Regular resistance training, with machines or free weights, can help you build an impressive and powerful upper body. Provided that you choose the right exercises and train with an appropriate volume of work, working out just three days a week will provide your muscles with the stimulation they need to adapt and grow.
The back is a relatively large and complex group of muscles. In order to effectively train each section of your back, you need to perform a variety of exercises. Chinups are a fundamental exercise for developing the upper and middle back. However, the movement requires a certain amount of initial strength and can be replaced with lat pull-downs if you are a novice. Use dead lifts and hyper-extensions to work your lower back; select a light weight if you are just starting out on a resistance-training program. For each exercise, perform three or four sets of eight to 12 reps.
Your shoulders can be divided into two basic muscle groups: the deltoids and the trapezius. The deltoids of each shoulder are a three-headed muscle and need to be worked from a variety of angles. Front lateral raises work the front deltoids, lateral raises work the side deltoids, and bent-over lateral raises work the rear deltoids. To work your trapezius, choose either shrugs or narrow-grip upright rows at each workout. Perform three or four sets of eight to 12 reps for each exercise.
Your biceps, triceps, and forearm flexors and extensors, make up the major muscles of your arms. Build your biceps with barbell and dumbbell curls, develop your triceps with dips and push-downs, and train your forearms with wrist curls and reverse wrist curls. Your arm are a relatively small muscle group and you only need to perform around of two three sets for each sub-section. For biceps and triceps, aim for eight to 12 reps per set. For forearms, work within a slightly higher rep range of 15 to 20 reps.
Bench press is the primary mass building exercise of the chest. The movement can be performed with either dumbbells or a barbell. Machines that replicate the exercise also exist. You can modify the exercise to target different areas of the chest. A wide grip will work your outer chest, whereas a narrow grip will concentrate the work onto your inner chest. Performing the movement at an incline allows you to focus on your upper chest, and performing the movement at a decline heavily recruits the lower chest. You can also train your chest with dumbbell and pec-dec flies, which are useful exercises for isolating the muscle group. Perform three or four sets of eight to 12 reps for each exercise.
The American College of Sports Medicine suggests working each major muscle groups two or three times a week. If three times a week is your goal, choose three non-consecutive days to give your muscles a chance to recover. Perform at least one exercise that targets each muscle group in your upper body during each workout. To keep your workouts from getting stale, select a different exercise for each workout. For example, you can do dumbbell flies on Monday, bench presses on Wednesday and pec-dec flies on Friday to target your chest muscles.