An Easy Upper Body Workout for Someone Just Getting Started

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If you’re new to strength training, all the moves out there can seem intimidating. That’s why this easy upper body workout is a great way to get started—it’ll ease you into basic, foundational exercises without overwhelming you with a mile-long moves list.

And that’s really the best way to get started with strength training, ACE-certified personal trainer Sivan Fagan, owner of Strong With Sivan in Baltimore, tells SELF.

“You have to build slowly,” Fagan says. “If you’re a beginner, you really should focus on the most bang-for-your-buck movements, learn how to do them properly, and understand what you are doing and why.”

This refers to basic moves that you can progress in tons of different variations when you’re ready, and that hit the major movement patterns—which, for an upper body workout, includes pulling and pushing moves.

Think about a single-arm row, for instance. It’s a big, compound move that recruits a bunch of different muscles. You’ll want to feel that pulling motion in your lats (which span from underneath your arm to your back), your rhomboids (your upper back), and your biceps (the front of your upper arm). Because all those muscles are working together, it’s a more efficient way to train than doing only isolation exercises, like a biceps curl. Once you feel comfortable with the single-arm row, you can progress it with many variations, like a bent-over bilateral row, a resistance band row, or a T-bar row.

With this easy upper body workout created by Fagan, you’ll be using the row—along with three other exercises—to work on pulling and pushing movements to challenge your back muscles, chest muscles, and shoulder muscles. Your arm muscles (the biceps and triceps) will come into play too, since they’ll be assisting your other muscles with these big moves.

One quick note: When you’re just getting started, emphasize proper form—and really feel which muscles you’re supposed to be working with these movements—rather than being concerned about how much weight you’re lifting, says Fagan. You want to be able to complete all the reps with proper form.

Ready to get started? Here’s what you need for an easy upper body workout that includes just four exercises.

The Workout

What you need: A pair of light- and moderate-weight dumbbells. If you’re new to these movement patterns, you can try them holding a pair of cans or bottles to get the motion down and feel the correct muscles firing, says Fagan.

The Exercises

  • Single-arm row
  • Alternating chest press
  • I-Y-T raise
  • Front to lateral raise

Directions

  • Complete the exercise in a circuit fashion, resting for 30 seconds between exercises. Perform 12–15 reps per side for the row, 12–15 reps per side for the chest press, 8–12 reps for the I-Y-T raise, and 12–15 reps for the front to lateral raise. Rest for 1–3 minutes. Complete 2–4 rounds total.

Demoing the moves below are Rachel Denis (GIFS 1 and 4), a powerlifter who competes with USA Powerlifting; Harlan Kellaway (GIF 2), a trans bodybuilder based in Queens, New York; and Erica Gibbons (GIF 3), a California-based personal trainer and graduate student becoming licensed as a marriage and family therapist.

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