Back to Basics: 15 Upper Body Exercises That Will Transform Your Physique
With the vast amount of exercise, fitness, and nutrition advice we are presented day after day we can sometimes get caught up in this mentality of, “Oh, something new? I need to try it.” We can find ourselves jumping onto the something-new bandwagon without any idea or vision of where this wagon may be taking us.
It’s time you get off the wagon and get back to the basics.
When a professional basketball player loses his ability to shoot a basketball, a professional baseball player loses their swing, or a golfer loses their ability to putt, there is one phrase that is repeated time after time to that individual in an effort towards getting them back to performing at a high level.
You have to get back to the basics.
Any teammate, coach, or sport analyst discussing how that player can get back on track will say that they need to remember the basics. The player needs to get back in the mindset of when they first started playing the sport. They need to remind themselves of the steps they took within those first months and years of training to perfect their craft.
This phrase isn’t something that applies strictly to professional level athletes. This is a mantra us bodybuilders, powerlifters, and gym rats tend to forget over our years of training.
Sometimes we can get caught up in the newest, latest workout craze and wonder why we’re not making any new progress in the gym.
Do this exercise and never do that one.
Workout for this amount of time and not a minute longer.
Don’t do more than this many sets or this many reps.
Sometimes these rules and stipulations that are set within certain workout programs can detract us from where our lifting journey began. We tend to forget about the basics and forget where it all started that first time we walked into the gym: bench press, rows, pull-ups, and curls. Basic, strong, and effective lifts.
By pressing the rewind button and getting back to the basics you can take yourself back to making serious gains and build the upper body you’ve always wanted.
Incorporating one basic, heavy compound movement paired with two, lighter weight isolation movements will allow you to build strength and power in the muscle while effectively targeting each muscle within the particular muscle group. By using the 3 lifts described below for each body part you can build a strong, full, and shredded upper body without the fluff and not have to spend hours upon hours in the gym making sure you did enough. With these movements you can be confident that you are training your upper body with precision.
3 Upper Body Exercises for Each Body Part
3 Back to Basics Chest Exercises
In order to build a full, round, strong chest you need to train it from multiple angles. By putting your body in a flat, incline, or decline position while performing chest movements you are activating your entire chest from the upper to lower muscle groups within your chest.
#1 – Barbell Bench Press (Flat/Incline)
The bench press is the king of all chest movements for a reason. It’s straight forward, simple, and effective. As a compound lift, the bench press can be performed flat or at an incline to engage more of your upper chest. Going heavier with a lower rep range on your bench press is going to build the strength and mass you want in your chest and pairs perfectly with the following isolation exercises.
#2 – Cable Fly
Performing the cable fly in a high rep, low rest fashion is going to assist you in building the shape of your chest. Making sure you get a wide stretch on the eccentric motion of this exercise and flexing your chest hard on the concentric motion, you will build the definition and striations in your inner and outer chest.
#3 – Dips
Dips are going to engage your chest and triceps which is why it’s important you lean your body forward so you can target the motion in your chest. By leaning forward this exercise places a great amount of emphasis on your lower chest, allowing you to sculpt the bottom of your chest.
By using just these three exercises on your chest day or push day you can carve your chest into one that is both strong and defined.
3 Back to Basics Back Exercises
Your back is one of the more difficult muscle groups to train because you can’t see it when you train. But, with these three back movements you can be sure you’re effectively training your entire back. With these three basic back movements you’ll hit your upper, mid, and lower back, training it from top to bottom to produce a massive, wide back.
#1 – Deadlifts
Usually thought of as strictly a leg or hamstring exercise, the deadlift does wonders in strengthening your lower back. In order to get that full, Christmas-tree like lower back you need to perform deadlifts. By strengthening your lower back you will improve your back size, improve your posture, and get stronger in all other back movements.
#2 – Rows
In my opinion rows are the single best exercise you should be doing to put on size in your back. The row can be performed in a variety of ways from cable rows, machine rows, and dumbbell rows. The rowing motion targets development in your mid to upper back and can be performed heavy for strength training or light as a controlled, hypertrophy movement.
#3 – Lat Pulldown
Similar to the row, the lat pulldown can be performed with different handles and grip width’s to target full development in your latissimus dorsi. Building up your latissimus dorsi will give you a wide back and produce that V-tape physique many of us desire.
If you’re looking to bring up your back you can’t go wrong with these three movements. Pairing rows and pulldowns with your deadlifts will produce a big, evenly trained back.
