Canyon Ranch Blog

Your Mix-and-Match Upper Body Workout

You have your upper body strength training routine so down pat that the weights know you’re coming over to them next even before you put your resistance band down. Kudos on your dedication to this important aspect of fitness! After all, it’s essential to increasing lean muscle mass and conditioning your body to move easily today and tomorrow. Mixing things up, however, can not only keep your muscles guessing (they adapt if you always do the same workout, which can hamper results), but help you tailor your session to your preferences and keep things interesting.

If a lack of other top-of-mind upper body exercises keeps you doing the same-old thing, consider choosing from this list of moves that target your arms, shoulders and chest. Focus on three during your next workout, choose a new combination next time and so on. And don’t miss these lower body strength-training moves, too.


What It Does: Strengthens your chest, triceps and shoulders

How to Do It: Kneeling on a mat or rug, place your hands on the floor and position them in line with your chest, a little wider than shoulder-width apart. Tuck your toes underneath you and press back into your heels until your whole body is lifted off the floor. Keep your abdominals engaged to avoid a sagging back. Slowly bend your elbows, lowering your chest between your hands, and then press down to rise back up again. Repeat up to 15 times; complete two to three sets.

To make this exercise easier, drop your knees to the floor, keeping your feet in the air. You can increase the challenge by lifting one foot off the ground or lowering yourself more slowly.

Be careful not to… lift your hips. Maintaining a straight line through your spine is key to properly working your upper body.

Overhead Shoulder Press

What It Does: Strengthens your shoulders and triceps

How to Do It: Start in a staggered stance, with one leg forward and the other leg behind you, to keep your back stable and safe. Hold a dumbbell in each hand (choose a weight that challenges, not overtaxes you). Bring your hands up to ear level, palms facing forward and elbows slightly in front of you. Press your arms up overhead, and then lower them back down to ear level. Complete three sets of 10 to 15 reps for each arm.

Use lighter weights if you’re having trouble completing a few reps. For a bigger challenge, alternate your arms.

Be careful not to… let your elbows drift backward. Lifting the weights overhead when your elbows are too far back puts strain on your spine.

Triceps Extension

What It Does: Targets and strengthens your triceps

How to Do It: Sitting on a mat or rug, hold a dumbbell in your right hand and roll onto your back. With your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, extend your right arm straight above your chest. Use your left hand as light support for your right triceps, keeping the upper part of your arm vertical. Lower your right hand back by your right ear and then raise it back up, straightening your elbow. Repeat for 15 times and switch sides; complete two sets for each arm.

Use a lighter weight if you’re having trouble completing a few reps.

Be careful not to… move your upper arm. Keeping it vertical throughout the entire exercise ensures that you’re targeting your triceps.

Biceps Curl

What It Does: Strengthens your biceps

How to Do It: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and a dumbbell in each hand. Start with your hands at your sides and your palms facing forward. Bend your elbows and lift the weights toward your shoulders and then back down by your thighs. Keep your abdominals engaged and your spine stable throughout the exercise. Repeat 10 to 15 times for each arm; complete three sets.

To make this exercise easier, try using an exercise band or a lighter weight while seated. To increase the intensity, alternate your arms balance on one leg.

Be careful not to… move your whole body. In order to target your bicep muscles, your forearms should be the only part of your body moving during this exercise.

The Dumbbell Chest Press

What It Does: Strengthens chest muscles, anterior deltoids and the triceps

How to Do It: Sitting on a mat or rug, hold a dumbbell in each hand as you roll onto your back. Bend your legs, keeping your knees pointing toward the ceiling and both feet flat on the floor about two feet from your buttocks and hip-width apart. Raise the dumbbells above your chest, retaining a slight bend in your elbows. Inhale and draw your elbows down toward the floor without touching it, and then exhale, pressing them back up to the original position above your chest. Repeat 10 times; complete two to three sets.

Use lighter weights if you’re having trouble completing a few reps.

Be careful not to… hold the dumbbells over your face. Make sure your hands are above your chest to ensure that those muscles are being worked.

The Bent Arm Pullover

What It Does: Improves overall shoulder mobility

How to Do It: Grab one dumbbell and lay flat on your back on a mat or rug. Lift the dumbbell above your chest, grasping the weight on each end so your palms are against the outsides of the dumbbell. Keep your elbows bent slightly throughout the exercise. Move your arms backward over your head and then pull the weight back to your starting position. Repeat 12 times; complete three sets.

Use a lighter weight if you’re having trouble pulling the weight back up.

Be careful not to… move too fast. The key to properly engaging your shoulders is moving the weight in a controlled motion.

Roll-Out Push-Up

What It Does: Works your chest, triceps and shoulders

How to Do It: Lie over a Physioball so your belly is on the top and both hands reach down to the floor, palms flat. Walk your hands out to a plank position until the ball is under your shins and your hands are directly under your shoulders. Keep your abdominals and back muscles contracted and pull your belly into your spine. Bend your elbows and lower your chest toward the floor. Stop when your upper arms are parallel to the floor and push back up. Repeat 10 times; complete two sets.

You can modify this exercise by only rolling out to your thighs.

Be careful not to… shift sideways. While balancing on the ball can be tricky, it’s important to remain stable so that all of your upper body muscles are worked evenly.

Tricep Dip

What It Does: Strengthens your triceps

How to Do It: Sit on a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Press your palms into the edge of the chair on either side of your legs, and then shift forward so your buttocks are suspended in front of the seat. Lower your buttocks toward the floor (without touching it), bending your elbows, and then press back up to your suspended starting position.

To make this exercise easier, dip your buttocks only halfway toward the floor. For a bigger challenge, move your feet further forward, or fully extend your legs so only your heels are on the ground. Repeat 15 times, completing two to three sets.

Be careful not to… let your elbows go outward. By bending your elbows straight back as you dip your buttocks, you’re fully engaging the tricep muscles.

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