Photography by Paul Buceta
You ask a lot of your body. You make it run, jump, dance, squat, swim, carry groceries, carry babies, move furniture, sit, stand… You get the picture. Pretty much everything you do, from your most intense workouts to the most mundane daily activities, requires a strong upper body. We don’t just mean your arms and abs—we’re talking everything between your hips and your head.
The bad news is, we women are at an anatomical disadvantage in this department. We simply don’t have the upper-body strength of men (it’s about half, if you want to get technical), which is why as much as you love to train that powerful lower bod of yours, it’s crucial to show the upper half the same respect.
The good news? You can improve your strength with proper training. The main focus of this six-week routine will be one of your largest muscle groups: your back. By this time tomorrow you’ll really be feeling it in your lats, traps, and erector spinae (that’s the long group of muscles that runs along the vertebrae). Secondly, you’ll be targeting your core with stabilization exercises and moves that hit the deep, transverse abdominals, which hug your midsection like a corset. Last, but definitely not least, your shoulders will be activated—a lot. So if you have any existing injuries, modify the exercises as needed. Ready? Here we go.
Do the following workout 1-2 times per week for six weeks. In weeks 1-3, aim to complete the prescribed reps and sets below. In weeks 4-6, try to progress by increasing the weight and number of sets.
Place a bar in a rack or on a Smith Machine to about waist height. Lie under the bar and hold with a wide overhand grip. Pull your chest up to the bar, keeping your body straight, and leaving only your heels on the floor. Lower to the starting position and repeat.
Modification: To make this move easier, bend your knees and move your feet closer to your body. To make it harder, elevate your feet on a low bench or box.
Stand holding a loaded barbell at arm’s length using an overhand grip, hands wider than shoulder-width. Hinge at the hips and lower your torso to almost parallel to the floor. Keep your knees slightly bent (A). Drive your elbows back and pull the barbell to your abs, keeping your torso and legs stationary (B). Lower back down and repeat.
Use enough weight to make the last two reps of each set difficult, but not impossible.
Kettlebell Upright Row
Hold a moderate to heavy dumbbell with both hands, and stand with feet wider than shoulder-width apart. Lead with your elbows and quickly pull the kettlebell up to your chin, pointing the elbows toward the ceiling. Lower back down and repeat.
Modification: To make this a full-body move, add a squat as you lower the kettlebell. If you have shoulder pain, use a light weight or just skip this exercise.
Renegade Row to Mountain Climber
Hold a dumbbell in each hand and get into push-up position (A). Keeping your body stationary, bend your left elbow and raise the dumbbell to your ribcage. Lower back down, then repeat on the other side (B). Perform 10 alternating reps. Then, perform 10 mountain climbers (C).
Place an Olympic bar with weight plates on the floor. Kneel facing it with your knees on a mat, and hold the bar with an overhand grip (A). Slowly roll the bar away from you, keeping your arms straight and lowering your torso as far as you can while maintaining control (B). Pull the bar back and return to the starting position, then repeat.
This is an advanced move. If this isn’t for you, hold plank for 60 seconds instead.
Lie face down on a mat with arms and legs extended. Hold a small weight plate, dumbbell, or medicine ball with both hands (A). Simultaneously raise your arms and legs off the floor (B). Hold for 1-2 seconds, then lower back down and repeat.
Modification: If you have any existing shoulder issues, play it safe and ditch the weight.