Ultimate Upper Body Workout for Beginners

If you're a complete beginner to strength training and looking to build an impressive upper body, luckily, you've found the right guide. You're about to learn some of the best upper body workouts for beginners that will help you build muscle, strength, and overall confidence, among other benefits - regardless of fitness level. You could aim to look better with your shirt off or feel strong enough to lift heavy things without sweat. Whatever the goal, achieving it with an upper-body workout is possible.

We'll examine a complete game plan featuring eight different exercises. These will target all the major muscle groups in your upper body, such as your chest, shoulders, arms, and back. Once you finish this guide, you'll have a good blueprint to utilize to improve your upper body strength and physique for the long term. Without further ado, let's get started.

A woman wearing a black t-shirt and leggings in the gym


The Game Plan

We're about to dig into the complete list of upper-body workouts for beginners. As mentioned, we will be looking at eight different exercises that target the upper body muscle groups. We will keep this as straightforward as possible while providing reasonably practical exercises. As a beginner, you want to start your fitness journey on the right foot.

If you're looking to maximize gains, we encourage you to perform these workouts at least two to three times per week. The reason for this is that we want you to rest one day in between sessions. We also encourage you to start at a lighter weight, especially if you are new to exercises like the hammer curl and others.

Proper rest and recovery must be included in your routine, primarily if you aim to gain muscle as a beginner. Before each session, you fuel up with nutritious meals packed with protein, carbs, healthy fats, and a little something extra.

At Raw Nutrition, we have plenty of supplements to intensify your workouts every single time. You could begin with one of our pre-workouts, such as our Non-Stim Pre-Workout powder. Then, you can finish it off with one of our Isolate Protein powders for a delicious shake that is very rewarding after an intense session.

A RAW athlete flexing his muscles in the gym


What are the upper body exercises?

We're not going to go deep into it just yet, but we will provide you with a preview of the exercises covered throughout this guide. Here's what they are:

  • Barbell bench press
  • Dumbbell shoulder press
  • Seated cable row
  • Lat pulldown
  • Dumbbell bicep curl
  • Triceps pushdown
  • Dumbbell lateral raise
  • Plank
  • Warm-up and Mobility

Every workout must start by preparing your body for the work ahead. That's why a warm-up should be necessary to ensure the workout is effective and safe. Failing to warm up or even stretch can lead to injury. This can derail your fitness goal plans because a doctor's order will tell you that you need to recover accordingly before you are medically cleared to return to your workouts. What exactly would make for an excellent warm-up session?

We suggest taking 5 to 10 minutes to do a full-body warm-up consisting of light cardio and dynamic stretches. These will increase blood flow while raising your core temperature and improving your overall range of motion and mobility. Once again, we encourage you to complete this step. Once you get your warm-up out of the way, it's time for the main event.

A woman wearing a black shirt, leggings, and white shoes in the gym


Upper Body Workout for Beginners: The Exercises

We'll finally dive into all eight upper body workouts for beginner exercises that will help you build muscle and increase physical strength. We're going to break down each one part by part. We'll include the recommended reps and sets you need to do when starting. Without wasting any time, let's get started:

Barbell Bench Press

We start the list with one of the most classic exercises for those who want to build bigger and stronger chest muscles. The barbell bench press features a flat bench, a barbell, and weights. It sounds self-explanatory and straightforward. From here, you want to lie flat on the bench and grip the barbell with a slightly wider than shoulder-width grip.

Then, you want to inhale and exhale as you press the weight until your arms are fully extended. Then, slowly lower the bar and ensure it barely touches your chest. That is one rep completed. You must do three sets with 8 to 10 reps each.

As for your starting weight, you must begin with a lightweight. This is because you want to prevent the temptation of lifting a heavier weight, especially when you may have difficulty lifting successfully to complete a rep. Over time, if you feel comfortable with adjusting the weight, do so gradually rather than jumping to a significant increment. For example, if you're starting with 100 lbs, don't jump up to 125 kg when it can be easier to adjust it to 105 lbs or even 110 lbs - whichever is feasible for you.

A man using dumbbells in the gym


Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Next, we'll examine the dumbbell shoulder press. If you're looking to build bigger shoulder muscles, this is the exercise you do not want to miss in your workout routine. To perform it, you must sit upright on a bench or stand. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart, and you should hold a dumbbell in each hand. The weights should be situated at shoulder height, with the palms facing forward.

Next, engage your core and press the weights straight overhead until your arms are completely extended. Then, slowly lower the weights, which is one rep for this exercise. Start with three sets of 10 to 12 reps. There is no denying that you'll feel the burn in your shoulders after the third set. If there is one shoulder exercise we highly recommend, it's this. So, it's wise not to skip this upper body workout for beginners if you can help.

Seated Cable Row

This is the workout you want if you want to build a thicker, wider back. It involves a low pulley cable station. You want to sit on the bench and brace your feet with your knees bent slightly. Then, grab the handles with an overhand grip, making sure that your hands are slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Drive your elbows straight back and pull the handles towards you. The handles should be aligned with your torso.

