Crush a Monster Upper Body Workout With These 5 Exercise Pairings

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I remember the first time I saw a physique athlete. Of course, the size struck me at first. That type of musculature is not commonplace for the normal human being.

But after the admiring his size, what I was floored by was that his body mirrored that of an ancient Rome sculpture. It’s the look that has been admired through the ages: The classic v-taper.

The v-taper starts with well-developed trap muscles that yield down to broad shoulders. Then, the barrel chest along with a thick, wide back that tapers down to a tiny waist that gives you the classic physique look.

If you’ve been dealt a hand that includes a wide waist, a puny back and narrow shoulders with a sunken chest, it’s easy to blame genetics, which is a limiting way to view something that can be solved with a specific approach.

With targeted movements that give direct attention to the exact muscles needed to chisel your body into a v-taper, you too can build your body into a well balanced physique that you’re proud of.

This article sets you up with 5 movements parings that attack the traps, chest, back, shoulders and arms. They will improve your upper body workouts.

You’ll often find a lot of movement pairings that don’t allow you to move heavy weight with the second exercise due to fatigue. But with slight variations, we fix this problem. These exercise pairings work well for packing on mass and allow you to get more work done in less time bumping up volume and intensity.

With that said, here are 5 great movement pairings to build a strong, muscular upper body, and improve each and every upper body workout.

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5 Monster Movement Pairings for a Better Upper Body

Target the Traps: Deadlifts and Pause Face Pulls

Big traps demand attention from anyone in your vicinity. In fact, they can transform your body from looking like a bobble-head character to an exceptional physique. Strength athletes who have a well developed set of traps, are calling them “the new abs.”

Maybe they’re on to something.

Large traps are associated with power because most of the movements that stimulate growth of the traps are big, compound movements. Just look at powerlifters who deadlift often or Olympic lifters. Their trap game is on point.

But many are clueless when it comes to building their traps. They think doing 3 sets of dumbbell shrugs will do the job, and then wonder why their traps are the size of ping pong balls.

Traps Exercise #1 – Pause Face Pull

Go as heavy as you can on these and hold the contraction for 2 to 3 seconds on each rep. This will teach the low and mid-trap muscle fibers to fire and get stimulated. The pause face pull is a great alternative to rowing if you have a hard time contracting the upper back in the row.

This pretty much warms up the traps for the deadlift assault that’s coming next.

Traps Exercise #2 – Deadlift

Charles Poliquin has said that athletes and bodybuilders in the ’70 and ’80s had the greatest backs of all time because they deadlifted regularly. Today, deadlifting to build an impressive physique is more an option than necessity to a lot of lifters.

The trapezius muscles get stronger and grow bigger from deadlifting. With some lifters, deadlifting can offer better development than shrugs.

In the deadlift, your upper and middle traps get worked very hard. When you pull a bar off the floor, it influences your shoulders to collapse forward. Through quasi-isometric contraction, your traps hold your the scapula in a retracted position.

Meaning your traps get blitzed with tension.

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Target the Arms: Smith Close Grip Bench and Drag Curl

The Smith machine is arguably the most debated piece of equipment in the gym. And yes, it can make for a dangerous environment for any unexperienced lifter. But you can also say that for any other piece of equipment.

Regardless, if hypertrophy is the goal, the smith machine has little competition when it comes to hammering a single muscle group with massive amounts of tension. The fixed plane of motion that the smith machine offers an unrelenting stress on the targeted muscle group, which is good especially if you haven’t changed up your training routine in a while

Triceps Exercise – Smith Machine Close Grip Bench Press

The Smith machine close grip bench press is one of the few compound movements that attacks all three heads (lateral, medial and long) of the triceps. Plus, with the fixed range of motion along with a pause at the bottom, an all out assault on your triceps awaits.

You’ll want to take notice of your grip. Anything less than 6 inches apart only puts more stress on the wrists, and elbow joints. For most lifters, 10-12 inches or about shoulder width apart will suffice in this movement.

The movement will start by bringing the bar down to your upper ab region while keeping the elbows tucked, close to your body. Here you’ll give it a 2 count, before recovering into the press. Stop just shy of lockout to keep the tension on the triceps, then lower the bar to to the upper ab-region, pause and repeat.

Biceps Exercise – Smith Machine Drag Curl

Of the many hurdles one faces in building big biceps, improper form is certainly one of them. Particularly in the medium of using weight that if far too heavy. Using body momentum is an actual method that can be utilized when the conditions are right, namely when you’re fatigued.

But for some lifters, swinging up a barbell or dumbbell for every rep and set of their curls is the case. By attempting weight that is to heavily, your elbows begin to flare and the shoulders get called into requirement, taking away stimulus form the biceps.

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Utilizing the Smith machine drag curl eliminates the most common flaws in the curl. With minimal deltoid involvement and with the fixed range of motion pushing your elbows back, the biceps get blasted leaving you with an incredible pump.

When you perform this movement, the bar should only come up to your lower chest. If you find that the bar is coming up higher than that, you’re bringing in the detls again (and that’s not what you want).

You’ll want to squeeze at the top of the movement, and stop just shy of full extension at the bottom keeping tension on the biceps for the whole set.

Target the Chest: Flat Bench Dumbbell Flyes and Shallow Incline Dumbbell Bench Press

Building a full, round chest is a sought after trait. And for some, doing a few sets of bench press is the trick. But for others and probably most, developing a show stopping chest takes a much more calculated approach.

