To work on developing upper body strength, there are 20 easy bodyweight exercises that don’t require a gym membership. These exercises are designed to build functional arm strength.

Functional training exercises are ones that simulate movements we do in everyday life. These exercises commonly incorporate compound movements, which use multiple muscle groups at the same time. The advantages of functional training are increased strength, agility, and mobility, as well as a decreased likelihood of sustaining an injury.

When aiming to increase arm strength, it is often common for people to isolate the “vanity muscles” such as the biceps and deltoids. However, by doing isolation exercises, it can lead to an imbalanced development in muscles, which in turn puts the arms and shoulders at a higher risk for injury.

The key to developing strong and practical arms is to focus on functional, compound movements. Each arm workout should include a combination of mobility, stability, and strength exercises, targeting each of the muscles through the upper and lower arms, and the front, back, and sides of the shoulders.

The workout begins with mobility and stability exercises that anyone can do. It then has a series of arm exercises using your body weight. How hard the exercises are depends on how strong you are. The last set of exercises is only for people who are in good shape. You can skip any of the exercises in that last section until you’re ready for them.

What Functional Strength Is and Why It Matters

Functional strength is about having strong muscles that allow you to perform daily ranges of motion.

A gym-goer who regularly lifts weights may have a lot of physical strength, but only in certain ranges of movement and in one direction. For example, a bench press while lying on a bench. They may have strong chest and bicep muscles, but only these muscles are targeted.

While weight lifters may be able to press more weight during a bench press, someone with functional strength may be able to better utilize that strength in real-life situations. Exercises such as pushups, pullups, and planks help to increase functional strength by working multiple muscles together. This type of strength is often more beneficial than isolated strength, as it can be better employed in activities such as carrying groceries or lifting furniture.

Functional strength is important for long-term health, especially as we age. It not only keeps us physically fit, but also works the muscle and skeletal system as a whole with real-life movements. This helps your body handle situations that require you to move quickly, like tripping or losing your balance.

Mobility & Stability

The moves in each section are designed to get you ready for the next move. For example, the inchworm will help prepare your body for a push-up, which will then help prepare your body for a power push-up. To get started, begin at the top and work your way through.

Arm Swings

Dynamic stretching involves doing moves that warm up the muscles you’ll use during your workout. To do this stretch, stand with your back straight and abs engaged, and gently start swinging your arms out to the side and then crossing them in front of your body, alternating which arm swings in front. Gradually make the swings larger so you can feel a slight stretch in your chest and between your shoulder blades. Swing arms 20-30 times.

Wall Clocks

Place your hands on a wall, shoulder-width apart. Without shrugging your shoulders, slide one hand out to the side, still touching the wall. Move the hand back to the starting position. Do 3 sets of 5 on each side.

Scapula Retraction (Shoulder Blades Squeeze)

This exercise will strengthen the muscles in the middle of your back, which will help keep your shoulders healthy. Start by standing with your shoulders relaxed and your arms down by your sides. Then, gently pull your shoulder blades back by pretend you are trying to squeeze a tennis ball in the middle of your back. Release the shoulders back to the starting position, and make sure to keep your upper shoulders relaxed throughout the exercise. Do 3 sets of 10.

Extend & Flex

To train your forearms, wrists, and hands, start with your arms extended away from your chest, palms facing down, and emails reaching long. Bend the wrist and point the emails down towards the ground. Flex the wrist and point the emails up towards the ceiling. Keep a slight bend in the elbows and keep the upper arm still as you move the wrists. This exercise strengthens and stretches the forearm flexors. Perform 12 to 16 repetitions in each direction.

Inchworm

Start by standing at the end of your mat with your feet hip distance apart and bend forward to place your hands flat on the mat in a forward fold. Then, walk your hands out about a foot at a time out into a full plank position, hold in the plank for a second or two, walk your hands back into the forward fold and roll up to standing. Repeat this 5 times to prepare your body for push-ups.

Basics

You should master basic arm exercises before moving on to more complex ones. The following exercises will strengthen your arms and shoulders, as well as your core. If you’re advanced enough to do the entire workout, including the power section, the basics will be the second phase of your warm-up.

Wide Pushup

Start by planting your palms on the ground wider than shoulder-width apart. Your whole body should be in a straight line from your head to your heels. This is the starting push-up position. Lower your body until your chest nearly touches the ground. Elbows should be at a 90-degree angle and keeping them tucked close to your sides. Return to the starting position by pushing your body back up to the plank position. That’s one rep. Do 5–10 reps total.

Narrow Pushup

This push-up variation focuses on the tricep muscle. Start by sitting in a full plank position with your hands below your shoulders. Next, lower your body into a push-up. Your elbows should be close to your sides at the bottom of the push-up, and your elbow joint should be pointing back. Finally, press back up to the starting position. Repeat 5-10 times.

Lateral Plank Walk

In this exercise, you will be working on your lateral delts. These are the muscles that help you lift objects straight out to the side of your body. Start by getting into a full plank position, with your hands directly under your shoulders and your feet hip distance apart. Then, slightly shift your weight into your left hand and leg, and step your RIGHT hand and foot out about six inches to the right. Next, slightly shift over to the right side of your body as you step the LEFT hand and foot back underneath you. Continue stepping your hands and feet over to the right for 5-10 steps before stepping back to the LEFT. Repeat this 3 times.

