3 Best Upper Body Workouts for Women (Get Stronger & Leaner)

Christiana Mikesch, CPT
Published by Christiana Mikesch, CPT | Senior Coach
Last updated: January 27, 2024
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Upper body strength is as crucial for women as it is for men. An effective workout targets arms, chests, and shoulders, building muscle and strength while balancing the overall physique.

As a fitness trainer, I’ve been tailoring workout programs to women’s needs for years now, and this article is the result of my experience and research aimed at finding the best upper body workout for women.

Read on to better understand how to achieve your upper body fitness goals.

Quick Summary

  • The ultimate upper body workout will incorporate three exercises: push, pull, and extension.
  • Upper body exercises have far-reaching benefits for the whole body.
  • Research from the Journal of Physical Therapy Science shows that movements like wall angels help strengthen muscles associated with good posture.
  • Working out the entire upper body, from the abs to the upper back muscles, can improve posture.

What Is the Best Upper Body Workout for Women?

Woman pulling a resistance band for her workout

I've found that the best upper body workouts for women are those that incorporate a variety of push, pull, and flexion/extension exercises.

Let’s take a closer look at each.

1. Push Exercises

Push exercises are a great way to build strength in the back, chest, shoulders, and arms.

These exercises target muscles such as the pectoralis major (chest), latissimus dorsi (lats), triceps, deltoids (shoulders), and trapezius (upper back).

2. Pull Exercises

Pull exercises effectively target the muscles in your upper back, the rhomboids (shoulder muscles), and those near the pelvis.

These exercises allow you to get all-around back control while building strength.

3. Flexion/Extension Exercises

Upper body strength training should include flexion/extension exercises. These exercises target the biceps, triceps, wrist flexors, and extensors, along with muscle groups of the upper abs.

Now, let’s get into the specific exercises that make up an effective upper-body workout.

Best Upper Body Exercises for Women

We have put examples of some of the best upper body exercises for women into three categories: arms, back, and chest.

Below, we will describe how to perform each exercise.

I. Arm Exercises


The following arm exercises can easily be done at home with minimal equipment and are suitable for individuals of all fitness levels.

Also Read: High-Volume Arm Workout Routine

1. Dumbbell Curls

To begin, stand with feet hip-width apart and engage your ab muscles.

  1. In each hand, hold a dumbbell; let your arms relax at the side with palms facing forward.
  2. Keep the upper arm stable while bending the elbows to lift the weight toward the shoulders. Exhale as you lift.
  3. Raise them to forehead/eye level for a full range of motions, keeping elbows close toward your body.
  4. Slowly lower the dumbbells to the starting position and repeat.

Perform the desired reps, staying within three to five sets of total failure.

You can also use a barbell, kettlebells, cable machine, or resistance bands to perform this exercise.

2. Triceps Kickback

triceps kickback

Dumbbells are the most common equipment used for these exercises.

  1. Hold one dumbbell in each hand with palms facing each other.
  2. Engage your core and hinge forward at the waist while maintaining your spine in a straight line.
  3. Keep upper arms close to the body, head in line with the spine, and tuck chin slightly.
  4. Exhale as you engage your triceps by straightening elbows, keeping only for forearms moving during movement.
  5. Pause here before inhaling steadily, moving back to the starting position.

Perform two to three sets of 10–15 reps.

triceps dips3. Triceps Dip

The starting position of the triceps dip exercise is to sit on a stable chair or bench and grip the edge so your fingers point toward your feet and your legs are extended. Your hands should be next to your hips.

  1. Place your feet hip-width apart so that the heels are touching the ground.
  2. Keep your head and chin up through the entire exercise.
  3. Press palms to lift yourself off the edge slightly before lowering until elbows form an angle between 45–90 degrees.
  4. Control motion through the entire range and slowly push back up until arms almost straighten out completely before repeating.

II. Back Exercises

resistance band pull apart gif

Like the previous arm exercises, these back exercises for women require readily available fitness equipment and minimal space.

