This 20-minute upper body workout uses the best exercises to sculpt sexier, stronger muscles you’ll want to show off all year—including your shoulders, biceps, triceps, and more. (You’ll definitely want to add this to your weekly workout routine!)
Table of contents
The Benefits of Upper Body Strength Training
As we age, our muscle mass and strength naturally begin to decrease. (A real-life example of “Use it or lose it!”) Strength training—also known as resistance training—is a safe, effective method for combating muscle loss and preserving bone density.
Whether you use dumbbells, barbells, or your own body weight, strength training exercises—including lower and upper body workouts—come with an array of health benefits, including improved mental and emotional well-being, and a decreased risk of conditions like arthritis, diabetes, obesity, and back pain.
The good news? There’s no need to reach for the weights every day. The American Heart Association recommends strength training at least twice per week to keep your body stronger, healthier, and less prone to injury.
And here’s the best part: there’s no reason to join a gym, hire a personal trainer, or jump straight to high-intensity workouts—especially if you’re just getting started. Keep it simple! Using free weights or bodyweight exercises is the perfect way to tone and strengthen the major muscle group in your upper body, including your shoulders, back, chest, biceps, and triceps.
Of course, improving your fitness helps in everyday life, too! You push, pull, and lift things all the time. It might be a heavy suitcase or a lighter load of laundry. Maybe you pick up a 20-30 pound child or hold the arm of an elderly person as they navigate their footsteps. Whatever it is you do, a strong upper body is an everyday key to living better.
Upper Body Workout Tips
To get the most out of your upper body workout, it’s helpful to keep the following tips in mind:
- Always warm up and cool down: Start each workout with a brief warm-up, and end with a cool-down for at least five to ten minutes
- Maintain good posture: Keeping proper form during each exercise delivers the best results while helping you avoid injury (it’s not about speed!)
- Rember to breathe: Exhale whenever you lift, push, or pull, and inhale as you release
- Give your muscles a break: Exercise causes tiny tears in the muscles, which need time to heal. (Your muscles grow stronger as they do!) A good rule of thumb is to allow yourself 24 to 72 hours to recover after a workout, depending on its intensity
- Try to Challenge Yourself: Start with lighter weights if you are just starting out. As your workouts start to feel easier, try using heavier weights to give yourself (and your muscles) more of a challenge
Your 20-Minute Beginner Upper Body Workout
Go through each exercise and aim to perform 10-12 repetitions per move. Make sure your weights are heavy enough that you struggle to finish your last couple of reps. The key to building strength is lifting weights that challenge you! (If it’s too easy, try heavier weights.) Once you complete all eight exercises, take at least five minutes to stretch and cool down.
- Jump rope: Optional; You can do air jumping
- Dumbbells: Start light (3-5 lbs) and progress
- Workout mat: For exercises on the floor
Get your heart rate up with this 4-minute warm-up:
- Jogging In Place – 1 minute
- Jumping Jacks – 1 minute
- Fast Upper Cuts – 1 minute
- Jumping Rope In Place – 1 minute
Next, move directly to the exercises below. Once you reach the end of all eight exercises, remember to take at least five minutes to stretch!
8 Exercises, 1 Round
Strengthen and tone your arms, upper chest, back, and shoulder blades. (And improve your core strength, too):
- Begin in a plank position with your shoulders over your wrists, your feet together, and your body in a straight line.
- Keeping your body straight, bend your arms to lower your body toward the floor.
- Straighten your arms to push your body back up into the plank position as you punch your right arm forward. Return your hand to the floor, lower back to the bottom of your push-up, and repeat punching with your left arm. Aim for 12 total push-ups.
Work your upper back and triceps:
- Start with your feet hip-width apart. Engage your abdominals and sit back into a slight squat. Dumbbells start at the sides of the knees.
- Keeping your core engaged, press the dumbbells past your hips and return with control. Avoid swinging the arms or bending the elbows. Try to finish 12 reps.
3. Chest Fly
Work your triceps, chest, and shoulders:
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Hold dumbbells straight up over your chest.
- With a slight bend in the elbow, slowly open your arms wide out to the side. Squeeze your chest as you bring the weights back together at the top. Repeat for 10-12 repetitions.
4. Arnold Press
Strengthen your shoulders, arms, and chest:
- Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding dumbbells at shoulder height. Keep your arms tight to the body and palms facing in.
- Rotate your wrists out and extend your arms overhead, and return to start with control. Try 10-12 reps.
Work your hips, glutes, quads, and biceps:
- Stand with your feet heels in/toes out and slightly wider than your hips. Bend your knees and lower your seat toward the floor. Keep going until your hips are lower than your knees, and keep your spine as vertical as possible.
- Relax your shoulders and keep your feet flat on the floor. (If your heels come off the floor, you likely have tight calves.)
- Anchor elbows to the inside thigh and curl towards your chest working your biceps. Control as you lower back down. Try to complete 10-12 repetitions.
Related: How To Do A Basic Squat
Strengthen your shoulders and upper back:
- Stand in a split stance with your right foot forward and the dumbbell in your left hand. Slightly hinge over from your hip flexors, keeping your abdominals engaged to protect your low back.
- Pull the elbow straight back past your hip (keep arms close to the body—don’t let your elbow wing out.) Engage and squeeze your back muscles, then lower the dumbbell back to start position with control. Perform 12 reps, then repeat with the dumbbells in your right hand.
7. Shoulder T
Work your triceps, shoulders, and upper back:
- Start with your feet together and dumbbells at your sides with palms facing in.
- Engage your abs and lift dumbbells in front of your body to shoulder height. Open arms out to sides, rotating dumbbells parallel to the floor.
- Slowly lower dumbbells down to your sides, then return to the front of the body. Repeat 10-12 times.
Related: 5 Best Shoulder Exercises for Women
Works your arms, chest, shoulders, and abs:
- Begin in a kneeling plank position with arms directly below shoulders and body in a straight line back to knees.
- Lower chest 2 inches from the floor, keeping elbows close to your side. Exhale and slowly push back to starting position. Repeat 10-12 reps.
Now it’s time to stretch! Well done!
My Favorite Workout Leggings:
Upper Body Workout FAQ’s
Yes! A 20-minute upper body workout is enough as long as your routine remains consistent. Working the major muscle group in your upper body for 20 minutes at least twice a week can improve your strength and tone muscles.
When beginning upper body workouts, start slow—go for progress, not perfection. Begin with beginner exercises and work your way up to more advanced workouts. Most importantly, do not try to go too hard too fast! If you are too sore, you may not work out for weeks at a time, which can delay your progress.
Push-ups can be tough, especially if you’re new to working out—but they are effective! They work the chest muscles, shoulders and triceps. Luckily, there are modified versions of push-ups that still allow you to build and strengthen your upper body. Try a modified push-up on your knees, or flip to your back and do a chest fly with dumbbells.
Working your upper body three times a week is fine, as long as you are not overworking your muscles. The key is to allow your body time to recover between each workout (typically 24-72 hours). If you push yourself too hard too often, the muscles don’t have enough time to repair and grow, and your progress starts to slow.
READ THIS NEXT: Top 6 Moves To Prevent Flabby Arms