While there are a number of great upper body exercises out there that will surely help you reach your goals, such as:
Dips, bench presses, pull-ups, push-ups, dumbbell rows, overhead press, etc.
However, there is also a number of powerful exercises that can help you just as much, or more, that you won’t see being done at the gym as often (if at all) as the mainstream exercises.
These often overlooked exercises will help you sculpt your upper body and build the results you crave.
I think that all of you will agree with me when I say:
We all want a toned upper body section.
And it’s completely logical when you think about it – the upper body is where the majority of our aesthetic appeal comes from.
The shredded abs, the strong arms and shoulders, the impressive pecs, and of course the big back. They are all apart of the upper body.
Obviously, that doesn’t mean that the lower body is less important or that it should be neglected, but it simply explains why the majority of fitness enthusiasts strive to achieve perfection when it comes to their upper region.
Clearly, genetics play an important role in all of this. Some people are simply gifted, while others… not so much.
Does this necessarily mean that you’re stuck with an underdeveloped upper body for the rest of your life? Obviously no!
You just have to put in a little bit more effort.
This is exactly why I decided to introduce to you my:
5 Best Upper Body Exercises
That You’re Not Doing!
To help you add more variety to your workout plan and make sure that you maximize your muscle growth potential.
OK, enough chit-chat! Let’s dive in:
1. The Landmine Press
There is a reason why the landmine press is first in our list of upper body exercises.
This often overlooked exercise is a great way to train your shoulders.
And due to its high variability it can also allow you to successfully integrate other muscle groups in the equation such as your abs, legs, triceps and upper-chest area.
What this means is that you can easily turn this exercise into an explosive compound-calorie-burning furnace. Or depending on your fitness goals you can alter the stance of the exercise so that you are applying more stress to other targeted muscle groups.
Also, you are more likely to have fun and enjoy the exercise as you can easily change things up.
Another very important benefit is that because of its incline overhead angle the exercise is shoulder-friendly and will cause less harm than most mainstream ones.
The main disadvantage, however is that in order to properly perform the landmine press you require a certain set of equipment (called a landmine station). One that if not available at your gym will pretty much make it impossible for you to include this exercise in your arsenal.
It would be wise for me to say – Do NOT attempt to mimic the equipment of the landmine press like putting it against a wall or corner as you may end up hurting yourself.
I am speaking from personal experience here! So accessibility may be an issue.
However, if you are brave enough and want to do the exercise regardless of the lack of equipment do it right . Wrap a towel around the end of the barbell and wedge it into a corner on the floor.
Again, I strongly do NOT recommend you do that as the barbell might slip.
How to do it: Before I explain the intricate nature of the exercise it would be important to mention that I am focusing on its classic stance – the staggered stance.
I strongly recommend you check out Nick Tumminello’s “Ultimate guide to landmine presses“ where he comprehensively explains how to successfully perform all 7 different stances of the exercise!
Anyway, let’s continue:
Place one end of the barbell in a landmine holder/station. Hold the other end of the barbell in your hand at your shoulder with your mirrored foot forward – if you’re using your right hand put your left foot forward.
This is your starting position.
Press the barbell forward until your arm is almost straight – keep in mind that you don’t want your elbows to be fully locked out as that puts unnecessary tension on your elbow joints and takes away the muscle tension from your triceps and shoulder.
Rinse and repeat.
2. Elbow-out triceps extension
I remember first seeing this upper body exercise in one of Mike O’ Hearn’s videos where he was claiming that it’s one of the best ones out there to train your triceps.
I was really confused at first as the exercise seemed quite… strange.
As soon as I started doing it at the gym did I learn what was so special about it.
It works the same way and has the same effect on your triceps as your traditional triceps extensions – such as skull crushers.
However it is a lot easier on your elbow joints.
Mike O’Hearn also claims that this exercise puts a different type of tension on the elbows which allows them to strengthen over time.
That being said this upper body exercise has what is known as a trickle-down effect – meaning that its benefits will be advantageous for other exercises such as the bench press, or at least that’s what Mr. O’Hearn claims.
Another person who also advocates this notion is Men’s Health fitness director BJ Gaddour who claims that this exercise will help you improve your bench, using the words of Dave Tate who is a well known power lifter. Interesting fact is that Dave Tate apparently has popularized this exercise which is why the Elbow out triceps extension is also known as the Tate Press.
According to Mike, it also trains the one part of the triceps that we all seem to neglect – the lower head (medial head) which stretches along the elbow joint, which is also correlated with improved elbow strength.
How to do it: Lie on a flat or incline bench holding dumbbells that are resting vertically on your chest. Your palms have to be facing away from your face and your elbows flared out.
This is your starting position.
Begin extending your arms just as you would with a regular triceps extension exercise, without moving your shoulders. In other words, try and move just the elbow joint to extend the arm and move the weight.
Similarly to the landmine press – extend your arm to the point where it’s almost straight. Do not lock your arms out as you would be putting a lot of necessary tension on your elbow joints and removing the stress away from the triceps muscle.
3. Weighted Plate Chest Squeeze (Svend Press)
I am pretty sure you have never heard of the Svend press, have you?
This is probably one of my top favorite upper body exercises.
It’s so simple and at the same time leaves you struggling to finish off your last set of repetitions. It’s a great exercise that really puts a lot of tension on your shoulders and don’t even get me started on your chest muscles – to which it applies constant isolated tension.
You can really feel the burn afterwards. You know?
Most importantly it works on the one part of the chest that we most often leave abounded – the inner pecs.
