The Best Exercise To Improve Women’s Upper Body Strength Training

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Incorporate the most effective exercise in boosting women’s upper body strength training to build lean muscle at home.

I know most women don’t tend to focus on upper body strength. And if they do incorporate it, it’s usually in the form of bicep curls and tricep extensions with really low weights.

Typically with the goal of toning their arms and get rid of any “grandma flab.” No offense grandmas! But we all know what I am talking about, right? You know, that extra skin and fat that likes to say goodbye with us when we wave.

If you find yourself in that category or you avoid it all together to avoid getting “too bulky” up there, listen up!

Should I train upper body as a woman?

Including a women’s upper body strength training routine is imperative to improving overall fitness and supporting your day-to-day life. All women should include upper body workouts into their strength training.

A strong upper body allows you to carry more weight form your lower body lifts, pick your toddler up 100 times a day, and have a more diverse exercise routine.

Strength training your upper body won’t make you “bulky” unless you follow a routine and diet plan for building large muscle mass. Even then, it’s biologically unlikely you will even get to that point without supplementation and living in the gym. Check out my post How Can a Woman Get Strong And NOT Bulky if you are still hesistant about upper body strength training.

And chances are those couple of sets of curls and extensions aren’t going to zap the grandma flab (that’s called spot reducing by the way, and you can’t do that either). Stop wasting your time with these isolation exercises that neglect the your chest, back, shoulders, and core.

What you need to be doing is upper body exercises that support and improve full body performance, especially in the core.

How can a woman build upper body strength

bosu ball pushup

The most effective exercise at building women’s upper body strength training is the push-up. This exercise is essential for your upper body routine due to it’s total upper body engagement, enhancement of core strength, and ability to be modified for every fitness level.

Total upper body engagement

The push-up is so effective because it engages the entire upper body. Your arms, chest, back, shoulders, and core all get activation. And when done properly, your lower body even gets engagement too.

The push-up can also be varied to target different muscle groups more than others.

Keep in mind that the large muscle groups (pecs, back, and core) will be the prime movers, so they will be doing the brunt of the work. The smaller muscles like in your arms and shoulders will be the limiting factor of the exercise. They will be assisting and stabilizing and therefore getting a more muscular endurance approach.

First, it can be as hard or as easy as you need it to be. ANYONE can perform a push-up. There are so many ways to modify the exercise as a beginner and to progress it as you grow stronger.

Because of the biomechanics of the exercise, the push-up is perfect for building lean and toned muscle.

Ability to be modified

You can vary the intensity of the push-up by adjusting your grip, incline, and equipment used.

To modify, you can do one against a wall, on your knees, or assisted with a bench or piece of furniture. You can progress the exercise by removing a limb, using a decline, adding resistance, or performing on an unstable surface like a bosu or stability ball.

Because of their ability to be adapted, I personally was able to incorporate them into my prenatal, postpartum, and high intensity workout routines. You can do them as a beginner as well as an athlete and still get the same great benefits.

Increased core strength

The best reason to incorporate push-ups is to expose your weaknesses and muscular imbalances involving your core strength. Based on where your form is compromised, you can see what areas are imbalanced.

For example, if your chest rises before your hips, genereally it is the transvers abdominals (deep core) that lacks strength. Or if you find yourself getting stuck at the bottom, your chest and triceps may be weak.

Include push-ups into your workout routine at least twice a week to develop total upper body strength.

How to do a push-up

In the video below, I demonstrate and explain the key points of the proper mechanics of a push-up. I also go over a few other variations and what they are good for.

To perform the push-up, follow the cues below:

  • Step 1: Begin in a plank position with your hands placed beneath the shoulders and hips in line with the shoulders.
  • Step 2: Keeping the elbows tucked in against the ribs, slowly lower down maintaining an engaged and level core.
  • Step 3: Stop when your elbows reach a 90 degree or until you are hovering above the floor.
  • Step 4: Keeping the elbows tucked in against the ribs, press into the floor through the palms as you maintain an engaged and level core until you reach a plank position again.

How can a woman get strong enough to do push-ups?

Increase your upper body strength to perform a standard push-up by modifying the exercise and gradually increasing the volume, intensity, and frequency in your workout routine.

You can modify the push-up for an easier variation to do more reps and build endurance.

As you build endurance, you can perform a more challenging variation but less reps to build muscular strength, or force used.

Increasing the frequency, or how often you incorporate the exercise each week, will provide progressive overload and require your upper body to adapt to the increasing load of stress. In turn making you stronger for your push-ups.

You can also incorporate other exercises to support your push-ups and build strength in weak muscle groups. Using exercises such as plank holds, 6-inch holds, and dumbbell chest presses to target the prime movers.

Tips for increasing push-up strength for women

As stated above, adjusting the volume, intensity, and frequency will create progressive overload to gradually improve your push-up strength.

Even just adding a set or two within or at the end of a workout will help. Practice, practice, practice!

Another way to adjust the intensity is with tempo training. Tempo training is the amount of time it takes to perform the exercise and thus changes the time under tension.

The more time under tension, the more contraction you are doing. This will allow you to increase push-up strength and endurance without having to modify or adjust the exercise itself.

An example of a tempo change is incorporating negatives. That’s done by starting at the top of the push-up (in the plank) and very slowly lowering down to the bottom. If you need to you can “assist” yourself to the top using your knees.

This is a good modification when knee push-ups are too easy, but standard push-ups are too hard (without compromising form). You can lower down in the standard form, but use your knees to push up.

A more advanced tempo training you can do would be to raise through the push-up slowly and decline at a regular pace.

How many times a week should a woman train upper body?

An effective frequency to increase strength is to train a muscle group at least two times a week. This can be done by splitting the upper body muscle groups with one “push” day, one “pull” day, and a third day that incorporates the entire upper body.

You can also work the entire upper body over two separate days. One high-volume endurance training day, and one high-intensity strength training day.

How can I build my upper body strength at home?

Since the push-up is a bodyweight exercise, it can easily be incorporated to any at home women’s upper body strength training routine. No equipment is required to perform push-ups, and you only need a small amount of space to do it!

Even if you need to modify, chances are you have a wall, couch, chair, or pillow for your knees to assist you.

Pair the push-up with 3 or more other bodyweight exercises and cycle through each exercise in a straight sets or circuit training format. This would look something like:

Straight Sets Workout:

Push-ups 3 sets of 10 reps

Tricep Dips 3 sets of 10 reps

Plank Hold 3 sets of 30 seconds

Supermans 3 sets of 10 reps

Circuit Training Workout: 3 Rounds

10 Push-ups

10 Supermans

10 Tricep Dips

30 sec Plank Hold

And if you need guidance within a workout, you can use any of my follow-along at home workouts from my Upper Body Playlist on Yotube. Every workout includes instruction, encouragement, and a fully guided upper body strength training routine for a variety of fitness levels.

I’ll be working hard right there with you as we get stronger together.

Women’s upper body strength training workout

Now that I got you excited to do some push ups, I invite you to check out this Advanced Push Up Workout that will have your lungs and upper body on FIRE! This workout is designed for a more advanced fitness level so jump in if you’re looking for a challenge.

I made this workout so that all you need is a wall or even a couch and you can get started. No equipment is needed, just a good attitude and a tough mindset. Don’t plan on shampooing your hair after this one because you’ll struggle to lift your arms.

If you are looking for something quick and not so advanced, try my Bodyweight Arms & Shoulders Workout |10 min.

Either of these upper body strength training routines without weights will help you get stronger at home with the help of push-ups.

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