As a general rule, you should aim to do workouts that target all the muscles in your body in order to function optimally. You don’t have to do full-body workouts daily, but when you plan your workout for the week, at some point, you should target all your muscles. And when it comes to the upper body, incorporating workouts that single out your back and shoulders will set you up for success in the long run—after all these are postural muscles that affect how you move throughout the world.
Having a strong back supports and stabilizes your spine, improves your posture, and helps to prevent you from experiencing aches and pains that commonly occur when your muscles are weaker and aren’t being recruited and firing properly.
The next time you’re going to do upper body, consider pairing back and shoulders together. First, it’ll be more time-efficient and you’ll be able to do more exercises that target both muscle groups at once. Second, because your back is a major muscle group and your shoulders are considered an accessory muscle, they complement one another and you won’t have to worry about overdoing it during your sweat sessions.
Ready to start strengthening your back and shoulders? Here are some of our favorite exercises.
Rows are one of the best exercises you can do for your back, and there are so many variations like bent-over rows and single-arm rows.
How to do it: For the single-arm row on a bench, place your knee directly below your hip so that both joints are at a 90-degree angle. Your core should be engaged and your back should be in a natural position. With control, drive your elbow back and slightly out, keeping your shoulder facing the ground. Hold for two seconds, then return your arm to the starting position.
This bodyweight exercise may look easy, but you’ll feel it challenging your muscles after a few reps.
How to do it: Start by lying on the ground on your stomach. With control, engage your glutes and abs as you simultaneously lift your arms and legs off of the ground. Hold for a few seconds and slowly return to the starting position.
3. Glute bridges
Yes, glute bridges are great for your butt, but they also strengthen your lower-back muscles, helping to stabilize your spine.
How to do it: Start by lying on your back with arms fully extended, your palms flat on the ground, and your knees bent and feet about hip-width distance apart. Your knees and ankles should be aligned. Gently squeeze your glutes and drive your heels into the ground as you lift your glutes and back up off of the ground. Your spine should be in a neutral position and there should be no arching or rounding of your back. Hold for two to three seconds at the top of the move, then lower back down to the starting position.
5. Kettlebell deadlifts
Deadlifts are another exercise that most people do for the lower body, but that also strengthens your lower-back muscles.
How to do it: Start with your kettlebell lined up in between your ankles. Slightly bend your knees, maintaining a high hip posture and a flat back with your chin in a neutral position, and grab the kettlebell with both hands. Think about squeezing your armpits together and keep your shoulders high as you engage your core and your glutes, driving through your feet to come into a standing position. With control lower the kettlebell back down to the starting position.
1. Overhead shoulder press
The video above shows how to do an overhead press with resistance bands, which is great for beginners. If you’re ready to progress the move, try doing an overhead press with dumbbells.
How to do it: Start standing with your feet about hip-width distance apart with a dumbbell in each hand. Engage your core and make sure to have a slight bend in your knees. With control, curl your arms up to bring the dumbbells to shoulder height, your palms can face forward or in. Keeping your core engaged and a neutral spine, press both dumbbells overhead until your arms are fully extended. Then lower them back down to your shoulders.
2. Lateral raises
It won’t take many reps to feel these lateral raises working your shoulders.
How to do it: Start standing with your feet about shoulder-width apart and a dumbbell in each hand. Engage your core and set your shoulders down and back and keep your chest up. With control, raise both arms until the dumbbells are at shoulder height. It should look like you’re making a “T” with your arms. With control, lower the weights back to the starting position.
3. Upright row
Another great shoulder exercise that’s effective even with light weight is the upright row.
How to do it: Start standing with your feet about hip-width apart with a dumbbell in each hand in front of your body with your palms facing your thighs. With control, drive your elbows up, bringing the weights to chest level. Be sure to keep your core engaged and your shoulders back and down. Your wrists shouldn’t be higher than your elbows and your palms should still be facing your body. With control, slowly lower the weights back to the starting position.
4. Decline push-up
You probably know by now that push-ups can be a challenge but we have faith in you. Try the decline variation to really target your shoulders.
How to do it: Start with your feet elevated on a stable, stationary object like a bench. Your legs should be fully extended and your elbows and wrists should be directly underneath your shoulders with your fingers pointing forward. Maintain a neutral spine and keep your neck in a neutral position. Engage your core, and slowly lower your body down to the ground, maintaining a neutral spine. With control drive your hands into the ground and push yourself back up to the starting position.
5. Plank with shoulder tap
Planks are great for your abs, but they’re also great for strengthening your back as well.
How to do it: Start by coming into a traditional plank, with your core engaged and your elbows and hands directly underneath your shoulders. Imagine that there is a straight line from your head all the way down to your heels. Once you’re set, lift your right hand up and off the ground and gently tap your left shoulder. Your hips should stay square and be pointing toward the ground throughout the duration of the movement. Place your right hand back on the ground with control, then repeat on the opposite side.
How to make an upper-body workout
There are a variety of ways to put together an effective upper-body workout with these exercises. First, you don’t have to do all of these moves in one workout, we actually advise against doing so. For beginners, choose three to six moves from both lists. You can perform them individually or as supersets (performing each exercise back-to-back with little to no rest). Here’s a sample workout:
1A. Supermans: 10 reps
1B. Plank with shoulder tap: 10 reps
2A. Rows: 10 reps each arm
2B: Overhead shoulder press: 10 reps
3A. Decline push-up: 10 reps
3B. Glute bridges: 10 reps
Need more back and shoulder workout inspo? Try this kettlebell back and arms workout:
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