People love showing off their upper-body gains — just check out #FlexFriday on Instagram if you need proof.
But upper-body workouts aren't just about your mirror muscles. "A strong upper body is essential for everything from good posture and daily activities like putting the groceries away, to injury prevention and more," says Allen Conrad, DC, CSCS, owner of Montgomery County Chiropractic Center in North Wales, Pennsylvania.
Developing that upper-body strength (and, OK, looking good, too) takes more than a bunch of biceps curls and calling it a day. You'll need to pick the best exercises and create a strategic plan for doing your reps regularly and knowing when to up the intensity.
That's why we've called in the experts to break down each part of what's about to be your new-and-improved upper-body workout.
Why a Strong Upper Body Is So Important
Think about all the things you do in a typical day that require strength and support from your arms, shoulders, chest and back: picking up your kid, carrying a heavy box to the attic, grabbing dishes from a high shelf, pushing yourself up out of bed or opening that stubborn jar of salsa, to name a few.
Building the muscles in your upper body ensures that you can do all those things (and countless others) with ease and lessens your chances of discomfort while doing them.
Learn more about all the amazing benefits of a strong upper body (besides flexing).
Chest Workouts to Make Your Pecs Pop
The two main muscles of your chest, the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor, help in pushing or pressing motions and work to bring your arms together (free hug, anyone?).
No contest: The best exercises for your chest are the bench press and the push-up. And you can use them interchangeably, according to a September 2019 study published in Sports Medicine International Open — as long as you're maintaining good form.
Master these chest exercises for a chiseled upper body.
Back Workouts That Help Prevent Pain
You'll need to balance out all that work on your chest with back exercises. Otherwise, you risk setting yourself up for muscular imbalances and pain. (And becoming part of the 80 percent of Americans who experience back pain in their lives, according to the American Chiropractic Association.)
For example, tight chest muscles and weak upper-back muscles can lead to a hunched-over posture known as upper crossed syndrome, according to an April 2019 study in the Indian Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
The solution is stretching your chest and strengthening your back — and a good place to start is with plenty of rows.
Learn the best row variations and other powerful exercises to build a strong back.
Shoulder Workouts to Stabilize Your Upper Body
To build enviable shoulder definition, you'll need to bulk up your deltoid muscles, which form caps over your shoulder joints.
But to keep your upper-body stable and stop your shoulders from aching, you also need to know what's going on under the surface. Your shoulder joint is where the bones of your upper arm, shoulder blade and collarbone meet, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, and those are all held in place by the muscles of your rotator cuff.
The fastest way to strengthen the whole shebang is to lift heavy dumbbells, while always paying close attention to your form.
Sculpt strong shoulders with these exercises.
Arm Workouts That Make Your Guns Look Good
Your arms don't actually need too much special attention, even if tickets to the gun show are at the top of your wishlist.
"I think the biggest myth about arm training is that they need their own separate training day," says Matt Towers, founder of The Foundation - Personal Training Solutions.
That's because your biceps and triceps work plenty hard during other upper-body exercises. A standalone session of biceps curls and triceps kickbacks isn't as effective as an overall upper-body workout with a few of these so-called isolation exercises in the mix.
Pick the right arm exercises for your upper-body routine.
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- Sports Medicine International Open: "Comparison of Kinematics and Muscle Activation between Push-up and Bench Press"
- Indian Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine: "Prevalence of Upper Cross Syndrome in Laundry Workers"
- American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons: "Shoulder Pain and Common Shoulder Problems"
- American Chiropractic Association: "Back Pain Facts and Statistics"