If crafting the perfect upper body were simple, we’d all be walking around with rockstar guns, and performing everyday feats of strength (like getting that couch out of the moving truck) would be a nonissue. But push-ups are hard. And pull-ups are even harder. And that can be discouraging when so many upper-body workout routines include both of those moves. Luckily, they’re not the only upper-body exercises you can do to get defined arms and a built back. By incorporating other upper-body exercises into your routine, you can work even more muscle groups to create the best upper-body workout yet.
How do you build upper-body strength?
Push-ups and pull-ups are highly functional exercises to help you build upper-body strength, and they certainly can have their place in any upper-body workout routine. But if you’re not very good at them, there are plenty of other exercises that can help you build strength and size. Even if you’re a fan, you should still round out your routine with a variety of upper-body exercises to keep challenging your body.
Plus, if you want to build muscle definition or size, you can’t discount the value of doing an upper-body workout with dumbbells. Although bodyweight exercises are an excellent way to build muscle, adding weight to your routine allows you to challenge your muscles in new ways.
To build bigger, stronger muscles (upper body or otherwise), here are some things you should keep in mind:
Keep challenging your muscles. You can do this by adding more weight, doing more reps, or reducing rest periods between sets. You don’t need to change a lot every single work out — even minor tweaks can help keep your muscles progressing. Do more sets. Instead of going as hard as you can for just one set, research has found that lifters who performed three to five sets saw more strength gains, muscle endurance, and hypertrophy than those who just did one set per exercise. Eat right. Protein is essential when it comes to building muscle. Make sure you’re eating enough and that you’re eating it at the right time (hint: try after you exercise). Beachbody Performance Recover offers 20 grams of high-quality protein to help your muscles grow and repair after a challenging workout.
Get even more tips on how to build muscle in this guide.
9 of the Best Exercises for Your Next Upper-Body Workout
This list of upper-body exercises will help you build the upper body you’ve always wanted. Plus, you can do them from the comfort of your own home — all you need for this upper-body dumbbell workout are dumbbells (or resistance bands) and a bench or stability ball.
1. Bent-over row
Appears in: The 20’s – Rachel – I Do: Strength
Benefits: “No one can ever do enough rows,” says Tony Gentilcore, C.S.C.S, owner of CORE gym in Boston. By offsetting many of the postural issues associated with sitting hunched over a computer all day, rows can help eliminate back pain and correct your posture, giving your entire body a visual lift, he says.
Stand tall, holding a set of dumbbells at your sides, with your palms facing your body. (You can also use a resistance band: Loop the band around each foot. Hold the left handle in your right hand and the right handle in your left hand so that that the band forms an “X.”) Keeping your back flat, core braced, and knees slightly bent, bend at the waist so that your back is just above parallel with the floor. Your arms should hang toward the floor. Row the dumbbells to the sides of your ribs, squeezing your shoulder blades together at the top of the movement. Pause, then slowly lower your arms back down, and repeat. 2. Arnold press
Appears in: Clean Week – Strength
Benefits: “Arnold Schwarzenegger was smart in the gym, and this exercise remains a weight room favorite after decades,” says Kourtney Thomas, C.S.C.S. Why? Because it hits all three sections of the deltoid muscle at one time: the anterior (front), medial (side), and posterior (rear).
Hold two dumbbells in front of your chest with your palms facing toward your body, keeping your elbows close to your body. This is your starting position. Press the dumbbells up above your head, rotating your palms out so that when you reach the overhead position, they face away from your body. Reverse the motion to lower the dumbbells back down, corkscrewing your hands so your palms end facing your body, and repeat.
Tip: You can perform this exercise seated or standing. “Seated, you’ll be able to press a little more weight,” Thomas says. “Standing, you’ll get more core engagement because you’re being forced to stabilize your entire body throughout the move.”
3. Dumbbell bench press
Appears in: The Master’s Hammer and Chisel – Max Hammer Strength
Benefits: For those who struggle with push-ups, the bench press allows you to train the pecs, triceps, and shoulders in a different way. For push-up masters, the bench press allows you to use more than just your body weight to work these muscles, which is vital to adding significant strength or definition, Gentilcore explains.
Lay with your back on a flat bench, holding a dumbbell in each hand directly above your chest. Raise your arms straight above your chest, palms facing forward. Bend your elbows to lower the dumbbells until your upper arms are parallel with the floor. Pause, then press up and slightly in so that you end with your arms fully extended, and repeat. 4. Pullover
Appears in: The Master’s Hammer and Chisel – Total Body Chisel
Benefits: This move might look simple, but there’s actually a lot going on — specifically when it comes to building your lats and pecs, Thomas says. Bonus: You’ll feel your core fire up with every rep, too.
