In this article I outlined what I think are the best 7 upper body exercises on the planet. Seriously, give them a go and watch the gains come rolling in!
Only last week I wrote an article outlining my 7 favorite lower body exercises.
So I figured I might as well do the same with some upper body exercises.
As I alluded to in that previous article, I have been training my upper body for a fairly long time (much longer than my lower body, to be honest…).
The term ‘meathead’ would be an apt description.
However, because of this, I have had the opportunity to experiment with a number of different exercises over the years. Some of which I have found some to be much better than others.
It is these exercises that I have then used with my clients (with great success, I might add) — and it is these exercises that I am now passing onto you.
So, without further ado — and in no particular order — what I believe to be the 7 best upper body exercises.
1. Landmine Press
Boy oh boy do I love me a landmine press.
While this great exercises is not as sexy as a bench press, nor as handsome as a bicep curl, it does offer one serious point of difference.
The landmine press is one of the few exercises that allows your shoulder blade to move freely during the pressing motion, and therefore replicating how it acts in real world settings.
This has obvious carryover to tasks of daily living and a myriad of upper body performance tasks (things like throwing comes to mind).
As a bonus, because the landmine can move laterally, this exercise also improves shoulder stability. This is important, as it can directly enhance shoulder health, while also preventing injuries.
Oh, and I should also mention that because your shoulder moves freely during this movement, it is super shoulder friendly — making it perfect for those of you with cranky shoulders.
2. Inverted Row
The inverted row is one of the few exercises that feature in most of my clients programs, most of the time.
And for good reason too.
The inverted row is a horizontal rowing variation that targets all of the muscles of the upper back. This makes it perfect for improving posture and reversing many of the nasty side effects that come with sitting.
As an added bonus, it can be performed on a number of different pieces of equipment, including in a squat rack, on a smith machine, or even using a TRX.
3. Push Up
You didn’t expect me to leave the push up off this list did you?
Good — because I simply couldn’t.
Like the landmine press, the push up allows your shoulder to move freely, which makes it very shoulder friendly.
With this in mind, when performed properly, the push up offers a great way to improve should stability, as well enhance core endurance and increase upper body strength.
The trick lies with making sure you perform them properly…
And finally, they can also be loaded easily with the addition of weight plates and bands (so no, they are not just a ‘beginner’ exercise…).
4. Single Arm Dumbbell Row
I have a very special place in my heart for dumbbell rows.
Not only are they a great way to increase upper body strength, enhance shoulder function, and improve posture (all simultaneously), but I am pretty sure they are the reason I put any muscle on my upper back when I first started training.
And really, isn’t that enough?
I personally like performing dumbbell rows with both feet firmly planted on the ground, while supporting my upper body on a bench. When done in this way they also increase core engagement, which can only be a good thing.
5. Chin Up
I can picture it now.
The year is 2036, and the zombie apocalypse is finally upon us. I sprint through the streets. Lungs burning, I seek any means of escape. A thousand pair of feet shuffle quickly behind me. Groans fill the air. The taste of fear is thick in my mouth.
The cold embrace of death inches closer by the second.
Then I see it.
Down an alley way to my left, a small balcony. Slightly above head height — I think I can make it.
I turn sharply, moving down the alley as fast as I can.
Launching myself up towards the ledge, I panic — I’m not going to make it.
Somehow my fingers make contact.
I manage to hang on.
With my feet scrambling and my heart pounding, I drag myself up, arms screaming all the while.
As I slide the final few inches, I feel a hand scrape the bottom of my shoe.
The angry shrieks of the undead ring in my ears.
I will live another day.
Thanks to chin ups.
In all seriousness, being able to perform even a single chin up with solid technique is a clear demonstration of upper body strength. It also means that you can control your own body through space, which is important when it comes to managing life on a daily basis.
More importantly, the chin up itself is great way to train all the muscles of your back, and it improves core stability.
In short, it makes you a strong and resilient human being.
6. Dumbbell Bench Press
I simply could not do it — I had to chuck in a bench press variation.
And while the dumbbell bench press is not quite as snazzy as a traditional barbell bench, it is arguably a much more readily available alternative.
The dumbbell bench press allows you to keep your shoulders in a nice neutral position, which makes it very shoulder friendly.
More importantly, it trains the muscles of the chest and hammers the triceps — so you know, beach muscles and stuff.
The strength developed in the bench press has a lot of carryover to various tasks of daily living (like getting yourself up from the floor) and a number of athletic based movements (think of Dustin Martins don’t argue).
In short, its good.
Yeah, I guess I’m a fan.
7. Single Arm Cable Row
And last (but certainly not least) we have the single arm cable row.
If you have ever trained at iNform, then there is a very good chance that you have done one of these bad boys during a session.
They not only offer a great way to train all the muscles of your back, but they also require you to rotate your thoracic spine. This improves your thoracic mobility, which can help enhance shoulder health and reduce lower back pain.
Importantly, as the exercise is unilateral (AKA uses one arm at a time), it is also perfect for ironing out any strength asymmetries you may have.
Talk about bang-for-your-buck.
Take Home Message
And boom — there you have it — 7 of the best upper body exercises on the planet.
Chuck these in your program and watch all the gain train come rolling in.