guy doing chest exercise with barbell

Best workouts for upper body

Blog | Justin Shaw, Sports Development Coordinator

Upper body workouts are tough to navigate. Trying to train everything and avoid imbalances can be very daunting with so many muscles to worry about. There are also so many ways to train upper body, with some people opting for the agonist/antagonist split (which includes working the back + chest or biceps + triceps) while others leaning toward the push/ pull split (which includes working the back + biceps or chest and triceps). Then you have the Bro Split (5 day split of chest, back, legs, shoulders, and arms)…. no doubt many of us are scratching our heads at where to start.

My advice is always to start simple and safe.

In my opinion, the safest and simplest starting point is the Push/Pull/Legs split. I believe this split has the lowest risk of overtraining and allows proper rest periods for key muscles. It is a very simple split, and if you keep it simple it’s easier to keep it safe. The Push/Pull/Legs split basically separates your muscle groups based on primary movement patterns.

Push day usually consists of exercising chest, anterior (front) deltoids, lateral (side) deltoids, and triceps.

Pulling muscles are usually grouped as back, rear deltoids, traps, and biceps.

Legs is pretty self-explanatory, you can smash out all your leg exercises in one beautiful day… or fire and agony. I like to train abs immediately after legs so my core is at it’s freshest right before my legs session. This is because your abs are heavily recruited for stability and form during exercises like squats and deadlifts.

I like to break my upper body sessions into 3 major muscle exercises, and 2 exercises each for minor muscles.

On a push day I’ll do:

  • 3 chest exercises
  • 2 triceps exercises
  • 2 anterior delts
  • 2 lateral delts
  • Then a nice cool down and a stretch.

On a pull day I will do:

  • 3 Back exercises
  • 2 Rear Delt
  • 2 Trap
  • 2 Biceps
  • Cool down and stretch.

The important thing about training upper body is to make sure you warm up the muscles in your upper arms and shoulders beforehand. Include some cable rotations in your warm up and some shoulder windmills.

If you are trying to add size to your muscles and cut fat, aim for 8-12 reps, and if you are really struggling on those last 2 reps then you know you’ve chosen a heavy enough weight for yourself. Keep the rest period short, less than 30s. Pro tip: If you want to make the most of your time in the gym, include some super sets!

If you want to add strength and size to your frame, start with 10 reps at moderate weight and work your way up throughout the set. My typical strength set looks like 12,10,8,5,5,5. Gradually adding more weight each set. Add enough that you struggle but can still maintain good form.

The key to a good upper body day is remaining injury free. I cannot stress enough how crucial it is to be safe by warming up properly, and avoiding ego lifting. If you are unsure about an exercise ask one of our SportUNE staff for some help. The only bad workout is the one that gets you hurt.

I hope this helps your next upper body day!


Looking for that extra bit of motivation?

We have a range of weekly group fitness classes on offer, check out our classes here. Or to learn more about fitness and wellbeing and connect with like-minded people, visit the Wellness Hub.

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