17 Tips to Drive Better Upper Body Gains
The bottom line is getting big. No ifs, ands or buts about it.
We all bust our collective asses in the gym week after week with the intention of walking out a little larger than when we entered. And a major part of that include the days that you train your upper body parts, you know, the ones that are fun to train because leg day sucks.
Part of looking bigger is to not only put on the necessary muscle mass, but also create the illusion with a V-taper. By getting your waist narrower, lats wider and shoulder caps rounder, an aesthetic physique that appears much larger awaits you.
The main thing to remember in this and any other training advice article is that what works for one person may not necessarily work for you. It’s all a trial and error process and you will know what is right for you when you feel it. Make the muscle do the work and gains will take place.
Here are 17 suggestions for you to try in the gym and see if any – or hopefully all – of them give you bigger upper body gains.
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17 Ways to Build More Upper Body Muscle Mass
1 – Move Chest Day Away From Monday
Most people start their workout week on Mondays with chest, but that doesn’t mean that you have to follow suit. When a lot of the gym members are doing the same body part, benches and other equipment are in frequent use and you may find yourself waiting for that incline bench that feels just right for you.
Doing so will throw off your momentum and you’ll get cold, so avoid all of this by rescheduling your week to begin with a body part other than chest. You may even have your pick of the rest of the gym and then again when you do chest a day or two later.
2 – Include Dumbbell Pullovers in Your Chest Routine
This is one of the more effective compound movements that will work your chest (especially the lower portion), lats and ribcage. Proper form is essential for pullovers, as any swinging motion will lessen your range of motion and take out the engagement of the secondary muscles needed to complete the rep properly.
3 – Always Do Bent Over Rows
If you want barn door lats, then bet over rows should be part of your back routine each and every time. You can change things up by using a barbell or dumbbells, an overhand or underhand grip on the bar, or even a Smith machine. No matter what form of this exercise you choose to do, it will be by far the one that will make or break your lat growth.
Dorian Yates was a six-time Mr. Olympia and the first one to win the Sandow with the massive look that is still as popular today as it was back in his era (1992 to 1997) and he was known for his intense workouts. Yates always professed that bent over rows must be done and there is even a variation of them called Yates Rows, which he invented and is done bent over at a 45-degree angle, underhand grip and bringing the bar to the bottom of the sternum.
4 – Single-Sided Back Exercises
Most movements for your lats are done with a bar or on a machine with both hands working simultaneously. This is good, of course, except that your naturally stronger side (right or left) will be doing the extra work and inadvertently helping out its weaker brother. By introducing some single sided exercises, you will force the weaker one to work just as hard without getting an involuntary ‘spot.’
One-arm dumbbell rows are the obvious and most common choice, but you can also do one-arm cable rows or pull downs with a D-handle or, if you really want to be creative, lat pull downs with a bar and alternating sides. This last one gives you a real deep stretch on your lats and you will see them literally popping out if there is a mirror located in front of you.
5 – Side Lateral Dumbbell Raises for Shoulder Roundness
Although the pressing movements will build up overall mass in your shoulders, strict form side lateral dumbbell raises will shape your side deltoid muscles and help create the enhanced illusion. They can be done either standing or seated, but the key is to keep the time under tension going by not allowing the weights to touch your sides.
When you stop just short at the bottom of each rep, the muscles are continuing to work and bringing the weights back up becomes more difficult with each rep. By the time that you have completed the set, your delts will be burning.
6 – Hit Abs With Hanging Leg Raises
Your upper body begins at your waistline (and even a little below it), so you need to work on your core muscles to hit all of the areas. Developing abs and eventually a defined six-pack is the goal of every man alive and a good start to doing that (in the gym, at least, because abs ARE made in the kitchen) is with hanging leg raises.
This is a movement that will work your entire abdominal wall, with added emphasis on the hard-to-train lower abs. As an added benefit, it will also improve your grip strength and lats.
