Resistance training, also known as strength training, is an essential component of any fitness routine, especially for your upper body. And, despite what some people may tell you, it won’t give you huge, oversized, bulging muscles.

In fact, regularly working out muscles in your arms, back, chest, and shoulders is vital to keeping your upper body strong and giving your muscles definition. If you’re a woman, the benefits of strength training extend far beyond toned, defined muscles.

According to Rebekah Miller, MS, CSCS, NASM-CPT, founder of Iron Fit Performance, building strength in your upper body not only makes daily tasks easier to perform, but it also helps to ward off osteoporosis and improves posture.

And the best part? You can perform resistance training exercises in the comfort of your own home. To help you get started on toning your upper body, we’ve rounded up some of the best exercises you can do anywhere, anytime, with just basic equipment.

Strength training at home is pretty simple. The equipment you need includes:

  • an exercise mat
  • a few resistance bands of different strengths
  • two or three sets of dumbbells that are different weights

Warm up first

The easiest and most effective way to prepare your body for a workout is to warm up first by doing exercises that increase your circulation and target the muscles you’ll be working.

For an upper body workout, this could mean doing arm circles, windmills, arm swings, and spinal rotations. Also, performing light cardio movements such as walking or jogging in place can boost your heart rate and get your blood flowing.

According to the American Council on Exercise, it takes an average of 8 to 12 minutes to fully warm up.

Once you’ve warmed up, you can start focusing on specific exercises for your arms, back, chest, and shoulders.

1. Dumbbell curls

Targets: biceps

  1. Stand or sit with a dumbbell in each hand, arms at your side, feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Keep your elbows close to your torso and rotate the dumbbells so the palms of your hands are facing your body. This is your starting position.
  3. Take a deep breath and when you exhale, curl the weights upward while contracting your biceps.
  4. Pause at the top of the curl, then lower to the starting position.
  5. Repeat 10 to 15 times. Perform 2 to 3 sets.

2. Triceps kickback

Targets: triceps

  1. Stand with a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing in toward each other. Keep your knees slightly bent.
  2. Keeping your spine straight, hinge forward at your waist so your torso is almost parallel to the floor. Engage your core.
  3. Keep your head in line with your spine, upper arms close to your body, and your forearms bent forward.
  4. As you exhale, hold your upper arms still while you straighten your elbows by pushing your forearms backward and engaging your triceps.
  5. Pause then inhale and return to the starting position.
  6. Repeat 10 to 15 times. Perform 2 to 3 sets.

3. Triceps dip

Targets: triceps and shoulders

  1. Sit on a sturdy chair. Place your arms at your sides and your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Place your palms facing down beside your hips and grip the front of the seat.
  3. Move your body off the chair while gripping the seat. Knees should be slightly bent and your glutes should hover over the floor. Your arms should be fully extended, supporting your weight.
  4. Inhale and lower your body until your elbows form a 90-degree angle.
  5. Pause at the bottom, exhale, then push your body up to the starting position, squeezing your triceps at the top.
  6. Repeat 10 to 15 times. Perform 2 to 3 sets.

4. Resistance band pull apart

Targets: back, biceps, triceps, and shoulders

  1. Stand with your arms out in front of you at chest height.
  2. Hold a resistance band tightly between your hands so the band is parallel to the ground.
  3. Keeping both arms straight, pull the band toward your chest by moving your arms outward. Initiate this motion from your mid-back.
  4. Keep your spine straight as you squeeze your shoulder blades together. Pause briefly, then slowly return to the starting position.
  5. Repeat 12 to 15 times. Perform 2 to 3 sets.

5. Two-arm dumbbell row

Targets: back, biceps, triceps, and shoulders

  1. Grab a dumbbell in each hand and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Bend your knees slightly and bring your torso forward by bending at the waist. Your arms should be extended with the dumbbells close to your knees. Keep your core engaged throughout the movement.
  3. Keeping your upper body still, engage the muscles in your back, bend your arms, and pull the dumbbells up to your side. Aim for your ribcage.
  4. Pause and squeeze at the top.
  5. Slowly lower the weights to the starting position.
  6. Repeat 10 to 12 times. Perform 2 to 3 sets.

