Rhonda Blake
“Within you lies a power greater than what lies before you.”-Rhonda Blake

Upper Body Practice

Build strength and burn calories...Screen shot 2011-06-03 at 6.26.20 PM

Strength training for your upper body allows you to look great in tank tops while also feeling good about yourself. You not only get to see the benefits in your arms and shoulders but can also feel them when you lift a child or take a heavy bag out to the trash. Upper body strength training exercises target five major parts of the upper body, namely, the chest, shoulders, triceps, biceps and the back. They enhance the strength of muscles, joints and bones for better movement and flexibility. Upper body training also leads to improved cardiovascular health in terms of increased and sustained performance, fitness, endurance and stamina.

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You can expect: increased strength, increase calorie burn

Level of Effort: Moderate

Time Involved: 20 minutes (or more)


Getting Started:

  1. Define any specific goals you may have for your upper body practice
  2. Determine your workout parameters
  3. Determine your program schedule
  4. Learn the muscles of the upper body
  5. Upper body strength training routine and exercise examples
  6. Warm up and Cool down with each workout
  7. Write in your activity journal


What to Consider:

  • Purchasing equipment for your home
  • Strength Training at the Gym
  • Muscle definition requires fat burning
  • Using Compound Movements
  • Additional resources and articles


1. Define any specific goals you may have for your upper body practice

It is important to define your goals with strength training. Ask yourself if you have specific goals for certain muscle groups? You must decide if you want to build additional muscles and strength or tone and define the muscles you have. This will allow you to focus on those areas. Like your cardio, set up your strength workout to meet your goals and focus on that during the workout. For example, if you're trying to build muscle, you may choose a split routine to give each muscle the attention it needs.


2. Determine your workout parameters

Sets - A set is a group of successive repetitions performed without resting. A repetition (rep) is the number of times you repeat the move in each set. Therefore, if your instructions were to do 3 sets of 12 (3 x 12) biceps curls, you would curl the weight 12 times in a row to complete the first set. Then you'd put the weight down, rest a moment and do 12 more in a row to complete the second set, and so on until you've finished the prescribed number of sets for that exercise.

Speed - A reasonable training pace is 1-2 seconds for the lifting (concentric) portion of the exercise and 3-4 seconds for the lowering (eccentric) portion of the move. Fast, jerky movements should be avoided. They place undue stress on the muscle and connective tissue at the beginning of the movement, substantially increasing the likelihood of an injury. Fast lifting also cheats you out of some of the strength benefits. When lifting at a fast pace, momentum (not the muscle) is doing a good deal of the work.

Repetitions - The number of repetitions chosen for each exercise depends on the amount of resistance (weight) you're using. A safe and productive training recommendation would be 8-12 repetitions using 70% to 80% of maximum resistance.

  • Maximum resistance is the most weight you can lift one time with proper form.
  • In general, most people can complete:
    • 6 repetitions with 85% of their maximum resistance (training beyond this increases injury)
    • 8 repetitions with 80% of maximum resistance
    • 10 repetitions with 75% of maximum resistance
    • 12 repetitions with 70% of maximum resistance
    • 14 repetitions with 65% of maximum resistance (training with less than this decreases strength gains)

How many reps and sets you do will depend on your goals:

  • For building muscle = it's usually 3 or more sets of 6-10 reps
  • For muscle toning and defining = 2 or more sets of 8-12 reps
  • For strength and endurance = 2 or more sets of 12-16 reps


Weight - the amount of weight a person considers light will vary. Essentially you will want to determine the scale for yourself but can use the following guidelines to assist you:

  • Light - usually between 5-8 pounds; amount that you can lift with relative ease and complete many sets of an exercise.
  • Medium - around 10 pounds
  • Heavy - 15+ pounds; amount that is difficult to lift and you can only complete about 8-10 repetitions with good form
  • If a weight is so heavy that you have to jerk, bounce or swing to get it to the top of the movement, it's too heavy.

As your muscles adapt to a given exercise, you will need to gradually increase the resistance or the repetitions to promote further gains. This is known as progressive resistance. You should start out with a weight that allows you to do at least 8 repetitions of a particular exercise. Once you can complete 12 repetitions with that weight (or the number required for your particular strength program), you increase the weight by about 5 percent. Now, you're doing 8 repetitions with the slightly heavier weight. Once you've worked up to 12 repetitions with the heavier weight, you increase it by another 5 percent (or no more than 10%) and go back to doing 8 repetitions. The idea is to keep alternately increasing repetitions and resistance, so that you continue to see results.

