Forget weights — use this 5-move bodyweight workout to sculpt your upper body

man performing a push up
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Not all successful upper body sessions happen in the weights section of the gym. While curling and pressing some of the best adjustable dumbbells is a solid way to build muscle in your upper body, you can build strength and tone these muscles with just your body weight. Here's a five move workout to get you started.

The bodyweight routine comes from fitness trainer Joey Bronston and is a sure way to target multiple muscle groups throughout the upper body, including the core, shoulders, chest, back, and arms. Bronston's routine emphasizes strength and stability by incorporating compound movements that engage several muscle groups simultaneously. 

You've perhaps heard people debating isolation vs compound exercises and which is better for building strength. They both are beneficial but compound exercises are especially useful for those looking for a speedy yet effective workout. 

Compound movements, like the ones below, are advantageous for building strength in the upper body due to their efficiency in targeting multiple muscle groups at once, therefore, maximizing workout effectiveness and time efficiency compared to isolation exercises.

Now enough technical chat, let's take a look at the moves.

What is the five move bodyweight upper body workout?

There are five exercises to work through, all of which you will do 10 reps of each. Bronston doesn't specify if there are rest periods involved in this routine but that doesn't mean you can't take them. Allowing yourself around 30-45 seconds in between each move will help your muscles recharge for the next exercise. Similarly, you might like to leave a minute in between each round.

Although this is an equipment-free workout, we do recommend finding something padded to perform the routine on as it can help prevent discomfort and potential injury. Take a scan of our guide to the best yoga mats if this is something your workouts are missing.

Below you will find a list of the exercises and reps followed by Bronston's video demonstrations which will help you get to grips with the correct form of each move.

  1. Inchworm to Arm Raises - 10 reps
  2. Commando Planks - 10 reps
  3. W’s to double Push Up - 10 reps
  4. Diamond Push Ups - 10 reps
  5. Tricep Dips - 10 reps

What are the benefits of this workout?

First of all, bodyweight workouts are a great way to effectively strengthen and tone muscles without the need for expensive equipment or gym memberships. When it comes to muscle strengthening and toning, bodyweight exercises work by creating tension in the muscles, stimulating them to adapt and grow stronger over time. 

There is also room for progression with bodyweight exercise. Increasing the difficulty of exercises by adding resistance, such as using one of the best resistance bands or wearing a weighted vest, can challenge muscles further and promote hypertrophy - if this is what you are aiming for.

Why is it worth training our upper body? Great question. Maintaining strength in your upper body will benefit your posture and overall stability, which not only makes everyday tasks easier but also can enhance your performance in the gym or other sports like running or soccer.

But one bodyweight upper body routine isn't going to trigger notable results overnight, as much as we wish it were that easy. Other factors contribute to maintaining strength in your upper body, such as nutrition. Making sure you have a balanced diet in place that includes lean protein, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates will help to stimulate muscle growth and aid repair after a workout.

Lastly, incorporating other forms of exercise, such as resistance training with weights or cardiovascular exercise, can complement a bodyweight upper body workout by providing an extra challenge and promoting overall fitness and muscular development.

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Jessica Downey
Fitness Writer

Jessica is an experienced fitness writer with a passion for running. Her love for keeping fit and fueling her body with healthy and enjoyable food quite naturally led her to write about all things fitness and health-related. If she isn’t out testing the latest fitness products such as the latest running shoe or yoga mat for reviewing then she can be found writing news and features on the best ways to build strength, active aging, female health, and anything in between. Before then she had a small stint writing in local news, has also written for Runners World UK (print and digital), and gained experience with global content marketing agency, Cedar Communications.

Born and raised in Scotland, Jessica is a massive fan of exercising and keeping active outdoors. When at home she can be found running by the sea, swimming in it, or up a mountain. This continued as she studied and trained to become a PPA-accredited magazine journalist in Wales. And since working and living in London, she splits her time between weight training in the gym, trying new fitness classes, and finding scenic running routes. Jessica enjoys documenting this on her fitness-inspired Instagram page @jessrunshere where she loves engaging with like-minded fitness junkies.

She is a big fan of healthy cooking and loves learning more about this area with expert nutritionists she has met over the years. Jessica is a big advocate for building healthy relationships with food rather than building restrictive attitudes towards it. When she isn’t eating or running she also enjoys practicing yoga in her free time as it helps her to unwind and benefits her performance in other sports.