5 Best Exercises To Build Upper Body Strength

Building your upper body strength simply means gaining strong upper body muscles.

To build strong muscles it becomes important that you do workouts that target particular muscles. This ensures your overall upper or lower body strength too increases.

Keep the fact in mind, in order to gain upper body strength; you need to do workouts that focus on the following:

  • Chests (lower and upper pectoral muscles)
  • Arms and Shoulders (Biceps and Triceps, Deltoids, etc.)
  • Upper and Lower back (Rhomboids and Latissimus Dorsi)
  • Abs (Core Strength)

As you choose exercises that help you to grow muscles there are different things to consider. The process involves doing optimal training in the right frequency and dedicating enough time towards doing the workout splits (i.e. for both upper and lower body).

This is the most effective way of getting results from training, which a majority of the weight lifters or body builders do. However, the factors might differ based on the training experience of the individual.

Individuals that want to build their upper body strength, having the right information is very important. You need to have proper understanding about the right exercises and your upper body anatomy or upper body muscles.

Things to Consider

Before, you begin to exercise, understand that your workouts have to be split into two parts i.e. upper body splits and the lower body splits. Divide your exercise days based on these categories.

Make sure you alternate between upper body splits and lower body splits every second day. For example, if Monday is an upper split day then Tuesday should be a lower split day.

Rest is very important for proper muscle growth and recovery. Thus, have a rest day after every two days of intense training sessions.For example, if you work out on Monday and Tuesday, have a rest day on Wednesday. This ensures you have enough rest to continue with your workout regime.

Focusing on upper body strength, needs you to follow a particular routine. This ensures you get the desired benefits from the exercises you do.

Your routine should consist of the following movements and make sure you stick to it.

  • Horizontal Push
  • Horizontal Pull
  • Vertical Push
  • Vertical Pull
  • Accessory movements

Following a routine, you are assured that your muscles are worked out in a particular manner and in a balanced way. This prevents any kind of muscle imbalances and lays emphasis on every essential upper body muscle in your body.

Here are 5 best exercises to build upper body strength:

1. Inclined Dumbbell press (Horizontal Push exercise)

The Inclined Dumbbell bench presses are one of the most effective techniques to have bigger, bulkier and stronger chests. It lays more emphasis on Upper Chest (Pectoralis Major), the shoulders (anterior deltoid) and triceps.

The Inclined Dumbbell presses increase the shoulder movements and have more impact on the curves of the upper chest or pectoral muscles.

There are several chest exercises that people use, but the inclined dumbbell presses are found to be the most effective compound exercise for upper chest activation.

Individuals that are new to bodybuilding can look to make use of machines for bench presses instead of dumbbells, to avoid any kind of muscle imbalances. Moreover, it allows you to maintain the correct form.

It also helps you to have a greater range of motion as compared to barbells. Thus, It works effectively as the ideal Horizontal push exercise for upper body workout.

The optimal degree of incline should be between 30-50 degrees. The reps should be performed with a weight that you are comfortable with. Make sure you are focused on the intensity and not on number of reps to get maximum results.

Target: Keep the angle of the bench at the recommend degree and try doing 8-10 reps of 3-4 sets each session to get effective results.

2. Row Exercises (Chest supported row- Horizontal Pull exercise)

Next workout to focus on is the horizontal row movement, such as chest supported row exercise.

This exercise impacts a majority of your upper back muscles, which includes posterior deltoids, Rhomboids, Latissimus Dorsi, etc. This exercise focuses on Lat activations and helps you to have a strong upper back.

Research shows the row movements performed with weights have the same Lat activation that you get with LAT pull down machines. They also impact the rhomboid and traps activation and other areas as well. This makes it essential and effective for increasing the width and thickness of Mid-Back muscles.

There are exercises such as barbell rows that lay more emphasis on lower back muscles as they focus heavily on lower back movement . Therefore, it is recommended to perform the row exercises with some kind of chest support to minimize the involvement of the lower back.

As mentioned earlier, reps should be performed with intensity till you feel the muscle fatigue to get best results. Perform the Reps with the weights that you are comfortable with.

