Building Upper Body Strength at the Gym

Sure, the legs get noticed… but not nearly to the extent the upper body does. And, if it were a choice between only building upper body strength or leg strength in the gym, most people (if not all) would pick upper body strength. It’s important: powerful shoulders, strong arms, solid chest, and wide back. It all equals power.

There are numerous ways you can go about building your upper body strength, and I’d like to give you the best ways I know how:

Bench Press: It’s the absolute granddaddy of upper body strength, and no one who seeks upper body strength should shirk from the huge benefits the various types of bench pressing can give them. Let’s start with the average bench press. It works the front deltoids, pectorals, triceps, the lats, and the neck. It’s almost as complete frontal upper-body workout all on it’s own. Adding a little variation to the lift through wider or narrower grip also helps to hit the chest or triceps more, respectively.

Upright Rows: The upright rows are one of my favorite exercises to perform, and they provide strength and size benefits to a very important area of the body – the shoulders. They make them wide, by hitting the medial deltoid head. Nobody who wants wide shoulders should exclude upright rows. (Note: Make sure you perform them with a fairly wide grip and bring to the nipple – not the close grip and to the chin as the old method was, because this damages the rotator cuff muscles, flying in the face of building strength!)

Bent Over Rows: Another of my favorite exercises. Bent over rows are the exercise most responsible for creating those impressive and powerful lats (the muscles which are visible from the front under the arms) giving you a tremendous V taper. They also work the posterior (rear) deltoids of the shoulder.

Dead lifts: Dead lifts, like the bench press, are another legendary exercise. Although they use the legs a great deal, they also incorporate the lower back in the upper portion of the movement, not to mention the traps.

Barbell Bicep Curls: Although not always necessary due to the sufficient amount of bicep work you’ll gain indirectly from rows (particularly as a beginner), the most effective way you can build your biceps strength and size is to perform barbell bicep curls with a straight bar.

Forearm curls: Again, not always necessary because the forearms are worked every time you grip a weight, but, as you lift heavier and heavier weights you may find that some assistance work is needed to boost your forearm and grip strength – and this can be done with simple forearm curls and reverse curls using a barbell or singularly with dumbbells.


For maximum upper body strength, you need to ensure you work each and every muscle, front and back, either as part of a compound movement or in some instances, more directly. Remember: you are only as strong as your weakest muscle!

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