After you've gone far enough, slowly return to the start position to start another rep. We recommend you go with four sets at 10 to 12 reps each. This is one of our favorite exercises to do on a machine. If you want to get an intense back workout as a beginner, there's no denying that the seated cable row can do the job.

Lat Pulldown

This is also a great workout for those who want to build a better back. You'll need a lat pulldown bar machine. From here, you want to grip the bar with your hands positioned slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. For best results, use an overhand grip.

Lean slightly back and pull the bar down towards you. It should be right around chest height. Drive your elbows straight towards the floor and squeeze your lats at the bottom of the movement. Once you've reached far enough, slowly return to the start position and repeat with the recommended reps. For best results, we recommend performing three sets of 10 to 12 reps of the lat pulldown. Doing these with seated cable rows on a back day might do the trick when building a bigger, stronger back.

Dumbbell Biceps Curl

Who doesn't want bigger biceps and increased physical strength? If that's the goal, you do not want to miss out on doing dumbbell bicep curls. Here's the thing - you'll need weighted dumbbells for this, but we highly suggest you go with the light dumbbell possible to perform the reps effectively and reduce the risk of injury if you are a beginner. Once you have a weight you can lift easily, you can go forward and perform this exercise at a heavier weight like advanced exercisers do.

Now, what you want to do here is make sure your feet are shoulder-width apart. With a dumbbell in each hand, hold them with an underhand grip. Ensure your chest is upright and your core is braced as you curl the weights towards your shoulders. Drive your forearms towards your biceps and squeeze the biceps forcefully when you reach the top of the movement. Slowly move the weights back down to the start position, and you have just completed one rep.

Do three sets at 10 to 12 reps of these bicep curls, and you will feel the burn - and that may be what you're aiming for in a single workout. It may feel like you're gaining more muscle. If you want to get an impressive result, we highly suggest that you try one of Raw Nutrition's pre-workouts, which feature ingredients that will give you the muscle pump that will leave you with a smile on your face after you're done with your gym session.

Triceps Pushdown

What's the point in building big arms if you neglect the triceps? These triceps pushdowns will be done at a high pulley cable station. You'll need to grab the straight bar attachment using an overhand grip. Make sure that your hands are positioned slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.

At the same time, you need to ensure that your upper arms are stationary before you push the bar towards your thighs. Be sure to straighten your arms and squeeze your triceps at the bottom of the motion. Allow the bar to move back up slowly, and one rep is completed. Start with three sets at 12 to 15 reps each for this triceps exercise.

For an alternative exercise, you can try triceps kickbacks. They can be just as effective for an upper body workout. Both this and the triceps pushdown can be a great combination of beginner workouts that you can add to your body workout program.

Dumbbell Lateral Raise

Going back to the shoulder exercises, lateral raises must be an exercise you want to add to your repertoire. To do this:

  1. Place your feet flat on the floor and place them shoulder-width apart while holding a dumbbell in each hand using an overhand grip.
  2. Make sure that the weights are positioned at your sides.
  3. Maintain a slight bend in your elbows, and raise both arms until they are parallel to the ground.

Once you've reached the top of the motion, squeeze your shoulders and lower the weights back down. Repeat for the necessary reps for each set. For the dumbbell lateral raise, go with three sets at 12 to 15 reps each. Doing this and the dumbbell shoulder press can give you the boulder shoulders you need for your upper body.


We've saved the exercise that might be best for your fitness routine. Even though many of these upper body workouts focus on your arms, back, chest, and shoulders - it would be wise of us to remember your core strength. For this reason, we recommend the plank to ensure that you are building full-body strength and overall stability. To perform the plank, you must get in the push-up position while resting your forearms and toes on the ground.

Engage your abs and glutes while forming a parallel line from your head to your heels. Hold this position for as long as possible while taking deep breaths. To begin, you want to do three sets of 60 seconds. Now, keep in mind that when you're doing these planks, it feels like the longest 60 seconds of your entire life. Rest assured, you'll feel quite awesome after doing these.

Why not go longer after you're comfortable doing them for 60 seconds? You could go for 90 seconds or do one longer than that, but let's not get carried away. Just stick to the recommended sets and reps; everything should be all right.

A man doing exercises on a machine in the gym


Final Thoughts

These eight upper body workouts for beginners should be included in your repertoire, mainly if your fitness goals include building muscle and overall strength. One more thing: we remind you to stick to the recommended sets and reps. You can make the necessary adjustments once you are comfortable taking on more.

Remember, do your best to rest and recover so you do not overtrain and increase your risk of injury. Finally, if you're looking for the best supplements and protein powders, Raw Nutrition has you covered. Check out our site today to see what stands out for your fitness goals.


The information being presented in this blog is intended to be used as educational or resource information only. It is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice from your healthcare provider. This content should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. If you have any questions or concerns about your health, please contact your healthcare provider. You should call 911 for all medical emergencies. Raw Nutrition is not liable for any advice or information provided on this blog, which advice or information is provided on an “as-is” basis, and assumes no liability for diagnosis, treatment, decisions, or actions made in reliance upon any advice or information contained on this blog. No warranties, express or implied, are made on the information that is provided.

June 12, 2024 — Briana Gonzalez

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