Here's why you don't want to skip that arm and upper body workout


woman flexing bicep

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Upper body exercises can be somewhat of an afterthought to many who are looking to get fit. But it would be wise to give your upper body some love, too. Let’s take sculpted arms, perky breasts and solid pecs out of the equation for a moment. There are still plenty of reasons to work your arms, shoulders and chest.

Registered nurse Lesley Radocy highlights the importance of strengthening your upper body for Jillian Michaels’ Get Fit blog. “Having a strong upper body improves your flexibility, mobility and range of motion,” says Radocy. “If your upper body strength deteriorates as you age, you are more prone to injuries, disease and a diminished quality of life.” Having a toned upper body can even help with other athletic activities such as running. According to Women’s Running, “A strong upper body will power you through tough workouts and races while helping you maintain good form as you train to boost your endurance.”

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, training with free weights could improve muscle strength and bone strength, provided you take the necessary precautions, such as learning the proper form and technique for each exercise to keep yourself safe. The ACSM recommends that you use a spotter if you’re trying a new exercise or are lifting heavy weights, since he or she “can offer feedback about technique while providing a margin of safety.” In an article for Daily Burn, Ben Booker, a personal trainer with the site, suggests consulting a personal trainer when getting started with lifting weights. Click here to see Booker’s bicep curl test, which helps you to choose the right weight for your fitness level and needs. And, as always, talk to your doctor to see if lifting weights is right for you.

Short on time? Try adding one of these quick workouts into your repertoire. Fitness has you covered with a 15-minute workout created by trainer Natalie Uhling that will sculpt your entire upper body. Uhling uses a weighted bar for the exercise series, but if you don’t have one available Fitness says you can use a set of dumbbells in its place. Each move is demonstrated by Uhling in a short video to help you learn and maintain proper form. This mashup of yoga and weight training by Dirty Yoga for Men’s Fitness works for those of you who want to incorporate a little stretching action into your routine.

One way to vary your strength training is to use supersets, which involve pairing two exercises to perform consecutively and resting after the pair is completed. This workout from Women’s Health is designed to help women develop proper pushup form and keep the ta-tas in great shape. Men and women who understand the basics and are looking for a longer, more advanced superset workout should try Fitness Blender. This intense 37-minute workout features trainer Daniel Segars using extensions and curls to work your biceps and triceps.

Try a workout that specifically targets your chest. Ladies, I’m talking to you, too. Shannon Clark at Bodybuilding.com says that women should work out their chest to balance the body, making for a lower risk of injury, increased power in your workout and a bigger overall calorie burn. “Since the chest is such a large muscle area,” says Clark, “training it will burn more calories than training smaller muscle groups.” She also points out three classic weight training exercises for the chest that can be done by women and men, including the bench press and chest fly, and includes some variations on these moves with video tutorials. For more information on chest workouts, check out our report on the best exercises to strengthen and tone the chest.

Breaking Muscle

Don’t forget about what’s below your elbow, either. Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Levi Harrison reveals to Breaking Muscle that “the forearms and wrists allow us to perform the exercises that develop and maximize biceps, triceps, deltoid, chest, and back strength.” Check out his seven exercises for forearm, wrist and hand strength.

Weights are great, but you can also work your upper body without them. Bodyweight training is a great way to gain strength without equipment. Beginners, try this short video from Fitness Blender that uses the movements of exercises such as tricep extensions without weights and offers modified versions of pushups.

As we've pointed out recently, yoga builds muscle. Yogi Kristin McGee has shared a yoga flow with Health that will help sculpt a strong upper body without any weights. This is a basic sequence you’ll find in most yoga classes, and it will work your arms. For an additional challenge, try the Chaturanga pushup as demonstrated by yoga teacher Justin Michael Williams at Yoga Journal. If you’ve never done yoga before, talk to an instructor before getting started.

Work your upper body to create balance and strength in your daily life.