Hello, friends, and happy summer!
Okay, okay. So it’s not technically summertime yet, but with June as the unofficial kick-off to BBQ’s, pool season, and graduation parties, I’m feeling all sorts of festive! Does anyone have any fun plans for the next few months? Max and I are looking forward to spending some time in the New England states next month. More on that later!
Well, due to the warmer weather of summer comes shedding your layers and showing off those shoulders, arms, and tummies! If you’re anything like me, this is the hardest part of preparing for summer. What, you mean I can’t hide my bloated, carb-filled self inside of a thick, comfy hoodie anymore? PISH POSH. (Yeah, I don’t know.)
Thankfully, there’s a quick fix, and that’s what I am here to share with y’all today! I call it my “Sun’s Out, Guns Out” routine. What follows are some specific (mostly) body weight exercises targeting the upper body (arms/chest/shoulders) and core (abs and upper back). That means that you can do this workout anywhere and anytime with (very little-to-) no equipment (if you get bored while sunbathing, try a few sets of this workout- BAM! Getting a tan AND swole at the same time! ‘YAY’ for multi-tasking!) It’s a super fun way to exercise; I love doing these moves in the sun, at the beach, even by the side of the pool! Some of these moves have been adapted from other workout regimes, some are oldies-but-goodies with a tweak, and some I just went ahead and made up. Overall, it’s a quick, fun way to get pumped up and toned- and you WILL be sore and sweaty afterward!
Each exercise is listed with a recommendation of reps* and sets* next to its name, and listed below the description are alternative ways to perform the exercise if it is too easy or tough! Click on any of the photos to enlarge. Be careful** and have fun!
Let’s get started. You’re going to want to put your hair up. 😉
Medicine Ball Push-Ups (15 reps x 3 sets)
Did you roll your eyes when you read the word “push-ups”? I know, I hate push-ups, too; there is just something so… “drop and give me twenty!”… about them. Nevertheless, these are NOT normal push-ups. Utilizing a medicine ball while pushing up (push-up-ing?) creates a shaky base for your hands. The benefit? More so than with normal push ups, you will have to engage every muscle in your arms and core to hold the ball still in order to successfully complete a rep. Try it and see! It’s a lot trickier than it seems, especially on a smooth surface like cement (grass gives the ball more friction, which prevents it from rolling as easily, and is cheating! Ha!) I’ve found, too, that gripping the medicine ball with my hands is a little easier on my wrists than planting my hands flat on the ground!
Exercise Alternate/Too Easy: In addition to balancing your hands on the ball, (1) balance your toes on a foam roller to engage your muscles even more! (2) You can also have a friend set a weight plate on your back once you are in plank position, to create added resistance. (3) If you master both of the above, try completing the push-ups with one hand resting on your back!
Exercise Alternate/Too Difficult: Feel free to bend your knees to the ground and lean on them (instead of your toes) while completing this exercise.
Medicine Ball Mountain Climbers (60 seconds non-stop)
Performing a few sets of these will really work your whole body: by stabilizing yourself, you are engaging your arms, shoulders, back, and chest; by “popping” your legs up and in, you crunch your core while twisting your obliques. This exercise has another benefit as well: completing more reps per set (or not stopping at all in between sets) increases your heart rate and gets your blood flowing. It’s like you are getting some cardio in while strengthening your muscles!
Exercise Alternate/Too Easy: If you want even more of a challenge, try bending your elbows slightly, lowering yourself into a low plank on the medicine ball while continuing to jump from leg to leg.
Exercise Alternate/Too Difficult: To reduce the impact during this exercise, bring one leg up and hold for a few seconds. Then, instead of “jumping” from foot to foot, bring your leg back to start position, and repeat with the other.
Alternating High/Low Planks (10 reps x 3 sets)
Planks are universally known as a great way to tone and strengthen your core, but they have a tendency to become mundane. Alternating between “high” and “low” keeps the exercise interesting, and also helps to incorporate more of the muscles in your arms and shoulders than traditional planks would.
Exercise Alternate/Too Easy: To add an additional challenge, (1) balance your toes on a foam roller, creating an unsteady base and thus engaging more of your muscles or (2) have a friend place a weight plate on your back, adding additional resistance to the move.
