Upper Body – Arms, Shoulders and Chest

Arms

Close Stance Push-Up

This exercise works both the chest and triceps, but due to the close stance of your hands, it will challenge the triceps more than a regular push-up.

  1. This exercise can be performed from a straight leg push-up position, which is extremely challenging, or from knees on the floor.
  2. Hands are positioned very narrow, with hands directly under the shoulders and elbows close to the ribcage.
  3. As you lower, keep elbows close to the ribcage, paying close attention to keeping the abdominal muscles tight and the back straight.
  4. Exhale as you push back to start position and repeat.

Tip: If you begin from a bent knee position, make sure that your back is very straight and your buttocks does not stick up in the air, or your low back may feel uncomfortable.

Close Stance Push-Up

Step 1 – 2

Close Stance Push-Up

Step 3

Dumbbell Nosecrusher

This exercise works the triceps and is traditionally performed with a straight bar. I like using dumbbells instead, so that each arm gets an opportunity to work independently of the other.

  1. Lie on a bench or a physio ball as if you were preparing to do a bench press.
  2. Hold weights up over your chest, palms facing each other.
  3. Move the weights CLOSER to your face by angling the arms slightly, but do not allow the shoulders to rise up near the ears.
  4. Lower the dumbbells towards your face by bending the elbows only, but allowing them to lower on either side of your face so that they finish near your ears.
  5. Exhale and press the dumbbells back upwards without moving the shoulders whatsoever.
Dumbbell Nosecrusher

Step 1 – 2

Dumbbell Nosecrusher

Steps 3 – 4

High Pulley Cable Pushdown

  1. Using a short straight bar attached at the top of the cable station, stand at the cable pulley machine facing in towards the stack.
  2. Reach up and grab the short bar with your hands slightly narrower than shoulder width and palms facing away.
  3. Stand with your chest up and shoulders back and pull the bar down until your elbows are tucked into your waist, and the bar is at chest height approximately.
  4. Exhale as you press the bar down to your thighs, making sure the elbows stay tucked into your waist the entire time.
  5. Slowly release the bar back up, without allowing the elbows to leave the waist or the shoulders to lift towards the ears.

Tip: You may want to lean slightly forward from the hips during this exercise, and this is fine as long as your abdominals are engaged throughout the exercise.

Variation: A variation of this exercise is a single arm cable pushdown, and this can be performed with a handle attachment rather than a straight bar. If you choose to try the single arm version, you will need to make sure your body remains still and stable and that you do not rotate the shoulders or waist to assist you during the exercise.

High Pulley Rope Pulldown

Like the cable pushdown with the straight bar, this exercise works the triceps while challenging your core stability. However, because the rope has more movement, it allows a slightly different range of motion of the triceps muscle, which some people find more challenging.

  1. Attach the rope to the top cable pulley, and as in the cable pushdown, pull the rope down with your palms facing each other, until your elbows are at your waist.
  2. Keeping your elbows at your waist, and your thumbs pointing up, pull the rope downward towards the thighs, and then as your elbows are almost straight, pull the rope outward slightly so that it is at the side of your hips, and your palms are now facing away.

This action of turning the palms in towards your body so they then face behind you works the triceps more than merely using a straight bar which does not allow this movement.

Low Pulley Cable Overhead Extension

This exercise works the triceps in the same position as an overhead extension, but a cable pulley machine is used instead of a free weight.

  1. Attach the “rope” to the low attachment at the cable pulley station.
  2. Carefully pull the rope up and over your head, and face away from the stack.
  3. There will be immediate tension on the pulley since you are using the low pulley from an overhead position.
  4. Hold each end of the rope in each hand, and keep the arms straight over the head.
  5. Stand in a small lunge, with your abdominals tight and your chest high. Do not let the rope pull your arms back behind your head, or arch your back.
  6. Lower your arms and the rope behind you slowly by bending the elbows only, and then exhale as you straighten elbows and pull the rope back up to start position.