Forearm Side Plank

This exercise is good for the muscles in your shoulders, arms, and sides that might not get much attention during everyday activities. To do it, start by lying on your RIGHT side with your hips and feet lined up. Place your RIGHT elbow directly under your RIGHT shoulder, then lift your bottom hip off the ground so your body forms a straight line from your ankles to your head. You should feel a slight pinch in your waist. Reach your top hand towards the ceiling or place it on your top hip, and hold the position for 10 to 30 seconds. Then switch sides. (If this is too difficult, you can modify the exercise by keeping your bottom knee on the ground.)

Superwomans

The Superman exercise targets the triceps, shoulders, and upper back, with the added benefit of working the glutes and hamstrings.

First, lie on your stomach with your forehead touching the ground. Second, stretch your arms out in front of you with your palms facing down. Third, keep your legs straight out behind you, slightly wider than hip-width apart.

Breathe in and raise your arms and legs off the floor. Concentrate on using your back, buttocks, shoulders and triceps. Hold the position at the top then lower your legs and arms slowly. Do this 12 times.

One-Leg Knee Pushups

This exercise is great for toning your upper body, especially your triceps. You also get a workout for your glutes and core.

Start by lying on your stomach with your hands under your shoulders and your knees bent.

Extend your right leg out behind you. Keep your core and glutes tight to keep your left hip forward.

Extend your right leg and bend your elbows to lower into a pushup. Inhale and straighten your arms, keeping your leg lifted.

Repeat the movement 6 times with your right leg lifted, then switch to your left leg and repeat the movement 6 times.

Reverse Tabletop with Arm Extension

The reverse table helps to tone your upper and lower back, shoulders, triceps, and the back of your arms, as well as your glutes.

Start by sitting on the ground with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place your hands on the ground behind you, with your palms facing forward in line with your heels.

Place your hands and heels on the ground and press to raise your hips. Move the weight into your right hand and lift your left arm straight up behind you. Hold for a moment then return your right hand to the ground. Repeat the process on the other side.

Alternate for 12-15 reps.

Tricep Dips

To tone your triceps and the back of your shoulders, try doing tricep dips.

Place your hands on the floor, shoulder-width apart, behind you. Bring your feet out in front of you, keeping them hip-width apart.

Lift your glutes (butt) off the floor by pushing through your heels and keeping your arms straight.

Bend your elbows and slowly lower your buttocks until it just touches the ground. Push back up using the muscles in the back of your upper arms until your arms are straight again.

Repeat for 10-15 reps.

High Plank Shoulder Taps

This exercise targets your biceps, triceps, shoulders, and upper back.

From here, bend your elbows and lower your body to the floor, keeping your elbows pulled in close to your body. Start in a high plank position, with your wrists in line with your shoulders. Step your feet out behind you, so they are hip-width apart. Pull your belly in and engage your thighs and glutes. From here, bend your elbows and lower your body to the floor. Keep your elbows pulled in close to your body.

Shift your weight to your left hand and tap your right shoulder with your left hand.

Now place your left hand back on the ground. Shift your weight onto your left hand, lift your right hand, and tap it to your left shoulder. Place it back on the ground.

Continue alternating side to side for 15-20 reps.

Side Elbow Plank

This exercise is good for your upper body and also makes your core muscles work hard by making you balance.

Put your right elbow down on the ground and stick your legs out to the side so your body is in one straight line. You should be balancing on the outside edge of your right foot.

Bend your knees, and lower your hips toward the floor. Inhale as you flex your feet, and exhale as you lower your hips. Flex your feet and place your top hand on your upper hip. Bend your knees and lower your hips towards the floor, inhaling as you flex your feet and exhaling as you lower your hips.

Keeping your back straight and your stomach muscles engaged, lift your left leg just higher than your hip. Now, slowly lower it back to your right leg.

Repeat for 6 reps on both sides.

Forearm Plank Jacks

This exercise is good for your heart and also works your shoulders, chest, triceps, biceps, and core.

Start by lying on your stomach with your elbows positioned directly under your shoulders and your feet hip-width apart extending out behind you.

Keeping your elbows planted, engage your core and jump your feet out wider than hip-width. Then jump them back in.

Repeat for 10 reps.

Decline Pushups

This exercise is great for toning and strengthening your chest, triceps, biceps, and upper back.

Bring your right foot forward toward your right hand, maintaining a 90 degree angle in both legs. Keeping your hips level, shift your weight forward and bring your left hand to meet your right. Pause for a beat, then return to the starting position and repeat with your left leg. That’s one rep. Start in a high plank position with your hands slightly wider than shoulder width. Step your right foot forward toward your right hand, maintaining a 90 degree angle in both legs. Keeping your hips level, shift your weight forward and bring your left hand to meet your right. Pause for a beat, then return to the starting position and repeat with your left leg. That’s one rep.

Move your feet closer to your hands to raise your hips off the ground and create a “V” shape with your body.

Keeping the V-shape with your body, bend your elbows and bring the crown of your head towards the ground. Exhale, pressing back up and straightening your arms.

Repeat for 12 reps.

 

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