Lay with your back on a flat bench, holding a set of dumbbells. With your feet planted on the ground and your core engaged, extend your arms to the sky, holding the dumbbells together above your chest. With a slight bend in your elbows, slowly lower your arms overhead until your biceps reach your ears. Slowly bring your arms back to above your chest and repeat.
Tip: You might be tempted to drop the dumbbells overhead by arching the back and lifting the ribs, Thomas says. Avoid this by keeping your core engaged throughout the exercise.
5. Dumbbell rear-delt fly
Appears in: Clean Week – Strength
Benefits: Speaking of the delts, the posterior delt (aka rear delt) is sorely undertrained — this is one reason shoulder injuries are so common. If you only train the section of the delts you can see head-on, you’ll alter the shoulder positioning. This limits certain movements and causes the joint to work inefficiently.
Stand tall, holding a set of dumbbells down at your sides. Keeping your back flat, push your hips back to hinge forward and lower your chest until it is almost parallel with the ground. Allow the weights to hang straight down at arm’s length, palms facing each other. Maintaining a slight bend in your elbows and keeping your back flat, lift the dumbbells to the side by squeezing the shoulder blades together. Stop when the dumbbells are in line with your body. Pause, then slowly lower the dumbbells back to start, and repeat.
Tip: Be careful not to use momentum to help you raise the dumbbells. Perform each rep slowly and with control. Imagine squeezing an orange between your shoulder blades each time you lift the bells.
6. Standing bicep curl
Appears in: SHIFT SHOP – Strength: 25
Benefits: Apart from building the biceps — everyone’s favorite vanity muscle — biceps curls are actually excellent for promoting shoulder stability, Gentilcore says. The trick is to focus on keeping your shoulders stationary with very rep.
Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding two dumbbells at your sides, palms facing away from your body. Keeping your back straight and your elbows locked at your sides, slowly curl the weights as close to your shoulders as possible. Slowly lower back to start and repeat.
Tip: Fight the “ego lifting” urge. Choose weights that you can lift by only bending your elbow, not allowing any movement elsewhere in your body. If your shoulders move, elbows flare, or torso leans, or you find yourself bouncing, you need to go down in weights. You can also perform this exercise by holding onto and standing on a resistance band.
7. Skull crusher press
Appears in: INSANITY: The Asylum Vol. 1 – Strength
Benefits: Biceps may get most of the glory when it comes to arm muscles, but the triceps can be equally impressive when you build them up. Not only does this move help you build triceps that will pop, but the press action also activates the shoulders.
Stand holding a single dumbbell with both hands by the weighted ends at shoulder height, with your elbows tucked. Press the weight straight overhead. Without moving your upper arms, lower the weight behind your head. Reverse the movements to return to the starting position, and repeat.
Tip: You might be surprised how light of a weight you need to perform this exercise. Start with lighter weights to maintain proper form, and add weight as you become more experienced with the move.
8. Seated overhead tricep extension
Seated at the end of a bench, hold one end of the dumbbell with both hands behind your head, arms bent at 90 degrees. Keeping your back flat and your elbows tucked, slowly push the weight up, stopping just short of full extension. Pause, and then lower the weight slowly back down, and repeat.
Tip: Keep your torso straight throughout the movement and resist the urge to lean forward. You can also perform this move standing, which will require greater use of your core for added stability.
9. Floor chest fly
Appears in: P90X3 – Incinerator
Benefits: This move targets the chest muscles in ways other exercises like push-ups and bench presses can’t, Thomas says. And you don’t even need a bench — just a set of dumbbells!
Lay with your back on the floor, your knees bent and your feet flat, holding a pair of dumbbells directly over your chest with your palms facing each other. Allow a slight bend in your elbows. Slowly lower the dumbbells out to your sides, creating a wide arc with your arms until your upper arms lightly touch the floor. Pause, then slowly reverse the movement to return to the top, and repeat.
13 Things You Need to Know Before Starting a Weightlifting Program
Weightlifting is straightforward in theory (you just, erm…lift weights, right?). But it’s a bit more complicated in practice. As a beginner to weightlifting, it’s confusing (not to mention intimidating) to figure out which muscles to target, how much to lift, and how often to work out. How are you supposed to know where to even begin with finding a good weightlifting program?
