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In some popular workouts, the legs get all the glory. Think running, cycling, inline skating, stair climbing and barre sessions. Here, the arms pretty much go along for the ride. While these modalities certainly are great ways to shape up, they really miss one-half of the body. Why skip your entire upper body when you exercise?


Of course, it’s more effective and efficient to work the lower and upper body at the same time. You can burn more calories in less time, and experience more balanced conditioning.

That doesn’t mean you can’t continue to go for a run or hike, but it’s better if you cross train so that you engage your upper body consistently as well. You’ll end up looking more toned, having greater overall strength and challenging yourself in new ways to be fitter. Plus, the variety in workouts can help to keep you motivated, consistent and seeing results.

Although the arms get the attention, be sure to engage all the major muscle groups of the upper body, which include the chest, back and shoulders, for greater definition and conditioning:

  1. Chest – pectoralis major and pectoralis minor
  2. Back – latissimus dorsi, trapezius, rhomboids major and minor, teres major, erector spinae
  3. Shoulders – deltoids, rotator cuff
  4. Biceps – biceps brachii, brachialis
  5. Triceps – triceps brachii

Upper-Body Focus

Here are 7 workouts to sculpt the arms and upper body. Try them at the gym, in group classes, with a trainer, using a DVD, with a buddy, online or on your own if you have equipment at home. It’s best to do them all more than once to get a feel for each. Discover which you like the most and integrate them into your regular exercise routine:

  • Elliptical – Actively focusing on the arms to push and pull, and increasing the resistance for intervals, is a great way to target the upper body. Some ellipticals, like those from Octane Fitness, have Workout Boosters that prompt different movements and can help keep you on track. Octane also has CROSS CiRCUIT, which combines cardio intervals with a variety of strength training moves, and you can choose exercises that hit the upper body with weights, body weight or resistance bands.
  • Strength training – Kind of a no-brainer, but resistance work for the upper body is key to sculpting. Use machines, free weights, elastic bands, kettlebells and body weight to hit the muscles in multiple ways.
  • Rowing – This is a great low-impact method to challenge your chest, back and arms, stroke after stroke. Your legs and core benefit a ton as well. Performed correctly, with sufficient resistance and proper form, rowing is harder than it looks!
  • Climbing – The vertical climber is one of the toughest workouts around that hits the upper body and legs – and there is no way to cheat. Start with short sessions and lighter resistance, and stop missing out on this incredible workout.
  • Swimming – No surprise that doing laps and incorporating a variety of strokes, along with tools like pull buoys, hits the upper body big-time. You work against the water’s resistance and stay cool, with no jarring impact to the body.
  • Boxing – If you can don gloves and hit a bag or targets, you’ll be ultra-motivated in these intense workouts. But shadow-boxing and kickboxing, performing jabs, crosses, hooks and uppercuts, are just as good for the arms.
  • Upper-body ergometer — Like a bicycle for your arms, here is a machine you typically probably avoid. No more! Try short sessions here, pedaling forward and backward, varying your RPM and your resistance level. Your arms will thank you!