If you’re after an upper body workout that’ll help you add mass and appreciable gains in your physique, this workout is it. One great option for those who are looking to really take their progress to the next level with their program is to focus on doing an upper/lower split plan, which allows for a higher frequency of training.
When it comes to making great gains from your workout sessions, you want two things: intensity and volume. Frequency is a measure of volume and when you’re trying to boost volume, it’s often the easier one to adjust.
As you probably already know, you simply can’t stay in the gym forever doing set after set after set, so eventually the volume per workout is going to be limited. At that point, it’s simply easier to move into a higher frequency plan instead.
In order to build the best well-rounded upper body workout, you’ll want to ensure that you have exercises in place that focus on a horizontal pulling motion, a horizontal pushing motion, a vertical pushing motion, a vertical pulling motion, and then some additional isolation exercises to help your arm muscles grow.
Let’s get started.
Exercise 1: Weighted Dips (Progressive Eccentric)
The first exercise you’ll be doing are weighted dips, which are going to focus on the lower chest as well as the triceps and on this one, you’ll be working on maximizing the progressive eccentric portion of the exercise. This means that you’ll be focusing on going down over a two count but still focusing on lifting heavier weight. This is the phase of the movement that many people often overlook but one that can really help you see impressive progress.
In order to ensure progress on this movement, you’ll follow this progression scheme.
Week 1 – 2 sets of 8 reps
Week 2 – 2 sets of 10 reps (at the same weight)
Week 3 – 2 sets of 8 reps at 5-10 pounds heavier than week 1
Week 4 – 2 sets of 10 reps at 5-10 pounds heavier than week 3
Exercise 2: Wide Grip Pull-Up
The next exercise is a definite must in any upper body workout program. It’s compound, it’s challenging, and it’s something that is easily scalable to your own strength level. If you aren’t able to do 8-10 bodyweight pull-ups, start focusing on just lifting your own weight.
If you can lift your own body no problem, then it’s time to start adding more weight.
The pull-up is going to target the lats, biceps, and back, promoting great strength and size gains. If you want to work your biceps to a larger degree, the best way to do that is with a wide grip, parallel grip hand position.
On this exercise, we’ll add one more unique twist at the end to further challenge your body and maximize you’re results – the static hold. On the very last rep you do, you’ll hold that lifted position for at least a few seconds and then very slowly, lower yourself down in a controlled manner. The idea here is to keep constant tension on the muscles and really bring them to that point of higher fatigue.
To keep progression coming, use the same rep and weight scheme as what was noted above for the first exercise.
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Exercise 3: Barbell Overhead Press
This exercise is going to be great for hitting the anterior and lateral deltoids, both of which are critical in building an impressive physique. While so many guys put a lot of emphasis on building up their chest muscles, the shoulders are what give you that broad frame and can help you achieve a slimmer waist, so if you’re really focused on aesthetics, what you want to concentrate on.
You’ll again be using a progressive eccentric pattern on this exercise, pressing up and then lowering down over a 2-3 second count. You’ll do this while increasing the total weight you are using over your sets, which will help with ensuring you are constantly getting stronger and building muscle mass.
When doing the barbell overhead press, you also want to make sure you keep your core tight. Pushing a great amount of weight over your head when your back is not strong and properly aligned is a recipe for low back pain and you will end up injured eventually.
Likewise, make sure that you are pressing the weight directly above your head, not behind or not in front. It can help to tilt your head back slightly and shifting your chest up, which will get you in the right pattern of movement.
If you’ve never trained like this before, it may feel slightly awkward but once you get used to this movement pattern, you’ll definitely find that you are stronger and feeling better while doing this exercise.
Many guys think they’re doing this exercise correctly when they’re really not. Have someone film you doing it so you can see for yourself exactly how you’re positioned. It may just be an eye opener.
Use the same rep and weight scheme as above, focusing on keeping that tempo as noted.
Exercise 4: Seated Row With Different Grips
On the next exercise for this upper body workout you’ll be doing a seated row and utilizing two different hand grip positions to target the back from different angles and promote maximum growth.
On the first exercise, you’ll use a closer grip with the hands inside the shoulders and you’ll think of squeezing from your lats. Your mind-muscle connection when training back is everything as it’s easy to let any muscle take over the movement but you really want to target in on specifics while doing this movement.
On this set, you’ll use my balloon method drop set, so you’ll do 8-10 reps on the exercise until near fatigue and then immediately drop the weight by 30% and do another set of the same until near fatigue.
Rest for about 90-120 seconds and then after that, do a wider grip and focus on using your traps to guide the movement.
You’ll do the same set and rep scheme as noted above but this time, integrate the drop sets into it (so that will count as your two sets).
Exercise 5: Dumbbell Curls Supersetted with Tricep Lying Skull Crushers
Now we’ll move into some arm work in this upper body workout. You’ll be doing dumbbell supinated curls but focus on putting your pinky finger in the middle of the dumbbell. By shifting the hand position on the weight like this, you’ll be ensuring that you’re targeting the bicep peak and target the forearm to a slightly less degree. As you lift the weight, think of squeezing that pinky finger around the dumbbell and turning the weight into the body. Keep the tempo slow and steady for 8-10 reps and then for the next exercise, you’ll do dumbbell lying skull crushers.
Keep the hands slightly angled back to keep the long head engaged and lower down slowly over a two count to ensure maximum tension is placed on the muscle. You may need to drop the weight slightly for this second exercise in the superset since you’ll be in a fatigued state, but that’ll be fine.
Exercise 6: Chest Cable Fly Machine
Next up you’ll do the chest cable fly machine, which you can adapt to target whichever area of your chest you’re weakest in. Do a low cable fly if you feel your upper chest is lagging or high cable fly if you feel your lower chest needs work. If your middle chest is the trouble spot, placing the cables in the middle will be ideal.
You’ll do a T30 set, meaning 30 seconds time under tension and you’ll really want to focus on the mind-muscle contraction, using a lighter weight while you do this exercise. You are not aiming to go heavy here but to feel the muscle pump developing as the set progresses on.
For the progression scheme on this one, you’ll want to do:
Week 1: 30 seconds time under tension
Week 2: 35 seconds time under tension
Week 3: 30 seconds time under tension with added weight
Week 4: 35 seconds time under tension with added weight
You are to use the same weight on week three and four and let the additional 5 seconds time under tension be your progression scheme.
Exercise 7: Rear Delt Cable Fly
Finally, we’ll finish the workout with some rear delt work, which so many guys are weak at. Most focus on their front and anterior delts and completely neglect their rear delts.
For the rear delt cable fly, you’ll want to focus on starting the contraction with the rear delts, putting your other muscles to sleep so that they’re the only ones creating the movement pattern. Note that the deeper you cross your arms in to start, the more stress you’ll place on those rear delts and the more you’ll get those muscles popping.
If you’re able to feel the mind-muscle connection on this exercise well, consider moving to a rear delt fly machine, which will give you a similar effect as the cables will.
You’ll aim for a T30 protocol, doing the exercise for a total time under tension of 30 seconds and do two sets per session, resting 60 seconds between sets.
You’ll use the same time under tension protocol as you did in the chest cable fly machine.
So there you have all the exercises that go into making a great upper body workout routine. Do these and hit that upper body hard at least twice per week and soon you’ll be seeing noticeable improvements in your physique.
Check out our best workouts for more routines to help you make gains from your workout sessions.
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