advanced than close-grip pull-ups that is why it has great benefits than close grip. The wide grip pull-up increases strength, mass, and the width of your back, specifically your lats. The bigger lats help you form the “V” shape in the upper back.

upper body workout muscle and strength
upper body workout muscle and strength
Source: Giphy

How to do wide-grip pull-ups

  1. Stand on a bench or box below a pull-up bar to easily reach onto the pull-up bar.
  2. Hold a pull-up bar with an overhand grip, your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  3. Keep your core tight and then pull yourself up until your lower chest reach close to the bar.
  4. Lower yourself until your arms are fully extended.
  5. Perform 3 sets of 6-8 reps each with 2 minutes gap between each set.
  6. Main Targeted Muscles: Back

12. Lat Pulldown Workout For Upper Body Strength

The lat pulldown targets the back muscle especially the latissimus dorsi (lats). This movement isolates the back muscles and you can specifically focus on your lats without tiring out the other muscles like the biceps and triceps. Bigger lat can fix your bad posture and you’ll look attractive.

Lat Pulldown
Pic: Everkinetic / CC BY-SA

How to do a front lat pulldown

  1. Sit on a flat bench facing a lat pulldown machine and place your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Hold the bar with your hands wider than shoulder-width apart with palms facing away from your body.
  3. Brace your core and keep your chest up then start pulling down the bar until it hovers over your upper chest.
  4. Hold for a second and then return the bar slowly to the starting position by extending your arms completely. That’s one rep!
  5. Perform 3 sets of 8-10 reps each with 2 minutes gap between each set.
  6. The primary muscle engaged in lat pulldown is Latismuss Dorsi (Lats).
  7. If you can’t do pull-ups then perform this movement but you can do this along with pull-ups too.

13. Bent over row Workout For Upper Body Strength

The bent-over row is very essential for building a bigger and stronger back. In a finding, it found that the bent-over row activated more muscles of the back than other forms of rowing. It’s a great way to target and build bigger traps. Not only this it also improves body posture. Hence, it is a great workout for upper body strength.

upper body workout muscle and strength
upper body workout muscle and strength

How to do a Bent over

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and grab the barbell with your hands a bit wider than your shoulder-width with an overhand grip.
  2. Let the bar hangs below your chest by extending your arms. That’s the starting position.
  3. Brace your core and raise the bar up until it touches your abs.
  4. Hold for a second and then return to the starting point. That’s one rep!
  5. Complete 10 reps of 3 sets with 1-2 minutes gap between each set.
  6. Keep your back straight and remain bent over during the exercise.
  7. Main targeted muscle: Back

14. Dumbbell Rowing

Rowing Workout For Upper Body Strength
Rowing Workout For Upper Body Strength
  1. Stand in front of a bench, place your right knee at one end, bend forward and place your right hand on the bench below your shoulder.
  2. Grab the dumbbell with the left hand with a neutral grip, keep your core right and hold your arm straight next to the bench.
  3. Contracting your upper back, pull the dumbbell upward until it reaches your chest height. Hold for a second and then lower to the start.
  4. Suggested: 3 sets with 10 reps each.

You may also like: The 10 Best DB Exercises For Strong Back


15. Seated Cable Rowing

The cable rowing is one of the best exercise as it engages many muscles at once. It is one of the must perform exercises for the upper body development. This not only develop stronger traps and lats but also work on your shoulder, chest and arms at the same time. The cable rowing increase your pulling strength that will help you in your daily activities. It also improves your body structure and protects your shoulders, and reduces your risk of injury.

best upper body exercises for strength
best upper body exercises for strength

How to do a Seated Cable Rowing

  1. Set your desired weight on the weight stack and attach the D-handle to the seated row machine.
  2. Grasp the handle with a neutral grip by extending your arms fully, palms facing each other.
  3. Keep your back straight and legs slightly bent, your feet on the pad if available.
  4. Start rowing the handles back to your stomach by pulling your shoulder blades back.
  5. Hold for a second and then slowly return to the starting point. That’s one rep!
  6. Perform 10 reps of 3 sets with a 1-2 minutes gap between each set.
  7. Your focus should be on your back while rowing
  8. Main targeted muscle: Back

