Whether you’re new to the gym or have been going for a long time, incorporating exercises for the upper body is important for overall strength. The exercises below are good for overall upper body strength, but specifically for the chest and back.  

Check out these 5 effective exercises that you can do at the gym or home, with variations to help you keep improving and building strength –  

Dumbbell Bench Press

While there are a variety of different variations of the bench press, I’d recommend starting with a set of medium – heavy dumbbells. Start by lying on a bench, step, or mat with a dumbbell in each hand. Your feet should be flat on the floor. Bring the dumbbells up so they are directly over the shoulders, with the palms facing away from you. Lower the dumbbells down until the elbows are slightly below the shoulders. Push the weights back up, being careful not to lock your elbows. 

Other variations to try: barbell bench press, decline bench press, incline bench press  

Incline Pushups

Stand facing a bench, table, or step and place your hands wider than shoulder-width on the edge. Step back into plank, bracing the core. Bend at your elbows and slowly lower the chest to the edge of the bench/step. Keep your body straight as you do it. Push away from the bench/step until you return to the top. 

To increase the difficulty of this exercise, lower the incline until you’re able to perform the pushups on the floor. 

Single Arm Bent Over Rows

Begin with feet hip distance, holding 1 dumbbell in right hand with palm facing in towards the body. Take one step back with right foot into a lunge position. Lean slightly forward and rest your left hand on your left thigh. Tighten your core and lower the dumbbell toward the floor. Keep good posture as you begin to row the dumbbell. As you bring the dumbbell up, squeeze your shoulder blade towards your spine and drive the elbow to the ceiling. Keep your elbow close to your body. At the end of the movement, the dumbbell should be in line with your chest and your elbow should be pointing up toward the ceiling. Bring the dumbbell back down to start. Repeat all reps on one side, then switch.  

Other variations to try: double arm bent over row, barbell bent over rows.  

Dumbbell Pullovers

Start by lying across a stable weight bench. Place your feet on the floor. Your back, neck, and head should be supported. Hold a dumbbell with each hand, and extend your arms toward the ceiling over your chest. Your palms should be facing each other, and your elbows slightly bent. Extend the weight back and over your head, keeping a strong back and core. Bring the arms to starting position.  

Other variations to try: Floor pullovers, Stability ball pullovers, double dumbbell pullovers.  

Dumbbell Chest Flys

Start by a lying across a stable weight bench. Place your feet on the floor. Your back, neck, and head should be supported. Hold 1 dumbbell in each hand.  Lift arms up above the head. There should be a slight bend at your elbow, and your palms and dumbbells should be facing each other. Inhale and slowly lower dumbbells outward until they’re in line with the chest. Do not lock your elbows or drop the arms lower than shoulders. Exhale and press the dumbbells up to the top.  

Other variations to try: floor chest flys, incline chest flys, cable chest flys. 

What’s your favorite way to train the upper body?

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