16 Best Upper Body Strength Training Exercises For Women

Get a sculpted and toned look in weeks with the right workouts for the muscles on your torso.

Reviewed by Dr. Jen Esquer, PT, DPT Dr. Jen Esquer Dr. Jen EsquerPT, DPT facebook_iconinsta_icon
Written by , BA Shirin Mehdi BA Experience: 3 years
Edited by , BA (Literature & Psychology), PG Diploma Arshiya Syeda BA (Literature & Psychology), PG Diploma Experience: 7 years
Fact-checked by , BSc (Life Sciences), Certified Health & Nutrition Life Coach Himanshi Mahajan BSc (Life Sciences), Certified Health & Nutrition Life Coach Experience: 2 years

If you want to sculpt your shoulders, arms, back, and chest, you must focus on doing some upper body exercises. These strengthen your upper body and help you do everyday tasks easily. The upper body strength in women is almost half that of their lower body strength. Moreover, including upper body strength training in the daily workout routine may help develop a positive body image (1), (2). Also, remember that an upper body workout will will not make you look like a body-builder, especially since women produce about one-tenth of the testosteronei  A male sex hormone produced in the testicles that is responsible for body hair, muscle growth, and sexual drive. compared to men.

This article explains the best upper body exercises that help strengthen your torso. Read on to know more.

protip_icon Workout Blueprint: Upper Body Strength Training Exercises
  • Frequency: 2-3 times per week
  • Benefits: Tone the arms, increase muscle strength, and enhance posture.
  • Equipment Needed: Dumbbells, kettlebell.
  • Space Required: Small area
  • Assistance Required: Yes, for certain exercises
  • Who Should Avoid: Anyone with a shoulder injury or arm issues.

6 Upper Body Movements To Concentrate On 

While strengthening your upper body, you must use the muscles and joints that actually help you build a leaner and toned upper body. Here are the 6 body movements that you should focus on. 

  • Horizontal Push – This body movement will involve exercises that you will use to push the weight away from your body horizontally.
  • Horizontal Pull – This body movement will involve exercises that you will use to pull the weight towards your body horizontally.
  • Vertical Push – This exercise involves body movements where you will push the weight away vertically, over your head.
  • Vertical Pull – This exercise involves body movements where you will pull the weight towards you vertically.
  • Elbow Flexion – These are exercises that require you to flex your elbows and bring the weight towards your body.
  • Elbow Extension – These are exercises that require you to extend your elbows and move the weight away from your body. 

So, which muscles do these push/pull exercises work on? Find out next.

Which Muscles Will You Work On?

For every exercise, you will work on certain muscles that will help build your upper body strength. Here’s the list of muscles you will target. 

  • Push Exercises – You will use the pectoral musclesi  Commonly known as ‘pecs’, these are muscles connecting the upper arm and shoulder with the front of the chest. , lats, trapezius muscles, triceps, and shoulders.
  • Pull Exercises – You will use the large group of muscles like lats (upper back), trapezius muscles (center of the back), rhomboids (top of back), and erector spinae (bottom of back).
  • Flexion/Extension Exercises – Biceps, triceps, wrist flexors and extensors, shoulder muscles, upper abs, chest, and back muscles.

Now, let me show you 16 exercises to strengthen and tone your upper body.

16 Best Upper Body Exercises For Women

Here are the 16 best upper body workouts for women which include – kettlebell and dumbbell exercises that target your arms, shoulders, back, and chest. These moves will not only tone, sculpt, and carve your muscles but also make you stronger.

1. Dumbbell Punches

Dumbbell punches upper body exercise
Image: YouTube @eHowFitness

A very good warm-up exercise that works on all the muscles in your arms and prepares them for a good strength training session. It is also a cardio move that heats up the body.

How To Do Dumbbell Punches

  1. Lift the dumbbells, one in each hand, and place them near your shoulders with your elbows sticking to your sides.
  2. Punch a dumbbell out alternately by straightening the elbow.
  3. Do this for 1-2 minutes.

2. Bent Over Front Raise

One of the best moves for a sexy back and toned arms that experts swear by. It is among those back exercises that also work on the chest along with the upper and lower backs, shoulders, biceps, and triceps.

How To Do Bent Over Front Raise

  1. Squat down, bend as low as you can and get up without curling your back.
  2. Hold a dumbbell in each hand. Keep your hands extended straight in front of you.
  3. Lift the arms and take the dumbbells overhead. Do not change your posture, and do not bend your elbows.
  4. Bring the arms down. Repeat the move for 12-15 counts.

