It’s quite often I get asked this question “What is the best upper body exercise?” Straight away I feel like screaming, grabbing the individual in front of me, and choking him onto the desk. I say him because women tend not to ask questions as stupid as this one. No, they have their own set of stupid questions to ask. Anyway, after I calm down and turn it into a smile, I usually begin to explain the following.
How is it possible for me to pick the best upper body exercise? There’s the Bench press that works the chest, triceps, biceps, and even to some small degree the back. Oh, and it also works the abs. Then there’s of course the pullup, which can do for your back what the squat can do for your legs. A narrow grip pull-up works the biceps, the shoulders, the stomach, and of course the upper back. A wide grip focuses more on the shoulders, the back and lats, and of course biceps. Oh, and all work the stomach to some degree as well. Or we could go to the dip which works the chest, triceps, biceps, and shoulders.
My point here is to look at how many muscles get hit by different exercises. Do we simply want to have a big chest? Big biceps? Or do you want big shoulders, muscular and lean abs, a back that girls want to run their nails down, and a killer chest? I thought so. The idea is to find the best exercises, not the “best exercise.”
The best upper body exercises include:
The bench press, the overhead press, the wide grip and medium grip pullup, the dip, are all great exercises and where you should start. When you first begin training it’s essential that you start with the compound movements. A routine that is based around dips, overhead press, squats, deadlifts, and pullups will get you far. Once you have begun to build a base of muscle and strength you can begin to add new exercises. For example, a routine might look something like this for a beginner.
pullups 3×10 (if pullups are not possible then we’d use kroc rows.)
Bench press 5×5
bent over row 5×5
Overhead press 3×15
bent over row/kroc rows 3×15
After a period of around 8 to 12 weeks, the new athlete will be ready to begin adding other exercises, such as the bicep curl, tricep extensions, etc. After another 3/4 weeks period, it’d be time to change the routine to at least a 4 to 5-day routine splitting the body parts and hitting them harder.
Later on, as we do a more advanced routine in our lives it might look something like this:
Bench press 5×10
dumbbell flies 2×15
kroc rows 2×15
Push-ups to failure.
Or on a leg day
Notice something we’ve kept in here, though? Even as time has gone on and we’ve improved bodybuilders, athletes. We’ve kept the main part of our training as compound movements. About 80% should be compounded with the other 20 being isolation this is what leads to dramatic muscle gains!