Balanced, full-body strength is vital – for a functional life, as well as the aesthetic most people are looking for. Yet many people looking to transform their health spend a ton of time (literally) getting nowhere on a treadmill.
But ooh, there’s a certain, unmatched feeling of power and confidence when your hands grip the pull-up bar and that chin goes up, up, up. Even assisted pull-ups with bands. Upper-body strength won’t make you look bulky. It’ll make you healthy and feel like a baddie.
It’ll also improve your posture, offsetting the world where we’re constantly hunched over a computer or phone, carrying children and groceries, and sitting in the car on long commutes. Not to mention, a strong upper body can make you feel more comfortable in tank tops in summer, that nice dress at the wedding, and swimsuits on vacation.
We’re not talking about doing bicep curls and push-ups for 45 minutes straight. Your upper body includes your full arms, chest, back, shoulders, and core – 360, from front to back. In that, a healthy upper body can also alleviate back pain and the risk of injuries.
“Your core isn’t just there to be a six pack. It provides better balance, prevents slips and falls, provides injury prevention, and protects your back,” says Brandy Martin, owner of Feed Your Soul Fitness.
Brandy says everyone can benefit from upper body workouts – for so many reasons. Here’s a closer look at how to make it happen.
How Often Should You Do Upper Body Workouts?
How frequently you do upper body workouts depends on your fitness background and goals, but generally speaking, Brandy recommends at least two times a week. This is to make sure you hit all of the muscles to create full body wellness.
You may have heard people talk about “push” and “pull” exercises, and for beginners, that may be where you start to check out. But just think of it like a door. Your body moves in different directions, and giving yourself two days per week to focus on your upper body’s various movements paints a fuller picture.
How that may look? There are different ways to break it up, but one day, you might work out your back muscles and biceps. The next upper body day, you may work out your chest and triceps. And the benefit of breaking it up like this? First, it allows you to focus on fewer muscles per workout to make a bigger impact on them. And second, it gives those muscles more time to recover (and not feel so sore) before you use them again.
Other people do three days a week, with the third day for a full-body workout, which includes some upper body.
Regardless of whether it’s two or three days a week, you will be moving the needle forward, Brandy says.
What Are The Best Upper Body Workouts?
Brandy’s favorite upper body workouts are rows. Lots of rows. Bent-over rows, seated rows, upright rows. These target the back in a very functional way.
She also likes a variety of presses (seated, standing, lying on your back), push-ups (there are all kinds of modifications), planks, and arm exercises with dumbbells. Then she loves to pepper in fun movements, like playing with battle ropes (thick, heavy ropes) and doing punches while holding dumbbells.
“There are lots of fun ways other than the typical movements,” she says.
But ultimately, the best upper body workouts are the ones you are going to do. If you enjoy it, you will keep doing it.
“It’s what you do consistently that feels good – mentally and physically – that won’t give you burnout and will allow you to do it multiple times a week,” Brandy says. “Some people crave routine. Some need variety. It’s a matter of figuring that out without worrying about what someone else is doing. This is for you.”
Why Are Rest Days Important?
Notice how Brandy recommends upper body workouts two or three times a week. Not seven. That’s because rest days are just as important.
When you work out, you break down the muscles. When you rest, you repair them. It’s actually during the repairing phase that you grow stronger. Not during the breaking down part. Exercise without recovery does not make you stronger.
“If you work your muscles every single day, that’s where you can get injured, overexerted, exhausted, and do more harm than good,” she says. “Give yourself permission to take days off.”
By a rest day, Brandy means active rest. So, no lifting weights. But also not just sitting in front of the TV. Walk the dog, play with the kids, throw the softball, go for a hike, take a gentle yoga class, go swimming. Easy movement helps with recovery.
Mental recovery, too. Pushing through a workout requires mental toughness. Sometimes just getting to the gym demands serious tenacity.
The American Council on Exercise agrees. The council’s research has found rest days prevent burnout and overuse injuries, among other benefits. Plus, the council says, a day off from the gym allows you to spend that time with your family and friends. Balance is part of a sustainable healthy routine that you can enjoy for the rest of your life.
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