Variation: A variation of this exercise can be done using one arm at a time with a handle attachment at the bottom pulley.

Standing Dumbbell Biceps Curls

  1. Stand tall with feet hip width apart and knees slightly bent.
  2. Keep chest lifted and shoulders rolled back.
  3. Hold one dumbbell in each hand with palms up.
  4. Holding abdominals very tight, and arms close to sides, curl up both dumbbells at the same time, working core as well as biceps.
  5. Curl dumbbells up towards shoulders without using shoulders to assist, and then slowly lower back to start.

Variation: This exercise can also be done with elastic tubing. Standing with both feet on elastic tubing is harder than standing on tubing with one foot only.

Triceps Kickback

This is a safe, effective exercise for working the triceps and the back of the shoulder, two areas which tend to be weak compared to their opposing muscles, the biceps and the anterior deltoid.

  1. Kneel on a bench, with the left knee on the bench, and the left hand on the bench so that your back is perfectly straight.
  2. Right leg remains on the floor next to the bench with the knee slightly bent.
  3. Hold one dumbbell in your right hand, allowing it to hang down with a straight arm.
  4. Pull the elbow up and back so that it is squeezed into the ribcage. The elbow needs to remain in this position throughout the exercise, and you will notice that this allows the upper arm to be parallel with the floor.
  5. Keeping the elbow lifted, the shoulders down and the back very straight, straighten your elbow, moving the weight back towards your hip, keeping the palm facing in towards the body as you move the weight.
  6. Slowly lower to start position.
  7. Repeat with the other arm switching sides and leg position on the bench as well.

Pictured is variation using physio ball for stability.

Triceps Kickback

Steps 3 – 4

Triceps Kickback

Step 5

Shoulders

Frontal Raise

  1. Hold one dumbbell in each hand, palms facing thighs, arms straight down in front of you.
  2. Stand tall with good posture; knees slightly bent, abs tight, chest up.
  3. Without rocking the body or using momentum, lift the dumbbells up to shoulder height, no higher, and slowly lower back to start.
  4. You can lift both dumbbells at once, or alternate one at a time, although lifting both at once will challenge the core muscles more than a unilateral lift.
Frontal Raise

Steps 1 – 2

Frontal Raise

Step 3

Variation: This exercise can also be performed using elastic tubing, with the tubing anchored at the bottom of a door. Face away from the door when you lift tubing handles and keep body still and abs tight as you perform exercise.

Lateral Raise

This is an excellent exercise to develop the shoulders, but it can be risky for anyone with a previous history of shoulder problems or rotator cuff injury. Light dumbbells should be used during this exercise.

  1. Stand with good posture, holding one dumbbell in each hand, arms at side of body.
  2. Keeping elbows slightly bent, palms facing in towards body, lift dumbbells up to shoulder height, no higher.
  3. Keep wrists straight throughout movement and do not lock elbows.

TipExercise can also be performed with thumbs pointing up as you lift, this may reduce the risk of shoulder injury slightly. See below.

Lateral Raise with Dumbbells

Lateral Raise

Step 1

Lateral Raise

Steps 2 – 3

Variations:

A lateral raise can be stressful for the shoulder, and light weight should always be used initially. A safer variation is lifting dumbbells with thumbs turned up towards ceiling, rather than thumbs turned forward.

Lateral Raise with Dumbbells – Thumbs Up

Lateral Raise with Dumbbells - Thumbs Up

Instead of raising to this position

Lateral Raise with Dumbbells - Thumbs Up

Raise dumbbells with thumbs up

A lateral raise can also be performed with elastic tubing. Anchor the tubing well under your foot, as injury can occur if tubing is not secured properly. Use a very light weight tube for this variation, as this is stressful on shoulders. Contraindicated for those with a history of shoulder or rotator cuff problems.

