Tone Up With These 20 Upper Body Workouts for Women
Don’t believe the lies: having a strong upper body isn’t only reserved for men. Toning up your muscles with an upper body workout for women will give you strong, sleek arms. This workout guide puts together routines that target the upper body muscles like the triceps, biceps, and the chest and shoulders. Incorporating these different exercises will keep you toned and strong without bulking you up too much. We highly recommend throwing in an upper body day or two in between your normally scheduled cardio exercises for the best results.
Don’t have a gym membership? No worries. We’ve added in several easy at-home exercises in this list of the best upper body workout for women options. Before you know it, you’ll have a sculpted and strong upper body to show off.
The biceps are the muscle group located in the upper arm. They are made up of two different muscles called the brachii and the brachialis, which means “two heads of the arm.”
What does working out the biceps do besides give you nice sculpted arms? The biceps are the muscles that are responsible for two specific motions. The first is to flex the elbow as you lift your arm close to your face. The second function of the biceps is the rotation of the forearm that most people do various times throughout the day without knowing. When activated, the biceps make a pull and curl motion. Along with that, you’ll get beautiful strong, toned arms.
Here’s how to get an upper body workout for women that work the biceps.
20.) Close Grip Chin-Ups
Not all chin-ups and pull-ups are created equal, but they are a great upper body workout for women. The way you place your hand determines which muscles are the focus of that exercise. By placing your palms close together and facing the chin-up bar, you’ll recruit more of the muscles in your upper arm.
- Use either a freestanding pull-up bar or a gym machine that supports part of your body weight.
- Grab the bar with your palms facing you and your hands close together (shoulder-width apart).
- Start from the hanging position, then raise yourself up toward the bar until your chin is just above it.
- Lower yourself back down to the start.
Repeat eight times, and practice two to three times a week for the best results.
19.) Arm Circles
Incorporating arm circles into your daily workout is a great way to tone from the shoulders down to the elbows. Start with a few sets without weights for a good warm up, then incorporate a pair of dumbbells into the exercise and say goodbye to arm flab.
- With a three- to eight-pound dumbbell in each hand, stand up straight with your arms out to your side, raised to shoulder-height.
- Rotate your arms forward in small, circular motions for ten counts, then switch to do circles in the opposite direction for another ten counts. It helps to think of drawing circles on the wall closest to the weights.
- Do larger circles forward and backward for ten counts each.
- Lower your arms back to start.
18.) Hammer Curls
Although this exercise is similar to standard biceps curls, hammer curls emphasize one of the smaller arm muscles (brachioradialis) while the standard curl focuses on the biceps brachii, the largest muscle of the arm. This is a great addition to a strong upper body workout for women.
- Stand with your feet shoulder width apart with a 5- to 10-pound dumbbell in each hand.
- Put your palms facing your side as you bend your elbows to raise and lower the weights to your shoulders and back down.
- Inhale on the rise and exhale when you lower.
Do three sets of eight, then take a break and do another three sets.
Most people have a love-hate relationship with push-ups. Although they’re the quickest way to work the arms, chest, and core simultaneously, they can be difficult to execute correctly. Here’s your guide to proper push-up form:
- Position your stomach facing the floor, and raise your body so that your weight is supported by your hands and feet.
- Place your hands directly under your shoulders so your body resembles a plank.
- Bend your elbows to lower your chest to the floor, keeping your elbows back along your body.
- Don’t arch or sag your lower back.
- Straighten your arms back to start.
There are several modified push-up variations that are also great for the upper body. For a modified version, balance on your knees instead of your feet for your reps.
16.) Bicep Curls
This exercise is hands-down the most popular and efficient biceps exercise for a good upper body workout for women. It’s one of the few exercises that focuses on the three primary muscles of what’s commonly called the biceps — the biceps brachii, brachialis, and brachioradialis. Master the basic form, and then try alternating arm curls, preacher curls, or concentration curls.
- Grab a 5- to 10-pound dumbbell in each hand, and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Hold your arms down by your side with your palms facing outward.
- Bend your arms at the elbows to raise the weights to your shoulders, then take the weights back down.
- Do this move slowly and with control, and keep your elbows in toward your body.
Do 8-12 reps and 3-4 sets of each for the best range.
The triceps brachii is made up of three muscle parts. They are referred to as the long head, the lateral head, and the medial or deep head. These muscles are responsible for the push and extend motion when activated, which is opposite to the biceps. They are the back outer part of your arm, so when toned they give your arms a sleek, sexy look.
Women especially may want to focus on these muscle groups because women tend to carry more weight in the triceps as they age. Do a few of these triceps workouts on arm day and work your way to toned arms in no time with your upper body workout for women.
15.) Triceps Kickbacks
Because the starting position for this exercise is identical to the bent-over row, you can try this exercise right after for an even more challenging workout. This exercise is also a great triceps toning move in and of itself.
- Place your right leg on the ground and your left knee and hand on a bench. Lean forward so your chest is parallel to the floor, and hold a 5- to 10-pound dumbbell in your right hand.
