The Best Exercises to Gain Upper-Body Strength

kzenon/iStock/Getty Images

Upper-body strength helps you maintain a healthy posture by minimizing fatigue in your arms, shoulders and neck. Strengthening your upper body also allows you to exert greater force when flexing arm and shoulder joints. The best exercises to gain upper-body strength contract your upper body muscles against greater resistance, and progressively increase resistance as your strength improves. Consult your doctor before beginning any new exercise regimen.


Compound exercises help you develop functional strength by following your body’s natural movement patterns. Your muscles do not normally function in isolation. Unlike isolated exercises, which focus on a single muscle, compound exercises recruit multiple muscles with multiple joint articulations. Compound movements are among the best exercises to gain total upper-body strength, because they help you develop the greatest amount of muscle tissue possible.


Gaining upper-body strength requires exercises that stimulate muscular growth by imposing enough stress on your muscles. The best exercises to gain upper-body strength contract your muscles against heavier loads, which exhaust your muscles with fewer repetitions. These exercises maximize damage to contractile proteins in your muscles. Your muscles adapt by repairing the damage and synthesizing more proteins, which effectively increases the contractile strength of your muscles. The National Federation of Personal Trainers recommends weightlifting exercises that exhaust your muscles within four to six repetitions per set.


Because your chest contains the largest upper-body pushing muscles, weightlifting chest exercises are ideal for building upper-body pushing strength. The best exercise for gaining upper-body pushing strength combines three weightlifting movements. Dumbbell incline bench presses may be the best exercise for strengthening your upper chest, based on electromyography data cited by the T Nation website. Weighted chest dips and dumbbell bench presses are among the best exercises for strengthening the lower and middle portions of your chest.


The best exercises to gain upper-body pulling strength target muscles in your arms and back, including the biceps, latissiumus dorsi and trapezius. Pullups or chinups and bent-over rows may provide the best exercise for building upper-body pulling strength. These exercises maximize the amount of exertion required by your pulling muscles. Weighted pullups and chinups are the best exercises for strengthening your latissimus and biceps, according to T Nation; the best exercise for strengthening the middle and lower portions of your trapezius are bent-over rows with dumbbells.