6. Wall angels

Targets: back, neck, and shoulders

  1. Stand with your butt, upper back, shoulders, and head pressed firmly against a wall. Your feet can be slightly away from the wall to help you position your body correctly. Keep your knees slightly bent.
  2. Stretch your arms straight above your head with the backs of your hands against the wall. This is your starting position.
  3. Squeeze the muscles of your mid-back as you slide your arms down toward your shoulders. Keep your body pressed firmly against the wall throughout the movement.
  4. Slide your arms down the wall until they’re slightly lower than your shoulders. Briefly hold this position, then slide your arms back up to the starting position while still pressed against the wall.
  5. Repeat 15 to 20 times. Do 2 to 3 sets.

7. Chest press

Targets: chest, shoulders, triceps

  1. Lie down on an exercise mat with knees bent and a light dumbbell in each hand. You can also do this exercise on a bench.
  2. Extend elbows to a 90-degree position with the back of your arms resting on the floor. The dumbbells should be over your chest.
  3. Take a deep breath and when you exhale, extend your arms up until the dumbbells almost touch.
  4. Pause, then return to the starting position.
  5. Repeat 10 to 15 times. Perform 2 to 3 sets.

8. Mountain climbers

Targets: chest, shoulders, arms, core, and back

  1. Get in a plank or pushup position. Keep your hands under your shoulders, with your core and glutes engaged, hips in line with shoulders, feet hip-width apart.
  2. Quickly bring your right knee in towards the chest. As you drive it back, pull the left knee in toward your chest.
  3. Alternate back and forth between legs at a quick pace.
  4. Repeat for 20 to 40 seconds. Perform 2 to 3 sets.

9. Dumbbell front raise

Targets: shoulders, specifically the anterior deltoid muscles

  1. Grasp a light dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Position the dumbbells in front of your upper legs with your elbows straight or slightly bent.
  3. Raise dumbbells forward and upward until upper arms are above horizontal.
  4. Lower to the starting position.
  5. Repeat 10 to 15 times. Perform 3 sets.

10. Deltoid raise

Targets: shoulders, biceps, and triceps

  1. Stand with feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent. Hold dumbbells along your body, palms facing your thighs.
  2. Lean forward slightly at the waist and engage your core.
  3. Lift your arms out to the side until they reach shoulder level and form a “T.”
  4. Return to the starting position.
  5. Repeat 10 to 15 times. Perform 2 to 3 sets.

  • Warm up and cool down. Warming up before doing any resistance workout not only gets your body ready for exercise, it also reduces your risk of injury. Spend at least 5 to 8 minutes engaging in some form of cardio or dynamic stretches. When you’ve finished your workout, take some time to cool down and stretch.
  • Focus on your form. When you first start a particular workout routine, Miller says your focus should be on your form or technique. Then, as you build confidence, endurance, and strength, you can begin to increase the weight or do more sets.
  • Engage your core. Each exercise listed above requires core strength to support your lower back. To stay safe, make sure you engage your abdominal muscles before executing any move and keep them engaged throughout the exercise.
  • Stop if you feel pain. Upper body exercises will challenge your muscles and may leave you slightly sore, but you shouldn’t feel pain. If you do, stop and assess the problem. If the discomfort is caused by improper form, consider working with a personal trainer. If your pain persists even after correcting your form, follow up with your doctor or physical therapist.

Upper body resistance or strength training has a long list of benefits. It helps you boost muscle strength and endurance in your arms, back, chest, and shoulders. It also helps you burn calories, reduce your risk of injury, and build stronger bones.

For best results, try to do an upper body workout a few times a week. Start slowly with fewer repetitions and sets, and gradually increase the intensity of your workout as you build up your strength.