- Bend your elbows back behind you so that the weights are at waist-height.
- Straighten your arm straight back and raise the weight behind you.
- Bend back to your side to complete one rep.
14.) Triangle Pushups
The most efficient triceps exercise may also be one of the simplest, according to a study by exercise scientists from the University of Wisconsin. When using electrodes to test the muscle activity of 15 women performing eight popular triceps exercises, the researchers found that triangle pushups elicited the highest average muscle activity. This exercise has the added benefit of not requiring any equipment.
- Place yourself in a pushup position, but align your hands under your chest.
- Create a triangular space between your hands by touching the tips of your index fingers to each other and your thumbs to each other.
- Lower your chest slowly to your hands and then push back the initial position.
13.) Chair Dips
Despite the name of this exercise, you can do dips off nearly any elevated surface (ledge, steps, railing, table, workout bench, etc) or even suspend yourself off the floor in the crab position. This exercise is a great option for working out at home. However or wherever you choose to do this exercise, keep proper form.
- Sit on a chair or bench, and place your hands on each side of your hips with your fingers pointing towards the end of the chair.
- Scoot yourself off the chair so that your butt is over the floor and you’re only supported by your hands and feet.
- Bend your elbows back and lower towards the ground.
- Straighten your arms back to the start once your elbows are at a 90° angle for one rep.
12.) Exercise Ball Push-Ups
Want to take your pushups to the next level? Try adding in a stability ball. The exercise is essentially the same as the regular triceps push up, but you’re balancing on a ball instead. The ball may look like a fun addition to your workout, but don’t get too comfortable. An exercise ball adds even more challenge because you will have to balance your weight and keep your muscles engaged the entire time. This exercise is for people with a bit more upper body workout experience, as it can be dangerous if you lose your balance.
You can choose to use the stability ball on the upper body or the lower body. It’s your choice.
- Start in the plank/push-up position with your body weight supported by your hands and feet on the stability ball, your knees and legs should be off of the floor.
- Keep your spine as straight as possible and avoid dipping.
- Bring your hands in toward each other so that they touch while balancing your feet on the back of the ball.
- Slowly lower your chest toward the ball until it touches it.
- Rise back up to the original position.
- Do 2 sets of 8 reps.
11.) Triceps Extensions
What makes this exercise so great is its convenience. You don’t need a gym or fancy equipment, and you can do it anywhere. Grab a water bottle, soup can, medicine ball, or any other heavy-ish object you can hold onto and knock out of few triceps extensions. You can also try it lying on a workout bench or with a cable pull.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and a single 8- to 15-pound dumbbell in your hands.
- Raise the weight so it starts behind your head and your elbows are pointing toward the ceiling.
- Straighten your elbows to raise the weight up straight over your head then lower back down to the start.
- Keep your neck in a neutral alignment throughout the range of motion, and don’t raise your shoulders.
If avoiding the bench press is something you’re notorious for when it comes to the upper body, you may want to rethink that. While some women may avoid working out the pectorals for fear of bulking up too much, there is a way to avoid that. The trick to firming up your upper body without bulking up is to do a higher rep count with lower weights.
That is exactly the case when you’re working out the chest area. While some men may want to focus heavily on bulking up their pectorals, some women may just want a firmer, more toned bustline instead. If that’s the case, try these five classic chest exercises in your upper body workout for women. You’ll get a toned, not jacked, chest in no time.
This move might be a bit old school, but it works as well as any other chest exercise and gives you more variety in your workout. Get ready for an exercise that not only works your chest but triceps as well.
- Lie down on your back on a workout bench with a foot on each side of it.
- Place an 8- to 15-pound weight on the floor below your head.
- Grab the weight with both hands and pull the weight over your head in an arc until it’s directly above your chest.
- Move the weight back toward the ground slowly.
- Start the next rep without resting the weight on the ground.
For the best results do eight reps and three to four sets on each side.
9.) Medicine Ball Tosses
Grab a partner and a 5 to 10-pound medicine ball for this upper body workout for women. It’s part basketball pass drill, part weight training move, and it’s an entirely effective chest exercise because it involves and the element of balance. Hold the ball to your chest like a basketball with the elbows flared out to the side.
- Push the ball forward and toward your partner.
- Have your partner catch it and pull it into his or her chest in the same way you passed it to them.
- Have her pass it back to you.
- Pass back and forth for several reps.
Do three sets of ten reps.
8.) Fly Presses
Along with the bench press, this is the next best chest exercise borrowed from serious weightlifters, so it’s a great addition to any upper body workout for women. The easiest version of the exercise is done on the machine at the gym, but you can also do the move with dumbbells or on a Swiss ball for an added challenge.
- Sit on the fly press machine with the arms hanging down at chest level.
- Start with enough weight to be challenging but not too much.
- Raise your arms to shoulder level and push the machine’s arms forward and together toward the center of your chest.
- Focus on engaging your chest muscles more than your arm muscles.
