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Best Upper Body Bodyweight Exercises To Build Explosive Strength

November 10, 2021 5 min read

If you just don't fancy heading out to the gym or it simply doesn't appeal, then relax, because you can build your upper body muscles at home in your own time with your own equipment.

If we've learned anything about working out in recent times, it's that bodyweight exercises deserve a place in even the most hardcore bodybuilding training plan. In fact, we'd argue that if you didn't realise the ability to build strength that a no-weight workout can provide, you do now!

Not only are upper body bodyweight exercises convenient, but they're also cheap. All you need are simple bits of training equipment like a weighted vest, some rings, and a dip bar, and you're good to go.

You don't need a spotter to make sure your intensity is op point and there are no irritating posers hogging the machines.

But when it comes to training your upper body without dumbbells, barbells, or other fancy equipment, what's the aim? Well, HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training). And don't just take our word for it, Kennesaw State University, thrashing out a 20-minute CrossFit bodyweight AMRAP – consisting of five pull-ups, 10 push-ups, and 15 squats – provided a "greater training stimulus" than running on a treadmill at 85 percent of your maximal heart rate for the same time period (source).

The benefits of Upper Body Bodyweight Exercises

I understand that if you're used to curling heavy dumbbells in your spare time that you might need a little convincing that this form of exercise is for you because at first glance these look like basic moves, so here are a few pointers that might help.

1. You can alternate them as much as you like, from one-handed press-ups to progressively adding weight to your dips.

2. Your overall mobility, core stability, and general physical performance will improve and will help you with your day-to-day activities away from working out.

3. Unlike traditional weightlifting, bodyweight training puts very little stress on your joints, so you're much less likely to pick up an injury.

Upper bodyweight exercises are quick and easy

Time is the most precious thing to us (apart from family), and the biggest thing that many, especially parents crave above all else. Training your upper body with your own body weight in your own time solves that problem.

It's quick, easy, and when combined with cardio such as running, can fit in around the things you have planned throughout the day, making them very efficient no matter what your fitness level is like.

Can I build muscle through upper bodyweight training?

In a word, absolutely! There's more than enough evidence to show that muscle hypertrophy happens in the same way by doing bodyweight exercise as it does by lifting weights.

Muscles grow by tearing and repairing, so as long as your form is good and you go through the full range of motion, it's a great way to get ripped. Or to put it another way, press-ups are as good as a bench press (especially a weighted press up).

What are the best upper body bodyweight exercises?

There are many bodyweight workouts that you can choose from, including a full-body workout. However, seeing as this guide is focusing on the upper body, I'll keep the variations and moves down. Here are some explosive movements and compound movements for you to consider.

Exercise #1 Pull-Ups Using A Suspension Trainer

From the standing position with feet together, slowly walk your feet away until you're in a hang position you're comfortable with (this will change from person to person). From here, whilst making sure the upper position of your body is stabilised, you're almost in the tabletop position. Make sure that your starting position is comfortable and that your grip is tight, but not too tight because your hands and wrists need some flexibility. 

Exercise #2 Ring Pull-Ups

As with the TRX pull-ups, ring pull-ups follow a very similar pattern. The exception is that you will hold the rings slightly differently due to the fact that they're circular. As above, with your feet flat, select a neutral position with your eyes fixed on a point on the ceiling with your hands and shoulders relaxed but stabilised. Then slowly pull yourself up and lower yourself down, engaging the pectoral muscles, core muscles, and abdominal muscles.

For pull-ups, we recommend a 60sec rest in-between reps.

Exercise #3 Dips

Dips are by far one of the best upper bodyweight exercises you can do, period, and the reason is simple. They engage every major muscle in the upper body, including the chest muscles and shoulders.

In fact, dips seriously stimulate muscle strength and muscle growth and should be in every upper body workout at least once or twice per week.

Make sure that start the dip with your core braced and your feet together, then lower yourself down until each forearm is at roughly shoulder level.

For dips, we recommend a 60sec rest in-between reps.

Dips With Rings

 Dips With A Dipping Bar

If you're not used to training with rings, then the traditional dipping bar is your best friend here. Preferably, it will have a thick grip and bars that are wider at the ends so you can position your hands comfortably and correctly.  

Exercise #4 Push-Ups

Body-weight exercises are never complete until you've done some press-ups! It's a key strength training exercise and part of many an exercise routine. There are two ways to perform this exercise type, so either with an exercise mat or preferably on the floor with legs extended (standard push-up position) or with your knees bent, without changing the shape of your upper body, slowly lower your torso toward floor until your chest is either parallel to the floor (elbows at shoulder level) or on the floor if you're strong enough. Then slowly push back up to the starting press-up position.

These aren't speed exercises and must be done under full control.

These types of exercises are great at engaging your shoulder stability and shoulder strength and we recommend starting with your hands shoulder width apart.

How many reps you can complete will depend on your fitness levels, but we recommend you perform a set, have a 20sec rest then go again.


Exercise #5 Deficit push-ups

The final upper body exercise is the deficit push-up. This exercise seriously targets the chest, the deltoids and triceps and is perfect for anyone that likes to feel a deep burn throughout the major muscles in the upper body.

As above, get into the push-up position whilst keeping everything tight and with your feet slightly wider apart for stability, then slowly lower yourself down in a controlled manor, pause then slowly push back up to the starting position. 

And for added pressure, at the end of each repetition take one hand and touch the opposite shoulder. 

Final thoughts on an upper-body bodyweight workout

Obviously, we're great believers in functional strength exercises and will always argue that a 45-minute vigorous exercise bout that includes a weighted vest should be mandatory throughout the nation, but in all honesty, a solid full-body exercise will work wonders for not only your muscle growth but will also keep your core tight, test your entire body and improve your overall health & fitness.

Just don't forget to rest. Rest is just as important as your fitness routine and diet and will promote muscle repair and prevent injury.

Alex Nicholas
Alex Nicholas



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