Assuming that you’re not blessed with a barrel chest, this movement pairing of the flat dumbbell fly and shallow incline bench was made just for you.

Exercise #1 – Flat Bench Dumbbell Flye

You’ll start with the flat dumbbell flye to pre-exhaust your chest. Doing these first in the pairing allows you to move heavy weight in the second movement, causing more stimulation to your chest muscles.

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The flat dumbbell flye is under-valued as a mass building movement, especially for the outer and middle portions of the chest.

When you do these, be sure to keep your elbows bent and to get a good stretch at the bottom of the movement. Depending on what you want to target, there two slight variations to the flat dumbbell flye.

If you want to hit the outer portion of your chest to develop that scoop that tucks underneath each of your pecs, then you’ll want to perform 3/4 flyes. Meaning, you’ll get the stretch at the bottom and when you recover you’ll stop the flye 3/4 of the way up and then repeat another rep.

To hit the middle portion of your chest, you’ll want to complete your reps all the way to the top. Meaning, instead of stopping 3/4 of the way, continue all the way through just shy of the dumbbells touching. Be sure to keep the tension on the chest by keeping the elbows bent as well.

Exercise #2 – Shallow Incline Dumbbell Bench Press

After you hit your flyes, you’ll want to transition into the shallow incline dumbbell bench press for two reasons. One, the lower the incline the more weight you can press and you’ll get less deltoid recruitment. And two, the upper chest is a common weakness in many physiques.

This movement is a wonderful, but simple way to target the upper chest. Set your bench at angle no more than 20 degrees. To up the ante, pause at the bottom of the press for a 2 count to get a really good stretch and then recover.

This will not only place more tension on your upper chest muscles, but it’s also a good way to increase your power out of the whole in any angle of bench press.

Target the Back: One-Arm Barbell Rows and Deadlifts

The lats make up for a large part of the total muscle mass on your back. In order to build size and detail, you need to hit them often and hard with varying angles.

The following movement pairing at first glance may not come off as new or fancy. But with slight variation along with the order you perform them in, you’ll be surprised at how such a small tweak can make a huge difference in your training.

Exercise #1 – One-Arm Barbell Row

For back development, you know some type of row movement was coming right? But instead of the classic dumbbell row you’ve done for the last 4 years, throw in a slight variation and do it with a barbell.

If you’ve got a landline at your gym, it’ll work great for this movement. If not, just tuck a barbell into a corner and it’ll do just fine.

You’ll want to load your bar with 25 pound plates. Doing so will allow for a killer stretch at the bottom of the movement. Stand by the bar with both feet staggered on one side of the barbell, pick it up and start rowing. Be sure to keep a flat back and to squeeze at the top activating the lat.
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Exercise #2 – Deadlifts

Yep, deadlifts made the list twice.

It’s commonplace to do deadlifts at the beginning of a training session. There’s nothing wrong with doing it that way. However, if you’re looking to bring your back workout to another level of pain in all the right ways, do your pulls at the end of your training session.

Once you’ve done a fair amount of rowing with your barbell rows that hit the lats really hard, ending with deadlifts is a great way to finish off the lats.

You might not know or feel how involved the lats are in pulling a bar off the floor until you perform deadlifts with exhausted lats. You’ll also get some collateral stimulation of the spinal erectors (lower back) with your deadlift finisher.

Target the Shoulders: Cable Reverse Fly and Dumbbell Seated Press

A big, broad set of shoulders will do magic for your physique.

Regardless if you’re male or female, well-developed shoulders will make your waist look smaller and gives you that V-taper that presents an unarguable fact that you lift. Broad shoulders make your arms look bigger and your back look broader.

Exercise #1 – Cable Reverse Fly

The rear deltoids are often neglected, and thus that full round look of the shoulders is nowhere to be found. The rear delts are what make the shoulders pop. Direct work to the rear deltoids is imperative.

With all cable-based moves, the main benefit is the constant tension on the muscles being worked. Time under tension is crucial for hypertrophy, and with the cable reverse fly your rear delts don’t’ get a break until the set is ended.

I always suggest hitting these at really high volume to get a wicked pump into those shoulders to make them look like pumpkins. Aim for 3-4 sets at 30-40 reps per set.

Exercise #2 – Seated Dumbbell Press

Nothing revolutionary here. But sometimes, simplicity is better.

Seated presses are preferred when you want to isolate the delt (compared to standing presses), since the position doesn’t allow you to recruit any assistance form your mid-section or lower body. Yes, you’ll sacrifice some weight and reps in the seated dumbbell press, but it doesn’t define it as better or worse. It’s just more targeted.

To keep constant tension on the delt, stop short of lockout at the top and then lower the dumbbells to starting position and repeat.

Upper Body Workout Wrap Up

A handful of people get paid to workout. The gym is their office.

But between work and family getting to the gym 3-5 times a week for about an hour is more realistic for most people. If this sounds like you, then you want to make sure you use your gym time efficiently and effectively.

By incorporating the 5 movement pairings I just gave you, you’ll be utilizing the “best bang for your buck” exercises that build muscle and assist developing the body you want in the least amount of time.

Show up and #dothework consistently, and one day that Roman statue will be looking back at you in the mirror.

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Name: Brian McFadden

Bio: Brian teaches motivated but overwhelmed active individuals the importance of adopting an integrative approach to their health and fitness, so they can finally make the gains they want in the gym, but also live a healthy life outside of it.