Many of my remote clients perform these exercises at home.

1. Resistance Band Pull-Apart

You can strengthen your shoulders, back, and overall upper body with a resistance band pull-apart.

  1. Start by firmly gripping the ends of the rubberized band, one in each hand, keeping your spine straight and arms shoulder-width apart at chest level.
  2. While maintaining tension on the elastic band, spread it outwards so it is taut against both hands and squeeze your shoulder blades together.
  3. Briefly pause, then return to the starting position. You have completed one rep.

2. Two-Arm Dumbbell Row

dumbbell upright row

Begin this exercise by standing with feet shoulder-width apart, using a neutral grip to hold a dumbbell in each hand.

  1. Keep your spine’s natural curvature as you flex your hip, and keep your knees slightly bent.
  2. Allow weights to hang down at either side of your body before initiating movement.
  3. As you exhale, draw them up slowly so elbows stay close alongside the torso until they reach waist level.
  4. Pause for two counts while squeezing back muscles.
  5. Inhale on the way back down to the starting position and repeat.

wall angels3. Wall Angels

Wall angels are an effective postural exercise that can help reduce pain and improve posture. Research from the Journal of Physical Therapy Science shows this movement helps strengthen muscles associated with good posture [1].

The wall angel technique involves pressing the back, butt, and head against a wall with knees bent and feet flat on the floor before gliding your arms up and down in a “V” to “W” pattern.

“Wall angels help lengthen your chest and back muscles while strengthening the postural muscles of your upper back.”

- Travis Edwards, P.T., M.P.T.

III. Chest Exercises

Reverse Dumbbell Chest Press

Chest exercises mostly benefit your pectoralis major and pectoralis minor or the pecs, which comprise most of your chest muscles.

1. Chest Press

Begin by lying on either a bench or the floor with a dumbbell in each hand. You should have your palms facing forward and your thumbs wrapped around the handles. Ensure your upper arms are at about 45 degrees to the body.

Bracing abdominal muscles and tilting the chin toward the chest will ensure stability and comfort during the exercise.

  1. Push the weights upward while exhaling, ensure not to lock out your elbows in an explosive manner, and keep them slightly bent to maximize control.
  2. Gently straighten at the top, but again, make no sudden or jerky movement. Make sure your shoulders remain on the bench or floor at all times.
  3. Slowly lower back down with muscles contracted as you inhale and return to the starting position.

Kneeling Mountain Climber2. Mountain Climbers

Begin with the classic plank position.

  1. Place hands shoulder-width apart and feet hip-distance, ensuring a flat back; align your head and keep your core engaged for proper form.
  2. Alternate legs in an explosive motion by bringing one knee into the chest as far as possible before switching sides.
  3. Continue this cycle keeping your hips low.
  4. Breathe rhythmically through each leg switch and movement.

Now, let’s take a look at the benefits of a consistent upper-body workout routine.

Related: Best Inner Chest Workout for Upper Body

Incorporating Functional Movements and Why It Matters for Women

Unlike isolated exercises, functional movements often engage multiple muscle groups and joints, offering a more holistic approach to women’s fitness.

Functional movements play a vital role in women’s health and fitness because they:

  • Mimic everyday activities: Functional exercises often replicate everyday actions, like lifting, reaching, or pulling. For women, this means strengthening the muscles used in daily tasks, from carrying groceries to picking up children, reducing the risk of injury.
  • Engage multiple muscle groups: These exercises engage several muscle groups simultaneously, leading to improved coordination, balance, and body awareness. This holistic approach is efficient and can lead to better overall fitness and strength.

Key Functional Upper-body Exercises for Women

Key functional upper-body exercises for women include:

  • Push-ups (modified or standard): Mimics pushing movements, engaging chest, shoulders, triceps, and core.
  • Pull-ups or assisted pull-ups: Replicates pulling actions, strengthening the back, biceps, and grip, essential for tasks like opening heavy doors or lifting.
  • Dumbbell rows: Simulates pulling objects towards the body, working the back, biceps, and shoulders.
  • Plank to push-up: A dynamic movement that enhances core stability while working the entire upper body.
  • Medicine ball slams: Develops explosive power in the arms and shoulders, useful for any lifting and throwing actions.