Upper Body Strength Exercises for Biceps

16. Barbell Bicep Curl

  1. Put the desired weight in the bar, hold it with your hands (with an underhand grip) slightly wider than shoulder-width, and stand upright in the hip-width stance.
  2. Keep your elbows tucked in at your sides, with a slight bend in your elbows hold your arms straight in front of your thigh with palms are facing upward.
  3. Brace your core and keep your back as straight as possible. That’s the set-up.
  4. Now, curl your arms toward the shoulders until your bicep muscles are fully engaged.
  5. Hold only for 2 seconds and then return to the start. That’s one rep.
  6. Do three sets of 12 reps each.

17. Concentration curl

According to a study conducted by AceFitness.org, The Concentration curl is crucial for the higher muscle activation of the biceps than any other biceps curl movements. The concentration curl really isolates the biceps muscles more than any other exercises and supports higher muscle growth and arms development.

Best workout for upper body strength
Concentration biceps curl

How to do a Concentration curl

  1. Sit on a bench, lean forward and grab a dumbbell with your right hand with an underhand grip.
  2. Place your feet flat on the floor so that you can put your elbow on the inner part of your right thigh.
  3. Keep your opposite arm on the left knee for balance.
  4. Curl the dumbbell until they reach your shoulder level without removing your elbow from your thigh.
  5. Hold for a second and then return to the initial position. That’s one rep!
  6. Make sure to squeeze the biceps while curling.
  7. Complete 10 reps of 3 sets of each hand with 1-2 minutes gap between every set.

18. Incline Dumbbell Bicep Curl

The incline bicep curls are a very crucial workout for arms development. It enhances arm power and increases muscle growth. A study showed that the Incline dumbbell biceps curl activates both heads of the biceps (long & short), as well as this movement, maximizes the growth of the upper body.

How to do Incline Dumbbell Biceps Curls
  1. Lay down on a 30 to 45-degree incline bench on your back holding one dumbbell in each hand. palms facing you.
  2. Hold the dumbbells at your sides by extending your arms.
  3. Start curling the dumbbells until feeling a squeeze in your biceps.
  4. Hold for a second and return to the beginning. That’s one rep!
  5. Complete 10 reps of 3 sets with 1-2 minutes gap between every set.

19. Standing Alternate Dumbbell Hammer Curl

  1. Holding one dumbbell in each hand with a neutral, stand straight in the hip-width stance.
  2. Keep your arms straight at your sides with your palms are facing the body.
  3. Tight your abdominal muscles and maintain a neutral spine position.
  4. Curl your right arm until your bicep engaged, and then lower it down and repeat on the opposite side.
  5. Perform ten reps on each side for three sets.

Related: 10 Best Dumbbell Biceps Workout For Stronger Arms


Upper Body Strength Workout for Tricep muscle

20. Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extension

The dumbbell triceps extension is a great way to target the long head of the triceps muscles. This movement helps to build a bigger and stronger arms. Triceps extension also improve arms flexibility that helps you perform other workouts with ease.

best workout for upper body strength
Dumbbell overhead triceps extension
Source: Giphy
How to do a Dumbbell overhead triceps extension
  1. Stand with your feet and grab a dumbbell with your hands.
  2. Extend your arms fully to raise the dumbbells overhead.
  3. Slowly lower the dumbbells behind your head by bending your elbows. Keep your elbow steady and don’t relax them much.
  4. Pull up the weight while focusing your triceps and extend your arms back to the starting position. That’s one rep!
  5. Complete 10 reps of 3 sets with 1-2 minutes gap between every set.
  6. Targeted muscle: Triceps
  7. Avoid too much weight as this exercise requires a full range of motion and overweight can cause unwanted injury.

