Getting stronger should be at the top of the priority list for everyone – athletes and fitness addicts alike! This will not only improve your physique aesthetically, but will also build a healthier body less prone to injury.
Increasing your strength will also help you reach your ideal physique as one of the best ways to progress in your training is simply to lift heavier. This will help you avoid any unnecessary plateaus in your training, as your body will constantly have to adapt to the training stresses you place upon it.
How Many Sets and reps?
When you are training for strength, you should keep your number of reps low, ranging from one to five reps for your main exercises and you can go for higher reps with your accessory exercises such as bicep curls and tricep dips.
These are not just for aesthetics, but also injury prevention.
Here is a list of some useful exercises that you can incorporate into your upper-body workout routine for some strength gains!
#1 | Bench press
Targets: Chest, shoulders, triceps
✓ Position yourself on a flat bench and secure feet on the floor – push through your feet.
a) Hold a barbell with an overhand grip – your hands should be spaced slightly wider than shoulder width apart, and the bar should be above your sternum.
b) After finding a comfortable position, extend and lock arms in front of you.
c) Inhale and begin to lower the bar towards the centre of your chest and pause for a second.
d) Use your chest to press the bar in a straight line and push upwards again, contracting at the top of the move. This is considered one rep.
#2 | Military press
Targets: Shoulders, triceps
✓ Position a barbell on a squat rack, chest high for ease – weights aren’t necessary to begin with.
a) Position your hands with an overhand grip, keeping them slightly wider than shoulder width apart.
b) Begin to bend the knees and gently place the the bar on your collar bone for stability before pushing the bar up overhead – leaning your head back slightly and maintain an upright torso. keep your feet shoulder width apart.
c) Begin the exercise by pushing the barbell overhead as shown above, pause, and begin to exhale whilst lowering the bar down again.
d) Exhale and push the bar overhead – carry on for chosen repetitions.
#3 | Bent-Over Barbell row
Targets: Middle Back, shoulders, lats, biceps
a) Hold the barbell using an overhand grip that is slightly wider than your shoulders – the bar should be at arms length away from you.
b) Bend forward from your hips and knees and lower your upper body until it is nearly parallel with the ground, loosely letting the bar hang – keep your head up.
c) Exhale whilst pulling the bar in a powerful motion until positioned at your upper abs and pause – use forearms to keeping elbows close to the body.
d) Inhale whilst slowly lowering the bar back to the starting position – be very careful when doing this exercise that your back is straight and not arched.
#4 | Deadlift
Although the deadlift works the lower body predominantly, it also trains the upper body as the latter part of the movement involves locking out with the shoulders back and maintaining control of the bar as it rises off the ground.
Starting position (The deadlift needs longer instructions – a complex but incredibly beneficial move!)
✓ Stand facing the barbell with your feet shoulder width apart. Contract abs, push chest up keeping your back straight and bend your knees to reach the bar.
✓ Grab bar tight with thumbs facing each other – grip slightly wider than shoulder width – use the rings on the bar as a point of reference.
✓ Tight grip – lower back contracted. Fix your eyes on a point in front of you, inhale and hold your breath.
a) Start lifting the bar of the floor by straightening your legs and keeping the bar close to your body – Once the bar reaches your knee levels straighten your legs while extending your back.
b) Stop the movement once you’re stood perfectly upright. Do not hyperextend your back – your shoulders and hips should be in a straight line.
c) Exhale and hold this position for 2 seconds while bringing your scapulae together for extra upper back stimulation.
d) In a controlled manner, return the barbell to the floor by flexing your back and bending your thighs. While doing so maintain correct posture – keeping head up, back straight, chest pushed up and abdominals contracted.
#5 | Triceps Dips
✓ Dip stations can be used – however, beginners may want to lean on the corner of a bench (like above image)
a) Begin by positioning yourself comfortably and contract the abs, keeping your back straight.
b) Lower yourself slowly with your elbows bent until your upper arms dip below your elbows.
c) Hold for a moment and contract the triceps.
d) Exhale and power through the triceps to raise yourself back to starting position
Your elbows should be tucked in close to your body throughout this exercise to protect your shoulders.
This exercise may be difficult for beginners – one that takes a lot of practice. Bars can be bought and attached to doors at home if preferred – and resistance bands (see image) are great assistance tools!
Targets: Lateral muscles, middle back, biceps
a) Hold a pull-up bar with an overhand grip and position the hands so that they are shoulder width apart.
b) With both arms fully-extended, allow yourself to hang from the bar and pull your torso slightly back to create a small arch with your lower back – this is the position that you will return to as you finish each rep.
c) Stick your chest out and exhale before pulling your torso up to touch the bar with your upper chest – upper arms and shoulders should come back. Contract the back muscles and hold for a moment whilst keeping torso stationary.
#7 | Push-ups
a) Begin on all fours, placing your hands on the ground so that they in line with your shoulders.
b) Contract abs and hold a solid stance before lowering your body down until your chest is almost touching the ground – inhaling whilst doing so.
c) Hold the position at the bottom for a moment, squeezing and then.
d) Exhale and power through your arms and chest to raise yourself back to the starting position.
#8 | Dumbbell curls
Targets: Biceps, forearms
a) Pick up a set of dumbbells, stand up straight and allow them to hang at arms length beside your side – twist your palms so that they face forward.
b) Keeping your upper arms stationary, bend your elbows and curl the dumbbells as close to your shoulders as possible – exhale during the movement.
c) Hold this position, contracting the biceps for a moment.
d) Inhale and lower dumbbells to the start of the movement and repeat.
Take Home Message
These exercises are all excellent for building upper body strength and the tricep and bicep work is important for injury prevention and muscle balance.
Including these exercises and using heavy weights will challenge you and improve your strength levels. This will in turn increase your lean muscle mass and also help you progress in your training!