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Having the time to get dressed, drive to the gym, work out, drive home, shower, get changed, and drive to work is excellent. Or you may work out after work at the end of the long day. That is also fantastic, but only some people have that time. This certified personal trainer is lucky to have his own garage gym. However, others are not so lucky.

Bodyweight workouts are excellent when you lack the time or a garage gym. You have come to the right place if you’re looking to train your upper body at home. Here we have an upper body workout at home you can do in the comfort of your living room. 

No dumbbells? No problem. We will show you what household items you can use for your at-home upper body workout. But let’s start with the age-old question: do bodyweight workouts build muscle? 

Do Bodyweight Workouts Build Muscle?

Your body cannot differentiate between a dumbbell or bodyweight because resistance is resistance. If you follow the principles of building muscle, like time under tension, metabolic stress, and causing muscle damage, you can absolutely build muscle with bodyweight workouts. 

It’s been shown that putting muscles under tension by using a 6-second eccentric will increase protein synthesis (muscle-building) 24-30 hours after resistance training1

What If I Don’t Have Dumbbells?

Dumbbells are a convenient form of resistance and an excellent way to get stronger, but the body doesn’t care whether you use dumbbells or a milk jug. Resistance is resistance, and your body doesn’t know the difference. When you don’t have dumbbells, it is time to get creative. Look around your house and think outside of the box. Do you have:

  • An empty milk jug? Fill it with water, and boom—instant resistance.
  • Cans of food
  • Cinder blocks
  • Bricks
  • Sandbags 
  • A backpack you can fill with weighted objects
Coop using the GORUCK Sandbag during a workout

Then, my friends, you have resistance for an effective upper body workout routine. 

Upper Body Exercises for an Arm Workout at Home

When you don’t have time for your usual gym workout or access to a garage gym and need some flex time, the following exercises will pump you up. If you’re looking for a cardio home workout, you are out of luck.

Push-Up

Why it’s great: The trusty body weight push-up never goes out of style. With many ways to progress it, you should never get tired of it. It will add muscle-building tension to your core, delts, chest, and triceps. 

RELATED: What Muscles Do Push-Ups Work?

How to do it:

  1. Begin with your hands and knees on the floor with your hands approximately shoulder width apart.
  2. Step both legs back and engage your glutes and core so you are in a straight line. This is the push-up plank position.
  3. Slowly bend your arms to lower your torso down until your chest almost touches the ground, allowing your shoulder blades to come together.
  4. Push up to the starting position and reset and repeat.
push up demo gif

Triceps Dips

Why it’s great: Triceps make up two-thirds of the upper arm and training them improves the size and strength of your arms. Triceps dips are an effective exercise to isolate them for enhanced muscle development. 

RELATED: Best Triceps Workouts

How to do it:

Note: You will need a chair, couch, or bench.

  1. Sit upright on a chair and put your hands on the edge of the chair on either side of your hips.
  2. Step your feet out so your weight is on your arms. Your legs can be straight or bent at a 90-degree angle. 
  3. Bend your elbows to lower your torso down until you feel a stretch in your triceps.
  4. Extend your elbows to return to the starting position and reset and repeat.
box dips

Pike Push-Up

Why it’s great: The inverted V shape emphasizes the upper pecs and shoulders to strengthen them while improving core strength and lower body mobility.  

How to do it:

  1. Begin in the push-up plank position described above.
  2. With your core and glutes engaged, walk your feet in toward your hands until your hips are up and your body forms an inverted V shape, similar to a downward dog yoga pose.
  3. While keeping your arms and legs straight, bend your elbows and lower your upper body toward the ground. 
  4. When you feel a muscle contraction in your shoulders, push back up to the starting position.
  5. Then reset and repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
demo of pike push up

Lateral Arm Raises

Why it’s great: Lateral arm raises focus on the lateral deltoid, and training it is a simple way to improve the size and shape of your shoulders to give them a more rounded appearance. 

How to do it:

  1. Stand holding a weight in each hand (could be dumbbells, resistance bands, cans of food, bricks, or anything else you have that will provide resistance) with your arms by your sides and your lower back neutral.
  2. Slowly raise your arms out to the sides, stopping when your hands are at shoulder height. 
  3. Pause for a second, then slowly lower your arms back down to the starting position.
  4. Reset and repeat for the desired number of reps.
dumbbell lateral raise gif

Shoulder Press

Why it’s great: The shoulder press is only one of a few upper body exercises that train all three heads of the deltoids while adding mass to your triceps. This is an excellent alternative if you’re a beginner and have trouble with the pike push-up.  

How to do it:

  1. Stand holding a weight in each hand in front of your shoulders with your palms facing out (could be dumbbells, resistance bands, cans of food, bricks, or anything else you have that will provide resistance).
  2. Ensure your chest is up, shoulders are down, and your glutes are engaged with your feet hip-width apart.  
  3. Press the weights overhead until your elbows are extended and your biceps are by or behind your ears.
  4. Slowly lower back down to the starting position and reset and repeat for reps.
woman doing banded shoulder press

Biceps Curl

Why it’s great: Does this CPT really need to explain why biceps curls are great? They are a muscle group that doesn’t require an explanation. 

How to do it:

Note: This is a variation of a biceps curl, a concentration curl 

  1. Sit on a chair holding a weight in one hand (could be a dumbbell, resistance band, can of food, brick, or anything else you have that will provide resistance). 
  2. Place your elbow on your inner thigh with your arm hanging down between your legs.
  3. Curl your arm up, making sure your elbow stays on your inner thigh.
  4. Slowly lower back to the starting position, reset, and repeat for reps.
concentration curl

Put It Together: An At-Home Upper-Body Workout

Now that you know the movements, here’s a 20-minute upper body workout you can do in your living room. Ensure you have a mirror around to admire your handiwork. And please do a warm-up before doing this workout.

Instructions: Here, we’re employing timed trisets so you can get in an efficient upper body workout in 20 minutes or less. You will perform one exercise after the other with little to no rest in between. Once you have finished a triset, rest as needed before doing the other triset. Continue alternating to do as many trisets as possible in 10 minutes.

Triset 1:

  • Pike push-up 6 reps
  • Lateral raise 6 reps
  • Biceps curl (concentration curl) 6 reps on each side

Triset 2:

  • Push-up 6 reps
  • Shoulder press 6 reps
  • Triceps dip 6 reps

FAQs: Upper-Body Workout at Home

How can I build my upper body without going to the gym?

When the gym is not in play, you must get creative to build your upper body without it. You can effectively develop your upper body without a gym by combining bodyweight exercises and household items for added resistance.

What are 6 upper body exercises?

6 great upper body exercises that work the entire upper body are:

Push-up and its variations
Chin-ups or pull-ups
Shoulder press
Resistance band triceps extension
Biceps curls
Lateral raise

Can you build upper body muscle without weights?

Weights like barbells and dumbbells are ideal tools to build the upper body, but when you have no equipment, it’s time to use the neglected tool right under your nose, your body weight. You can build upper body muscle without weights by using your body weight and adding more time under tension in the form of more reps or extended eccentric contractions.

References

  1. Burd NA, et al. Muscle time under tension during resistance exercise stimulates differential muscle protein sub-fractional synthetic responses in men. J Physiol. 2012 Jan 15;590(2):351-62. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2011.221200. Epub 2011 Nov 21.

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