Summer is here and you know what that means: Time for those guns to shine. Often we focus too much on the guns—or the biceps—and miss out on strengthening our entire upper body. Strong pecs, triceps, shoulders, and lats are all key for overall strength and good posture. The shoulders and upper and lower back don’t always get enough attention. Most individuals work these muscle groups when they have access to barbells, free weights, and machines, but if there’s no weight or resistance these muscle groups are ignored.
You just need to be a little creative in ways to strengthen your upper body. Studies have shown there is an efficient and effective seven-minute upper-body workout that you can do at home. The best part is you only need a few household objects to use as resistance.
Getting started – Grab a towel, a chair, and make sure you have access to a table or desk. Perform each exercise below in order at a high-intensity effort for 30 seconds. For single-sided exercises, such as Side-Lying Triceps Push-Up, perform the exercise for 15 seconds before switching to the other side. (If you have extra time, perform 30 seconds on each side.) Rest for 5 seconds between each exercise to reset. This circuit can be repeated 2-3 times if desired.
1. Long Jump Into Backward Crab Walk
Start with feet hip-width apart. Squat back and lower butt to, at, or below knee height. Using arms to generate momentum, jump forward as far as possible and land in the same starting squat position. Once you’ve landed, drop hands back to floor (wrists under shoulders) and lift hips up to knee level to come to a reverse tabletop position. Carefully crab-walk backward to starting position then repeat. You can substitute the crab walk with backpedaling (running backward) if you need to.
2. Hands Under Table Biceps Hold
This is a creative way to activate the biceps. Begin with feet directly beneath hips and place both hands flat underneath a heavy table, couch, or bed frame with palms facing up. Keep elbows close to sides and at a 90-degree angle. Press palms upward against the surface and pulse, keeping your core engaged and back straight.
3. Triceps Push-Up
Start in a high plank position with hands directly under shoulders, core engaged, and neck relaxed. Lower chest to floor, keeping elbows as close as possible to rib cage (you should really feel this along the backs of your arms). To make it easier, drop to knees but be sure to keep core tight and maintain a straight line from shoulders to hips. For an extra challenge, lower very slowly for 3 counts then push back up in 1 count.
4. Shoulder I-Y-T
Lie facedown (forehead to the mat) with arms extended forward above head, hands in a fist, and thumbs pointing upward to the ceiling in an I position. Raise your arms as high as you can, hold for 1 count, then lower them back to the ground. Next make a Y with your arms and raise and lower, then do the same in a T position. Continue to repeat the letters.
5. Squat Jack
Stand with feet together beneath hips and arms at sides. Jump feet apart and send hips back to drop into a squat position with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart and arms out in front of chest. Quickly jump back into the starting position with feet together beneath hips and hands at sides, then repeat.
6. Seated Towel Hammer Curl Pulse
Sit on top of the center of a towel. Grab onto each end of the towel with both hands; keep your palms facing inward and thumbs toward the ceiling. Maintain a 90-degree angle with the elbows and keep them close to the sides of your rib cage. Pull each end of the towel upward toward the ceiling, making mini pulses upward and downward.
7. Triceps Dip
Begin with your hands on a sturdy chair, couch, or table directly underneath the shoulders with fingertips pointing toward body. Extend legs forward, keeping toes flexed upward and heels on floor. Slowly bend elbows to lower butt toward the floor for 3 counts, then push back up fast for 1 count. Continue to repeat. If you need to make it easier, move feet closer to the chair and add a slight bend in your knees.
8. Push Back Push-Up
Start in a high plank position, wrists under shoulders, feet wider than hip-width apart. Lower down into a push-up. Then, press into palms to send hips and butt back, bending knees wide (like a crouching position), then lifting hips up into a downward-dog pose. Make sure your head is positioned between shoulders—biceps should be outside ears and elbows soft. Shift forward back into the starting high plank position and repeat.
9. Jump Switch Lunge
Start standing then take a big step backward with left foot to lower into a lunge position, knees bent to 90 degrees, hands in front of you or on hips for balance. You should feel your body weight in the right heel. Quickly drive through right heel to jump upward and switch your feet, lowering back into a lunge position. Continue to repeat.
10. Bent-Over Row
Grab a gallon-size container of water or any similar weight with a handle (grocery bags with rice or anything with weight will work if you don’t have dumbbells on hand). Hinge at the hips so upper body is near parallel to floor, weights in hand with wrists below shoulders. Draw weights up to chest with palms facing away from you (supinated grip) by bending elbows and focusing on squeezing shoulder blades together (like you’re rowing a boat). Slowly lower weights back to starting position and repeat.
11. Side-Lying Triceps Push-Up
Lie on your side with knees slightly bent. Bring right arm across chest and place palm of left arm on the floor. Press through left palm until your triceps are fully flexed and your upper body lifts up a little, then slowly lower back to starting position. Continue to repeat.
12. Pike Push-Up
Start in a high plank position with wrists under shoulders and core tight. Step forward with feet and send hips up so you’re in a pike position, with hands directly in line with shoulders. Do a push-up so that your head lightly touches the floor a few inches in front of hands and then push back up to pike. Repeat.