Exercise Alternate/Too Difficult: In between “high” and “low” planks, rest your knees on the ground to give your muscles a break.
Dive Bombers (10 reps x 3 sets)
This move is one that I named myself; after some research, though, I learned that it is comprised of certain aspects of other athletics, hence the Yoga poses referenced in each of the photos. I’m still not sure if the entire move has a name, but I do know that it is one generally found in many Yoga and Pilates “flows”. If you’re not familiar with either field, this is one of the tougher moves of our entire work out. Because of the tight positioning of the arms close to the body at the beginning of the move, smaller, less-used muscles are needed to complete it; you’ll really feel the burn in your pectorals, triceps, and shoulders. The “transfer” of weight is tricky at first, and sometimes challenging to master, but practicing until it’s smooth will give your arms fantastic toning and training.
Exercise Alternate/Too Easy: Lift a leg up, balancing on only one foot for half of the set. Switch legs and continue.
Exercise Alternate/Too Difficult: If you have some challenges completing an entire rep at first, try practicing half of the exercise at a time. For example, start with the first two photos above; begin in “Downward Dog”, bend your arms to bring your head lower, return to “Downward Dog”, and repeat. Later, practice the last two photos; start in a “Low Plank”, push your upper body up, arching your back, balancing on your toes. Hold that pose, and return to “Low Plank”. Eventually, you will gain enough strength to begin practicing the connection of both ‘moves’.
Explosive Push-Ups (10 reps x 3 sets)
More push-up variations, YAY! These ones are fun, though, and they always make me feel like a combination of Superman and a buff Cross-fitter. Plus, doing these in the presence of others (like in the park) always elicits awe-struck glances from impressed passersby. More intense than traditional push-ups, instead of steadily bringing yourself up, forcefully pushing your hands off of the ground tests your muscles to their limits.
Exercise Alternative/Too Easy: (1) Instead of clapping once, try to clap twice before landing. Then, increase to three claps, etc. etc. etc. (2) You can also have a friend place a weight plate on your back to increase the resistance.
Exercise Alternative/Too Difficult: I thought very hard about this alternative, as I really don’t want to recommend just doing normal push-ups. (How creative, Lexis! Thanks! Would’ve never thought about NORMAL push-ups!!) (1) To reduce the impact of this exercise, try resting on your knees instead of your toes. (2) You can also perform this against a wall: stand, facing a sturdy wall, feet about an arms-length away. Lean in, arms bent, biceps flexed, with hands flat on the wall, and push off forcefully. Allow yourself to fall forwards again towards the wall, catching yourself with bent arms.
Triceps Dips (18 reps x 3 sets)
This move works the muscular area on the back of the arms, called the triceps; I’ve heard them referenced before as “bingo wings”- think of the older ladies at bingo waving their winning card in the air as their loose triceps area flaps in the wind – Ha Ha! Anyway, in order to have strong, toned arms, it is important to not only work on your biceps and shoulders, but pay a bit of attention to the lesser-known muscles as well.
Exercise Alternate/Too Easy: (1) To add difficulty to this move, balance your feet on a foam roller or medicine ball. (2) You can also set a weight plate on your tummy while completing your reps to increase resistance.
Exercise Alternate/Too Difficult: The reverse plank position is tricky, especially if you have tight shoulders or reduced mobility there. To assist in completion of this move, find a bench or sturdy object. Place your palms flat on the surface, with your fingers pointing forward, and bend your knees to at least a 90-degree angle. Keeping your upper body tight and legs still, concentrate on bending your arms to a right-angle (shown above), lowering your body using only your arms. Straighten your arms, bringing your body back up to complete one rep.
Negative Pull Up (30 seconds)
Pull-ups (or chin-ups) are a phenomenal way to work your arms and upper back (plus they look really cool to do many in rapid succession), but let’s be honest: how many of us can actually boast about being able to do more than perhaps one pull up (without jumping into it!)? This exercise is a sure-fire way to train yourself to complete more pull-ups- it worked for me! All you do is ‘cheat’ to get to the “top” of a chin-up: jump up, bringing your chin above the bar. Then, as slowly as possible, lower yourself down without stopping. The key here is to get a smooth flow without any interruption or dropping down at the end. The “reverse” effect helps target the muscles that are used to do a traditional chin-up.
