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7 Best Upper Body Bodyweight Workout for a Stronger Physique

Connor Sellers
Published by Connor Sellers | Senior Coach
Last updated: July 19, 2023

As a fitness coach, I can't even count how many times people have asked me whether building a great upper-body physique with bodyweight exercises alone is possible.

I always tell them: with the right workout and technique, success is only a matter of time.

I decided to compile my research and what I know from my experience to answer this question. Additionally, I’ve also consulted a physical therapist to help shed light on the most effective upper body bodyweight exercises.

Let's dive in.

Quick Summary

  • Bodyweight workouts such as planks, standard push-ups, incline push-ups, pull-ups, and dips are convenient and can help you build your upper body strength.
  • Using your own body weight instead of weights can help prevent injuries common in weightlifting and also helps increase your mobility and stability.
  • While most bodyweight exercises can be done without equipment, you’ll need pullup and dip bars to perform push bars and dips, respectively.

Best Bodyweight Exercises for Upper Body Strength

Two athletes planking

When performed perfectly, upper body bodyweight exercises are as effective as weightlifting exercises.

Below is a list of seven of the most effective upper body exercises that utilize the body for muscle growth and strong arms, chest, and shoulders.

Also Read: Best Bodyweight Core Exercises

1. Standard Plank

The plank is a simple and effective upper body bodyweight workout that we all love to hate.

That's because it targets a few muscles in the upper body and even some in the lower region. Thus, it can be draining especially when done for an extended period.

The cool part about this workout is that you don't need equipment to perform it, only your body weight. That said, you can also utilize the medicine ball for a more challenging plank workout to burn fat.

How to Do It

First, you’ll need a space to extend your whole body length. You can choose to do this exercise on your palms (standard plank/ high plank) or forearms (forearm plank).

Let’s begin:

  1. Start with your forearms and feet shoulder-width apart and toes facing downwards on the floor. Your elbows should be directly below your shoulders.
    This is what we call a plank position.
  2. Keep your core engaged and your shoulder blades relaxed, and back in a straight line from your ears to the toe.
  3. Now hold the position for at least 10 seconds before releasing.
  4. Repeat 10-15 times for a full set.

There are many variations of the plank, including the incline plank, side plank, plank with leg-lift, and plank with arm-lift.

2. Up-Down Planks

Doing up down plank

The up-down plank is one of the variations of the regular plank workout. It's a little bit difficult; I recommend it to those who have mastered the regular plank.

It involves moving from a forearm plank position to a high plank position first with your left elbow and following it with your right.

Because of its difficulty, it's subsequently more effective and targets the arms and core while adding some action to your shoulders, lower back, quads, and glutes muscles.

Like its predecessor, it can be done anywhere.

How to Do It

Let's get started:

  1. Start with the regular plank position, forearms and toes on the floor with the shoulder above your forearms.
  2. Now, place your left palm on the floor and push down to straighten up your left arm, then follow it with the right side to move to a high plank position.
  3. Now return to your starting position by bending your left elbow to lower down towards the floor. Do the same with your right side.
  4. Repeat a few times (10-15)

3. Push-ups

Also called press-up, the push-up is a powerhouse upper body bodyweight workout.

It is terrific for building strength in the upper body while reducing the risk of cardiovascular conditions such as heart attack and stroke [1].

This upper body workout targets the triceps, shoulders, and pectoral muscles and also has some effect on the lower back and abdominal muscles.

How to Do It

Here’s how to do push-ups:

  1. Start by getting into a high plank push-up position with your palms on the floor and at shoulder width and legs extended straight across the floor with weight on your toes.
  2. Now bend your elbows to bring your body downwards while engaging your core with your back straight.
  3. After touching the floor with your chest, press the ground and strengthen your elbows to go back to your original high-plank push-up position.
  4. Repeat about 10-15 times.

Like the plank, the push-up has many variations, such as incline push-ups, diamond push-ups, wide hands, decline push-ups, and more.

4. Pull-ups

Woman doing pull ups exercise

Pull-ups belong to pretty advanced upper body bodyweight exercises. So, if you’re a newbie, I suggest modifying it to make it a bit easier for your fitness level.

Attaching a resistance band to your pull-up bar will help relieve some weight from your arms.

Regardless of the modification, the workout focuses on your arms (biceps), chest, and back.

“Pull-ups activate muscle groups including back, chest, shoulders, arms, and core – providing an all-over upper body workout.

- Faisal Abdalla, Celebrity Trainer, Fitness Author

How to Do It

You need a pull-up bar to perform this workout. Here’s how to do pull-ups:

  1. With your palms facing away from you, extend your arms overhead, then step up/jump up to the pull-up bar, grab it, and hang with your legs off the floor and arms extended.
  2. Now, bend your elbows to the side to pull yourself up toward the top of the bar till your chin is slightly above the pull-up bar.
  3. Once you’ve reached the top, slowly lower yourself back down to your original starting position.

Variations of the pull-up include wide grip, narrow grip, chin-ups, typewriter pull-ups, and muscle-ups (pull-up and dip).

