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The Beginner Upper-Body Workout You've Been Looking For

hand holding a red dumbbell
A beginner upper-body workout can improve posture and form, reduce the risk of injury, and increase your balance and strength.

by Lindsay Tigar


As you develop your fitness routine and work to meet your fitness goals, you can dedicate certain days to targeting specific muscle groups. For example, after completing a lower-body workout, you can follow up at your next gym session with a beginner upper-body workout. Your shoulders, chest, back, and arms are all up for the challenge!

In addition to being a necessity for a full-body regimen, a beginner upper-body workout can improve posture and form, reduce risk of injury, and increase your balance and strength. If you're unsure of where to start in the weight room, don't worry — we've got you covered with this step-by-step upper-body guide.

Warm Up

No matter what type of fitness you're zeroing in on, preparing your body for the work ahead is mandatory. A warm up can help you give it your all during a workout and reduce your risk of injury. Everyone has a different preference when it comes to warming up — from jumping jacks to high knees to walking, do what feels right for your body. A trainer can offer you guidance here.

Break It Up

If you're just getting started, a shorter workout is a smart idea. This will help you familiarize yourself with the movements and establish a baseline for measuring your progress over time. For this beginner upper-body workout, aim for an energetic 20 to 30 minutes split into five sections with each targeting a different area. Try these moves out in your next session:


On the floor:

Place your knees so your hips are aligned with the ground and your back isn't arched. Once you're stabilized, lean forward with your hands in line with your shoulders. Complete ten pushups, or as many as you can in 2 minutes including rests. You can also vary this movement with wider arm placements to work a different part of the chest or keep your elbows at your sides to engage the triceps.

On the wall (2.5 minutes):

If you find pushups on the floor too challenging, or can't hold your form, this slightly less intense section of the workout will take the pressure off your wrists and make this exercise a little easier. Stand with your toes about six inches from the wall and ensure that your shoulders are in line with your hands as you perform the pushups against the wall.

Triceps Dips

Challenge these hard-to-reach muscles with just two moves.

Triceps dips (2.5 minutes):

Sitting on a bench or chair, position your hands on either side of your hips about shoulder-width apart. Slide your glutes off the front of the bench while keeping your legs stretched in front of you. Bend your arms at the elbow and dip your butt toward the floor while keeping your core engaged. Straighten and repeat 10–12 reps.

Triceps pulldowns (2.5 minutes):

Find a cable tower in your gym and grip each handle. Keep your palms facing upward with shoulder-width spacing in between them as you stand upright with the middle of your body straight and your core engaged. Keep your elbows in close and your arms bent. Straighten your arms, pulling the handles or bar down toward your thighs and then return to the starting position.

Shoulder Press

Fire up those shoulder muscles! Hold a dumbbell in each hand with an overhand grip. Then, bend your elbows and bring your hands up to shoulder height, keeping your elbows at 90 degrees.

With control and keeping the path of the dumbbells as straight as possible, push them up over your head so you finish with your biceps next to your ears. Pause and return to the start position. Engage your core throughout the movement and keep your spine neutral.

Dumbbell Row

Did you know that you can work your biceps, abs, and shoulders with the help of dumbbell rows?

With a dumbbell in each hand, stand with your legs about shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent. Then, bend your torso forward, keeping your arms outstretched in front of you with the dumbbells. Pull the dumbbells up toward your waist, bring them back down, and repeat.

Biceps Curl

Using dumbbells and the biceps curl machine, these moves can strengthen your arms.

Basic biceps curls with dumbbells (2.5 minutes):

Stand up straight and choose a moderate-to-heavy dumbbell set to perform a hammer curl. Keeping your elbows against your torso, with palms facing toward you, exhale and curl the weights toward your shoulders as you contract your biceps.

Biceps curl machine (2.5 minutes):

Adjust your seat height for comfort and choose a moderate-to-heavy weight. Grip the handles and push against the arm pads. Flex your elbow as you pull your lower arm to your upper arm, hold, then slowly return to the starting position without dropping the weight and repeat.

Cool Down

Ask a trainer to walk you through an appropriate cool down for your upper body. It's important to give your muscles recovery time before your next gym session to reduce aches, and a cool down can help you transition comfortably out of another successful workout!

As always, please consult with a physician prior to beginning any exercise program. See full medical disclaimer here.