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Upper Body Bodyweight Exercises: A Complete Guide

upper body bodyweight exercises

Bodyweight exercises have long been heralded for their simplicity and effectiveness. They’re perfect for those who don’t have access to gym equipment or prefer the flexibility of working out anywhere. For men looking to build a strong and chiseled upper body, bodyweight exercises offer a direct route. Here, we’ll delve deep into upper body exercises that will push your limits and sculpt your physique.

Upper Body Bodyweight Exercises for Men: A Complete Guide

1. Push-Ups: The Quintessential Upper Body Exercise

  • Standard Push-Up: Start in a plank position. Keeping your body straight, lower yourself until your chest nearly touches the ground. Push yourself up to the starting position. This works the chest, shoulders, and triceps.
  • Diamond Push-Up: Place your hands close together under your chest so that your thumbs and index fingers form a diamond. This focuses more on the triceps and inner chest.
  • Wide Push-Up: Spread your hands wider than shoulder-width apart. This version emphasizes the outer chest.
  • Pike Push-Up: Start in a downward dog position and lower your head between your hands. This replicates a shoulder press, targeting the deltoids.

2. Pull-Ups & Chin-Ups: Test of Strength

  • Standard Pull-Up: Using an overhand grip, pull yourself up until your chin is above the bar. This focuses on the latissimus dorsi (lats) and biceps.
  • Chin-Up: Use an underhand grip. Besides working the lats, there’s a greater emphasis on the biceps.
  • Neutral-Grip Pull-Up: Grip the bars with palms facing each other. This version is easier on the wrists and also engages both the biceps and lats.

3. Dips: The Upper Body Lowerer: Upper Body Bodyweight Exercises

  • Bench Dips: Sit on a bench, placing your hands next to your hips. Shift forward off the bench, lowering your body down and then pushing back up. This focuses on the triceps and anterior deltoids.
  • Parallel Bar Dips: Using two parallel bars, lift yourself up and lower your body down, then push back to the starting position. This is an advanced exercise targeting the chest, triceps, and front shoulders.

4. Inverted Rows: The Horizontal Pull: Upper Body Bodyweight Exercises

Using a bar set at waist height or rings, lie underneath it. Grasp the bar with an overhand grip and pull your chest towards it. This exercise complements the pull-up, focusing on the middle back, lats, and biceps.

5. Planks: The Silent Upper Body Builder

While commonly seen as an abdominal exercise, planks also work the shoulders, chest, and back.

  • Standard Plank: Start in a push-up position but with your weight on your forearms. Keep your body straight and hold.
  • Side Plank: Lie on one side with your weight on one forearm. Raise your hips so that your body forms a straight line. This focuses on the obliques and shoulders.

6. Handstand Push-Ups: The Advanced Challenger

Kick up into a handstand against a wall. Lower yourself down and then push back up. This is an advanced exercise heavily targeting the shoulders, triceps, and chest. Always ensure proper form to avoid injury.

Why Bodyweight?

There are multiple benefits to incorporating bodyweight exercises:

  1. Versatility: They can be done anywhere – at home, in a park, or when traveling.
  2. Functional Strength: They improve real-world strength as you’re lifting and controlling your body.
  3. Joint Health: Less risk of heavy weights causing strain or injury on joints.
  4. Holistic Approach: Many bodyweight exercises are compound movements, meaning they work multiple muscle groups at once.

Tips for Success: Upper Body Bodyweight Exercises

  1. Progressive Overload: Just as with weights, aim to increase the number of reps or sets gradually over time.
  2. Variety: Change up the exercises to avoid plateaus and to continually challenge your muscles.
  3. Consistency: Ensure regular workouts for the best results.
  4. Form First: Always prioritize good form over increasing reps to prevent injury and get the maximum benefit.

Incorporating Bodyweight Workouts into Your Routine

Building upon our understanding of bodyweight exercises, let’s delve deeper into how to best integrate them into your fitness routine. Crafting an effective regimen requires more than just knowing the exercises; it’s about understanding progression, integrating auxiliary exercises, and optimizing recovery.