5. Burpees

Burpee is an excellent bodyweight exercise that involves full body movement. It not only helps you build upper body strength by working your arms, chest, back, and core muscles but is also a good cardio exercise.

Given the high intensity involved with this workout, it can help you burn fat and get shredded. In fact, studies show that 10 fast-paced burpees are as effective as a 30-second sprint [2].

How to Do It

Here’s how to perform burpees:

  1. Begin by standing straight with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Now, drop to a press-up position with your hands on the floor and at shoulder width and your legs extended straight behind you.
  3. With your back straight and core engaged, lower your chest to the floor and back up again as if doing a push-up.
  4. Now, stand back to your starting position and jump. That's one rep.
  5. Repeat about 10 times to make one set.

6. Dips

Doing chest dips on a box

Dips, or chest dips, are among the most effective bodyweight drills for developing upper body muscles. They particularly work the tricep muscle, which makes up more than half of your upper arm.

They also target the chest muscles, especially when you lean slightly forward. Other muscles also get involved for support and stabilization.

How to Do It

To perform these exercises, you will need a dip bar. Follow through:

  1. Start by grabbing the dip bar with the palm of your hands facing inwards. Extend your arms straight and leave your legs hanging from the floor.
  2. Now, slowly lower your elbows till they are at right angles while ensuring they are tucked against your body.
  3. Once you’ve reached a low position, straighten your elbows to raise yourself back up.
  4. Repeat again as many times to complete a set.

Read more: Chest Dip Alternatives for a Stronger Upper Body

7. Tricep Dips

As the name suggests, the tricep dip mainly sears the tricep muscles. However, it also works on other important muscles in the upper body, such as the chest.

It’s a great addition to a regular workout routine.

While this bodyweight workout is super effective, it does place some pressure on your shoulder joints. So, in case you have a shoulder injury, it's best to avoid it for the time being.

How to Do It

To perform this exercise, you need an elevation; a bench or chair will do. Here's how to do tricep dips:

  1. Start by sitting on the bench so your hands are resting on the hips and your palms are on the bench. Engage your core while doing this workout, and ensure your shoulder blades are down and back as you engage your abs.
  2. Now, extend your feet so that your glutes come off the bench and your toes are pointed towards the ceiling.
  3. Slowly bend your elbows till they are at right angles behind you and your hips lowered towards the floor.
  4. Once you’ve reached the bottom, pause and then press through your palms to return back to the top.
  5. Repeat at least 10-12 times to complete a set.

Can You Build Upper Body Without Weights?

A guy flexing his muscles and a person doing starting pose for running

Yes, you can build your upper body without using weights, as weightlifting is not a prerequisite for building strong arms, chests, and shoulders.

You can utilize your own body weight to build muscle in these regions without using dumbbells and barbells.

According to researchers, there are three requisites for building muscles [3].

They include:

  • Mechanical tension
  • Muscle damage
  • Metabolic stress

Bodyweight training is not only an effective form of resistance and strength training, but it also induces all three mechanisms for muscle building.

Of course, you have to combine it with proper nutrition to be effective. But the point is, by utilizing some of the bodyweight drills that we’ve outlined here, such as planks, push-ups, and dips, you’ll start seeing results more quickly.

Benefits of Bodyweight Workouts

Flexing upper body strength and muscles

Upper body bodyweight workouts have lots of benefits. Let's examine a few of them.


It's a no-brainer that bodyweight exercises can be done almost anywhere and anytime.

You don't need a complete gym or lots of gym equipment to complete these exercises. You just need to start, and you’re good to go.

Increases Stability and Mobility

Moving is an essential part of our existence. And while weightlifting has many positive aspects, it can limit your mobility.

“The movements involved in bodyweight exercises can help to increase mobility and challenge the body's 'stabilizers' by using complete movements. This can, in turn, lead to strength gains in the gym.”

- Bobby Windebank, Personal Trainer 

Prevent Injuries

I always advise my hardcore weightlifting clients to include some bodyweight drills in their sessions as a trick to prevent injuries.

You see, sometimes weight training can take a toll on your joints. But with bodyweight drills, the stress on the joints is not as much, so you’re not as likely to get an injury.


How Long Does It Take To See Results From Bodyweight Exercises?

It might take about 8-12 weeks of doing bodyweight exercises before you start seeing results. That said, the amount of time varies from person to person depending on the level of activity, age, genetics, fitness level, and gender (males gain muscle quicker).

How Many Times a Week Should I Train Upper Body?

You should train your upper body at least two days a week. Your shoulders, arms, and chest need some resistance training action at least twice a week for you to see results quicker.

Boost your Workouts With Protein

Combining upper body training drills such as dips, pull-ups, push-ups, and planks with a high-protein diet can help you sculpt those arms, shoulders, and chest muscles.

But the time you need to start seeing tangible results might be too long to keep you motivated. That's why I advise my clients to supplement their training and diet with a protein powder.

We’ve thoroughly tested all the products on these lists, and both our testing data and client feedback reports show they are quite effective in fast-tracking the results.


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