3. Bent Over Lateral Raise

Bent over lateral raise upper body exercise
Image: YouTube @tcsportsperformance

This exercise opens up the chest and works on those pecs. It also tightens the upper back muscles and tones the triceps.

How To Do Bent Over Lateral Raise

  1. Squat down and bend as low as you can and get up without curling your back.
  2. Lift a dumbbell in each hand with your arms in front of you. Keep the dumbbells facing each other and elbows slightly bent.
  3. Lift the arms to the sides in such a way that they make a straight line with your shoulders.
  4. Bring the arms down. Do 12-15 reps.

4. Triceps Kickbacks

Triceps kickbacks upper body exercise
Image: YouTube @Ksperfectfitnesstv

The fat that gets accumulated around the triceps results in bingo wings and makes wearing those sexy tanks very difficult. Tricep exercises like triceps kickbacks can give you amazing upper arms.

How To Do Tricep Kickbacks

  1. Standing straight and hold a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Bring your right leg forward, bending the knee a little, and push most of your weight on your right foot.
  3. Keep the back leg straight.
  4. Bend forward a little. Place your right hand on your right knee, keep your left hand bent at your side and your elbow pointing back.
  5. Kick that left dumbbell back by straightening your elbow.
  6. Bring it back. Do 12-15 reps.
  7. Repeat with the other arm.

5. Renegade Rows With Dumbbells

Renegade rows with dumbbells upper body exercise
Image: YouTube @WomensStrengthNation

This is an intermediate to advanced level of exercise. Renegade rows burn arm fat and tighten your core. If you find it difficult to do this exercise with dumbbells, you can begin by doing it without any weights. Beginners can also do it with dumbbells, but on their knees to make it less challenging.

How To Do Renegade Rows With Dumbbells

  1. Assume the push-up position with each hand gripping a dumbbell placed on the floor.
  2. Lift one dumbbell and raise it while slightly twisting your body to the side. Take the dumbbell back as far as you can. Balance yourself on the other leg and arm.
  3. Lower it and repeat with the other side.
  4. Do 15 reps.

protip_icon Quick Tip
Keep your core tight and the spine straight to prevent unnecessary stress, maintain balance, and avoid injuries.

6. Overhead Press

Overhead press upper body exercise
Image: YouTube @DanielleStewart

Shoulder exercises like the overhead shoulder press target the upper back and the shoulders and can tone and sculpt the area.

How To Do Overhead Press

  1. Stand straight and keep your core engaged and shoulder blades rolled back.
  2. Grip a dumbbell in each hand and put your arms out in a straight line with your shoulders. Bend them at the elbows such that your forearms are parallel to your head.
  3. Raise the dumbbells straight overhead.
  4. Bring them down to the previous position.
  5. Do 15 presses.

7. Upright Row

Upright row upper body exercise
Image: YouTube @bowflex

Upright rows target the fat on your back and open up the chest.

How To Do Upright Row

  1. Stand with your knees slightly bent. Lean forward. Keep your back straight.
  2. Place the dumbbells, one in each hand, in front of you.
  3. Lift the dumbbells up like you are pulling something towards you. Pull until the dumbbells are near your chest and your elbows make a straight line with your shoulders.
  4. Push them back down. Do 15 reps.

8. Russian Twist With Kettlebell

Russian twist with kettlebell upper body exercise
Image: Shutterstock

Here is another exercise for the upper body. This move works on the entire upper body – the core, arms, and back. Use a kettlebell of whatever weight you prefer. Or you can even use a heavy dumbbell.

How To Do Russian Twist With Kettlebell

  1. Sit upright with your back straight and legs stretched in front of you.
  2. Bend your knees and lift your calves in such a way that they are parallel to the ground.
  3. At the same time, tilt your back slightly backward and balance yourself on your tush.
  4. Tighten all the muscles in your body to make the balance easier.
  5. Hold a kettlebell in the center near your chest.
  6. Twist to your right and take the kettlebell to that side. Return to the center and repeat it on the left side.
  7. Do 15-20 reps.

9. Plank With Arm Curl

Plank with arm curl upper body exercise
Image: YouTube @FitnessRxMag

This move is a combination of isometrici  A form of exercise that includes static contraction of a muscle (for example, planks). and isotonic exercisesi  Exercises like squats that involve the application of a constant amount of weight and activation of body muscles while moving the joints. . The plank tightens the muscles in the entire body, especially the core. And at the same time, the curl strengthens the arms, specifically targeting the biceps.