That stunning muscle definition and muscle-fiber separation is not going to just magically appear on your body. You have to work for it and this is one of the best upper body exercises that will help you.
How to do it: While standing up or sitting down grab a weighted plate with which you feel most comfortable doing anywhere from 8 to 12 repetitions. Grab the plate with your palms pointing towards each other and your elbows slightly flared outwards.
This is your starting position.
Extend the weighted plate outward – pushing it away from your chest while at the same time squeezing the plate as hard as possible with your chest to ensure that you don’t drop it.
It’s exactly that squeeze that will make this exercise a pain in the ass – but definitely worth it.
Worth noting is that there are two main ways you can do the Svend Press:
Standing up (the way that we describe) and lying down. The main difference is that by lying flat on your back and pressing the plate you isolate the chest even more but you remove some of the tension from your shoulders.
At the end of the day, it comes down to your own personal preference – whether you want to isolate the chest more or you want to compound the exercise.
Also, keep in mind that this upper body exercise has been regarded as one of the most effective chest-building exercises by Muscle and Strength magazine.
So it’s really worth considering.
4. The Windmill (Plate/Kettlebell)
From all of the upper body exercises on the list this one is probably one of the hardest.
The best part about it is that it can serve as a hybrid exercise – i.e it’s beneficial as it’s really going to help you develop your upper-body’s muscularity while at the same time, due to it’s high intensity nature, will help you boost your caloric burn and ultimately burn more body fat.
The main target of the exercise is your shoulders and traps, but it also targets your chest, forearms and your lats to some degree.
Whether you want to do it with a weighted plate or a kettlebell is honestly up to you – whichever is more comfortable for your grip.
I’ve even tried using a dumbbell and it worked fine.
How to do it: Grab a weighted plate or Kettlebell at a comfortable weight. Stand in a position where your legs are slightly wider than shoulder width (for stability) holding the weight in front of your abdomen. This is your starting position.
Start making circular motion with the weight clockwise or counterclockwise (doesn’t matter – you can even change it up as you’re going to add more variety).
What you can also try out is once your reach the level of your head you hold the weight there for one second before you continue with the circular motion to add some extra tension to your shoulders.
5. The Man Maker
In case you were wondering – Yes, that is the real name of the exercise.
There is a good reason why this exercise is called the “Man Maker” – it’s hard, it’s explosive and most importantly it’s going to help you develop your upper region.
Similarly to the Windmill exercise – the Man Maker can help you burn some extra body fat while helping you boost muscle growth.
Furthermore, due to it’s explosive and compound nature it can potentially boost testosterone production which will come in handy when trying to grow bigger and stronger.
The Man Maker also targets a variety of muscle groups simultaneously – your middle back, your lats, your shoulders, abs and even your quads and glutes.
It’s also pretty fun to do, which is why it’s one my favorite upper body exercises.
How to do it: Place two dumbbells on the ground in front of you sitting parallel to each other. Squat down and grab the dumbbells. This is your starting position.
Initiate by kicking your feet back as you enter a push-up position holding on to the dumbbells but instead of going down to the floor you are going to bring up the dumbbells up as if you are doing a dumbbell row for each side.
Hop your feet forward to your starting position and rise up cleaning the weights and bringing them to shoulder level. Hop a second time as you descend to a squat and explosively rise up and finally raise the weights overhead to a full arm extension.
Rinse and repeat.
This exercise is going to leave you exhausted and sore after just a few repetitions, which is what makes it so great!
If this tutorial was not good enough I suggest you hop on over to Bodybuilding.com and check out the short video they have explaining everything step by step.
There you guys have it!
As I already mentioned in the introduction – there is a great number of upper body exercises that we’re all doing when at the gym in attempt to develop the physique of our dreams.
However there are also the unspoken heroes – the few exercises that can help us reach our end-goal but are instead left in the shadow of the mainstream exercises such as the bench press or pull-ups.
Use this list to add some variety to your workout so that you can target your muscles from different angles and ultimately boost muscle growth, and to make things more fun when at the gym and feel less like a chore.
Tell me what you think
In the comments bellow let me know what you think about the upper body exercises on the list. Do you like them, do you hate them?
Or even better, are there any other exercises that you believe would do a much better job?
Let me know!
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Great , Very nice and informative
The man maker is great for the triceps. Hurts my elbows a little though
Great! this is really helpful and informative blog. Thanks for sharing this kind of bodybuilding tips.
Muy interesante su artículo referente a los 5 mejores ejercicios de la parte superior del cuerpo pero me gustaría saber cómo favorecerían a tipo ectomorfo.
An exercise that should be on this list is Olympic ring pull ups. I have found this upper body exercise to be excellent and has helped me make gains. I have found it is also excellent for core strength as it requires you to really stabilise yourself with your core when performing the movement.
I completely agree with you…whatever your real name is. I might just add it and turn this into “the 6 best” list.
Eat BIG, Lift BIG, Get BIG!
Really love the article. Just recently started getting into working out from: https://goo.gl/hMYXXJ. Always tried working out before but never got the eating right part down. Eating right and working out motivate me to do them bot better. Thanks for the advise from the whole website.
Had to come back and revisit the Svend Press. Going for that in my next session, thanks!
Great article! I am a 66 yr old – 5 year bodybuilder, feeling 40! I love the videos added to the narrative in this article. I will try the elbow-out tricep extension exercise that BJ was talking about. Appreciate all the information to help with my goals. Keep them coming!