More than any other workout in your regular regime, the upper body is the most difficult to adjust to when you’re stuck at home. Upper-body go-to’s like the bench press and bent over rows rely on heavy equipment, which is easier said than done when all you have is a pair of cast-iron pots to hand.
It has left most people resorting to countless bog-standard push-ups during the lockdown, which are a great compound movement but if you’re a regular bench presser, won’t offer the difficulty and variety you need to keep pushing yourself forward.
So to give you some upper body inspiration and spice up your workouts at home we asked model, trainer, and Men’s Health cover star, Gilles Souteyrand for his tips on working out your upper body from the comfort of your own living room.
What Are The Benefits Of A Strong Upper Body?
“Keeping the body healthy is one of my main concerns,” says Souteyrand, “and should be for everyone. While it’s important to maintain the upper-body so we have enough strength for our daily chores in work and life, it is also crucial to reduce the risk of injuries and prevent any health issues down the issues.”
So there’s more to an upper-body workout then just being able to fill out your t-shirt. In a 2019 study published in the journal Nutrition, Obesity, and Exercise, men who could do at least 40 push-ups in 30 seconds had a lower risk of heart attack, heart failure, and other cardiovascular conditions than those who could do less than 10.
Upper body strength doesn’t just stop at your top half either. When it comes to cycling and running you’d think it’s all in the legs, but a strong upper body is crucial for keeping your form over distance. For example, a 2014 study found the upper body to be crucial to the generation of leg power during intense cycling.
“If you were able to maintain a good upper body fitness routine pre-confinement, why stop?” notes Souteyrand. “Being stuck at home 24 hours a day, we are likely to be laying or sitting badly on our sofa more often than usual.
“Keep your fitness mat at proximity for motivation, take a couple of breaks from your home-working & Netflix fest, and drop a series of push-ups throughout the day. Remember, the best way to effectively perform a bodyweight upper body workout is to increase reps, lower the rest times, and increase those sets.”
The Best Upper Body Workout To Do At Home
Now, of course, the classic push-up is going to take pride of place in this workout. But to show there’s more to working out your upper body at home, Souteyrand has also thrown in some interesting plank extensions as well as a couple of variations on that push-up we’ve been going on about so much.
As if things weren’t tough enough, Souteyrand recommends 20 crunches (aka sit-ups) between each exercise, and absolutely no rest between movements. Complete this circuit for five sets.
How Many Reps? 25 reps
Technique: Start with your feet together and no more than 12 inches apart, your hands flat on the ground below your shoulders, and your arms straight. Breathe in as you bend your elbows while lowering your chest to slightly below the level of your bent elbow. Then breathe out as you push back up to the starting position for one rep.
Top Tip: Remember to engage your core and thighs to keep your hips flat and level.
Plank To Tricep Extension
How Many Reps? 15 reps
Technique: Move into an elbow plank position with your weight resting on your forearms, your palms resting on the floor, and your legs extended as usual. Press your palms firmly into the ground and contract your triceps to raise your elbows off the ground until you’re in the push-up position, keeping your core tight the whole time.
Top Tip: Strong triceps help keep your joints healthy, particularly your elbow joints so it pays to look after them.
How Many Reps? 15 reps
Technique: Begin in a standard push-up position but with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and elbows completely locked out. Shoot your hips towards the ceiling and plant your toes into the ground so your body looks like an upside-down ‘V.’ Slowly lower the top of your head towards the ground.
Once your head is about to make contact with the ground, pause, and then press back up to the starting position.
Top Tip: Walk your toes in closer to your body to create a sharper angle and make the exercise more difficult.
Plank Crossovers On Elbows
How Many Reps? 20 reps on each leg
Technique: Assume a plank position with your arms fully extended. Move your right leg up and across the body to the opposite side elbow then extend back out to the starting position before repeating with the other leg.
Top Tip: Speed the exercise up as you get acquainted with it so you move into more of a running pattern.
How Many Reps? Home stretch is in sight now – 20 more reps to go.
Technique: Assume a plank position. Now move your palms toward your midline, making your thumb and index fingers on each hand touch, forming the shape of a diamond. Keeping your elbows flared at a 45-degree angle, slowly lower your body down to the ground until your chest reaches the floor. Then, return to the start.
Top Tip: If you’re a beginner, drop to your knees to complete this move so you don’t compromise your form. This applies to all push-ups.
Three Upper Body Exercises To Add When Back In The Gym
As you return to the gym, these exercises will become the foundation of your upper body workouts. Complete four sets of each keeping your rest time to a maximum of 30 seconds so you can keep the cardio going.
Bent Over Row With Barbell
How Many Reps? 15 reps at a challenging weight.
Technique: Start in a semi-squat position with your body weight on your heels, your back in a neutral position, and holding the barbell with both hands in front of you knees with straight arms. As you bring the barbell up alongside your legs, keep your elbows close to your sides. Lower alongside your legs until you reach the initial position.
Top Tip: If you can’t stop at the top of each rep, you’ve picked a weight that’s too heavy. Pausing at the top will also help you to build better posture.
Standing Shoulder Presses With Barbell
How Many Reps? 15 reps at a challenging weight.
Technique: With a forward stance and the barbell propped up on your chest, push the barbell up and press it over your head. Then lower it back down to your slowly and with control.
Top Tip: The bar starts across your upper chest below your chin, so as you push up, tilt your head back slightly as you push the bar up so that it stays in a straight line without hitting your chin and nose.
Swing With Plate
How Many Reps? 30 reps with a 30kg plate.
Technique: Start in a semi-squat position, bodyweight on your heels, your back in a neutral position, holding the plate between your legs at knee height. With power, swing the plate upwards over your head while keeping your arms straight. As you lower, reach between your knees and swing it back upwards.
Top Tip: Plates work as an alternative to kettlebells, so if you either or at home then you don’t have to wait till you return to the gym to start this one.