How To Do Plank With Upper Arm Curl

  1. Get into the plank position with your back straight and abs tight.
  2. Place the dumbbells on the floor and grip one in each hand. Settle your toes firmly into the ground to maintain the balance.
  3. Balance yourself on one arm and toes and do a bicep curl with the other arm.
  4. Lower that arm and repeat on the other side.
  5. Do 20 reps.

10. Triceps Extension

Triceps extension upper body exercise
Image: YouTube @bowflex

Tricep extensions work on the triceps in a concentric manner. It also works on the biceps and upper back muscles.

How To Do Triceps Extension

  1. Stand erect and tighten your core.
  2. Hold a dumbbell or a kettlebell with both hands and raise it straight overhead.
  3. Lower it behind your head by bending your elbows.
  4. Return to the original position by straightening your elbows.
  5. Do 15 reps.
protip_icon Quick Tip
Use light-weighted dumbbells for triceps extension to focus on the form and prevent back and shoulder strain.

11. Chin-Up

Chin-up upper body exercise
Image: YouTube @3v878

Chin-up is an excellent exercise to strengthen your upper body. It works on the biceps, triceps, shoulders, lats, chest, abs, and obliques.

How To Do Chin-Up

  1. Stand straight underneath a bar. Hold the bar, with the palms facing you and arms shoulder-width apart.
  2. Engage your core, soften the knees, cross your legs, and hang from the bar.
  3. Pull yourself up till your chin reaches the bar.
  4. Without swinging, slowly come back down and gently place your feet on the floor.
  5. Repeat this 5 times. Gradually increase the number of chin-ups you do.

12. Incline Push-Up

Incline push-up upper body exercise
Image: YouTube @GirlsGoneStrong

Chest exercises like incline push-ups are as effective as chin-ups/pull-ups and can strengthen the upper body. The best part is, you can do an incline push-up using a bench, a squat rack, a Smith machine, or a high box. The lower the platform, the more difficult it will be to do an incline push-up. So, you can try doing it on a higher platform if you are just starting out, and then move on to a lower platform and more number of sets and reps.

How To Do Incline Push-Up

  1. Put your palms on the edge of the bench. Keep your arms shoulder-width apart.
  2. Extend your legs behind, flex your toes, keep your spine neutral, and chin tucked in.
  3. Flex your elbows and go down. Look down at the bench. Your elbows should come out about 30-40 degrees as you do this.
  4. Move away from the bench and go back to the starting position.
  5. Do 2 sets of 7-10 reps. Lower the incline and increase the number of reps and sets as you advance.]

13. Dumbbell Bench Press

Dumbbell bench press upper body exercise
Image: YouTube @intosport

The dumbbell bench press works on your chest muscles, biceps, shoulders, lats, and abs. When you use less weight and more reps to do this exercise, it helps to tone your upper body. If you use more weight and fewer reps, it will help build upper body strength. So, keep alternating the exercises to tone and strengthen your upper body.

How To Do Dumbbell Bench Press

  1. Set an exercise bench at a fully flat position.
  2. Sit at one edge of the bench and keep the dumbbells on your side.
  3. Pick the dumbbells up and rest them on your lap. Make sure your knees are bent at 90 degrees, and feet are flat on the floor and a little wider than shoulder-width apart.
  4. Slowly lie back on the bench and hold the dumbbells close to your chest. Squeeze your shoulder blades together, keep your core engaged and push down your lower back against the bench.
  5. Open your elbows out from the body and extend your arms fully above your body. Try to hold the weights steady.
  6. Control your arm movement, flex your elbows, and lower your arms and dumbbells until they reach the level of the lower part of your chest.
  7. Pause for a second and then push the weights back up to the starting position.
  8. Do 2 sets of 10 reps.

14. Dumbbell Bicep Curls

Dumbbell bicep curls upper body exercise
Image: YouTube @psychetruth

If you are looking for arm exercises that work the front of the arms, try out the dumbbell bicep/arm curls. Bicep exercises like these also target your wrist extensors and flexors, shoulder muscles, and upper back.

