Upper Body 101

I’m sure your legs are nice and sore from working on and perfecting the lower body fundamental movements, so it’s time to move on to upper body. Instead of just two movements, there are actually four movements we need to focus on here to balance out the upper body.

The first movement we’ll tackle is our “horizontal push”.

This includes exercises like pushups, bench press, chest press (machine or free weight or on floor as shown above), and involves the pec (chest) muscles, as well as help from the front of the shoulder and the triceps (back of the arm). Many men tend to overwork these muscles, as they like the look of a well developed chest, while women tend to avoid these muscles. Neither is correct, however, we need a balance. The chest muscles need to be worked at least for muscular balance, if not muscle growth. Balancing chest strength with all other muscles allows for efficient movement, as well as an overall balanced physical appearance. A few tips for an effective chest press: make sure you sit up nice and tall, with shoulders down and back. As well, don’t let your elbows bow out, they should lead away from your body at a 45 degree angle, not 90. Last tip (well the tip for all exercises really), keep the core tight!

The next upper body movement is the opposite of the first, it’s a “horizontal pull”.

The pull exercises include rows (such as the bent over row shown above) and variations and use your mid back muscles mainly, with help from your biceps (front of arm). Making sure that we do pull exercises with good form ensures that we effectively oppose all those push muscles, allowing for that balance. The more balanced we are, the more efficiently our body is going to move, with less risk of injury. As well, pull muscles can help to combat the slouching that we all do all day. To perform an effective pull, lets sit up nice and tall, bringing our shoulders down and back to properly activate the back muscles. As well, core tight and do the movement with purpose, making sure to use the actual back muscles and not momentum or the rest of your body.

Getting away from the horizontal movements, we’re heading towards the verticals. The next movement is a “vertical push”.

This includes overhead press (dumbbell as shown above, barbell, or machine) and mainly enlists the shoulder, especially the anterior and lateral (front and side) of the muscle, with help from the triceps. The vertical push is one of the hardest movements to do properly, as having a tight upper back and chest, as is common with sitting all day, prevents us from doing the movement correctly. A proper overhead press involves pressing the weight directly overhead, not in front of the head, with shoulders down and back still. The core being tight is especially important in standing overhead press, as we want to protect our back and do our best to prevent injury.

Our last movement (i know it feels like we’ve been talking movements forever now but bear with me, you’re almost through it) is our vertical pull.

This includes exercises such as the lat pulldown (as shown above) and pull ups, and utilizes the lats mainly, with help from the biceps. The lats are the big back muscles that run up and down your back and contribute to the width of your back. Lat Pulldowns are the exercise I see done incorrectly the most often in the gym. For the lat pulldown to effectively hit your lats, and not the upper back (which is already always tight), we need to start by leaning back slightly and rolling our shoulders down and back (are you seeing a pattern yet?). As well, we need to focus on our elbows heading straight towards the floor, with the bar stopping right in between your chest and collarbone. Your lats, and the related muscles, are your main warriors in good posture (aka shoulders down and back) so it’s vital that we train these muscles effectively.

And now that we have the basic basics down, we can get into the really fun stuff soon.

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