Although it might seem daunting at first, the benefits of lifting weights far outweigh any hurdles you might have to getting started. William P. Kelley, C.S.C.S, ATC, says some major benefits of weightlifting include improved strength, bone density, and heart health. Studies even suggest that it can help keep your brain sharp, as well as increase energy levels and decrease stress.
Trevor Thieme, C.S.C.S., Beachbody’s senior manager of fitness and nutrition content, notes that lifting weights is also an effective way to lose weight: “Weightlifting can help you lose fat faster than steady state cardio because it keeps your metabolism elevated for longer post workout,” he explains. “The result is that it helps you burn more total calories.”
But before you get to enjoy all the benefits of lifting weights, you first have to get started. The first step? Creating smart goals.
What Are Your Weightlifting Goals?
“Goal-setting is critical to guiding your weightlifting path,” Kelley says. Before you even choose a weightlifting program, consider what you want to get out of it. Are you training for a specific event, for general health, or with aesthetics in mind? Do you want to lose weight, build strength, pack on muscle, or achieve a combination of any or all three of those goals?
“Each objective requires a different strategy, and by identifying your goal or goals, you can identify the most effective training program to achieve it,” Thieme says. The tips below will help you do that.
If you need some extra guidance to help you get started, check out Beachbody On Demand’s weightlifting programs, like Body Beast (which focuses on muscle building) and A Week of Hard Labor (an intense, five-day weightlifting routine). Both programs can help you achieve the lean, muscular physique you’ve always dreamed of building. (See the results for yourself!)
13 Common Questions About Starting a Weightlifting Program
These 13 questions and answers will give you the information you need to start lifting weights, including basic training tips and mistakes to avoid.
1. What equipment do I need for a weightlifting program?
If you’re starting an at-home weightlifting program, dumbbells are a necessity — but having just a single pair may not cut it.
Thieme says you need different weights to effectively challenge different muscle groups. Your legs should be able to handle heavier weights than your triceps, for example. That’s why he recommends investing in a pair of selectorized (AKA adjustable) dumbbells (like this set of Bowflex dumbbells). “A single pair of dumbbells can replace an entire dumbbell rack, saving you hundreds of dollars—not to mention lots of floor space,” he says.
A bench is another useful piece of equipment for developing overall strength and power, Kelly says, although you could get by without one if you’re short on space.
2. How much weight should I lift?
“You should always lift the heaviest amount of weight that allows you to complete all of your reps and sets for all of the exercises in your workout,” Thieme says.
If you can’t maintain proper form for the last several reps of an exercise, go lighter. If you can breeze through your reps with the last few feeling as comfortable as the first few, go heavier. The key to achieving muscle growth is to find your sweet spot, which in this case means a weight that challenges you without forcing you to sacrifice good form.
3. How many reps and sets should I do for each weightlifting exercise?
First, consider your weightlifting goals. “If you want increased strength, you should do from two to six reps per set. For hypertrophy [muscle growth] do eight to 12 reps. And for endurance, do 15 to 20 reps,” Kelley says.
As for sets, Thieme says it’s important to do multiple sets of each exercise, no matter your goal. Three sets per exercise is generally a good number, but don’t lock yourself into that. As long as you’re doing at least two and not more than five or six, you’re good. And if you want to increase your strength, build bigger muscles, and improve your muscular endurance, regularly vary the number of reps and sets you do.
“Optimal muscle growth occurs when you target both of the major muscle fiber types—I and II—and the best way achieve that is by lifting across the entire rep spectrum,” says Thieme. “Incorporate both heavy weight/low rep sets and light weight/high rep sets in your training program.”
4. Should I focus on one or two body parts a day, or do full-body workouts every time?
Both are effective strategies for packing on muscle. “The key is to work each body part or muscle group at least twice a week,” says Thieme, who suggests alternating between the two training strategies. “Do split training for two or three months, and then do total body training for two or three months.”
Your schedule is also a determining factor, Kelley notes. “If you can only work out two to three times per week, then a total body lifting program may be more efficient,” he says.
5. How many days per week should I lift weights?
How often you lift weights comes down to your goals and schedule as well, Kelley says. (Doe we sound like a broken record yet?)
“The ratio of exercise to recovery days that maximizes results and minimizes injury and overtraining risks depends largely on your current fitness level and the type, intensity, and duration of your workouts,” Thieme says. He recommends lifting a minimum of two days a week a maximum of six days.
6. Do I need to take rest days during a weightlifting program?
Yes! Giving yourself a day off from training is crucial to your weightlifting success. “Lifting days are where you [purposefully] damage muscle tissue,” Kelley says, while “rest/recovery days are when muscles repair and rebuild.” Both days are needed to become stronger.