Target: 10-15 reps per set of 2-3 sets per session, to get best results. Keep in mind that the exercise is done to lay more emphasis on your upper back.

3. Overhead Military press (Vertical push exercise)

The overhead presses are an ideal exercise for the vertical push movement, as it provides you with the ability to add up as much weights as you can. It allows you to target multiple muscles at once.

This exercise involves activation of anterior deltoids along with lateral and posterior heads as well. It also impacts the triceps, the core strength and the serratus anterior (side muscles), which assists in pushing the weight overhead and keeping it stable.

Doing the military overhead presses are more likely to help you have strong anterior deltoids or front shoulder muscles. Thus, it is the best exercise that you must include in your workout regime, to have strong front deltoids, which is also recommended by body builders and weight lifters.

Here too the intensity of the exercise is what matters the most.The reps do vary from one person to another. It is important to begin with weights that you are comfortable with and increase the weight accordingly to prevent getting into a plateau state.

Target: Start with comparatively heavier weights and begin by doing 8-10 explosive reps and then lower the weights to what you are comfortable with and perform at least two sets of 8-10 reps each to get best results.

4. Pull ups (Vertical pulls exercise)

Of course not every individual is able to perform the pull ups in the first attempt itself. However, it is a recommended exercise for those that are capable of doing it.

It works your shoulders and stabilizers and helps you to build width and increase thickness. Along with it, the exercise also involves a lot of other muscles that form a part of your Back section.

Studies do suggest that pull ups produce the same Lat activation such as Lat pull down exercises; however, they involve more biceps movement.

Studies also suggest that individuals that do pull ups, regularly were able to pull an extra 25% of total weight in comparison to individuals that did Lat pull downs.

Pull ups play an important role in building strong upper body muscles as compared to lat pull downs. However, Lat pull downs are comparatively easier than pull ups, because pull ups cause more fatigue.

Thus, it is upon the capabilities of the individual and the exercise it is comfortable with, to choose it accordingly.

Pull ups do make it easier to improve upper body strength, which includes your core strength too. You can look to perform as many reps as you can until you feel the muscle fatigue.

Push yourself to the extreme to stimulate muscle tear, growth and repair.

Target: Pull ups is a difficult exercise, but one must try to do at least 3 reps per set of 2-3 sets per session till it feels the muscle fatigue to enhance muscle growth.

5. Incline Dumbbell Curls or Overhead Triceps Extension (optional accessory movement)

Incline Dumbbell curls can be opted as the accessory movement for biceps. It directly affects the longer head of the biceps, which generally doesn’t get enough attention with other exercises.

Moreover, with incline dumbbell curls, the biceps stay activated throughout the motion, unlike other exercises for biceps that only work during the beginning or at the end. This definitely makes it one of the most effective exercises for longer head of the biceps.

Once you start doing this, you can focus on bicep exercises that target shorter heads in your alternate upper body workout days. It shall balance out the growth of both the muscles of your biceps.

Target: 8-10 reps of 2-3 sets each every alternate upper body workout day.

Overhead Triceps Extension on an inclined bench, similar to the incline dumbbells curls targets the longer heads of the triceps.

Here the shoulders are in a flex position and the exercise targets the areas of the triceps that do not get proper attention otherwise.

It is a recommended exercise; it minimizes the muscle imbalances and allows the person to gain stronger triceps.

Target: 8-10 reps of 2-3 sets each every alternate upper body workout day.


The kind of workout routine that you add in your upper body workout days depends exclusively on whether you are a beginner or a professional weight lifter/bodybuilder. For beginners, it is recommended that they follow compounded exercises instead of isolation exercises to ensure overall muscle growth. Thus, stick to compound exercises such as the Inclined Dumbbell press, Row Exercises, Overhead Military press and Pull ups.

The right way to workout is splitting the workout regime into two halves, the upper split and the lower splits. It becomes necessary that the exercises that you choose for your upper split sessions, impact all the essential upper body muscles. Hence, it ensures that you not only gain muscles but your overall body strength too increase.