The best upper body exercises you can do at home

Whether it’s a one-off session or your preferred method of training, it’s very likely that you’ll find yourself doing a home workout at some point. Getting into a gym in the basement or garage can be a dream come true. There’s no mobility, no other people, and one is doing curls in the squat rack. But in reality, you may be short on training equipment.


Credit: engagestock/

It’s still possible to get a great workout without fancy machines or an abundance of free weights. But training your upper body at home may require a little more creativity than you’re used to. Here’s how to score some serious “pumping iron” time without lines, distractions, or gym buzz. Here are five upper-body exercises — with and without weight options.


The best upper body exercises at home

The best arm workout at home

Training your arms can be one of the most challenging muscle groups without a dumbbell or cable machine. Without a fully equipped home gym to help you isolate your arms, you’ll be mainly targeting them with more compound-style exercises.

Chin-ups only need a pull-up bar and work wonders for your biceps and grip strength. Push-ups and floor presses can help target the triceps. Just be prepared for a more taxing experience than your usual brain.

the exercise

All you need here is a chin-up bar, or in a pinch, some exposed ceiling joists in an unfinished vault. Because of the whole-body nature of these exercises, performing them for as many repetitions as possible (AMRAP) is your best bet here.

It should be noted that you should only perform these exercises on stable surfaces and with secure anchor points. safety first.

If you have some dumbbells and opt for floor presses, feel free to do more than 10 reps if your weights are light. Press and lower very slowly to help push yourself toward failure with each set.

The best chest exercises at home

Blasting your chest from home can feel more like a gym workout than you think. You can simulate most heavy push-ups with a variety of push-ups tailored to your strength or build.

You can also use some floor sliders to help create a perfect home version of the pec flye. Get ready for a hard chest workout. Gotta be careful not to face the plant.

the exercise

Training your chest at home will use a number of different training techniques. This means using strategies like tempo training and paused reps. You will also manipulate the amount of your own body weight involved in each exercise to challenge yourself appropriately.

The goal of setting these techniques is to keep tension on your chest – stimulating the pectoral muscles to a sufficient volume before they find it too difficult to hold the correct positions for gains.

  • One-arm push-up or floor press: 3 x 10 each side
  • Compression is paused: 3 x AMRAP
  • dip seat: 4 x 15
  • Tempo slider pickfly or dumbbell flyes or 1 ½ Rep Push-Ups: 3 x AMRAP

You may not have the type of floor surface in the house to use tempo sliders effectively. Alternatively, you can opt for floor presses or pushups for an added challenge.

The best shoulder exercise at home

Your shoulders will be a unique challenge to train without weights or with minimal equipment. You’re going to need some really cool, dynamic movements to roast without cables or dumbbells, normally.

Rest assured that you should still be able to accomplish what you need with only what you can find in your home. Taking advantage of different angles of movement will be a huge advantage here.

the exercise

Being able to handle an increased workload without using too much weight requires having a secured wall or flight of stairs nearby. With that in mind, your core will also be getting a solid job keeping you stable during your inverted positions.

Throwing in some pauses and crunching in the right places are easy ways to add serious (and safe) intensity to your workout.

You may not be used to incorporating yoga into your strength training workout, but there’s no time like the present to learn. Your back will thank you.

The best back exercises at home

Mimicking all the standard back exercises without a gym may require more thought than usual. It is very difficult to isolate the back as a muscle group with just body weight because of how small changes in grip can be.

However, with something as simple as a washcloth, you can still target a great stretch for smaller muscle groups from the comfort of your own home. Add some dumbbells to the mix if you’ve got them and you’re good to get those gains.

the exercise

Using pull-ups and chin-ups here will help you hit your back and mid-back muscles. Bringing a study table can help you do the flipped rows. Adding a towel will dramatically change the focus of the muscles in each exercise by freeing up the direction of your grip.

Finally, a few bread-and-butter prone Y raises—with or without weights—can help finish your upper back without a single dumbbell in sight.

If you’re choosing to lift Y-bars, you’ll probably want to use the lightest pair of dumbbells you have on hand. These are challenging even as a bodyweight exercise, the point being the quality of the movement rather than the heavy load.

The best home workout at home

Training your cardio from home is probably one of the easiest transitions if you’re used to a gym. Many of the basic exercises you do in the gym can be easily recreated from the comfort of your own home.

Don’t mistake this convenience for ease. If anything, this will be one of the hardest workouts you will ever perform outside of the gym.

the exercise

In case necessary, a simple variety of planks can provide the basis for your basic at-home routine. However, old wood paneling need not be the only solution here. Spice things up with sit-ups, dynamic variations, and high-intensity body-saws.