If you don’t give yourself sufficient recovery time, you’ll sabotage your workout performance and hinder your results. “Training adaptations don’t happen during workouts, they happen between them, making recovery days just as important as training days,” says Thieme. “What people often forget is that, when it comes to exercise, more isn’t always better. You have to give your body the time it needs to respond to the training stimulus that each workout provides.”
How often you should take a recovery day depends on your fitness level, primary exercise type and intensity, age, and sleep habits, but a good rule of thumb is to take one or two rest/recovery days a week.
If you feel energized on your designated rest days, Kelley recommends active recovery activities, which facilitate blood flow to your muscles without overloading them. Yoga and light cardio (e.g., an easy jog, leisurely bike ride, or short hike) are good options. Also, don’t limit warm-up and cool-down activities to warm-ups and cool-downs. Perform dynamic stretching and foam rolling every day, regardless of whether or not you’re working out.
7. How do I avoid a muscle-building plateau?
There are numerous factors that contribute to muscle growth, but the key to achieving consistent gains is to regularly increase the challenge to your muscles, Kelley says. “By increasing the stress on a muscle through a principle called ‘progressive overload,’ you illicit changes in that muscle, including greater size, greater contraction force, and improved motor recruitment,” he explains.
Lifting progressively heavier weights isn’t the only way to do that. “Other ways to achieve progressive overload include decreasing the rest periods between sets, performing more complex exercise variations, and switching up the exercises you do,” says Thieme. “Even changing up your grip (e.g., from underhand to neutral) can increase the challenge to your muscles and trigger fresh growth.”
8. Can I do my weightlifting program and still do cardio and other workouts?
The short answer: yes. But you need to be strategic about it. “If your focus is weightlifting, then you should use cardio as a form of ‘active recovery,'” says Thieme.
If you do a heavy weightlifting session one day, and then go for an easy run the next, you can actually enhance your recovery (and results) from the weightlifting session by boosting blood flow—and the vital nutrient delivery and waste removal services it provides. “But a heavy weightlifting workout followed by a long, hard run or HIIT session the next day can do more harm than good,” says Thieme.
If you don’t allow your body sufficient time to recover between intense workouts, the only thing you’ll achieve is an increased risk of burnout and injury.
9. Will weightlifting make me bulky?
Lifting weights can cause men to become bulky if they focus solely and intensely on bodybuilding or pure strength training, Thieme explains, but this is rarely the case for women. Why? Genetics.
Men typically have a higher percentage of type II muscle fibers, which are bigger and have a higher growth potential than type I fibers. Plus, men produce more testosterone, which is critical for muscle building. “Women do not produce testosterone at high enough levels naturally to get bulky,” Kelley says, even if they’re lifting heavy amounts of weight. That said, a woman can still increase her muscle size through weightlifting if that’s her goal. “Studies also show that while most women can’t build as much muscle as most men, they can achieve similar increases in strength,” says Thieme.
10. How do I make sure I’m lifting with proper form?
Practicing correct weightlifting form is key to preventing injury and getting the results you want. The best way to guarantee good form? “Utilize a fitness professional [like a trainer] until you feel safe and confident in the staple lifts of your program,” Kelley says.
If you’re working out on Beachbody On Demand, pay attention to the trainers as they explain the correct starting stance, movement pattern, and key form points for each exercise, as well as which muscles to engage during the moves. Having a friend observe you can also help you keep your form on point.
11. How long should I follow a weightlifting program?
In general, Kelley recommends maintaining a specific weightlifting program for three to five weeks before you mix it up. “This gives the muscles time to adapt and grow in the current program; then, just as they acclimate, you tweak the program slightly to keep progressing,” he explains.
Perhaps more important than the timeline, however, is paying attention to the way your routine makes you feel. “If you haven’t increased the weight you’re lifting after a few weeks, or if you’ve noticed a significant drop in your motivation, it’s time to switch things up,” Thieme says.
Of course, if you follow a professionally designed program, like you’ll find on Beachbody On Demand, knowing when to switch things up isn’t even a concern. “Such variation is built into the program, eliminating the stress and guesswork for you,” says Thieme.
12. What should I eat before and after a workout to maximize my performance?
Before a weightlifting workout, focus on carbs, which will help top off your energy stores. The key is to choose something that you can digest before you start exercising. A piece of fruit is a good choice if you have 30 minutes or less until you work out. If your workout is still an hour out, our go-to recommendation is a piece of whole grain toast with nut butter.
