7 best bodyweight exercises for your upper body, according to a PT

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  • Try these tonight.

    We bought you the best glute workout, full body workout, and abs workout. Next up? The best bodyweight exercises you can do to tone and strengthen your upper body.

    Aside from aesthetic motivations, having a strong upper body is important for a whole host of reasons. Not only is it important for good running form and cycling form, but it’s also essential for carrying out day-to-day tasks, like lifting your children or opening jars, with ease.

    Not to mention they’re essential for preventing injury and maintaining good posture. If you don’t strengthen your upper body, you risk putting extra and unnecessary strain on your lower back – which no-one wants.

    One 2019 study published in Front Physiol. found that when it comes to the upper body, “stronger is better”. This conclusion was in relation to cross-country skiing, but also translates to wider day-to-day life: health is wealth, after all, and your upper body shouldn’t be neglected.

    That’s why we’ve asked Anna Victoria, certified trainer (NASM) and creator of the Fit Body App, to share her go-to bodyweight exercises for upper body. You can do these anywhere – at home, on the beach, in the gym – and they won’t take long at all.

    Don’t miss our guides to the benefits of running, and explainers on weight training and reformer Pilates for burning calories, strengthening your muscles and increasing your overall cardiovascular fitness.

    Best bodyweight exercises upper body: tone and strengthen

    The below is a high-intensity interval training bodyweight workout, which won’t be for everyone, especially if you have sore joints or prefer lower impact.

    If you’re looking to improve your upper body strength but don’t fancy the below, check out our guides to yoga poses for beginners, and reformer Pilates, instead.

    After a more full body sweat session? This bodyweight workout will help you work up a sweat in just 15 minutes.

    Length: 15 and a half minutes.

    Rounds: Do each move for 60 seconds, and each of the two circuits two times in total.

    Equipment: None needed.

    1. Burpees

    2. Push-Ups

    Alternation: Knee or incline.

    3. Shoulder Taps

    4. Bear Crawl

    5. Commandos

    6. Mountain Climbers

    7. Walkouts

    Rest for 30 seconds then repeat this circuit once more. 

    Are bodyweight workouts as effective? 

    Good question – and one the trainer says many often ask.

    Short answer: yes, they can be. “The efficacy of bodyweight workouts will depend on the person and what their goals are,” she explains.

    Take someone who is a complete beginner, she goes on. They will see significant progress both in their cardiovascular endurance and in their strength from bodyweight workouts alone. “They will also see a reduction in body fat and an increase in lean body mass, aka muscle, as long as they are in a caloric deficit and eating lots of protein.” (Read our guide to sensible and healthy fat loss tips and round-ups of the best protein powders, vegan protein, and vegan protein sources, here)

    If you take someone who isn’t a beginner, on the other hand, but weight trains regularly, they’ll see significant progress in their cardiovascular endurance, but not likely in their lean body mass, aka muscle. “They will instead need to focus on maintaining muscle mass,” she advises.

    Bottom line: all working out is good for your overall fitness, but if you have a specific fitness goal in mind, following a structured routine is key. “Working out promotes healthy living, improves lifespan, and allows us to do all our day-to-day activities while feeling our most energized and overall, our very best,” she shares.

    Why are bodyweight moves in particular good for you? Because they encourage you to master the basics and boost your cardio fitness, whatever your fitness level. “Even the most well-rounded of athletes have a strong foundation of cardiovascular training, which bodyweight workouts provide,” explains the trainer.

    In her opinion, bodyweight moves should be a part of every person’s training regimen, regardless of fitness goals. Ready to give it a go?

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