3 Back to Basics Biceps Exercises
We all want arms that will fill the sleeves of our shirts and desire bicep peaks that mirror the Rocky Mountains. The need for bigger arms is why some of us won’t stop curling until the lights go out in the gym and the owner tells you it’s time to leave.
But, you can obtain the arms you want with three basic exercises. These three exercises below will effectively target the long head, short head, and brachialis muscle groups that make up your upper arm.
#1 – Straight bar or EZ bar curl
The standing barbell curl places emphasis on the short head of your bicep and is a great compound movement for developing that inner part of your bicep. With the weight in front of the body this exercise effectively targets the short head to get the blood flowing to your inner bicep.
#2 – Incline bench dumbbell curl
By using an incline bench and holding the dumbbells down, behind the midline of your body, you are activating more emphasis on the long head of your biceps. Performing this exercise slow and controlled will produce development in the outer head to give your biceps a better peak shape.
#3 – Hammer Curls
The hammer curl can be performed with dumbbells or a rope attachment on a cable machine. While this exercise is going to engage the short head, the hammer curl motion also brings your brachialis into the movement. Strengthening your brachialis is going to allow you to be stronger across your other bicep exercises and assist with building thickness in your arms.
Combing just these three exercises on your arm day of pull day will allow you to shape your biceps into guns you’ll be forced to get permits for.
Marc Lobliner presents his 4 favorite triceps building exercises.
3 Back to Basics Triceps Exercises
Your triceps, or triceps bracchii, is made up of three muscles: the lateral head, medial head, and long head. Different triceps movement are going to place more or less emphasis on the particulars heads, which is why you need to effectively train all three to produce those horseshoe-like triceps you desire. With these three basic triceps movements you can be assured you’re hitting the muscle group from all angles.
#1 – Close grip bench
With a close grip bench press movement you are taking the emphasis away from your chest and placing it on your triceps. As a compound movement, the close grip bench press will target all three of your triceps muscle groups and add some serious strength and size to your triceps.
#2 – Rope Pushdown
The rope pushdown should be a basic staple in anyone’s triceps regimen. Engaging mainly the long head and medial heads, the rope pushdown is a great isolation movement to perform with lighter weight to give you those well-defined, bulging triceps.
#3 – Reverse grip pushdown
In order to construct well-rounded, strong, aesthetic triceps, you need to make sure you’re training the lateral head. The lateral head makes up the other half of the ‘horseshoe’ near the back of your arm. Performing reverse grip pushdowns with a straight bar allows you to target the lateral more effectively than any other exercise.
You don’t have to have weak triceps. Use these three exercises and you will be able to build strong, shredded triceps.
Brently Rousset discusses the 3 exercises he used to bring up his shoulders.
3 Back to Basics Shoulders Exercises
Your shoulders are comprised of three main muscle grounds: front deltoid, medial deltoid, and rear deltoid. Most people tend to focus on strictly their front and medial deltoids and forget to train their rear deltoids. By using these three shoulder exercises you can build strong, three-dimensional shoulders.
#1 – Overhead Press
A basic, compound movement for shoulder development, the overhead press will target your front and medial delts. If you are looking to build strength in your shoulders this is the one movement you should be doing. This exercise will also help improve your bench press strength by building serious strength in your front delts.
#2 – Dumbbell Side Lateral Raise
A simple, yet effective exercise, the side lateral raise focuses on your medial delts. Your medial delts make up the side profile of your shoulders, so by performing this movement you will build that round, pumpkin look in your shoulders.
#3 – Rear Deltoid Fly
The rear deltoid is one that gets ignored by man. Similar to our back, the rear deltoid is a muscle group you cannot see in the mirror easily. But, if you don’t train your rear deltoids with the same intensity as your front and medial deltoids, your shoulder development will produce a pushed-forward, hunched look. By performing the rear deltoid fly movement you will effectively target your rear deltoids and give your shoulders that round, even look.
Your shoulders can make or break your body both strength and physique wise. With these three shoulder exercises you can be assured your shoulders won’t fail you during all your lifts and be satisfied with a pair of boulders sitting on top of your upper body.
It’s Time to Get Back To Basics and Grow
Three effective exercises for each muscle group that make up your upper body is all you need. By combining one compound movement to help build strength with two isolation movements for each body part you can effectively combine strength training with hypertrophy training to make new and serious gains.
Three basic lifts is all you need. These lifts are perfect for the beginner lifter or someone who is tired of their current program and is looking to just get back to the basics.
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