How to build upper body strength (in two moves)

Wednesday 21 October 2015

Everybody is pretty familiar with lower body exercises, right?

You’ve got your squats and deadlifts – and we’ve shown you how to nail those. You’re probably total pros by now :-)

But when it comes to upper body, there’s a heap of smaller muscle groups to cover. Knowing what exercise to do or what machine to hop on for an all-round upper body workout can confuse even the regular gym-goer.

And girls… Don’t think this is just one for the guys. Training your upper body is THE BEST way to get strong, lean-looking arms. No bingo wing-age in sight.

So seeing as we’re coming into summer, let’s get those guns looking solid, ready for those singlets and strapless dresses.

[SCOOT DOWN TO WATCH THE DEMO VIDEO]

Here’s the two moves that you HAVE to incorporate into your upper body workouts:

The (trusty) push up

If you want to build upper body strength – or just strength in general – then the push up is your friend. It’s the most fundamental and functional bodyweight exercise you can do. No equipment needed!

The main muscle worked is the chest, but push ups also hit your shoulders, arms (mainly triceps!) and core too. IF you’re doing it right…

The five points you need to remember for perfect push up form are:

  • Hands should be shoulder width apart and in line with your chest.
  • Feet should also be shoulder width apart.
  • Keep a straight line from your head, down to your ankles with no arching or sagging of the back. Think planking!
  • As you lower, don’t let your arms flare out. Keep them tucked in close or to be more specific, aim to get your elbows at a 20 degree angle from your body.
  • No half a*sing it! Make sure you get your nose to the floor – or near enough…

The lat pulldown

The main muscles targeted when performing a lat pulldown are – you guessed it – your lats. Other muscles worked include your biceps, back and shoulders.

However, there’s lots of ways you can go wrong on the lat pulldown machine. Where to hold the bar? How far to pull down? Jeez, it’s a minefield.

Here’s three things to remember when you’re prepping for a lats workout:

  • Ensure you have a wide over-grip on the bar.
  • Chest should be in a tall, upright position – no leaning back!
  • Pull the bar straight down until it taps your chest and always squeeze your shoulder blades together so you’re reeaaally hitting those back muscles.

Find it easier to be shown, rather than told?

Watch our PT, Jacub Thomas, as he takes you through both the push up and the lat pulldown step by step:

 

Jacub’s 3 levels of the push up

Beginner – on your knees:

For those of you who need to work up to the regular ‘on your toes’ push up, Jacub recommends starting on your knees.

The straight back and hands shoulder width apart still applies, the only difference is that you’re resting on your knees with your feet held in the air behind you.

This enables you to take pressure off your core and legs, while still focusing the exercise on your chest.

Intermediate – a standard push up:

Once you’ve started to build up your upper body strength, you’ll be ready to move up onto your toes.

As Jacub demonstrates, keep a nice straight line from your head, all the way up to your heels. This is when your core strength really kicks in too! 

So engage that core, hold firm and lower to the ground.

Advanced – the decline:

Pumping out 20 plus push ups, no problem? It’s time to take it to the next level.

For the decline push up, you’ll need to grab a box or a bench. Then simply set yourself up as you would for a normal push up, however this time, place your feet on the bench – not the floor.

Elevating your feet puts more weight through your upper body (chest, shoulders and core) for a more intense push up!

Amy Cox

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
AMY COX
Amy is UQ Sport’s resident blogger. She’s a peanut-butter loving Brit, who exercises to eat whatever she wants. You’ll find Amy either in the gym, playing badminton or doing the wrong moves in group fitness classes.