- Release slowly back to the start.
Do ten fly presses in each rep, and do it three times.
7.) Wide Grip Push Ups
Yes, push-ups are one of the best, most versatile exercises when you’re looking for a good upper body workout for women. The best part is that they can also be done anywhere and are great ways to exercise with no equipment. This variation targets the chest to give you firm muscles. By setting your hands farther apart than you do for normal push-ups, you target more chest muscles than arm muscles.
- Start on all fours, then extend your legs out so that your entire body weight is supported by your hands and feet. Your head, back, and legs should be in line.
- Put your hands a bit wider than shoulder-distance apart.
- Bend your elbows and lower your chest to the floor, keeping your elbows pointed toward your feet.
- Raise back to the top for one rep.
For a modified version, you can drop to your knees and run through the range of motion. Do three sets of eight push-ups.
6.) Bench Presses
This mainstay of weight lifters is also the perfect bust lifter. By targeting the main chest muscle — the pectoralis major — you’ll provide the foundation for all other upper body exercises.
Lie on your back on the bench with your feet on either side of it. You can either use a single barbell or a dumbbell in each hand.
- Grab the bar with your hands shoulder-width apart and the bar directly above your chest.
- Bend your elbows and slowly lower the bar to your chest then straighten back to start.
- Start with the weights above your chest shoulder-width apart bend your elbows.
- Lower the weights as if it were a single bar and raise them back to the top.
Note: It’s advised to have a partner spot you on this exercise so that you don’t injure yourself. Do two-three sets of eight bench presses.
An upper body workout for women should include the shoulders. Don’t avoid your shoulders when you work out. Your shoulder muscles need love too! They may not be high up on your priority list, but they should be. Strong shoulders are the key to preventing injuries and can make everyday activities a lot easier.
Strong shoulders also look and feel good when it comes to having a toned rest of the body. If you have strong shoulders, you have a strong foundation for the rest of your upper body strength training. Try these exercises in your upper body workout for women.
5.) Bent Over Rows
Not only does this exercise work the major muscle of the triceps (triceps brachii), but it also recruits muscles from the upper back (latissimus dorsi, or lats as they’re commonly called). Try it with a pair of dumbbells or a single barbell.
- Stand with your right leg on the ground and the left knee and hand supported on a workout bench.
- Hinge forward at the hips so that your chest is parallel to the floor.
- Reach your right arm toward the floor and grab a 5 to 10-pound dumbbell in your hand.
- Start with your arm straight out from your shoulder then bend at the elbows to bring the weights up to your shoulder. Your elbow should stop near your waist.
- Lower back down to the start and repeat.
- Do the same number of reps on the other side.
Do three to four sets of each rep.
4.) Shoulder Fly
Even though this exercise primarily strengthens the chest, it also recruits the deltoids to stabilize your arms and your trapezius as you release the weight and open your arms back up.
- Use the fly press machine at the gym, and select a weight that you can comfortably lift.
- Sit with an arm of the machine on each side.
- Grab each side with a hand and press them together towards the center of your chest.
- Release to the starting position slowly, keeping your arms at shoulder level the entire time.
3.) Arm Circles Variation
Don’t let the simplicity of this exercise fool you. Arm circles will really work your shoulders and all connecting muscles. Like shoulder presses, they are a great ab workout and engage your core muscles and challenge your balance. How to do arm circles:
- Start in the same position as lateral raises with your arms out to the side of your body with a three- to eight-pound dumbbell in each hand.
- Keep your arms level as you circle them forward in small movements for 10 counts.
- Do the same in reverse for another 10 counts.
- Circle forward, but this time with larger circles for 10 counts and in reverse one final time for 10 counts.
2.) Lateral Raises
Are your shoulders ready for a challenge? This is it. But if it gets too difficult, you can scale this exercise by choosing lighter weights or bending your arms at the elbow during the range of motion. How to do lateral raises:
- Hold a three- to eight-pound dumbbell in each hand and your sides.
- Place your feet shoulder-distance apart and inhale as you raise the weights away from your sides and up to shoulder level so that your body makes a T shape.
- Lower back down slowly to the start without resting at the bottom.
Rest after three reps of eight sets.
1.) Shoulder Presses
Anytime you lift your arms over your head, you’re using your deltoid muscle. This exercise helps to strengthen and stabilize it. It also engages your core muscles, so make sure you tighten those muscles when you’re raising the weights.
- Stand up straight with a 5 to 10-pound dumbbell in each hand.
- Raise the weights so that they are at shoulder level and your elbows are pointed out to the side.
- Straighten your elbows and push the weights up over your head, keeping them directly over your shoulders.
- Lower back down to the start slowly.
- Keep your back straight and your core tight. Don’t shrug your shoulders at the top, either.
For the best results do three sets of eight to ten reps.
These tips on how to get a great upper body workout for women will get you on your way to a fitter lifestyle. After you’re done with your upper body workout for women, read our next article for more tips on staying fit and healthy.