The seven gym moves my personal trainer says you need to build upper-body strength

Training my upper body has made everyday life so much easier—here's one of my favorite sessions for you to try

A woman exercising with a barbell while a crouching, female personal trainer watches
(Image credit: AleksandarGeorgiev / Getty Images)

Exercises that target my upper body have become firm favorites. That's not just because I like the look of a toned back, shoulders and arms, but because having upper-body muscle has helped me in so many other areas. My running posture has improved tenfold thanks to stronger back and core muscles and the once impossible HYROX sled push has finally become doable.

Plus, weight training ensures better bone health (which is especially important for women) and helps with everyday movement. Even lugging a suitcase up the subway stairs is now a breeze.

So, I wanted to share one of my favorite workouts, targeting the upper body.

My personal trainer Will Duru says the exercises below are ideal for targeting the whole upper body.

"Make sure that the last two reps of each set are a challenge. If they're too easy, up the weight, but make sure your form is still on point. Think about the muscles working as you move—that mind-muscle connection will help you really achieve more from each exercise!"

This workout takes about an hour in total, however if you're in a rush, superset the exercises by putting two moves back to back with no rest. Only rest after the second exercise, before returning to the first exercise again.

How to do this upper-body workout

1. Barbell bent-over row

Sets: 4 Reps: 12

  • Stand holding a barbell with your hands shoulder-width apart in an overhand grip, palms facing you, and a slight bend in your knees.
  • Engage your core then hinge forward at the hips, keeping your back flat.
  • Lift the barbell to your chest, keeping your elbows close to your body.
  • Pause here, then lower the barbell with control.

2. Dumbbell chest press on gym ball

Sets: 4 Reps: 12

  • Rest your upper back on a gym ball with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand just above your chest in an overhand grip, palms facing away from you.
  • Engage your core muscles and press the dumbbells straight up.
  • Pause at the top before slowly lowering the dumbbells back down.

Tip: The ball forces your core to work harder to keep you stable, this can also be done on a weights bench or floor if you need the extra stability.

3. Chin-up

Sets: 4 Reps: 4-5

  • Take hold of a pull-up bar with your hands shoulder-width apart and your palms palms facing toward you.
  • Engage your core and squeeze your shoulder blades together, then pull yourself up until your chin is above the bar.
  • Pause, then lower yourself back down with control.

Tip: Use an assisted pull-up machine or long-looped resistance band to help if this exercise is too difficult to complete unaided.

4. Arnold press

Sets: 4 Reps: 12

  • Sit on a weights bench with back support, holding dumbbells by your shoulders with your elbows under the dumbbells and palms facing you.
  • Press the dumbbells straight up, rotating your wrists so your palms face away from you at the top of the move.
  • Reverse the move to the start, lowering under control.

5. Cable straight-arm pull-down

Sets: 4 Reps: 15

  • Move the pulley to the top of the cable machine and clip a long bar onto the carabiner.
  • Face the cable machine holding the bar in both hands and step back until there's tension in the cable and your arms are extended, but with a slight bend in your elbows.
  • Engage your core and bend your knees slightly and hinge forward slightly at the hips.
  • Keeping your arms extended, pull the cable to your thighs.
  • Pause, then then return to the start under control.

6. Single-arm seated row

Sets: 4 Reps: 12 on each side

  • Move the pulley to the top of the cable machine and clip a D-handle onto the carabiner.
  • Place a weights bench with back support facing away from a cable machine.
  • Sit on the bench and hold the handle in one hand.
  • Keeping your core engaged and back flat, pull the handle to the side of your torso.
  • Pause, squeeze your back muscles, then return to the start under control.

7. Low pull-up

Sets: 4 Reps: 12

  • Place a barbell on J-hooks in a squat rack so the bar is roughly chest height.
  • Hold the bar with your hands just wider than shoulder-width apart with your palms facing away from you.
  • Bend your knees to lower so that your arms are extended overhead.
  • Keeping your feet on the ground, pull your body up until your chin is over the bar.
  • Pause, squeeze your shoulder blades and back muscles, then lower under control.
Lucy Gornall

Lucy is a freelance journalist specializing in health, fitness and lifestyle. She was previously the Health and Fitness Editor across various women's magazines, including Woman&Home, Woman and Woman’s Own as well as Editor of Feel Good You. She has also previously written for titles including Now, Look, Cosmopolitan, GQ, Red and The Sun. 

She lives and breathes all things fitness; working out every morning with a mix of running, weights, boxing and long walks. Lucy is a Level 3 personal trainer and teaches classes at various London studios. Plus, she's pre- and post-natal trained and helps new mums get back into fitness after the birth of their baby. Lucy claims that good sleep, plenty of food and a healthy gut (seriously, it's an obsession) are the key to maintaining energy and exercising efficiently. Saying this, she's partial to many classes of champagne and tequila on the rocks whilst out with her friends.