Upper-Body Workout

By the Editors of SilverSneakers |

Tone your shoulders, arms, and chest—and improve your posture—with this circuit plan.

You never really appreciate your upper body until you have to carry your groceries in from the car, deal with those pesky weeds again, or need to catch yourself if you lose your footing momentarily.

If your shoulders, arms, and chest are up to the task in those moments, you probably think to yourself, “I have got to keep up my workout routine!” And if they’re not, you may think, “I have got to start a workout routine!”

Either way, now’s a good time to give your top half the care it needs, and this upper-body workout will tone your arms, shoulders, and chest—while improving total-body posture and stability.

How the Upper-Body Workout Works

You’ll need a set of dumbbells and a bench, preferably one that’s adjustable. If you’re not sure which dumbbells to use, choose the lightest ones you can find. You can always go heavier if the moves feel too easy.

You’ll also want a cable machine and chest press machine, but if you don’t have access to a particular machine, try one of the suggested alternatives.

Warm up with at least five minutes of walking or this warmup routine. Perform three rounds of each circuit below, each made up of three exercises. Cool down with deep breathing and stretches of your choice.

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, an injury, or balance issues, talk to your doctor about how you can exercise safely.

Circuit #1

Do 3 rounds

Perform the three exercises below in order, with little rest in between. After the third exercise, rest one minute, and repeat the full circuit again. Aim to do three rounds total.

Exercise #1A: Biceps Curl

Do 20 reps each side

Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with arms at your sides and palms facing in.

Keeping your torso stationary and elbows tucked close to your sides, bend your left elbow (not your wrist) to curl the weight up to your left shoulder. As you curl, rotate so that your palm faces up. Pause, then slowly lower the weight to return to the starting position. Repeat on the other side, bending your right elbow to curl the weight up to your right shoulder. Continue alternating until you complete 20 reps per side.

Exercise #1B: Triceps Kickback

Do 20 reps

Attach a rope handle to the high pulley of a cable station. Grab the rope and stand with your back to the weight stack in a staggered stance, with your left foot about six inches in front of your right and knees slightly bent. Hold an end of the rope in each hand behind your head, with your elbows bent 90 degrees.

Without moving your upper arms, push your forearms forward until your arms are straight. Pause, then return to the starting position. That’s one rep. Do 20 reps.

If you don’t have a cable machine, you can try a triceps kickback with a dumbbell.

Exercise #1C: Rear Delt

Do 20 reps

Grab a pair of dumbbells and stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart. With your palms turned toward each other, bend your elbows about 90 degrees, and brace your core. This is your starting position.

Without changing the bend in your elbows, raise your upper arms out to the sides until they’re parallel to the floor (or as high as you can comfortably go). Reverse the movement and return to the starting position, keeping your elbows bent 90 degrees the entire time. That’s one rep. Do 20 reps, and rest 60 seconds.

Circuit #2

Do 3 rounds

Perform the three exercises below in order, with little rest in between. After the third exercise, rest one minute, and repeat the full circuit again. Aim to do three rounds total.

Exercise #2A: Chest Press

Do 20 reps

Use the pin to select a weight on the weight stack (start light), and set yourself up on the chest press machine.

Keeping your back against the pad, press your arms forward. With control, return to the starting position, pulling your shoulder blades together at the bottom of the movement. That’s one rep. Do 20 reps.

If you don’t have a chest press machine, you can try a dumbbell chest press, if it’s safe for you.

Exercise #2B: Shoulder Press

Do 10 reps each side

Stand holding a dumbbell just outside your right shoulder, with your right arm bent and palm facing in. Set your feet shoulder-width apart in a split stance, with your left foot in front of your right.

Press the weight upward until your right arm while gently opening your chest to the opposite side. Make sure that your arm doesn’t travel forward as you press up.

Pause, and lower your arm. That’s one rep. Do 10 reps, then switch sides and repeat.

Exercise #2C: Lateral Raise

Do 20 reps

Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with arms down at your sides, palms facing in, and elbows slightly bent.

Bracing your core and keeping your torso stationary, raise your arms straight out to your sides until they’re at shoulder level. Pause, then slowly reverse the movement to return to starting position. That’s one rep. Do 20 reps, and rest for 60 seconds.

Circuit #3

Do 3 rounds

Perform the three exercises below in order, with little rest in between. After the third exercise, rest one seconds, and repeat the full circuit again. Aim to do three rounds total.

Exercise #3A: Dumbbell Hammer Curl

Do 20 reps

Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with arms down at your sides, palms facing in.

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, keeping your palms facing in during the entire movement. That’s one rep. Do 20 reps.

Exercise #3B: Front Raise

Do 10 reps each side

Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with arms hanging in front of you, palms facing in toward your thighs and elbows slightly bent. This is your starting position.

Raise your right arm straight in front of you until it’s parallel to the floor and perpendicular to your torso. Pause, then slowly lower the dumbbell back to the starting position. Repeat on the opposite side, raising your left arm straight in front you of. Continue alternating until you complete 10 reps per side.

Exercise #3C: Incline Dumbbell Press

Do 20 reps

Grab a dumbbell in each hand, and lie faceup on an incline bench. Position the dumbbells just outside of and above your chest, palms facing away from your body. If you have cranky shoulders, try angling the dumbbells so that your palms face each other. Your elbows should flare about 45 degrees away from your torso. Do not let them flare straight out from your sides. Brace your core to press your low back into the bench. This is your starting position.

From here, press the weights up and together until your arms are straight, but not locked out. Pause, then slowly lower the weights to return to start. That’s one rep. Do 20 reps, and rest 60 seconds.

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