The key to doing hanging leg raises is form and not being concerned about the amount of reps in each set. If you can do 10 strict reps, then you have done your job. Four sets of 10 in this fashion will work the area hard and going to a 90-degree angle with your legs straight out will suffice. When people try to go higher and even the ‘toes to bar’ variety, they tend to use their momentum and not their abs to do the work and the hip flexors begin to take over.
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7 – Hyperextensions for Lower Back, Core
To work your core properly, you need to hit both the front and back part. Hyperextensions are a great exercise for your lower back and you can use either the 45 or 90-degree bench.
8 – Biceps and Triceps Together or Separate?
This is one of the older questions that is still asked today – should you train your biceps and triceps together or separate? The answer is that there is no clear-cut answer; you can make a case for both. If you prefer to do a push-pull workout schedule, then you will be doing them on different days. Some others will include both on their arms day.
The main objective is to work the body part and it comes down to what your preference and/or workout schedule is. The one thing is that if you choose to train both biceps and triceps on the same day, mix it up with the one that you do first, as to not always hit the same one at full strength and the other after pre-exhaustion sets in.
9 – Hit Traps on Both Shoulder and Back Days
Another debatable issue is when you should train traps – with shoulders or back? The best answer is to do it on both days. (The lone exception is if you just happen to train shoulders and back together on the same day. In that instance, you can squeeze in the second workout on another day at the end.)
The first time you do traps in any particular week should be a more taxing routine than the second time and you can go a little heavier and add a few extra sets. On the second day, keep it to around four sets with a moderate weight and don’t repeat a movement that you already did earlier.
10 – Partial Reps
Add a set of 10 partial reps to at least one exercise per body part at the end of your last set by using a drop down set strategy. For example, let’s say that you’re using two 45-pound plates on each side of incline presses on a Hammer Strength machine.
Complete the set and then strip off one plate on each side. Immediately jump back on and do 10 partial reps to really pump the blood into your chest muscles.
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11 – Dips: Done Differently for Chest and Triceps
You ever see the guys at the gym strapping on 45-pound plates around their waist to add resistance to their dips? Most are ruining what is a very good exercise by worrying too much about weight. The main objective for chest is depth and not weight, as well as not locking out your arms at the top.
When performing dips for chest, you want to go deep at the bottom and only three-fourths of the way up to keep the chest muscles fully engaged. You should also lean in somewhat as to extend the range of motion. For triceps, keep your body straight and allow yourself to come all the way up so that the triceps are worked harder.
12 – Isolation Exercises Before Compound
Isolation movements will pump a lot of blood directly into the muscle that you are training, while the compound variety has to dispense it amongst the secondary muscles, as well. Try doing an isolation movement first and see how it feels to tackle a compound one with your muscles already pumped and pre-exhausted.
Doing isolation before compound also gives you a great warm-up for the more difficult lifts.
13 – Shorter Rest Periods
If you can keep your rest periods a minute or less, then you feel your muscles ready to explode after only a few sets. Doing 12-to-15 strict reps with moderate weight and 45 seconds in between sets will spurn more growth than six sloppy reps with weight that is too heavy for you and then needing three minutes to recuperate for the next set.
14 – Rear Delts First on Shoulder Day
Injury prevention should be at the top of everyone’s list and rotator cuff tears are far too common in the gym. So hit your rear delts first before jumping into a taxing compound pressing movement to full warm up the shoulders.
15 – Upper, Middle and Lower Lats With Rope Pull Downs
One of the most versatile exercises for back is rope pull downs. You will hit all three lat muscles (upper, middle and lower) by taking advantage of the wide range of motion this exercise offers.
16 – More Volume
Do not settle for 10-to-12 sets per body part and implement volume training to shock your muscles, adding an additional four-to-eight sets to your total. You can add some machine exercises to free weights and hit the muscles from different angles.
17 – Stretching Before and After Each Set
We saved this one for last for it to leave an impression on you, as stretching is a frequently overlooked aspect of training. Doing it before a set will prepare your muscles and help prevent an injury, increasing your flexibility. And doing it as soon as you put the weight down will be an extension of the set.