Push-ups are hard. Pull-ups are even harder — especially if you don’t have access to a pull-up bar — so it can be discouraging when so many upper-body workouts include both of those moves. Luckily, there are a multitude of exercises with which you can create an effective upper-body workout at home.
Try the following nine moves, all pulled directly from programs on Beachbody On Demand. All you need to make this a complete upper-body workout at home are dumbbells (or resistance bands) and a bench or stability ball.
Benefits: “No one can ever do enough rows,” says Tony Gentilcore, C.S.C.S, owner of CORE gym in Boston. By offsetting many of the postural issues associated with sitting hunched over a computer all day, rows can help eliminate back pain and correct your posture, giving your entire body a visual lift, he says.
- Stand tall, holding a set of dumbbells at your sides, with your palms facing your body. (You can also use a resistance band: Loop the band around each foot. Hold the left handle in your right hand and the right handle in your left hand so that that the band forms an “X.”)
- Keeping your back flat, core braced, and knees slightly bent, bend at the waist so that your back is just above parallel with the floor. Your arms should hang toward the floor.
- Row the dumbbells to the sides of your ribs, squeezing your shoulder blades together at the top of the movement. Pause, then slowly lower your arms back down, and repeat.
2. Arnold Press
Benefits: “Arnold Schwarzenegger was smart in the gym, and this exercise remains a weight room favorite after decades,” says Kourtney Thomas, C.S.C.S. Why? Because it hits all three sections of the deltoid muscle at one time: the anterior (front), medial (side), and posterior (rear).
- Hold two dumbbells in front of your chest with your palms facing toward your body, keeping your elbows close to your body. This is your starting position.
- Press the dumbbells up above your head, rotating your palms out so that when you reach the overhead position, they face away from your body.
- Reverse the motion to lower the dumbbells back down, corkscrewing your hands so your palms end facing your body, and repeat.
Tip: You can perform this exercise seated or standing. “Seated, you’ll be able to press a little more weight,” Thomas says. “Standing, you’ll get more core engagement because you’re being forced to stabilize your entire body throughout the move.”
Benefits: For those who struggle with push-ups, the bench press allows you to train the muscles of the upper body — pecs, triceps, and shoulders — in a different way. For push-up masters, the bench press allows you to use more than just your body weight to work these muscles, which is vital to adding significant strength or definition, Gentilcore explains.
- Lay with your back on a flat bench, holding a dumbbell in each hand directly above your chest. Raise your arms straight above your chest, palms facing forward.
- Bend your elbows to lower the dumbbells until your upper arms are parallel with the floor.
- Pause, then press up and slightly in so that you end with your arms fully extended, and repeat.
Benefits: This move might look simple, but there’s actually a lot going on — specifically when it comes to building your lats and pecs, Thomas says. Bonus: You’ll feel your core fire up with every rep, too.
- Lay with your back on a flat bench or on the floor, holding a set of dumbbells.
- With your feet planted on the ground and your core engaged, extend your arms to the sky, holding the dumbbells together above your chest.
- With a slight bend in your elbows, slowly lower your arms overhead until your biceps reach your ears.
- Slowly bring your arms back to above your chest and repeat.
Tip: You might be tempted to drop the dumbbells overhead by arching the back and lifting the ribs, Thomas says. Avoid this by keeping your core engaged throughout the exercise.
5. Dumbbell Rear-Delt Fly
Benefits: The posterior delt (aka rear shoulder muscle) is sorely undertrained — this is one reason shoulder injuries are so common. If you only train the section of the delts you can see head-on, you’ll alter the shoulder positioning. This limits certain movements and causes the joint to work inefficiently.
- Stand tall or sit on a bench, holding a set of dumbbells down at your sides.
- Keeping your back flat, push your hips back to hinge forward if standing, and lower your chest until it is almost parallel with the ground. Allow the weights to hang straight down at arm’s length, palms facing each other.
- Maintaining a slight bend in your elbows and keeping your back flat, lift the dumbbells to the side by squeezing the shoulder blades together. Stop when the dumbbells are in line with your body.
- Pause, then slowly lower the dumbbells back to start, and repeat.
Tip: Be careful not to use momentum to help you raise the dumbbells. Perform each rep slowly and with control. Imagine squeezing an orange between your shoulder blades each time you lift the bells.
Benefits: Apart from building the biceps — everyone’s favorite vanity muscle — biceps curls are actually excellent for promoting shoulder stability, Gentilcore says. The trick is to focus on keeping your shoulders stationary with very rep.
- Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding two dumbbells at your sides, palms facing away from your body.
- Keeping your back straight and your elbows locked at your sides, slowly curl the weights as close to your shoulders as possible.
- Slowly lower back to start and repeat.
7. Hammer Curl to Press
Appears in: 21 Day Fix – Upper Fix
Benefits: This combination movement obviously work your biceps, but it also challenges many other muscles in your upper body, including your shoulders and triceps.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand with your arms at your side, palms facing each other.
- Keeping your elbows tucked into your sides, curl dumbbells up to your shoulders without moving your upper arms.
- Push dumbbells above your head until your arms are straight, keeping your palms facing each other.
- Lower the weights back down to your shoulder, then lower your arms all the way straight down to your sides. Repeat.
8. Overhead Triceps Extension
Appears in: P90X – Chest, Shoulders, Triceps
Benefits: This standing version of the move requires additional core engagement while training each arm separately, which can help prevent/correct muscle imbalances.
- Assume a staggered stance holding a pair of dumbbells directly overhead, palms facing each other, weights touching. This is the starting position.
- Keeping the dumbbells pressed together, and without moving your upper arms, lower the weights behind your head until your elbows are bent 90 degrees.
- Reverse the movement to return to the starting position, pressing the weights back up until your arms are fully extended but not locked out.
- Alternate your forward foot with each set.
9. Floor Chest Fly
Benefits: This move targets the chest muscles in ways other exercises like push-ups and bench presses can’t, Thomas says. And you don’t even need a bench — just a set of dumbbells!
- Lay with your back on the floor, your knees bent and your feet flat, holding a pair of dumbbells directly over your chest with your palms facing each other. Allow a slight bend in your elbows.
- Slowly lower the dumbbells out to your sides, creating a wide arc with your arms until your upper arms lightly touch the floor.
- Pause, then slowly reverse the movement to return to the top, and repeat.