Types of equipment that could be used in upper body strength training:

  • Weight machines
  • Dumbbells
  • Resistance Band
  • Body Weight (no equipment)

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3. Determine your Program Schedule

Frequency and Duration - When it comes to strength training, the general rule is to work all your muscle groups at least twice a week for basic strength and health gains. But, beyond that, how you set up your program will depend on your goals and fitness level

  • Determine how many times per week you will perform your upper body exercises
  • Determine how long each training session will be

Strength training sessions should be scheduled no more frequently than every other day, because the muscle recovery process takes at least 48 hours. Increases in muscle size and strength don't occur while you're training, they occur during the rest period between workouts. This is when your muscles recover and rebuild, gradually becoming bigger and stronger.


Schedule it  - now that the elements are determined, schedule your workout. If you set aside the days and times you will perform your practice you are more likely to stick to it. Remember the idea is to make it a habit, so schedule at least 2 weeks of sessions and don't miss or change them and you are on your way.


4. Muscles of the Upper Body

The upper body includes the following muscle groups:

  • Lower Back
  • Upper Back
  • Shoulders
  • Biceps (Upper arm front)
  • Triceps (Upper arm back)
  • Chest

Major muscle group details: Learn more...


5. Upper body strength training routine and exercise examples

Sequence - When doing a series of exercises, you'll generally want to start with the larger muscle groups and compound movements and work toward the smaller muscle groups and isolation movements. This allows you to do the most demanding moves when you're the least fatigued. For example, you'll use better form on your push-ups if you do them before fatiguing the triceps with presses or kick-backs.


Routine Examples

The following upper body workouts include basic, easy-to-learn exercises that target the chest, back, shoulders, biceps and triceps. One routine requires dumbbells but the other routine does not require any equipment.


Upper Body with Weights (35 minutes)

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Detailed Instructions

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Upper Body with NO Equipment (30 minutes)

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Detailed Instructions

Exercise Examples

Back Exercises - Perform one or two sets of a lat pull-down and a seated row. The back muscles are so intricately intertwined with the arm and shoulder muscles, that you'll also work your biceps and shoulders.

  • Lat pull-down: Sit on the lat pull-down machine and choose a resistance level from the stack. Grip the lat bar so that your hands are slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Lean back slightly, keeping your torso straight. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and pull the bar down to chest-height. Return the bar to the starting position and repeat.
  • Seated Machine Row: Sit on the seated row machine and choose a resistance level from the stack. Adjust the machine's seat height and chest pad so that you're sitting upright and straight with the pad touching your chest and the machine's handles at chest-height. Grasp the handles and squeeze your shoulder blades together as you pull the handles to your chest. Return the handles to the starting position and repeat.

Shoulder Exercise - Do the following three exercises three times per week as part of your total-body fitness routine. Each time, do 3-4 sets of 12-15 repetitions (reps) per set. Use enough weight or resistance so that it's a challenge to do 12 to 15 reps, but you can still maintain good form. You can regularly mix up your shoulder routine, trying shoulder presses, lateral raises and front raises, but because you're already working your shoulders as you work your chest and back, you really only need to supplement your workout with a single shoulder exercise. Perform one to two sets of the shoulder press exercise during your initial workout.

  • Overhead Shoulder Press (works the anterior deltoids): Stand with feet shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent, and hold onto dumbbells. Position dumbbells at each side of shoulders, with elbows bent at a right angle, hands stacked above your wrists (think of goal posts), and palms facing forward. Press the dumbbells upward until arms are extended overhead. Slowly lower to the starting position and repeat. Shoulder Press: Hold a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder-height, your palms facing away from your body. Press your arms directly up over your head, stopping just shy of locking your elbows. Lower the weights back to the starting position and continue the exercise.
  • Lateral Raise (works the lateral deltoids): Stand with feet shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent, and grasp two dumbbells. Move dumbbells to the front of your thighs, with palms facing each other. Slightly bend the elbows and raise dumbbells up and out to the sides until parallel to the floor. Your pinkie should be higher than your thumb. "Think of pouring milk," Schoenfeld says. "You don't want to spill the milk but just tip the container." Pause, lower slowly, and repeat.
  • Reverse Fly (works the posterior deltoids): Grasp two dumbbells and stand with feet shoulder width apart and knees slightly bent. Bend forward at the waist until your back is parallel to the floor (keep knees bent); keep elbows slightly bent with arms towards the floor, palms and dumbbells facing each other. In this bent-over position, raise dumbbells up and out to the sides, moving from the shoulders only, until arms are parallel to the floor at approximately shoulder level. Lower to starting position and repeat.

