Arnold Schwarzenegger’s massive arms and shoulders helped him become the greatest bodybuilder of his era. Of course, Arnie didn’t achieve those tremendous heights by accident; he utilized the best upper body exercises to gain the physique he was after.
A Terminator-like build may be out of reach for most of us, but we can all be a little bit more like the seven-time Mr. Olympia by integrating these killer upper body workouts into the usual routine. You can further expedite your results with some high quality performance supplements and protein powders from BPN.
1. Arnold Curls
Speaking of Arnold, we might as well begin with the shoulder exercise that he made famous. Arnold Curls hit your anterior, acromial, and posterior deltoids––amongst other muscle groups––in order to give you the desired size and shape in your shoulders.
Arnold Curls are performed either sitting down or standing while holding a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing towards you. Then, reach as high as you can to bring your biceps close to your ears and complete the first rep of one of your new favorite upper body workouts.
Arnold Curls are one of the best upper body exercises that you can add to your arsenal, but be sure to start slow. For your first try, use low weights to master the form and assess your own strength level. When performed incorrectly or with too much weight, the Arnold Curl can do more harm than good.
2. Bent-Over Rows
Bent-over rows can give you the bulging back you desire while also working a number of other key muscle groups. By keeping your back largely stationary during the lift, you can hit your lats, rear delts, rhomboids, and traps while giving a nice boost to your biceps in the process.
The nice thing about bent-over rows is that they can be performed with either dumbbells or a barbell, so you can jump into this exercise even during peak hours at the gym. When using a barbell, grip the bar with an overhand grip roughly at shoulder width. With your knees slightly bent, keep your shoulder blades back and pull the bar up to your chest. Then, lower the bar back to the starting position and repeat.
The exercise plays out similarly when using dumbbells. To start, bend at the knees and lean forward with your palms facing each other. Then, while keeping your head up and back as still as possible, lift the weights to your side. At the top of the exercise, squeeze the back muscles and hold them for a beat.
Keep in mind that this is not a “one rep max” type of exercise, so choose a weight that is low enough to allow for three sets of at least ten reps.
Not all of the best best upper body exercises involve weights, contrary to what some folks at the gym might tell you. Pull-ups are a tremendous way to hit both large and small back muscles, as well as your biceps. They also have the added benefit of improving your functional strength. Glamour muscles have value in their own right, but this exercise will help you get stronger all across the board and help you achieve new personal records in other lifts.
Pull-ups are fairly intuitive and self-explanatory, but here’s a quick refresher in case they haven't been in your repertoire of upper body workouts in a while. Start with an overhand (pronated) grip, which will bring your shoulder blades together. Then, pull your body up to the bar while bending your arms. Slowly bring yourself back down to the starting position and do it all over again. Ideally, you should come back up to the bar without flailing your legs, unless you’re aiming to do the “kipping” pull-ups that have been popularized by the Crossfit community.
Chin-ups call for you to grab the bar with either a palms-down grip or with your palms facing each other. The key difference between pull-ups and chin-ups is that chin-ups will put more emphasis on your biceps while pull-ups will require more from your back. Odds are, you’ll have an easier time performing chin-ups and each rep will bring you a little bit closer to those Hulk Hogan-esque pythons you’ve always wanted.
With a grip that is closer than shoulder width, extend your arms in front of you while keeping your torso straight and pushing your chest outward. Then, bring yourself up to the bar as you exhale, focus on the biceps, and keep your elbows tight to the body.
If you can handle it, try to aim for sets of ten reps on both chin-ups and pull-ups. It may make sense to alternate between the two exercises depending on your own level of shoulder comfort. You may find that chin-ups put less strain on the shoulder muscles than pull-ups, but both of these upper body workouts should be utilized in a complete and balanced routine.
Push-ups are the first exercise you learned in gym class, but that doesn’t mean they’re passé. Put your palms down on the mat with your arms extended and lower your chest until it nearly hits the floor. Now, come back up to the starting position and repeat. Once upon a time, you may have mumbled some expletives at your Phys. Ed. teacher under your breath. Today, you’ll thank him for introducing you to the exercise that will give you a more sculpted chest.
If push-ups seem too basic for you, that probably means that you haven’t tried all of the different variations. To target the shoulders more, try a wide-grip pushup. Want to hit the triceps? Use a closer grip. If you really want to show off (and improve your explosiveness), do a set of clapping pushups. There’s a pushup for just about everything and each variation is worthy of being considered one of the best upper body exercises out there.
Alright, back to the iron. Deadlifts are a fantastic way to hit a multitude of muscle groups in one exercise. Squats get all of the love, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a ripped bodybuilder who does not lean heavily on the almighty deadlift.
To perform a barbell deadlift, place your feet in line with the width of your hips. Beginners may want to start with an overhand grip, though you can later incorporate an over/under grip and alternate each hand between sets. While keeping your back flat and shoulders down, raise the bar against your legs using your hips until you lock out at your upper thigh. While controlling the weight, lower it back to the ground and start again.
The deadlift is not only one of the best upper body exercises out there as it builds your back, but it will also help keep you balanced with tremendous growth to the leg and gluteal muscles. However, they are not as easy to perform as a simple bicep curl. Be sure to watch YouTube videos from informed instructors and pick the brains of your gym buddies before sidling up to the barbell.
Build That Body
Keep this list of best upper body exercises on your phone to give yourself the muscle-blasting upper body workouts that you’ve been seeking. Proper form is key here and proper supplementation is also vital in order to see the desired gains. Be sure you’re fueling your workouts right with BPN supplements, like our Flight pre-workout powder, great tasting whey protein powders, Creapure creatine monohydrate, and more!