When it comes to building a strong upper body, most of us fear “the bulk”. It’s a common misconception: you can’t have a strong upper body without looking like the Hulk. In fact, if you’re doing it right and mobilizing your upper body parts, the bulk is very very hard to achieve. If you target exercises to build strength and mobility, rather than bulk, you can have that strong upper body without the bulge.
Here are a few of my favourite upper body exercises that will leave you strong, lean and balanced:
Shoulder Blade Glides/Serratus Push-ups
The key to working your shoulders is getting those blades moving! The more movement you have in the blades, the less likely you are to overuse your trapeseus muscles (those Hulk-like muscles around your neck).
Begin on all fours — or in plank pose for a more challenging exercise — making sure to engage your core and keep your shoulders away from your ears. Shoulders, elbows and wrists should be aligned. Bring the blades together and then move them apart.
This move tones serratus, lats, core and triceps, or the area affectionately called “the chicken wing” at the back of your arms.
The side bridge builds oblique muscles, also known as the side core. Begin by lying on your side, with your knees bent and stacked on top of one another. Then, prop yourself up using your elbow — it should in a ninety degree angle, directly under your shoulder. Support from the armpit and avoid slouching on this arm. Then, lift your hips off the mat, take a breath and lower down. Make sure to do this on both sides.
Here, you’ll work serratus (under the arm pit) to “prop your shoulders up”. You’ll also tone your deltoids. If done correctly (see above photos above for proper alignment), you will instantly feel more supported through your trunk and more upright.
Lie on your belly with one arm reaching up and one arm reaching down. Before you begin moving your arms, pull your belly button away from the mat to feel that your torso is stable. Begin doing a front stroke, keeping your arms low and your forehead connected to the mat. Feel for back of shoulder blades moving and the muscles around them working. This move strengthens rhomboid muscles, lats, and lower trapezius.
So, no more excuses to neglect upper body strength. You won’t bulk up. Instead, you’ll be toned and well-supported. Who could argue with that?