Arm Exercises - During your upper body workout, you'll want to isolate the biceps and triceps with at least one exercise each. Perform one or two sets of a basic dumbbell curl and an overhead triceps extension.

  • Dumbbell Curl: Stand with a dumbbell in each hand, your arms at your sides and your palms facing forward. Keeping your elbows close to your sides, curl the dumbbells up to shoulder-height, then return them to the starting position. Continue performing the exercise.
  • Triceps Extension: Hold a single dumbbell in both hands over your head, your palms pointing toward the ceiling. Keep your elbows from splaying outward as you bend them and lower the dumbbell behind your head. When your elbows form a 90-degree angle, press the dumbbell back up to the starting position. Continue performing the exercise.

Chest Exercises - Like the back, the chest muscles work in unison with the arms and the shoulders to perform most movements. While performing the pushup and dumbbell fly exercises, you'll also work your triceps and shoulders. Perform one or two sets of each exercise.

  • Pushups: Perform a pushup by starting on your hands and toes, your body in a straight, "tabletop" position. If you can't support yourself in this position, lower your knees to the floor. Bend your elbows and lower your chest toward the ground, keeping your body straight. When your elbows form a 90-degree angle, push yourself back up to the starting position. Continue the exercise until you can't perform any additional repetitions.
  • Dumbbell Fly: Lie on a bench with a dumbbell in each hand. Extend your arms directly over your chest, your palms facing in. Keeping your arms relatively straight, extend them out to the side, until they're just shy of chest-height. Push them back up to the starting position. Continue performing the exercise.


6. Warm up and Cool down with each workout

  • Warm Up with a few minutes of cardio and stretching before each session: Learn more…


7. Write in your activity journal

Track your activity, duration, intensity and how you felt before and after the activity. Learn More...


Bicep curl

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Purchasing equipment for your home

There are many options available for how to work out, whether you belong to a gym or just want to workout at home. Take an inventory of the equipment available to you. Consider buying your own equipment. Purchasing equipment for your home, such as free weights and resistance bands can be a great investment. Learn more about setting up a home Gym at About.com - http://exercise.about.com/od/strengthtraininggear/tp/homegym.htm


Strength Training at the Gym

A gym offers a plethora of strength training resources. Learn More...


Muscle definition requires fat burning

To bring out muscle tone, keep body fat in check. So include cardio along with your strength training to see more defined muscles. Definition is usually the result of burning fat. Strive for 20 to 30 minutes of cardio on alternate days of the week from resistance training days. Monitoring your heart rate after a couple weeks at the same level of intensity. If you're working hard enough, you'll see your heart rate decrease.

Using Compound Movements

One time saving tip is to perform compound movements, which target multiple muscle groups at the same time. This can speed up your workout while also hitting smaller muscle groups in conjunction with the larger muscle groups. Compound movements often target multiple muscles groups that are adjacent to one another, for example a set of compound squats hit all the major muscles of the legs. Alternately, you can perform compound movements that target both upper body and lower body muscles in conjunction, like performing bicep curls while doing lunges. You want to be sure your routine balances your muscle groups. If you exercise your biceps, also be sure to exercise your triceps. If you exercise your chest, also exercise your back. Making sure you balance opposing muscle groups (pushing muscles vs. pulling muscles and flexing muscles vs. extending muscles) helps prevent injury and keeps your overall look balanced and aesthetically pleasing. If you are unsure about your form when performing a strength exercise, ask an expert such as a trainer. Not only can using improper form lead to injury, but it may also reduce the effectiveness of the exercise.


Additional Resources and Articles