The 30-Minute Standing Upper-Body Workout

By K. Aleisha Fetters |

Target your shoulders, back, and arms while also developing total-body strength with these five moves.

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Seated upper-body exercises are a great option when you’re recovering from an injury or aren’t able to stand up for long stretches of time. But if you’re looking to get the most out of every upper-body exercise, you’ll want to be on your feet.

When you perform any exercise from a standing position, you put weight on your hips, legs, and spine. Experts call these weight-bearing exercises, and they’re critical to bone health as well as total-body function.

This standing upper-body workout targets your shoulders, back, biceps, and triceps while also developing total-body strength—all in just 30 minutes.

How the Standing Upper-Body Workout Works

The key to all of these exercises is performing them slowly and under control. Choose a set of dumbbells that allows you to perform all reps with proper form. You may need to select two sets: one light and one heavier. You should feel the exercises working, but they shouldn’t be a struggle. If you ever feel your form breaking down, consider using lighter weights for that exercise.

Do all sets of each exercise before moving to the next, resting for 30 to 60 seconds between each.

Ready to get started? Here’s how to perform each movement. As always, safety is key. The exercises here may be different or more advanced than those you’ll experience in a SilverSneakers class. If you have a chronic condition, balance issues, or injuries, talk to your doctor about how you can exercise safely.

Exercise #1: Shoulder Squeeze

Shoulder Squeeze Exercise

Do 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps

Stand tall with feet hip-width apart. While pulling your elbows back and down, squeeze your shoulder blades together. Imagine you’re squeezing a lemon between your shoulder blades. Pause, then release. That’s one rep. Complete a total of three sets of 12 to 15 reps, resting for 30 to 60 seconds between sets.

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Exercise #2: Bent-Over Row

Bent-Over Row Exercise

Do 4 sets of 8 to 10 reps

Grab a pair of dumbbells, and stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart. Pushing your hips back and allowing your knees to bend slightly, lower your torso until it’s almost parallel with the floor. Let the dumbbells hang at arm’s length from your shoulders, palms facing in.

From here, squeeze your shoulder blades together as you bend your elbows and pull the dumbbells up to the sides of your torso. Pause, then slowly lower the dumbbells to return to start. That’s one rep. Perform four sets of eight to 10 reps, resting for 30 to 60 seconds between sets.

Exercise #3: Diagonal Reach with Medicine Ball

Diagonal Reach Exercise

Do 3 sets of 6 to 8 reps per side

Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a medicine ball or single dumbbell with both hands straight overhead. This is your starting position.

From here, simultaneously squat down while lowering the weight to the outside of your left knee. Pause, then drive through your heels and raise your arms to return to start. That’s one rep. Perform six to eight reps, then repeat on the right side. Complete a total of three sets, resting for 30 to 60 seconds between sets.

Exercise #4: Hammer Curl

Hammer Curl Exercise

Do 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps

Grab a pair of dumbbells, and stand with your feet hip-width apart, arms at your sides, and palms facing in toward your body.

Keeping your torso stationary and elbows tucked close to your sides, bend your elbows (not your wrists) to curl the weights up to your shoulders. Pause, then slowly return to start. That’s one rep. Perform three sets of 10 to 12 reps, resting for 30 to 60 seconds between sets.

Exercise #5: Triceps Extension

Triceps Extension Exercise

Do 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps

Stand with your feet hip-width apart, and hold the end of one dumbbell with both hands. Position your arms so your elbows are pointing up, your upper arms are by your ears, and the dumbbell is behind your head. Your neck should be in line with your back, and your shoulders down and back.

Keeping your upper arms still, straighten your elbows so the dumbbell is above your head. Pause, and then slowly lower to return to start. That’s one rep. Perform three sets of 10 to 12 reps, resting for 30 to 60 seconds between sets.

Or try an alternate exercise: If you can’t lift your arms above your head or your doctor has advised against overhead exercises, try the triceps kickback. Start in a hip hinge position with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, and torso bent at a 45-degree angle. Hold a dumbbell in each hand or simply make a fist. Bend your elbows so your upper arms are in line with your torso.

Keeping your upper arms steady, gently push your hands back to straighten your arms. Pause, then bend your arms back to return to start. That’s one rep. Perform three sets of 10 to 12 reps, resting for 30 to 60 seconds between sets.

Full-Body Workout Routine for Beginners