A quick upper body workout

Written by

September 11, 2013

With the assistance of Troy Wentzlaff

The incidence of osteoporosis increases with age in men and women. Many are aware of the benefits in this regard that walking or jogging is good weight-bearing exercise for building stronger bones. Your upper body benefits from ‘weight-bearing’ as well. I agree with Thu that toned arms are a sign of a healthy body.

Sometimes it’s difficult to find time to work out; or you might be away from home and need to change your routine. The more options you have for a quick workout, the better. So here’s a combination of exercises that I learned many years ago and go back to from time to time. It’s good for toning the upper body – including the chest, shoulders and triceps.

It’s a good idea to warm up with a brisk 5-15 minute walk beforehand, if possible. I think this routine is an excellent complement to a lower body workout such as biking or walking, but if all I have is 10 minutes, that’s alright.

If you’re a beginner, you can do these without weights initially, while lying on the floor. A general rule of thumb is to use a weight with which you can do 8-14 repetitions (reps); when you can comfortably do 14 reps, then increase the weight by a pound or two. If you’ve increased the weight as much as you care to, then do 20 reps of each exercise to tone the muscles. The weights should be heavy enough so that you feel like you’re doing some work, though. Otherwise, you’re really doing the exercises for flexibility, not muscle tone or strength.

So, for the 6 exercises shown below, do 8-20 reps of each one. Complete the entire routine up to 3 times if you can. Recognize your limitations and go slowly and gently. If you have not done these exercises before, do them on the floor; when you feel more confident and well-balanced, you can try them on a bench. They are photographed on the bench here for better visualization of position, but the floor works just as well, and prevents your arms from going too far posteriorly on the ‘fly’ exercise.

To start, lie on your back. See the first 2 photos below. Your natural lumbar curve should allow you to slide your hand between your back and the floor. This will decrease the risk for back injury. You can keep your feet flat on the floor or bench with your knees pointed to the ceiling; for more abdominal work, lift your legs into ‘tabletop position’ with your shins parallel to the ceiling. Needless to say, if any of these exercises seem to irritate your back, shoulder, or anything else, adjust your position or don’t do them!

  1. Flat dumbbell press – (photos 3&4) Hold arms out at sides, elbows flexed at 90 degrees, palms facing forward, and raise weights toward the ceiling and to the midline. At their highest, they should be close to each other, above your eyes, without touching. Return to the initial position. Repeat this and each of the following exercises 8-20 times.
  2. Abdominal crunch – (photos 13&14 – sorry, having technical difficulties) Beginners or those with neck issues, place hands behind head. Gently support your head, but keep your chin away from your chest. Lift head and upper chest toward the ceiling, then back to starting position. More advanced – lift a weight toward the ceiling, and/or hold the raised position for 2 seconds before lying back down.
  3. Flat dumbbell fly – (photos 5&6) Hold arms out to sides, elbows slightly bent, palms toward ceiling. Without changing the bend in your elbows, lift weights overhead, toward each other, palms facing each other, as if you’re hugging a tree. Return to start position.
  4. Spine twist -(photos 7&8) Seated upright, slightly tilted back, gently move your arms side to side, as shown. For more upper body work, you can do this with a medicine ball or weight, touching the ground on each side of your buttock. Go slowly to avoid straining your back.
  5. ‘Skullcrushers’ or triceps curls – (photos 9&10) Lying flat on your back, raise your arms straight overhead. Bring the weights toward your head, carefully (they’re not called skull crushers for nothing!), keeping your elbows pointed toward the ceiling, and gently pressing toward the midline. Lift hands back toward ceiling. If this bothers your elbows, skip it – the dumbbell fly is better for you.
  6. Bicycle– (photos 11&12) With hands behind your head, elbows out to the side, alternate bringing left knee to right elbow, then right knee to left elbow. This is the trickiest to do on the bench – don’t try it unless your balance is good.

If this routine works for you, repeat one or two more times.

Hope this gives you a quick toning option!