Best Upper-Body Exercises for Men

“Sore Left Shoulder” by licornenoir is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

If you’ve already settled upon a workout regimen, and it already includes a pull-ups routine, feel free to substitute it with any of the moves listed below. They are organized by skill level, so choose the one that best fits your level of progress.

Or, if you have specific pull-ups goal in mind that you would like to achieve, start with the techniques described in the “advanced” section. Then, once you’ve mastered those, move on to our “pull-up progression” section.

Bear in mind, however, that we’ve divided the sections by skill level. It is always a good strategy to start from the beginning and work your way to the top when starting a new regimen. This is true whether you’re a beginner or an expert.


1. Dumbell Holds

To perform this maneuver, stand with your feet at shoulder width and your arms down by your sides, with a dumbbell in each hand. Make sure you maintain this posture throughout and hold the dumbells in such a way as to feel the tension in your biceps. Do not lock your arms in-place like a 2×4.

Hold this position for at least 30 seconds. If 30 seconds proves to be too much, switch to a lighter weight. Repeat this exercise 3 times, taking a 60-second break in between reps.

Tip: If you want to improve your grip while performing this maneuver, try doing it while holding a dumbbell plate (not the bar) in each hand.

2. Timed Hangs

For this maneuver, grab hold of the pull-up bar with your hands facing away from you, making sure you keep your abs as tight as possible. Hang on to the bar with your feet dangling above the floor for at least 10 seconds. While in this position, try rotating your shoulders, moving them up and down, to set your shoulder blades, but not so much as to allow them to touch the sides of your neck.

Try focusing on using your back muscles to keep your shoulder blades level. Repeat this maneuver at least 5 times.

3. Scap-Ups

While hanging from the pull-up bar, with your hands facing away from you and your feet dangling above the ground, press down on your shoulders, while gently squeezing your shoulder blades together. Then release the tension and let your body hang loose for a while. Repeat this maneuver at least 15 times for the best results.

Tip: It is a good idea to practice this maneuver before attempting it. Try to imagine someone sticking a finger between your shoulder blades. Now, mentally squeeze that imaginary finger. You will feel your shoulder blades trying to close-in on that point. But, try to focus on using your whole back when doing so.

4. Prone Bat Wings

For this exercise, try lying face-down on an incline bench with your head hanging over the edge. Let your legs hang over the edge of the bench in a relaxed position with the knees slightly bent, while holding a dumbbell in each hand.

With your elbows close to your sides, and using a rowing motion, squeeze your shoulder blades together. While performing this maneuver, be sure that the dumbells are inline with your ribcage and not your armpits. At the top of each row hold the position for 10 seconds. Repeat this step 5 times.


5. Plank

For this exercise, assume a push-up position with your hands perpendicular to your shoulder blades, while extending your legs straight out behind you, and your feet at hip-width.

Now, tighten your abs and keep your body straight from head to toe (Try not to let your hips move up or down). Hold this position for 60 seconds, then release. Repeat the exercise 3 times.

6. Hollow Hold Bananas

This time you’ll have to lay on your back looking up. Keep your legs straight and your arms stretched out above your head. Now, with your back low and flat on the floor, tighten your abs while lifting your arms, head, and legs off the floor. Hold this position for 15 seconds, then relax. Repeat this exercise 15 times.

7. Supine Cable Pull-Down

This time, lying on a bench facing upward in front of a cable machine with your feet on the floor and your legs spread apart. Relax your knees, then grab hold of the cable hanging above you.

Now, with your arms outstretched, but not rigid, squeeze your shoulder blades together while pulling the cable down to your chest. Then, slowly let it return to its starting position. Repeat this exercise 15 times.

8. Plate Pinch

Take two or more dumbbell plates and stack them on the floor with the smooth sides facing outward. Now, pick up the plates between your thumb and fingers and from a standing but relaxed position, squeeze them for about 30 seconds.

If you’re unable to complete the exercise, try it with lighter plates. Repeat this exercise 3 times with 60 seconds intervals between them.


9. Kettlebell Bottom-Up Press

Take a kettlebell by the handle and hold it upside down in your right hand. Keep your elbow bent and level with your chest. Slowly push the kettlebell over your head, keeping it balanced at all times. Repeat this exercise 15 times, then switch to the left hand.

10. Inverted Rows

This time I want you to stand facing an empty barbell rack. Then, reach out and grab the bar that is about chest-high. Keep your arms about shoulder-width apart and bend them at the elbows. Step forward until your feet are underneath and your body stands at an angle and you’re now looking at the ceiling. Now, with your legs straight and your elbows close to your sides, extend your arms so as to push your body away from the bar. Now, squeeze your shoulder blades together as you draw your chest back toward the rack.

11. Stability Ball Roll-Outs

Assume a kneeling position on the floor. Grab hold of a stability ball. Make sure your back forms a straight line. Now, extend your forearms and roll the ball forward slowly elongating your body. Don’t let your buttocks move up and down. Then, use your abs to help return you to the starting position. Repeat this maneuver 15 times.

12. Empty Bar 100

Using an underhand grip, take hold of an empty barbell. Now, keeping your elbows close to your sides, perform 100 curls with them as fast as you can without hurting yourself. Try to maintain the posture throughout the exercise.

We’re confident that with time, consistent practice and determined focus you’ll be able to master most of these exercises which can supplement the best exercise out there – Pull Ups!