Lateral Raise with Elastic Tubing

Lateral Raise with Elastic Tubing

Step 1

Lateral Raise with Elastic Tubing

Steps 2 – 3

Shoulder External Rotation – Dumbbells

External rotation of the shoulder is a motion initiated by the rotator cuff muscles, a group of muscles which support the shoulder especially in racquet and throwing sports. It is one of the most commonly injured muscle groups from improper strength training as well, so it is essential to work these muscles in some way.

  1. Using a dumbbell, you must position yourself on your side, so the weight is worked against gravity.
  2. Lie on your right side, holding a light dumbbell in your left hand. The left elbow remains bent and at the waist, and the dumbbell will hang at 90 degrees at the start of the exercise.
  3. Without moving your body, rotate the shoulder so that the dumbbell moves towards the ceiling.
  4. Keep the elbow in at the waist to insure that the upper arm does not move away from the side of your body.
  5. Roll over to your other side to repeat with other arm
Shoulder External Rotation- Dumbbells

Steps 1 – 2

Shoulder External Rotation- Dumbbells

Steps 3 – 4

Shoulder External Rotation – Elastic Tubing

External rotation of the shoulder is a motion initiated by the rotator cuff muscles, a group of muscles which support the shoulder especially in golf and racquet and throwing sports. It is one of the most commonly injured muscle groups from improper strength training as well, so it is essential to work these muscles in some way. Elastic tubing works well to strengthen the rotator cuff.

  1. Attach the tubing into the doorway at waist height.
  2. To work your left arm, face sideways to the door so that the left arm is farthest away.
  3. Grab the handle with your left arm, palm facing into your abdomen. The left elbow remains bent and into the waist throughout the movement.
  4. Hold the other end of the tubing with the right hand to secure it, and shorten the tube until there is tension on the side held by the left arm.
  5. Without moving your body, rotate the shoulder back and open up the arm so that the left arm is pulling the tubing away from the door, pivoting around the elbow.
  6. Keep the wrist straight, and the elbow in at the waist to insure that the upper arm does not move away from the side of your body.
  7. Turn around to your other side to repeat with other arm.
Shoulder External Rotation- Elastic Tubing

Steps 1 – 4

Shoulder External Rotation - Elastic Tubing

Steps 5 – 6

Shoulder Internal Rotation – Elastic Tubing

Internal rotation of the shoulder is a motion initiated by the rotator cuff muscles, a group of muscles which support the shoulder especially in golf and racquet and throwing sports. It is one of the most commonly injured muscle groups from improper strength training as well, so it is essential to work these muscles in some way. Elastic tubing works well to strengthen the rotator cuff.

  1. Attach the tubing into the doorway at waist height.
  2. To work your left arm, face sideways to the door so that the left arm is closest to the door.
  3. Grab the handle with your left arm, palm facing away from the door, hand out in front of you like you are shaking someone’s hand. The left elbow remains bent and into the waist throughout the movement.
  4. Hold the other end of the tubing with the right hand to secure it, and shorten the tube until there is tension on the side held by the left arm.
  5. Without moving your body, rotate the shoulder inward and pull the tubing towards your abdomen, keeping the wrists straight, pivoting around the elbow.
  6. Keep the elbow in at the waist to insure that the upper arm does not move away from the side of your body.
  7. Turn around to your other side to repeat with other arm.
Shoulder Internal Rotation - Elastic Tubing

Steps 1 – 4

Shoulder Internal Rotation - Elastic Tubing

Steps 5 – 6


Straight Arm Pulldown – Cable Pulley

  1. Stand at lat pull down station of cable pulley machine with knees bent, chest up and abs tight.
  2. Grab bar with hands shoulder width, palms face downward, bar at shoulder height.
  3. Using much less weight than you would for a lat pull down, press the bar down towards your thighs, squeezing the back of your shoulders and opening up the chest.
  4. Elbows and wrists remain straight throughout exercise.
  5. Slowly raise bar up back to shoulder height and repeat.

