A strong upper body with wide shoulders and a muscular back is a badge of hard work and dedication. To maximize muscle gain, you need to consume a diet rich in complex carbohydrates, essential fats and protein, and have a regimented workout plan.
The following exercises are time-tested movements and scientifically backed by EMG studies to provide high levels of muscle activation in various upper body muscles.
Perform them two to three times a week, ensuring progressive overload and adequate recovery. If you want an upper body like Superman, make sure to add these exercises to your routine.
Best upper body exercises for maximum returns
Here's a look at six such exercises that can give you fabulous returns without taking up much time:
1) Standing Barbell Overhead Press
The overhead press is a full body exercise that works the shoulders, triceps, abs, quads, upper, and lower back. If done with proper form, it can add slabs of muscle to the upper body and delts while keeping it injury-free.
- Stand upright with the bar on your front delts.
- Hold the barbell at shoulder-width. The grip can change based on your height and arm length. Choose a position that feels most comfortable for your shoulders.
- Squeeze your glutes, and brace the core.
- Press the bar overhead. At the overhead position, the bar should line up with your mid-foot.
- Lock your elbows at the top.
- Shrug your shoulders to complete the movement.
The OHP works well in all rep ranges, according to your goals, whether they be powerlifting or bodybuilding.
2) Barbell Row
The barbell row is among the best exercises to build a strong, muscular upper back.
It's one of the best assistance exercises you can do to improve your big three (squat, bench, deadlift) numbers. Add it to your back and biceps workout to see quick changes to your upper body.
- Stand upright with your mid-foot over the bar. Take a deep breath, and brace your core.
- Hinge at the hips, and grab the bar. You should feel a light stretch on your hamstrings.
- Keep your back straight throughout.
- From the floor, pull the barbell upwards explosively towards your lower chest.
- Return the barbell to the floor. Repeat.
This row works well in the 5-12 rep range. A bit of momentum, with reason, goes well with the movement.
3) Dumbbell Bench Press
There is a reason why the dumbbell version is better than the bench version - injury concerns. People with different skeletal structures and longer arms may find the bench press risky for their shoulders.
The dumbbell bench press allows for a better range of motion and develops both sides of the chest equally. It's a great upper body builder, best performed om the 8-15 rep range. Here are a few more dumbbell chest exercises for epic gains.
- While lying on the bench, kick the weight up with your thighs. As the weights get heavier, use full body momentum to get the dumbbells in position. Use a spotter in such a case for better safety.
- Your thumbs should be facing each other while you hold the dumbbells with a pronated grip.
- Like the barbell bench press, make sure your chest is held high, and your scapulas are set in place.
- Avoid excessive arching of your lower back. Keep your lower body stable, and place your glutes firmly on the bench.
- Keeping the eccentric portion under control, slowly lower the weight to your chest. Keep your elbows tucked out slightly.
- Expode upwards to the starting position to complete one rep. Repeat.
4) Face Pull
Face pulls are mandatory for any lifter who wants healthy, pain-free shoulders. They work the rear delts and upper back, giving you 3D, capped delts that can enhance your upper body aesthetics.
- Attach a long rope to the cable machine. The attachment should be above your eye level.
- Grab the ends of the rope with both hands. The thumbs should be tightly grasped around the rope and the palms facing each other.
- Pull the rope towards your nose. Rotate your forearms at the elbows in a motion similar to a row.
- Feel the contraction in your rear delts and upper back. Hold for 1-2 seconds.
- Return to the starting position. Go for quality reps over quantity.
5) Lateral Raise
If you want a wide upper body, you have to work your side delts separately. Lateral raises require lighter weights but pristine form. Improper technique can put undue stress on the shoulder joint and rotator cuff. Perform them in the 8-20 rep range.
- Grab a set of dumbbells, and stand up with them by your sides. Brace your core.
- Your palms should be facing your body in the bottom position.
- Using zero momentum, lift the dumbbells to just below shoulder height. Feel the stretch on your side delts.
- Your upper traps may take over if done with improper form. To avoid that, lean very slightly forward.That will also put your shoulders in a safer position.
- Pause at the top. Return slowly back to the starting position.
6) Weighted Pull-up
If you've ever struggled with building your lats, weighted pull-ups can be the cure. If you cannot do bodyweight pull-ups, use inverted rows to build up upper back strength. Once you can perform 12 clean pull-ups, start adding weight.
Here's a guide detailing the benefits, proper form and common mistakes while doing a pull-up. To add extra weight, simply use dip belt, or hold a dumbbell between your feet.
Perform the aforementioned exercises for a complete upper body workout. Make sure to perform stretching and mobility routines regularly to keep your upper body primed for action.