Exercise Alternate/Too Easy: Once you have mastered traditional chin-ups, (1) grasp a medicine ball between your thighs to add more weight to pull up. (2) Another fun alternative is attempting a reverse pull-up with only one arm; once you are at the top, let go with one hand and see how long you can last!
Exercise Alternate/Too Difficult: If you have difficulties even jumping into a pull-up, try using a lower bar and see just how much you can lift your body off of the ground. When you reach what feels like the most weight you can hold in your arms, pause for a moment, and then let go, and repeat.
Pop Overs (60 seconds non-stop)
This exercise is quite fun, and another great full body + cardio move! Similar to the Medicine Ball Mountain Climbers, completing a few sets of these “Pop-Overs” (another made up name!) will not only work your arms, but also your core and even your legs, in addition to sneakily getting some great cardio into your workout. I love to do these jumps to the beat of a catchy EDM or dup-step song, and I always find myself fighting against the fatigue in this one! That’s how you know it’s working!
Exercise Alternate/Too Easy OR Difficult: A nice feature of this move is that it lends really well to personalization throughout a set; (1) simply speed up or reduce the pace of the jumps if you need a challenge or a break, or try to go non-stop for more or less time. (2) Try playing around with the height of the bench as well; perhaps a lower or higher base for your hands will create an additional challenge or alleviate some pain you are feeling! (3) If the move is still too simple, try wearing ankle weights throughout the duration of the set!
Handstand “Wobbles” (5 reps x 3 sets)
Note: If you have never attempted a handstand, or have no background in tumbling, please do not try this one, unless with approval and/or assistance by a qualified trainer or coach. Please be safe!
Gymnasts don’t have buff upper bodies for nothing, my friends; handstands are tough on your whole body, but especially your arms and even hands. If you ever watch someone holding a handstand, you might initially comment on how still their body seems. But in order to keep their body taut in the air, their arms, hands, and fingers have to work extensively; upon closer attention to the aforementioned handstand-er, you will notice every muscle tensing and flexing, constantly adjusting to shift the weight of the body to keep it juuuuust right, and, consequently, still and straight in the air. Lifting up one of the arms not only adds all the extra weight onto one arm, but slightly alters the body’s center of gravity, causing a fun, added challenge to the handstand!
Exercise Alternate/Too Easy: If this exercise is too easy for you, well, my applause to you. Ha ha! (1) Try setting a new personal record for time balanced on one hand! (2) Try walking up a set of stairs! (3) Try jumping from hand to hand, break-dance/b-boy style!
Exercise Alternate/Too Difficult: If you cannot balance a handstand well, but are comfortable supporting your weight and being in an inverted position, feel free to try this exercise with caution against a wall. (Stomach to the wall, instead of back to the wall, encourages better handstand form, in effect training your body to better hold an un-assisted handstand.)
So how are you feeling? Sweaty and sore? Good! That means the exercises are working!
I hope you enjoyed this post and are able to incorporate some of my favorite moves into your next upper body/core workout!
Leave me a comment and let me know which move you are most excited to try, or give me some ideas for news moves to add into my regular set!
As always, thanks for reading, friends! So long! XOXO.
- REP, short for REPETITION: one execution of the exercise from beginning to end (AKA: one push-up, down and back up, is one rep)
- SET: the number of cycles of reps you perform (AKA: three sets of ten reps of push-ups each means you completed thirty push-ups.) Generally, sets are performed with breaks in between each set.
** Safety/Liability Notice:
Remember to use caution whenever engaging in a new exercise program; never attempt anything that seems too risky or is extreme beyond your current range of skills and strength. The above exercises and rep amounts are only examples and suggestions meant to be inspiration/basis for creating your own workout routine, and by no means are a “standard” or “required”. It is wise to consult your physician before beginning a new exercise regime.
Just sayin’. 😉