Upper body workout to get your muscles burning and start building strength! This workout is designed to target your PULLING muscles, or your back and biceps! I separate these muscle groups out because I think when we do full body (or just upper body) workouts we tend to think of pushing exercises like pushups, dips, planks, press etc. and that means we are neglecting the back. Not to mention most of America sits at a desk all day, and that means we tend to hunch forward and develop what is known as upper cross syndrome (or shoulders folding in) from typing at a computer. To fix this we not only need to stretch out the upper body, but also strengthen the back muscles to help pull us back into a neutral alignment! Back exercises are incredibly important because they not only fix posture (like I just mentioned) but they also help to build the over all structure of the body. Think about it, we sit upright all day – and while a lot of that has to do with the core and trunk muscles, it also has to do with the back muscles. We need to be able to hold our shoulder blades back, keep our chest up, keep our spine straight (and not cause lower back strain). It’s important and it is often neglected. So today we are specifically focusing on it!
This workout is 4 different supersets (back to back exercises with no rest in-between) you can do with just 1 set of dumbbells! I superset these because it can be a way of working quicker through your workout, and also reaching muscle exhaustion faster – both of which can be adjusted based on your current goals. All movements that work the back and bicep muscles to help build strength and muscle! Now onto the upper body workout…
Upper body workout for Strength building
SUPERSETS: 3 sets of each
→ 10 bent row
→ 10 hammer curls
→ 12 dumbbell pullover
→ 12 rear delt fly
→ 12 high row
→ 12 zottoman curls
→ 10 renegade row
→ 10 superman
Strength building workout video
Strength building back workout
Exercise modifications and explanations
Form: Back flat and core tight (think rotating your hips backwards and tucking your tailbone), bend forward at the waist; thinking about your back, pull dumbbells back into a row (squeezing shoulder blades together) and elbows making a 90 degree angle. You want to pull your dumbbells back toward your hips, not up towards your shoulders, keep that 90 degree angle! Every rep you should be thinking back the squeeeeze of the shoulder blades. If you want to focus more on the muscle and form, you can do 1 arm at a time and focus on the pulling of the shoulder blade.
Modification: No modification, just increase/decrease your weights.
Form: Palms facing in towards legs, bend elbows into a bicep curl and then back down. Keeping your shoulders back and down, and try not to let your elbows come forward. You want to also make sure you are not swinging the dumbbells to get them up, and don’t round your shoulder and use that for momentum. All movement is initiated from the bicep. Squeeze that bicep at the top!
Modification: If this angle puts too much pressure on the joints, simply rotate your hands so palms are facing up and perform a regular bicep curl.
Form: Lying flat on your back with your knees bent, pressing that low back into the floor; keep you arms straight as you lower the dumbbells over your head and pull them back up. PULLING up is using those lat muscles (along your sides) and working those will give you (over time) the illusion of a smaller waist! You can also perform this exercise on a bench, just keep your feet on the floor. This is a great exercise for also working your core as you stabilize yourself from moving with the dumbbell.
Modification: If one dumbbell in each hand is too hard, you can hold just 1 dumbbell with both hands!
Rear delt fly
Form: This one is very important to keep your core tight and make sure your weights are the right resistance! Knees slightly bent, back flat, core tight and bend forward at the waist; you are doing a “flying” motion and working the backs of the shoulders. Try not to swing as you open your arms out (keeping a slight bend in the elbow) and then return back down. Again, you want to be careful with this movement as it is just a small muscle in the back of the shoulder that is working. Make sure you are also keep the back flat – in exercises that have us bent over we sometimes get lax on the core/lower back stabilization and cause a break in form. So just make sure your core is tight and your spine stays neutral from your hips to the top of your head.
Modification: Take it at your own pace and decrease the weight/reps if you need to. Try to keep shoulders down so other muscles do not take over.
Form: Another movement to work the top part of your back. Bend forward at the waist, core tight, back flat, slight bend in knees; keeping the elbows out, row and pull the dumbbells towards your neck instead of back towards the hip. This is going to work a different set of muscles in the back and change the angle to make the muscles work differently. Again, make sure you keep a strong core and straight spine as to limit the use of the lower back muscles. Everything needs to work together since you are holding a compromised position bending forward.
Modification: No modifications.
Form: A form of a bicep curl. This movement is going to work both your biceps and your forearm. Start with your elbows tucked into your sides and your palms up. Curl the dumbbells up and at the top, flip your hands and face your palms down as you return your hands to your sides. Make sure you are actively bringing your hands down and not just letting them fall. The lower is just as important as the rise of the dumbbells.
Modification: Make sure the weights are appropriate. If not, increase/decrease your reps so you do not injure yourself.
Form: This one is a doozy. Start in a pushup position with your hands on your dumbbells. Separate your feet so you have a bigger base. One at a time (keeping core tight) row the dumbbell back, always thinking about squeezing with our back. A few key points to remember here is thinking about driving the opposite hand/dumbbell into the floor to help stabilize you. This will help keep you from falling over. You also want to try to keep your hips square to the floor, with no rotation. If you are rotating a lot, you will want to drop your weights and go lighter until your core is strong enough to support.
Modification: Drop down to your knees if you need it as an easier version.
Form: Laying flat on your belly with arms out in above you and legs straight; lift your arms and legs (all 4) off the ground, hold 1 second and then return to the floor. This movement is going to work the lower back, as well as the backs of shoulders and glutes. Make sure you utilize that hold so that those low back muscles really feel it. This is a very simple movement, but necessary for the integrity of the low back.
Modification: No modifications!
Importance of strength building
Strength training is incredibly important! I will say it again, strength training is incredibly important! Not only is it cool to gain some muscle, but we use our strength for everything. Getting out of a chair, pushing a door open, carrying laundry…we need strength to complete ALL daily activities. Imagine in you got sick, or had to spend time in the hospital. Having a base strength is going to help you fight whatever is bringing you down, but it will also help you bounce back faster. Let me also say that resistance training is so beneficial for weight loss and aging. It helps with weight loss because the more muscle tissue you have, the more calories you burn at rest (winning!). Strength training is important for age because as we age we tend to have a drop in specific hormones, and those drops can cause weak bones, and overall tissue loss. So next time you want to just get on the treadmill and do a bunch of cardio, think about your future and pick up some dumbbells instead.
How to choose your weights
Picking what weight you should use can be tricky. The basics here…pick a weight that you can finish the reps, but can’t do too many more after that. Obviously with circuits and limited rest you will want a weight you can get through the entire circuit with, but you also don’t want a weight that is so light you could do the circuit 8 times. Try out a weight, if you feel you are compromising your form, decrease, if you feel you could do 5-8 more reps, increase 2-5lbs.
You also don’t want to get in the habit of continuously grabbing the same weights. We all like to get in a habit and are like “oh yeah, bicep curls, I can do 10lb,” because after awhile you should be able to do 12’s and then 15’s. So make sure you are also progressing. Rule of thumb here is if you can do 5 reps more than last week with the same weight then you should increase! It is all about progressive overload, either increase your repetitions and decrease your rest periods or increase your weights and decrease your repetitions!