Keen to work out your upper body without needing any additional weights or equipment? Then these upper body bodyweight exercises could be just what you need! We have upper body ideas for beginners and more advanced exercisers, so either jump to the section you need below, or read on for more:
Bodyweight exercises are movements that help build strength and fitness, without the need for additional weights. In many cases, they don’t need any other equipment at all. These exercises focus on simply using the weight of your own body to challenge your muscles, so are easy to do wherever you are, whether that’s at home, on your lunch break or at the gym.
Yes, absolutely. Many of the best bodyweight workouts include exercises that target the whole body, so you’ll be able to see results in your arms, back and chest with these movements. If you’re aiming to bulk up these upper body areas, we’d generally recommend incorporating some additional weight as you progress, using dumbbells, kettlebells or weighted plates. However, this isn’t always possible, so if you need to keep your upper body bodyweight exercises completely equipment-free, then it’s worth building in more reps, extending the duration of each movement (particularly the moment of higher tension) or trying more challenging variations of each exercise.
An excellent all-round exercise, planks will boost your arm, back, chest, shoulder and upper body strength whilst also targeting your core and glutes. Check out more variations of planks here.
2. Up Down Planks
Once you’re comfortable with a regular plank, you can start to introduce Up Down Planks. They’ll add an extra boost to your plank by including some dynamic movement, while also helping to strengthen your back, improve your posture and work your core.
3. Incline push ups
If a classic push up is a little too much of a challenge then incline push ups are an easier starting point, still providing an effective upper body and core workout. By raising the upper body off the ground, some of the pressure is taken off your arms and shoulders, with plenty of emphasis on the chest area. You can perform these on an exercise bench or box, but the arm of a sofa will also work perfectly. One of our favourite options is using stairs, as you can drop a step over time as you become stronger, slowly working your way to a regular floor-based push up. This guide will teach you more about how to master your first push up.
4. Bird dog holds
Excellent for relieving lower back pain and strengthening your back muscles, bird dog holds are great for improving posture and flexibility. These will also help to boost your core and glutes.
5. Prone I, Y, T
Another fantastic exercise for improving posture - by targeting the lower and mid back and the muscles around your spine - Prone I, Y and T can help tackle back pain by engaging and strengthening a range of critical muscles.
1. Pike push ups
Perfect for increasing shoulder strength and improving core stability, you should feel these working your shoulders, arms, chest back and core.
2. Chin ups
It makes sense to look at chin-ups essentially as reverse push-ups. Not only do they work just about every muscle in the body, they specifically target the opposing set of muscles to those most worked by push ups. Chin ups will work the biceps and lats amazingly well, while secondarily stressing the core and deltoids, and creating the kind of full-body tension that packs on muscle all over your frame. You’ll need a basic level of equipment, such as a climbing frame or sturdy doorframe.
This full body movement is excellent for building strength and boosting cardio, working your arms, back, chest, core, legs and glutes. It’s a high energy movement (great for adding in as a HIIT movement) that will also help to burn fat and tone up. Learn more variations to mix up your burpees here.
4. Clapping push ups
Another advanced variation of a push up, with an extra challenge to burn more energy, clapping push ups include rapid, explosive movements that are perfect for targeting your chest, triceps and shoulders.
5. Mountain Climbers
This compound movement is another great full body movement that’s particularly effective for strengthening your upper body, with plenty of work for your core and legs too. Expect to feel this around your arms, back and shoulders in particular. Including this movement in your upper body bodyweight workouts will also help to boost your balance, agility and coordination. Learn more with our How to do Mountain Climbers guide.
If you’re looking for a HIIT workout focusing on bodyweight exercises for the upper body, consider including a range of movements we’ve discussed in this article with a high intensity option at the end.
Learn more about the best HIIT workout for you here.
Whether you’re working out at home or in the gym, you can also download the free PureGym app and create a customised training plan for your fitness goals. Alternatively, get involved with our on-demand classes and workouts.
Still not sure where to begin? Our Starting at the Gym hub has plenty of ideas for workouts to try. Or you could consider booking a session with a dedicated Personal Trainer at PureGym - they’re able to offer a wealth of advice and fitness plans.