21. Tricep Rope Extension

  1. Attach the rope to the highest section of the cable machine.
  2. Stand in front of it (slightly away) and grab the rope with your both hand.
  3. Maintain a slight bend in your knees so the rope comes to your chest level.
  4. Keep your core tight, elbows tucked at your sides, and focusing on the tricep muscles push down the rope until your arms are fully straight. But do not crush the weights.
  5. Pause at the bottom, and then return to the start. That’s one rep.
  6. Do as many reps as you like.

22. Bench Dips

  1. Sit in the middle of a flat bench and place your hands on it beside your hips with your finger facing forward.
  2. Bend your elbows, lift your butt off the floor and keep your legs in front of you with your toes facing upward.
  3. Press into the bench with your arms to completely extend your elbows so your triceps are fully engaged.
  4. Hold for a moment and then lower your body and go the next repetitions.
  5. Suggested: 3 sets of 12 reps each.
  6. To make it more effective, put a weight plate on your thigh for extra resistance.

23. Triangle Pushup

  1. Get into a pushup position with your hands in the triangle shape.
  2. Keep your arms straight directly underneath your chest.
  3. Feet together behind you, and the body stays in the neutral position from head to the heels.
  4. Bend your elbows and lower your chest toward the ground and then contracting your triceps, press yourself back until your arms are fully extended. That’s one repetiton.
  5. Try to do as many reps as possible.

Also find out: 10 Best Dumbbell Triceps Exercises For Bigger Arms


Upper Body Strength Workout For core

  • Weight Plate Crunches
  • Cable Crunches
  • Dumbbell Toe Touching
  • Dumbbell Reverse Crunches
  • Hanging Dumbbell Leg Raises
  • Dumbbell Side Bends
  • High cable woodchop
  • Weighted Plank
  • Dumbbell Side Plank (source)

Upper Body Strength Workout Routine For Muscle Mass gain

  • Total duration: 60-90 minutes,
  • Each exercise: 3 sets of 10 reps each
  • Rest between sets: 60-120 seconds
MondayTuesdayWednesdayThursdayFridaySaturdaySunday
Bench pressQuadricepsPull-UpsRestOverhead Shoulder PressPull-UpsRest
Dumbbell Bench PressHamstringsFront lat pulldownArnold PressFront lat pulldown
Parallel Cable FlyGlutesBent Over RowRestAlternate Dumbbell Front RaisesBent Over RowRest
Machine Chest FlyCalvesDumbbell RowingLean Away Cable Lateral RaiseBench press
Parallel Chest DipWeight Plate CrunchesSeated Cable RowingRestBarbell Upright RowDumbbell Bench PressRest
DB Overhead Tricep ExtensionDumbbell Side BendBarbell Bicep CurlDB Overhead Tricep ExtensionMachine Chest Fly
Tricep Rope PushdownCable CrunchesConcentration CurlRestBench DipsBarbell Bicep CurlRest
Bench DipsDumbbell Reverse CrunchesIncline Dumbbell Bicep CurlTriangle PushupConcentration Curl
Triangle PushupWeighted PlankStanding Alternate Dumbbell Hammer CurlRest DayWeighted PlankIncline Dumbbell Bicep Curl Rest Day
Dumbbell Side PlankWrist CurlsDumbbell Side PlankDumbbell Hammer Curl
Weekly strength workout routine for muscle mass growth

The Final Words

Building upper body strength is easier than the lower body but both require a great amount of efforts and dedication. One thing you must keep in mind good things take time to cultivate so you’ll have to keep patience while managing the regular workout.

Only workout cannot give you stronger and sturdy figure you also need to add some healthy diet into your workout plan for getting the desired result faster. These upper body workout not only increase your strength and body mass but may also assist you in weight loss. Every upper body workout that I mentioned in this article is really fruitful for overall muscles gain and strength.

“Every day is another chance to get stronger,
to eat better, to live healthier, and to be the best version of you.”

Pic credit: 

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