Straight Arm Pulldown – Elastic Tubing

  1. Attach elastic at the top of the door using fit loop.
  2. Stand close to the door, grabbing handles with palms facing downwards.
  3. Starting with handles at chest height, press handles down towards thighs, keeping chest up, abs tight and knees slightly bent.
  4. Arms remain close to ribcage, elbows and wrists stay straight.
  5. Squeeze the back of the shoulders at peak contraction and lift chest up.
  6. Slowly return to start position, keeping some tension on the elastic at all times, and repeat.

Chest

Close Stance Push-Up

This exercise works both the chest and triceps, but due to the close stance of your hands, it will challenge the triceps more than a regular push-up.

  1. This exercise can be performed from a straight leg push-up position, which is extremely challenging, or from knees on the floor.
  2. Hands are positioned very narrow, with hands directly under the shoulders and elbows close to the ribcage.
  3. As you lower, keep elbows close to the ribcage, paying close attention to keeping the abdominal muscles tight and the back straight.
  4. Exhale as you push back to start position and repeat.

Tip: If you begin from a bent knee position, make sure that your back is very straight and your buttocks does not stick up in the air, or your low back may feel uncomfortable.

Close Stance Push-Up

Step 1 – 2

Close Stance Push-Up

Step 3

Dumbbell Bench Press with Physio Ball

  1. Start by sitting on ball with one dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Walk feet forward lowering upper body onto ball until only upper back, shoulders and head rest on ball.
  3. Position feet directly under knees at a 90 degree angle, and lift hips upward into a bridge position so that back is straight.
  4. Raise dumbbells over chest, with thumbs in and palms facing away from you.
  5. Lower dumbbells slowly to chest, nipple line is best, weights are positioned over shoulders, but not wider than shoulders.
  6. Exhale as you press weights up and together like a triangle.
Dumbbell Bench Press with Physio Ball

Steps 1 – 3

Dumbbell Bench Press with Physio Ball

Step 5

Flat Bench Barbell Bench Press

  1. Lie on a bench with a bar rack, feet on the floor.
  2. Position yourself so that the barbell is over your eyes, not over your chest. This is so that you do not hit the rack when you begin the exercise.
  3. Grab the barbell with your hands slightly wider than shoulder width. The barbell may have markings on it which will help you grab the bar evenly.
  4. Maintaining core strength, and without arching your back, lift the barbell off of the rack and hold it steady over your chest before you lower the bar.
  5. Slowly lower the bar to the chest (nipple line), without bouncing it off the chest. Elbows are wide, 90 degrees.
  6. Exhale as you press the bar back up to start position and repeat.

Do not arch your back when lowering or lifting the bar. When it is time to return the barbell to the rack, note that you must move it slightly back to fit it into the rack. Always use a spotter for barbell bench press.

Variation: Once you’ve mastered this, try the incline barbell bench press.

Flat Bench Dumbbell Bench Press

  1. Lie on a bench with your feet on the floor and lower back pressed into the bench. You may need to hold the dumbbells at your hips as you lower onto the bench.
  2. Lift the dumbbells up over your chest, not over your shoulders or head, and hold the dumbbells steady before you attempt the exercise.
  3. Thumbs are in, palms face away.
  4. Slowly lower the dumbbells until they are directly over your shoulders, not outside of the shoulders, nor lower than the shoulders. If you’ve had a shoulder injury, read the tip!
  5. Exhale keeping abdominals tight, and press the dumbbells back up over your chest and slightly together in an “arc”.

Tip: If you have a history of shoulder injuries, you may want to make sure that the elbows do not drop much lower than the shoulders in step 4.

Variation: Once you’ve mastered this, go on to the more challenging Incline Dumbbell Bench Press.

Incline Barbell Bench Press

Incline bench work can be performed in the same way as the flat bench press, but the bench should be positioned in an incline. The greater the incline, the more involvement of the shoulder muscles, so lighter weight must be used as the incline becomes greater. Even a very small incline can work the chest muscles differently from flat bench.

