Editor’s Update: Mar 2020
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Hi, there! With the arrival of spring and summer comes the shedding of layers and showing off of those shoulders, arms, and tummies! For that reason, I have compiled this list of my favorite exercise moves to target those areas.
The following are some bodyweight exercises specifically concerning the upper body (arms/chest/shoulders) and core (abs and upper back). You can complete this workout anywhere and anytime with very little equipment. I love doing this set in the sun, at the beach, by the side of the pool, and even in my living room if I just need a little pump on a rainy day!
Each exercise is listed with a recommendation of reps and sets next to its name. Then, listed below the description are alternative methods to scale the exercise if it is too easy or tough! Click on any of the photos to enlarge them. Be careful and have fun!
Let’s Get Started With Our Upper Body and Core Workout!
Remember, use caution whenever engaging in a new workout program. Never attempt anything that seems too risky or is beyond your current range of skills and strength.
It is wise to consult your physician before beginning a new exercise regime!
Workout Move #1: 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 (like this one) while pushing up creates a shaky base for your hands. As a result, the instability requires you to engage every muscle in your arms and core to hold the ball still in order to successfully complete a rep. Basically, you strengthen more muscles in less time!
Exercise Alternate/Too Easy: In addition to balancing your hands on the ball, (1) balance your toes on a foam roller to engage your core 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) Further, if you master both of the above, try completing the push-ups with one hand resting on your back – the ultimate challenge!
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. Just hold a tight, straight line from your shoulders, through your waist, to your knees, as much as possible.
Workout Move #2: Medicine Ball Mountain Climbers (60 seconds non-stop)
Performing a few sets of these mountain climbers during your upper body and core workout will train your whole body. First, by stabilizing yourself, you are engaging your arms, shoulders, back, and chest. Then, by “popping” your legs up and in, you crunch your core while twisting your obliques.
Further, this exercise has an additional benefit: completing more reps per set (or not stopping at all in between sets) increases your heart rate and gets your blood flowing. Strength-training and cardio all at the same time – what more could you ask for? 🙂
Exercise Alternate/Too Easy: If you want even more of a challenge, try bending your elbows slightly, positioning 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.
Workout Move #3: Alternating High/Low Planks (10 reps x 3 sets)
Planks are universally known in the workout world as a great way to tone and strengthen your core. Nevertheless, 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. Don’t skip this portion of your upper body and core workout – you’ll be glad once you complete it!
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.
Workout Move #4: Dive Bombers (10 reps x 3 sets)
Because of the tight positioning of the arms close to the body and overhead angle 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’.
Workout Move #5: 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 push your hands off of the ground to test your muscles to their limits. This quick-action technique ensures a muscle burn you will be proud of!
Exercise Alternative/Too Easy: (1) Instead of clapping once, try to clap twice before landing. Then, increase to three claps, etc. etc. etc.
Exercise Alternative/Too Difficult: (1) To reduce the impact of this exercise, try resting on your knees instead of your toes. (2) Alternatively, perform this against a wall: stand, facing a sturdy wall, feet about an arms-length away. Then, 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.
Workout Move #6: Triceps Dips (18 reps x 3 sets)
This portion of our upper body and core workout trains the muscular area on the back of the arms, called the triceps, otherwise known as “bingo wings!” In order to have strong, toned arms, it is important to not only workout 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 the completion of this move, find a bench or sturdy object. Next, place your palms flat on the surface, with your fingers pointing forward, and bend your knees to at least a 90-degree angle. Then, 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. Finally, straighten your arms, bringing your body back up to complete one rep.
Workout Move #7: 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), 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 portion of our upper body and core workout is a sure-fire way to train yourself to complete more pull-ups- it worked for me! To start, simply grip the bar and jump up, raising your chin above your hands. 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, training them until you can perform proper chin-ups.
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 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.
Workout Move #8: Pop-Overs (60 seconds non-stop)
This exercise is quite fun, and another great full-body and cardio move! Similar to the Medicine Ball Mountain Climbers, completing a few sets of these pop-overs will, not only work your arms, but also your core and even your legs. In addition, you can sneakily add 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) Lastly, if the move is still too simple, try wearing ankle weights throughout the duration of the set!
Workout Move #9: 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 strong upper bodies for no reason, 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 unassisted handstand.)
Upper Body and Core Workout – The End
So, how are you feeling? Sweaty and sore? Good! That means the exercises are working!
I hope you enjoyed this workout and are able to incorporate some of my favorite moves into your next upper body and core workout! If you need some workout inspiration, be sure to check out my motivational post, here!
Don’t forget to find me on Instagram so we can keep in touch, and be sure to tag me in any photos you post while working out! I love to see what you guys are up to!
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Take care guys!
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That’s a great bar you found! 😀
Haha it is!