The Concept of Progression in Bodyweight Workouts

With weights, progression usually involves adding more weight. With bodyweight exercises, it’s about adjusting angles, leveraging body mechanics, and increasing repetitions:

  • Leverage and Angles: The more you shift your weight onto the working muscles or change the angle, the harder the exercise becomes. For instance, elevating your feet during push-ups makes them more challenging as it increases the weight on your upper body.
  • Time Under Tension: Slowing down the movement, especially on the lowering phase, increases muscle activation. A slow and controlled descent in a pull-up or push-up, for example, can enhance muscle hypertrophy.
  • Increasing Reps: The most straightforward way to progress is by doing more reps. However, it’s essential to balance high-rep endurance training with strength-based, lower-rep sets.

Auxiliary Bodyweight Exercises

These are exercises that complement the main movements by targeting smaller stabilizing muscles:

  • Scapular Push-Ups: Begin in a plank position. Without bending your arms, lower your body by only moving your shoulder blades. This exercise strengthens the serratus anterior, crucial for shoulder health.
  • Face Pulls with Bands: Although not purely bodyweight, using resistance bands for face pulls can strengthen the rear deltoids and upper traps, balancing out push-heavy routines.
  • Bodyweight Bicep Curls: Using a TRX band or a similar tool, lean back holding the handles, then curl yourself up. It’s a different way to target the biceps without weights.

Recovery and Flexibility: Upper Body Bodyweight Exercises

Building muscle isn’t just about the workout; recovery plays an essential role:

  • Stretching: Regular stretching improves flexibility and can aid muscle recovery. Incorporate dynamic stretching before your workout and static stretching afterward. Moves like the doorway chest stretch or the cat-cow stretch can be invaluable.
  • Rest: Overworking leads to burnout and potential injury. Ensure you have rest days, or at least days where you focus on different muscle groups.
  • Nutrition: Fueling your body with the right nutrients, especially protein, ensures optimal muscle recovery and growth.

Creating a Balanced Weekly Routine

Here’s a sample bodyweight workout plan, incorporating the exercises mentioned:

Day 1: Push Movements

  • Standard Push-ups: 4 sets x 15 reps
  • Pike Push-ups: 3 sets x 10 reps
  • Bench Dips: 3 sets x 12 reps
  • Scapular Push-ups: 3 sets x 10 reps

Day 2: Pull Movements: Upper Body Bodyweight Exercises

  • Pull-Ups: 4 sets x 8 reps
  • Inverted Rows: 3 sets x 12 reps
  • Bodyweight Bicep Curls: 3 sets x 10 reps
  • Face Pulls with Bands: 3 sets x 15 reps

Day 3: Rest or light cardio

Day 4: Core and Stability: Upper Body Bodyweight Exercises

  • Standard Plank: 3 sets x 1 min
  • Side Plank (both sides): 3 sets x 30 seconds each
  • Scapular Push-ups: 3 sets x 15 reps

Day 5: Full Body

  • Handstand Push-ups (or progressions): 4 sets x 5 reps
  • Chin-Ups: 3 sets x 10 reps
  • Diamond Push-ups: 3 sets x 12 reps
  • Inverted Rows: 3 sets x 15 reps

Day 6 & 7: Rest or flexibility exercises


Taking your upper body bodyweight workouts to the next level requires a combination of understanding progression, integrating complementary exercises, and focusing on recovery. The beauty of these exercises lies in their simplicity and adaptability. As you continue your journey, you’ll find that these bodyweight exercises not only enhance your physical strength but also boost your mental tenacity. The challenge, adaptability, and sheer determination bodyweight workouts demand can serve as a reflection of one’s commitment to health, discipline, and growth.

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    Men’s Fit Club was started with the goal of empowering men to get the most out of their lives. This meant going beyond exercise and diet tips to really address the broad range of issues that men face on a daily basis – topics like recreation, finding love, sexual health and even sound fashion advice.