Post-workout, the most important factor is protein, which can help facilitate muscle growth and speed recovery, Thieme says. Aim for 20 grams of fast-absorbing protein (like whey) within 30 minutes of exercising. A protein supplement such as Beachbody Performance Recover makes that easy.
13. How do I know if my weightlifting program is working?
To get the most accurate and objective measure of progress, Kelley suggests recording your workouts and tracking the numbers. “If you can increase the weight you lift by
YES — You Can Lose Weight Without “Starving”!
The other day, one of my weight-loss clients told me that she’d been “starving” while waiting for lunchtime to come around.
Of course, she didn’t mean that she was literally starving. She was just trying to say she was feeling “especially hungry.”
But I always discourage people I work with from using that word, because — aside from being insensitive to the fact that lots of people really ARE starving — it just creates a terrible mindset for anyone who’s trying to eat purposefully and lose weight.
Whenever you say that you’re starving (even in jest), some part of you begins to panic. And that feeling of panic can lead to bad decisions — like choosing to eat the next thing in sight.
And when the next thing in sight is a bag of chips or a sugary snack — that’s a choice that won’t help you reach your weight-loss goals and probably won’t even alleviate your hunger for long.
So before switching into panic mode, I advise my clients to take a breath — and instead of saying “I’m starving,” — say “I’m okay, I’m just hungry and I need to eat something.”
I always tell them to start by drinking water first (because hunger is very often dehydration in disguise!) and to remind themselves of WHY they’re trying to lose weight.
After that, it takes them just a few extra minutes to think of a healthy, filling option that will satisfy their hunger, nourish their bodies, and still help them reach their weight-loss goals.
Remember, you’re always in control of the food you eat — that’s an amazingly liberating idea!
Learn to eat because you’re hungry — not because you’re “starving” — and you’ll take a giant step down the path to a positive weight loss and mindset.
Be sure to look for my new nutrition program — the 2B Mindset™ — available beginning May 2 on TeamBeachbody.com.
It’s a healthy approach to weight loss that shows you how to coexist with food in real-world situations, outsmart your cravings, and manage setbacks before they even occur.
Best of all, it is designed to help you feel full and satisfied after every meal — so you can lose weight happily and learn to keep it off for good.
Enter your email address below to receive Ilana’s “5 Simple Secrets To Outsmart Overeating,” plus more free weight-loss tips and updates about the 2B Mindset.
Ilana Muhlstein, M.S., R.D.N., created the 2B Mindset as a way to help herself lose 100 pounds — and keep it off — after years of unsuccessful dieting.
After becoming a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, she refined her breakthrough approach to healthy eating into a system simple enough for everyone to learn. To date, hundreds of her private practice clients have successfully lost weight using the same powerful principles she developed for herself.
Today, she’s excited to share those secrets with anyone who wants to lose weight without feeling hungry or deprived — with the 2B Mindset.
Sweet Potato Casserole
Who doesn’t love sweet potato casserole? It’s the dish we all look forward to as we pull up the driveway on Thanksgiving Day (or any day, really!)
But there’s probably a reason Aunt Mary is keeping that family recipe a tightly held secret.
That’s because when you realize the average candy-coated Sweet Potato Casserole likely contains more than one stick of butter, a hefty amount of heavy whipping cream, and who knows how much refined white sugar, you might think twice before digging in.
(We’re not even going to think about those recipes topped with marshmallows.)
The good news: All of these traditional ingredients aren’t necessary to create an amazing Sweet Potato Casserole.
If you’re looking to wow the crowd, keep it simple. This Sweet Potato Casserole recipe from 21 Day Fix creator Autumn Calabrese and her brother, chef Bobby Calabrese, uses a handful of simple ingredients to create a decadent glaze which perfectly accents this naturally sweet vegetable.
Autumn and Bobby run through this simple and delicious recipe while giving important tips along the way.
For example, did you know a great way to cook sweet potatoes evenly in the oven is to keep your dice as close to the same size as possible?
A bit of fresh ginger can give this recipe that extra flavor boost, but if you have fresh ginger go for it; if not, ginger powder works well, too.
While this is a classic holiday side dish that’s ideal for Thanksgiving, it’s also an awesome meal prep dish that you can make any time of year.
As Autumn points out, this dish “tastes like candy,” so it’s a great way to satisfy your sweet tooth all year long.
This will certainly be the easiest sweet potato casserole you’ll ever make!
To get the recipe and find out the Portion Fix Containers and nutritional information, watch the FIXATE episode on Beachbody On Demand!
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