Benefits of These Exercises

Woman holding two dumbbells smiling in pink background

From better posture to improved body image, there are several benefits to performing upper body exercises.

Let’s dive in.

Upper Body Exercise Improve Posture

Jobs requiring a lot of sitting can cause noticeable muscle imbalances, leading to hunching shoulders and bad posture.

Strengthening your back and shoulder muscles can help counteract this by keeping your shoulder blades pulled back and upright, promoting proper posture while increasing core strength. 

This benefit is not limited to office workers or drivers but also athletes like runners or cyclists who tend to lean forward while performing those activities.

Build Upper Body Strength to Improve Heart Health

Perhaps the most important muscle in the upper body is the heart, so naturally, strengthening that muscle will benefit the entire body [2].

These benefits include:

  • Increasing oxygen levels
  • Reducing artery damage (related to high blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol)
  • Weight management
  • Lowering heart attack risk
  • Reducing the chance of suffering from heart failure

Keeping the Upper Body Strong Improves Other Workouts

Woman holding two dumbbells, one hand showing fist on camera

Building a strong upper body offers foundational strength that has far-reaching effects throughout all your other physical activities.

Upper body strength improves coordination, stamina, and agility and decreases injury risk due to improved posture.

Strength in the arms and core helps you move faster and more efficiently.

Additionally, consistently performing an upper body strength workout for women can boost metabolism, which helps burn more calories across the board [3].

Also Read: Cocoon Exercises for Stronger Upper Body

Strengthening Upper Body Muscles Can Lead to a Positive Body Image

A stronger and toned upper body helps you hold a better posture, increase performance in other exercises, and help you feel more confident throughout the day.

Poor body image can have a substantial negative impact on mood and behavior, so counteracting that with exercise can be critical for women [4].


How Many Times a Week Should a Woman Train the Upper Body?

Women should train their upper body at least twice weekly for muscle growth and weight loss. Some of the best exercises during workouts on upper body days include dumbbell curls, rows, and mountain climbers.

Do Upper Body Workouts Lift Breasts?

Upper body workouts do not lift breasts as traditional breast lift surgery does; however, working the upper body with pushups, bench presses, and free weights can tone and increase the pectoral muscles that sit below the breast tissue, possibly enhancing breast appearance.

Level up Your Upper Body Workouts

For the best upper body workout, women should focus on increasing their strength, resulting in toned arms, chest, and back. Strengthening muscles in the arms and chest can help improve performance and health in numerous activities.

Certified personal trainer and nutrition coach Kerri Howell adds that these types of workouts help ensure wellness and longevity because it helps our body build up muscles and improve strength and resistance overall.

To optimize workout results, maintain a healthy diet and exercise regimen and consider adding a pre-workout supplement for women that provides essential vitamins, minerals, herbs, and other active ingredients tailored to help you reach your fitness goals faster.

We have extensively tested these products, so make sure to check them out.


  1. https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/jpts/27/6/27_jpts-2015-023/_article
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6172294/
  3. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/strength-training/art-20046670
  4. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/317958#
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About The Author

Christiana Mikesch, CPT
Senior Coach
Christiana Mikesch, CPT is a personal trainer and author with contributions to publications like the Chicago Tribune and Yahoo. She emphasizes a holistic approach to weight loss, combining an energy-fueling diet, goal-oriented workouts, and daily habits. Her approach avoids short-term goals and fosters a lifelong commitment to health and well-being.
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Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT
Staff Writer
Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT holds a BSc degree in Holistic Nutrition from Clayton College of Natural Health and is the owner of Taylor Made Fitness. Her philosophy centers on cutting through the hype and misinformation surrounding dietary supplements, focusing instead on practical, science-backed strategies for health and weight loss.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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