Looking for a fast, easy, and effective beginner upper body workout for women? These five key upper body exercises will get you started with minimum fuss. All you need is a basic set of dumbbells and your doctor’s approval.
But firstly, what muscles make up the upper body, and why should you strengthen them?
Benefits Of Upper Body Strength
The upper body is seen as the major muscle groups of the shoulders: upper arms, back, chest, and abdomen.1 Strengthening these key muscle groups is the foundation of a strong upper body.
But why do you need a stronger upper body?
Well, aside from the fact that strength training helps to burn calories, strengthen bones, protect against injury, and give you a more toned look, it actually serves some very important functional purposes.2
For example, all of these everyday movements rely on upper body strength from your chest, back, and arm muscles: carrying groceries, lifting kids or heavy boxes, pulling open doors, twisting jars, reaching for an item on a shelf, pushing out the wheelie bin, and closing windows.3
It’s important to remember that muscle groups don’t just work alone. To pick up a heavy box, you don’t just need strong arms; the motion of lifting requires the back, chest, and shoulder muscle as well. Likewise, reaching for something on a high shelf requires your upper back muscles so you can effectively raise your arm overhead.4
Do These 5 Exercises To Strengthen Your Upper Body
So let’s get started on some easy-to-learn exercises for strengthening the upper body.
But first, always start with a warm-up.
Warming up pumps oxygen-rich blood to your muscles and helps to ward off injuries. A good warm-up should last from five to ten minutes and work all major muscle groups, especially those you’ll be focusing on. Think cardio and range-of-motion exercises, like jumping jacks, jump rope, arm circles, squats, shoulder rolls, planks (and side planks), and cat cows.5
The five upper body exercises below each suggest how many reps to aim for. These are only a guideline and you should do the best you can.
Once you’ve completed the reps, move onto the next exercise. Then, once you’ve completed all five exercises, come back to the top (that’s one set) and aim to do a total of three sets of this routine.
How To Do Push Ups
The push up is a classic “chest press” that actually targets many muscle groups. As a bodyweight exercise (exercises without weights), it requires no equipment and can be done anywhere, anytime. So, it’s worth mastering.
Don’t worry if you feel terrible at it at first. Choose an alternative below to start things off a little easier and then progress as you become stronger.
- You’ll want to start in a high plank position with wrists directly under your shoulders, so they’re shoulder width apart. Your body should be in a nice straight line from head to toe.
- Now, bending at the elbows, slowly lower your body in one straight line until your arms form a 90-degree angle.
- Then push directly back up until you reach your starting position.
- Always focus on your core strength and on keeping your shoulder blades back.
Alternative: If you’re not ready for a full push up, simply perform it from your knees, and once you’re stronger, you can try again. Or, you can do an incline push up (where your body is at a 45-degree angle) against a table or even the armrest of a couch.
Reps: Aim for 8-12 reps
How To Do An Arnold Press
The Arnold overhead press is named for none other than the iron man himself – Arnold Schwarzenegger. But don’t let that put you off. You won’t turn out looking like Conan the Barbarian, but the Arnold press will target many of your upper body muscles at once.
- Start by standing with your feet hip-distance apart, with a set of dumbbells held at shoulder height, palms facing inwards.
- In a single motion, you want to rotate your hands so palms are now facing outward while simultaneously pushing the dumbbells high above your head (like a shoulder press) so that your arms are now straight up, like posts.
- Pause at the top here and then reverse the movement to return to your starting point, palms facing back inward toward the chest. It’s important that you focus on keeping your core fully engaged so that you protect your back.
Alternative: If it feels too difficult, you should use lighter dumbbells. Or, you can also do one arm at a time.
Reps: Aim for 10–12 reps
How To Do A Bicep Curl
The biceps are a key part of your upper body strength, and the bicep curl is a simple and effective way to work them. However, don’t fall for the common mistake of using momentum to do bicep curls. Never “swing” your weight up and down; rather, use slow and controlled movements.
- Start by standing with your feet hip-distance apart, holding a pair of dumbbells at your sides with your palms facing forward.
- Without moving your upper arms (think of them as being glued to your ribs), bend your elbows and curl the dumbbells toward your shoulders.
- Then, slowly lower the weights back to your starting position, always staying in control.
- Also focus on keeping your posture nice and straight, and your chest out.
Alternative: If your bicep curls feel too difficult, change out the weight for lighter dumbbells.
Reps: Aim for 10– 15 reps
How To Do Reverse Grip Bent Over Row
A reverse-grip bent-over row is commonly performed with a barbell at the gym, but can easily be done with a set of hand weights. It’s great for your entire back, especially for improving posture.
- Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding your dumbbells in a reverse grip (palms facing upward).
- Engage your core and bend your torso forward from the hips.
- Your knees should have a slight bend and your back should be flat.
- Let the dumbbells rest just below knee height. Then pull the dumbbells up under your chest as far as possible. Literally, as if you’re rowing but with your hands flipped over.
- Pause, then slowly lower the dumbbells back down to the starting position.
Alternative: If your bent over row feels too difficult, change out the weight for lighter dumbbells.
Reps: Aim for 10–12 reps
How To Do Skull Crushers
Don’t let the name alarm you. They may sound dangerous, but skull crushers are one very effective tricep exercise for strong, toned arms.
- Lie on your back on the floor with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor.
- Raise your arms (both together) so they’re straight up like posts above your chest, palms facing each other. Make sure that you don’t “lock” your elbows – keep a very slight bend.
- Now slowly lower both arms – from the elbow only – towards your head. Your elbows should be bending to 90 degrees on either side of your head.
- Lift your arms back to your straight starting position.
Alternative: You can replace skull crushers with arm exercises that are tricep-focused – such as tricep dips on a chair.
Reps: Aim for 10–12 reps
An Essential Upper Body Workout For Women
Having a good upper body workout at the ready means you can increase upper body strength simply and easily. Because one of the greatest barriers to working out is simply not having a plan.
Now you can hit the gym, or home gym, with an effective workout. Start wherever you’re at, do as many of the suggested reps as you’re able, and progress as you gain more strength. The most important thing is to just get started. Just make sure to get your doctor’s approval first.
As Tony Horton would say,
“Do your best and forget the rest.”