top of page

The best exercise for each upper body body part

When choosing exercises for different body parts of the upper body there are a lot of exercises to choose from. This can lead to a lot of confusion when deciding which exercises to perform in your training program. Do you go with free weights or machines? Do you choose big, basic compound exercises or single joint, isolation exercises? So, I decided to make a list of the best exercise for each body part. While there is actually no perfect or best exercise there are exercises that are better than others. So this list is the exercises I feel are one of the best but also in part personal preference. I should note too that no one single exercise is going to agree with every persons body. Everyone's body is different. Things such as bone structure, injury history and health history factor in and some exercises are better for certain people than others. My point is the best exercise for each body part will vary from person to person. This list though will include though not just some of the best exercises for each upper body part but some of the best exercises overall that you can do for your body and fitness level. Since it is hard to pick just one exercise I am going to include 3 runner up exercises that I feel are also great choices for each body part.

Chin-ups, in my opinion, are the best upper body exercise one can perform.

Back (chin ups)

If I could pick one exercise that is not just the best for the back but also for the entire upper body it is chin-ups. Chin-ups are one of the best, if not the best, overall upper body exercise you can do. Chin-ups are difficult to perform and require a lot of core body strength so they aren't for everyone. If one can perform them though they are a great exercise. Chin-ups are great for building a thick, muscular back. They are great for the lats and for that v-taper as well as for working the traps and rhomboids along with a number of other muscles. A great thing too about chin-ups is you can progress them along by loading them with weight by using a dip belt or a weight vest. Chin-ups are foundational exercise in my own personal workouts as well as with my clients.

Runner up = One arm dumbbell rows, barbell rows and rack pulls.

Chest (dumbbell bench press)

Picking just one exercise for the chest was not as easy for me as picking one for the back as I feel there are many great exercises to choose from. If I had to choose just one I am going to go with dumbbell bench press. Dumbbell bench press is great because using dumbbells as opposed to a barbell you can get a greater stretch and range of motion. This can help with getting better muscle fiber recruitment in the pecs. You can also go heavy if needed as doing dumbbell bench presses in strict form it is hard to max out on dumbbells especially if your gym has dumbbells that go over 100 lbs.

Runner up = Push-ups, parallel bar dips and incline dumbbell bench press.

Shoulders (Arnold presses)

Arnold presses are one of my favorite exercises. They are great for working all 3 heads of the shoulder. The added component of shoulder abduction and external rotation as performed with arnold presses get the rotator cuff muscles involved as well as all 3 heads of the shoulder (deltoids). You can also get a great, full range of motion using dumbbells helping to further work the shoulders.

Runner up = Half kneeling one arm kettlebell over head press, Ahrens press and bottoms up kettlebell overhead press.

Biceps (Seated dumbbell curls with supination)

Seated dumbbell curls with the added movement of supination (turning your palms upward) work the biceps in both of their functions. They flex your elbow as well as supinate it. By doing both movements you can work your biceps to a greater degree. They also work both heads of the bicep as well as the brachialis. The brachialis is an upper arm muscle that can be neglected and under developed in some people but contributes to a significant amount of your upper arm muscle and size.

Runner up = Incline dumbbell curls, one arm preacher dumbbell curls and standing ez bar curls.

Triceps (Close grip bench press)

Close grip bench as opposed to regular barbell bench presses focus on and recruit more of the triceps. They are great for developing all 3 heads of the tricep. By training your triceps with a multi-joint movement like close grip bench press as opposed to single joint, isolation exercises you can use heavy loads and really overload the triceps.

Runner up = Parallel bar dips, close grip push-ups and decline dumbbell tricep extensions.


bottom of page