The Best Upper-Body Exercises for Muscle Gain

The best upper-body weight-training exercises are the ones that most directly target your upper body's main muscle groups.
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Building upper-body strength and muscle mass will help you trim fat, improve your athletic ability and help your body prevent injuries. In your upper-body weight-training regimen, it's important that you target all the upper-body muscles to achieve a balance in strength. The following are the best exercises to help you build up your chest, upper back, shoulders, biceps and triceps. Combine this regimen with adequate rest and a healthy diet to maximize results. Be sure to consult your doctor before beginning a new weight-training program.

Biceps Curls

Use a barbell or dumbbells to do biceps curls. Grip your barbell or dumbbells with an underhand grip. Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart and lean back slightly. Keeping your upper arm and elbow still, curl your hands upward to contract the biceps. Slowly release and repeat for the desired number of reps.

Triceps Extensions

Stand up tall and lean slightly forward for the triceps extension. For beginners, hold a pair of dumbbells with an overhand grip. Straighten your arms and hold your dumbbells directly behind you as high as you can. Keeping your upper arms and elbows still, bend at the elbow to bring the dumbbells forward toward your chest. For those who need a challenge, you'll be using the rings gymnasts use, with your own body as your resistance. Grab a ring in either hand and push yourself up with your arms so that your body is hanging from the rings with your arms straight. Slowly bend at the elbows to lower your body, keeping your elbows still and pointing directly behind you; make sure your elbows and triceps stay close against your body and do not turn outward, so that you target the triceps. Slowly straighten your arms, pushing your body back up. Repeat for the desired number of reps.


Hold a chinup bar using an underhand grip, so your palms face you. Your hands should be spread shoulder-width apart. Pull yourself up off the ground, keeping your elbows pointing behind you. Slowly lower yourself back down. You may choose to have someone take your step-stool away from you if you used one, to make it more challenging as you do your desired number of reps. Chinups work your upper back, your biceps and even your hands. Use a dipping belt to add weight for an extra challenge.

Rock Climbing and Rope Climbing

Rock climbing and rope climbing are two activities that are sure to work out your upper body. If you're a beginner, start with rock climbing. Ask your partner to give you less slack so that you depend more on your arm strength than the rope attached to you. If you're a rope-climbing beginner, use a rope that has several large knots in it, and work your way to using ropes with fewer knots. These two workouts use your upper-back muscles, chest, biceps, triceps and forearms to give you an all-around upper-body workout. For advanced rope climbers and bodybuilders, climb without using your legs. Keep your legs glued together and tighten your abs to lift them so that your body is at a 90-degree angle while you climb with your arms.

Pushups and Military Press

The best exercise for gaining pectoral muscles, or chest muscles, is pushups, which also target your triceps and shoulders. If pushups are easy for you, several variations can further challenge your upper body. Crossing one leg over the other increases the amount of weight resistance. Also, use the chest press machine at the gym, which is a machine with a seat you sit on and push the handle bars away from your chest as though you were doing a pushup on the floor. This machine allows you to adjust the amount of weight to meet your needs.

The military press is a similar action to the pushup, but instead of pushing directly away from your chest, you push your arms up and over your head to target the upper back. Like pushups, the military press also works your triceps and shoulders. Hold a barbell against your chest, your palms facing away from you. Slowly straighten your arms to lift the barbell directly above your head. Tighten your abs to help you maintain a straight back. Slowly lower and repeat for the desired number of reps. Do this standing or sitting on a bench.

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