June 29, 2021
An Upper – Body Circuit Workout That Will Build Balanced Strength
If you’re looking for a quick, personal-trainer-approved way to burn out your shoulders, back, chest, and arms, an upper-body circuit workout can be a fantastic choice for your next routine.
Circuit training—where you go through a bunch of exercises without resting between them—is one of the most efficient ways to work all the upper-body muscle groups you’re targeting. Plus, when you don’t take any rest, you get a cardio boost along with the strength-building benefits of weight training, like getting stronger, maintaining bone density, and offsetting an age-related decline in muscle mass.
What you’ll need: Two sets of dumbbells—a lighter set (2–8 pounds) and a medium set (5–15 pounds)—a box or step, and an optional exercise mat for extra cushioning. If you can’t complete 10 reps with good form, that’s a sign to go a little lighter with your weights.
- Elevated push-up
- Bent-over fly
- Bodyweight pulldown
- Overhead shoulder press
- Single-arm row
- Do 10 reps of each exercise. For the row, do 10 reps on each side. Rest 2–4 minutes after all five exercises are done. Complete 2≠3 rounds total.
1. Elevated Push – Up
- Get into a high plank with your hands on a box, bench or step, palms flat, hands shoulder-width apart, and shoulders stacked directly above your wrists. Extend your legs behind you, feet hip-width apart. Engage your core and glutes.
- Bend your elbows and lower your chest to the box or step.
- Push through the palms of your hands to straighten your arms. That’s 1 rep.
- Continue for 10 reps.
To put less pressure on your wrists and shoulders, try doing push-ups on a wall. Elevating your hands is actually a more effective regression than doing push-ups from your knees because it allows you to hold tension and stability throughout your core and the rest of your body, instead of just stopping at the knees—while still working your chest, shoulders, and triceps. For an added challenge, you can do the push-up from the floor.
2. Bent – Over Fly
- Stand with your feet about hip-width apart. Hold a light dumbbell in each hand with your arms resting along the sides of your legs, palms facing in.
- Bend your knees slightly and hinge over at your hips, making sure to keep your back straight.
- With a slight bend in your elbows, slowly lift the weights up and out to the sides until they’re in line with your shoulders.
- Lower them back down with control. This is 1 rep.
- Continue for 10 reps.
This move works your rear deltoids, rhomboids, and trapezius. Strengthening these muscles also helps to protect the rotator cuff by stabilizing your shoulder and improving your range of motion over time. To make this exercise easier, drop your weights and continue the motion with just your bodyweight.
3. Bodyweight Pulldown
- Lie on your stomach with your arms extended forward.
- Lift your chest, arms, and legs off the ground and squeeze your butt.
- Keeping your arms and legs off the ground, pull your elbows in toward your sides, then punch forward. This is 1 rep.
- Repeat this pulldown-and-punch motion for 10 reps, hovering your arms and legs above the ground and engaging your glutes the entire time.
This exercise works your latissimus dorsi, trapezius, rhomboids, and teres major and minor (two rotator cuff muscles). To make it more challenging, Jamison suggests grabbing a hand towel with both hands and pulling them apart to activate your upper back even more.
4. Overhead Shoulder Press
- Stand with your feet about hip-width apart. Hold a medium weight in each hand and rest them at shoulder height, with your palms facing forward and your elbows bent.
- Press the dumbbells overhead to touch, straightening your elbows completely. Make sure to keep your core engaged and hips tucked under to avoid arching your lower back as you lift your arms.
- Slowly bend your elbows to lower the weight back down to the starting position. This is 1 rep. Continue for 10 reps.
This move works your deltoids and triceps. This move will feel especially challenging since you’ve already worked many of the same muscles in the previous moves, so you may want to use less weight than you would normally.
5. Single – Arm Row
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a medium weight in your right hand with your arm at your side. Step forward about two feet with your left foot, and rest your left hand on your left quad.
- With your core engaged, hinge forward at the hips, pushing your butt back, and bend your left knee, so that your back is no lower than parallel to the floor. (Depending on your hip mobility and hamstring flexibility, you may not be able to bend so far over.) Gaze at the ground a few inches in front of your feet to keep your neck in a comfortable position.
- Do a row with your right arm by pulling the weight up toward your chest, keeping your elbows hugged close to your body, and squeezing your shoulder blade for two seconds at the top of the movement. Your elbow should go past your back as you bring the weight toward your chest.
- Slowly lower the weight by extending your arms toward the floor. That’s 1 rep. Continue for 10 reps.
- Complete all your reps on the right side, and then switch and repeat on the left.
This exercise works your trapezius, rhomboids, latissimus dorsi, rotator cuff muscles, and rear deltoids; your biceps come in to assist the move. Focus on retracting your shoulder blade as you pull rather than jerking your arm back.