Bring a yoga mat and towel – she’ll be sweaty.

  • Belly pike: 3 x 15
  • Needle thread: 3 x 10 each way
  • Plank Medley: 3 x 30 seconds per position
  • body saw: 3 x 20 seconds

If you’ve never done a varied plank, get ready. These require a sideboard, a headboard, and finally the opposite sideboard.

Building workouts at home

Access to machines and a wide range of free weights makes overloading every muscle easier. You can gradually overload your muscles by, among other methods, steadily increasing the weights you use for most exercises.

Push-ups at home
Credit: Halfpoint/Shutterstock

However, you can still use the principles of progressive overload while training from home with minimal preparation. You’ll use many of the same tips and tricks to increase the strength you’ll put out in the gym.


Increasing your intensity without weights — or with the minimal weights available — isn’t impossible. Use strategies like 1 rep and paused repetitions to bring your muscles close to failure.

This may mean using fewer repetitions than the exercise would require, depending on your level of experience. As long as you’re pushing yourself hard and reaching a high rate of perceived exertion, you should be good.

One-sided training

Without using too much weight, performing unilateral exercises immediately increases the intensity of the exercise. Unilateral exercises break down the individual aspects of the exercise. This helps combat lateral force and muscular imbalances.

When you use this strategy with your own body weight, you will also be shifting more of your body weight to one side. Single-arm pushup variations are a great example here.


You can immediately make the exercise more difficult by adding slower eccentrics and pausing at the most difficult positions in the exercise to reach muscle fatigue. This tempo training keeps your muscles under stress for a longer period of time. This is a great recipe for muscle growth, with or without heavy weights.

You can try adding an isometric peak contraction to help ensure quality repetitions when you don’t have weights. Aim for your maximum voluntary contraction — squeezing your muscles at their peak as hard as you can for a good steady second — during each repetition.


Performing as many rounds or repetitions as possible can be a mainstay in your home training. This method will teach you to get close to failure and hit it even when you are training with minimal equipment. Just make sure you don’t rush the reps sloppily in order to increase the number of reps. Quality over quantity will lead to better gains.


Finally, reducing the duration of rest between sets can help increase the intensity of your workout significantly. Not allowing the muscle to fully recover before you hit it again can double burn your metabolism, speeding up the rate at which you experience muscle failure with each subsequent set.

Instead of going for two to three minutes of rest like you would in the gym, try limiting your free time to 30 to 45 seconds when training at home.

Benefits of training at home

Training from home may seem like a bigger challenge than working out in the gym, but there are plenty of valuable perks to making up for your iron deficiency. Being in complete control of your training environment, being creative, and emphasizing the essentials are all huge benefits that you shouldn’t overlook.

Take control of your training environment

Sometimes you’re just not in the mood to fight over the equipment or maneuver the hustle and bustle of a commercial gym. It can be hard to beat having the option to train in the privacy of your own home, with complete control over music selection, rest times, and hygiene to your liking.

A person does weight training while sitting in a wheelchair at home.
Credit: SeventyFour/Shutterstock

Not only that, but having your own space can greatly enhance the efficiency of your workouts.

Forced creativity

There are definite pros and cons to working from home without weights. The gym can help you target all the small muscle groups in your upper body with certain machines. Without these options, you’ll need a deeper understanding of your anatomy and more creativity to get the job done.

In the long run, taking the time to create workouts at home can ensure that you are able to make gains under any circumstances.

Master your mechanics

One of the biggest benefits of working out from home is the amount of time you’ll spend doing calisthenics. Without machines or free weights, you are likely to do exercises such as push-ups or pull-ups in your upper-body workout. These exercises target multiple upper body muscles to varying degrees.

Moreover, bodyweight movements teach you to work as one synchronized unit. When you go back to the weight room or if you go back to the weight room, you should notice that your lat pulldowns look much stronger after you hit a few (thousands) of pull ups.

Then get home

Home training is something you are destined to tangle with at some point or another, either out of necessity or out of simple preference. Although getting a good workout at home can be a little more difficult than in the gym, using sound training principles at home can bridge the gap.

Being creative and making small modifications to your regular exercises can have a huge impact on your ability to effectively target each muscle group in your upper body. Master your gymnastics exercises, embrace high-rep crunches, and you can make some serious upper-body gains from the comfort of your own home.

Featured image: Earth Image/Shutterstock

Leave a Comment