How To Do Dumbbell Bicep Curl

  1. Stand straight. Keep your core engaged, spine in neutral position, shoulder blades squeezed back, and feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Hold the dumbbells, with the palms facing forward, and slowly bring them up to your shoulders by flexing your elbows.
  3. Pause for a moment and lower the dumbbells back to the starting position.
  4. Repeat this 10 times. Increase the number of sets and reps as you advance.

15. Seated Cable Row

Seated cable row upper body exercise
Image: YouTube @bodybuildingcom

The seated cable row is great for your posture and helps increase your upper body strength if you do it regularly. For cable exercises like this one, you require a low-pulley row machine with a V-bar, which will provide you a neutral grip, where the palms of your hands will face each other. This exercise works on the lats, biceps, triceps, wrist flexors and extensors, shoulder muscles, chest, and abs.

How To Do Cable Row

  1. Sit down on the machine and place your feet on the front platform or the crossbar. Keep your knees slightly bent.
  2. Lean over and grab the V-bar handles. Keep your arms extended and pull back until your upper body is at 90 degrees with your legs. Keep your spine slightly arched and chest out. This is the starting position.
  3. Keep your torso stationary and pull the handles towards your torso until you touch your abs. Exhale as you do this. Squeeze your back muscles.
  4. Hold this position for a second. Inhale and go back to the original position.
  5. Do 2 sets of 20 reps.

16. Face Pull Exercise

Woman doing face pull exercise
Image: Shutterstock

The face pull exercise primarily helps strengthen the upper back and shoulder muscles, improve posture, reduce the risk of shoulder injuries, and enhance upper body strength. You will need a rope attachment on a cable machine to perform this exercise.

How To Do Face Pull Exercise

  1. Set the cable machine with a rope attachment at the highest level.
  2. Stand as you face the machine. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart and hold one end of the handle in each hand.
  3. Take a step back to create tension in the cable.
  4. Begin by pulling the rope slightly close to your face as you keep your elbows steady and facing outward.
  5. Pause to squeeze your shoulder blades before relaxing and going back to the starting position.
  6. Do 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps.

Doing upper body strength training can help you in the long run. Johann, a fitness blogger, shared how upper body training helped him improve his stamina and strength. He believes they work wonders. He added, “Believe me it makes a world of difference for the longer runs. I’ve been doing this for years and years (i).”

Infographic: Top 6 Upper Body Exercises For Women

The exercises for making your torso lean and toned focus on the horizontal, vertical, and elbow push and pull movements. Each of these drills targets a different set of muscles. Check the below list of upper body exercises that will help strengthen the arms, shoulders, back, and chest.

top 6 upper body exercises for women (infographic)

Illustration: StyleCraze Design Team

These were 15 upper body strengthening and toning exercises. Have a protein-rich post-workout meal after doing these exercises. The right way would be to alternate upper body routines with lower body routines to build integrated strength and make the whole body stronger. Make sure you execute all of these exercises to perfection instead of concentrating on the number of sets or reps. Cheers!

Frequently Asked Questions

Are sit-ups for the upper body?

Yes. Sit-ups help strengthen and tone the abdominal muscles.

What are upper-body stretches?

The five types of upper-body stretches include torso stretch, chest, shoulders, and biceps stretch, back stretch, upper back and shoulder stretch, and triceps stretch.

Are jumping jacks an upper-body workout?

No. Jumping jacks are a type of full-body workout.

Key Takeaways

  • Upper body strength exercises help improve your posture, increase muscle strength, and tone arms.
  • There are six body movements you need to focus on to tone your upper body: the horizontal pull, horizontal push, vertical pull, vertical, push, elbow flexion, and elbow extension.
  • Push, pull, and flexion or extension exercises work on specific muscles that help build strength in the upper body like the lats, traps, and triceps.
  • Try exercises like dumbbell punches, triceps, and the overhead press that use props like dumbbells and pull-up bars to add more resistance to your workouts.
upper body exercises

Image: Dall·E/StyleCraze Design Team

Get ready to tone and strengthen your arms, shoulders, breasts, and back with this 4-in-1 upper body workout. Get those muscles working and see the results for yourself!

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Dr. Jen Esquer

Dr. Jen EsquerPT, DPT

Jen Esquer is a Top 40 Physical Therapy Influencer and has been named one of the top 50 most influential healthcare professionals. She is the Founder and Owner of Mobility Method, LLC, sits on the medical advisory board for Women’s Health and Strong Fitness magazine and is an online sensation with more than a half a million followers and viral...read full bio

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