The upper body is hard to hit without weights. It can seem as though there’s a limited supply of home-friendly exercises that challenge you enough to make some fitness progress. We often end up doing the same ones over and over again.
This list is made up of the most effective upper body exercises you can do. That means, they target multiple muscle groups, have different variations, and are accessible. Hopefully, there’s also a few you might not have tried before.
Inverted body row
In the gym, you’d use a barbell on a rack. At home, you can swap this out for the underside of a table or chair.
The inverted body row is an excellent exercise for the muscles in your back. If you use an underhand grip instead of an overhand one, you can increase the focus on the biceps. Both are useful for improving core strength too.
If you’re not quite ready for an inverted row yet, you can try doing a more vertical one in your door frame first.
1. Grasp the bar or edge of the table with an overhand grip at shoulder level
2. Position yourself under the bar and extend your legs out
3. Row yourself towards the bar until your chest touches it
4. Lower back down under control
If there’s an article about upper body exercises, this one will always feature in it. The push-up is notoriously one of the best compound movements you can do. It recruits so many muscles in the body and has lots of different variations to offer a challenge, that there’s little reason not to include it.
The push-up targets the chest and also works the shoulders, arms, and core.
Beginners can do wall push-ups, knee push-ups, and eccentric only push-ups. Intermediates can do the full bodyweight push up. And those looking for an advanced alternative can try a single arm push up, a decline push up, or a pike push up.
You probably use the lat pulldown to target those big triangular-shaped muscles in your back in the gym. They’re a little harder to hit at home, but the dumbbell pullover is an effective exercise to do the job.
It’s also pretty versatile, meaning any heavy object you can hold with both hands can be used to do it.
1. Lie on the floor or a bench with your feet flat on the ground
2. Hold your weight directly out above you, extending the arms
3. Bring the weight down over your head towards the floor keeping the arms straight (maintain a slight bend in the elbow), by retracting the shoulders
4. Pause at the bottom and return to the top under control
Chest press to fly
This is really two exercises in one. The chest press part is a well-known movement but adding a fly to the end forms a two-phased rep that will fatigue the chest muscles even further.
This is helpful if you don’t have any heavy weights at home and struggle to find something that challenges you.
Dips are easily progressed and regressed, require little equipment, and are champions at engaging many different muscle groups. They’ve rightly earned themselves a place in your upper body routine.
Beginners can do a bent leg version. Intermediates can do a straight leg version. Either way, it’s an exercise that focuses on the triceps and works the back of your shoulders and chest. Your core is needed to stabilise your body throughout the movement too.
1. Start with your back towards the chair or bench
2. Grasp the edge of your bench so that your fingers are pointing towards your body
3. Extend your legs out in front of you
4. Start with only a slight bend in the elbow, arms mostly straight
5. Lower yourself down by bending at the elbow
6. Push back up using the triceps to the starting position
Kneeling overhead press
The exercise is great for at-home workouts because it can be done with a dumbbell, a band, or just something heavy. Whatever you have available to you.
By working one side at a time, you can focus on increasing the intensity and building endurance in the muscle.