  1. See flat bench barbell bench press for instruction details.
  2. When lowering the bar for incline bench press, the bar should be lowered to the chest, approximately 3-4 inches above nipple line, or higher if the incline is greater than 45 degrees.

Incline Dumbbell Bench Press

Performing an incline dumbbell bench press is similar to flat bench, but the bench is inclined, working the shoulder muscles more than in a flat bench variation. The greater the incline, the more the shoulders are worked. Lighter dumbbells may be necessary for an incline bench press.

  1. Follow same directions as for flat bench, except that dumbbells are lowered to the upper chest, rather than to nipple line. History of shoulder injuries – make sure you read the entire instruction page.

Variation: Less challenging is the Flat Bench Dumbbell Bench Press.

Lying Pullover – Dumbbells

A lying pullover is a single joint exercise which works both the chest muscles and the back muscles, the latissimus dorsi.

  1. Lie on your back on a bench with abdominals drawn in and feet on floor.
  2. Using one dumbbell, hold weight up over chest with both hands, weight is parallel with body.
  3. Keeping arms straight, but not locked, lower weight over head slowly until biceps are next to ears.
  4. Exhale and pull weight back to start position, drawing abs in as the back, chest and ribcage muscles contract.

Tip: Careful to not let shoulders creep up towards ears during the exercise or extend the weights too far over the head, as this can put strain on the upper back and shoulder muscles.

Variations:

  1. This exercise can be performed on a physio ball, with your body positioned in a bridge position, with only the head and shoulders in contact with the ball.
  2. Lying pullover can also be done lying on the floor.
  3. One dumbbell may be used, or two (held close together), or even a light barbell may be used.
Lying Pullover - Dumbbells

Steps 1 – 2

Lying Pullover - Dumbbells

Step 3

Push Up

A push-up is a demanding exercise that requires excellent core strength. If you have any shoulder or neck problems you may want to start with a “bent knee” push-up variation, where the knees remain on the floor during the push-up. For the straight leg variation:

  1. Kneel on floor, hands slightly wider than shoulders, fingers face forward.
  2. Straighten legs behind you, back straight, abdominals very tight.
  3. Keep your head in neutral alignment and your upper back as flat as possible.
  4. Slowly lower chest towards floor without arching back or dropping head.
  5. Exhale as you press your body back up to start position.

Push-Up with Physio Ball

  1. Kneel behind ball and roll carefully on your stomach out onto ball until ball is positioned under thighs or lower. The farther away the ball is from your navel, the more difficult the exercise.
  2. Hold your abdominals very tight, legs strong and straight and arms straight underneath shoulders. Hands should be wider than shoulders, fingers straight ahead.
  3. Lower body slowly to floor, keeping upper back strong, allowing elbows to bend out to the side.
  4. Push body back up to start position as you exhale.

Standing Chest Press with Cable Pulley

  1. Stand at a double cable machine, with pulleys positioned at chest or slightly below the shoulders.
  2. Grab the handles and pull them carefully forward until they are in front of the shoulder.
  3. Lunge forward slightly, keeping back straight and abdominals very tight.
  4. Hold this position, and press handles together as in a bench press, not a flye.

Tip: Pulleys can be positioned either higher or lower, and will work the upper pecs and lower pecs respectively. You may need to change your stance to accommodate this change.

Variation: Exercise can be done unilaterally as well- very challenging.

Standing Chest Press with Elastic Tubing

  1. Place tubing in the door at chest height using fit loop.
  2. Face away from the door, grabbing handles with the tubing inside of the arms, and pressing them until they are in front of the shoulders with your elbows out.
  3. Stand in a slight forward lunge , back straight, abdominals tight.
  4. Push handles together as in a bench press motion out in front of chest.
  5. Slowly release handles back in front of shoulders, making sure you do not arch your back or overextend your shoulders.