Body weight exercises are great for building muscle and strength throughout your upper body. There are a few reasons I like them so much. They don’t require any equipment like barbells or dumbbells and can be done anywhere too. Some of my favorite body weight exercises for the back, chest, shoulders, and arms are dips, inverted rows, pull ups and push ups.
Once you can perform these exercises for 10 reps it’s time to make them more challenging so your progress can continue. One way to do this is to add weight by wearing a weighed belt, chest, or chains. A more practical method is to find a more challenging way to do the exercise.
Since I train from home with limited equipment I need to find challenging ways to perform these exercises that only use my body weight. This article lists my 5 favorite. In addition to providing a detailed description, I’ve included a video which shows how to properly perform each exercise.
Whether you train at home or in a gym adding them to your workout will help you build a strong, powerful upper body that looks great too.
1. Muscle Ups
If I have time to perform only 1 upper body exercise, it’s muscle ups. They combines 2 of the most effective movements, chin ups and dips. Muscle Ups train every muscle in your upper body from your back and chest to your shoulders, biceps, and triceps. Your abs get a great workout too.
Be forewarned, Muscle Ups are an advanced exercise. I recommend not attempting them until you can do at least 3 sets of 10 dips and chin ups respectively. Start by performing 3 sets of 2-3 reps and add more as your strength progresses. This will ensure you are always using proper technique.
Below is a video that shows how to properly perform Muscle Ups.
2. Mixed Grip Pull Ups
This is an exercise that I learned from strength coach Charles Poliquin more than 15 years ago. Unfortunately I only recently added them to my workout. Once I did, I only wish that I’d been doing them all along. They’re tougher to do than regular pull ups and are a great intermediate level body weight exercise for your back and biceps. They’re simple to learn too. All they require is that instead of performing a regular pull up with both palms facing away from your body you do them with one facing away and one toward yourself.
Here’s a video of an athlete doing Mixed Grip Pull Ups.
3. Kettlebell Push Ups
Once you can do 3 sets of 10 regular push ups and have moved through plyometric push ups it’s time to move onto something tougher. Doing them with your hands on kettlebells makes this exercise much tougher and will really build your chest, shoulders, and triceps.
Learning to perform kettlebell push ups is simple. They’re like regular push ups except you balance your body over kettlebells by holding onto the handles. The extra height your chest is from the ground increases the distance you’re moving your body during the exercise. This means your chest, shoulders, and triceps are forced to work that much harder. The additional stability required to do this type of push up makes them tougher to perform as well.
Start with sets of 3-5 reps and increase as your technique and strength improve. Make sure you go down as low as possible during the exercise for optimal benefit. If doing them with both hands on a kettlebell is too hard at first, start with 1 hand on the ground and the other on a kettlebell. Move to using a hand on each kettlebell once you can do 10 reps this way.
If you don’t have access to kettlebells you can use a couple of bricks or other stable object that is 4-6” high.
Kettlebell Push Ups Video – 1 Hand On A Kettlebell
Kettlebell Push Ups Video – Both Hands On A Kettlebell
4. Dips With Rings
Dips are referred to by many strength coaches as being as effective as squats are for your lower body. Done regularly, they’ll build loads of muscle and superior strength in your chest, shoulders, and triceps. Once you can do them using a regular set of parallel bars, you can move onto a more advanced version with rings. This is the same exercise that gymnast use to build some of the strongest and most impressive upper bodies of any athlete.
What makes dips with rings so challenging is the additional stability required to perform a rep. You really have to be strong to perform just 1 rep with good form. That’s why I recommend starting with several sets of only 1-2 repetitions.
Rings are inexpensive and can easily be used anywhere from your home to a park. There are several models available. I recommend the products sold at ringtraining.com. They’re designed to be used anywhere and built to last forever. You can’t beat the price either since a pair only costs about $75.00. Rings can also be used to perform dozens of other exercises too.
Video Description – Dips With Rings
5. 1 Arm Inverted Rows
This is a great exercise to do once regular inverted rows become too easy. They’re done just like regular inverted rows, the only difference is that you pull your body up by holding onto the bar with 1 hand instead of 2.
Start by doing them from a standing position. Once this becomes easy, do them from a horizontal position by placing your feet on a bench.
1 Arm Inverted Rows Video Description – Standing Position
1 Arm Inverted Rows Video Description – Horizontal Position
Now that you have 5 new ways to build your upper body it’s time to get started. Perform a workout using 2-3 of them today to see for yourself how effective they are for rapidly building muscle and strength.