Basic Upper Body Strength Routine

You lose between 3-5% of your muscle mass each decade after the age of 30 and 1% of you bone mass per year after age 40. Loss of muscle mass and bone density is a leading cause of low-trauma fractures of the hip, wrist, collarbone, leg and arm in adults over the age of 50. While you may not have control of all the factors to impact muscle and bone loss-genetics, calcium intake as a child, there are factors you can control- especially diet and exercise. The science behind the benefits of strength training is growing. Strength training can slow bone loss and even build bone. Muscle loss can nearly be halted with strength training. It’s never too late to start strength training. Especially important is the upper body strength.

Strength training will:

  • strengthen bones, muscles, connective tissue and tendons
  • improve cardiovascular health
  • reduce blood pressure
  • improve blood lipid levels
  • improve the physical function of your whole body
  • reduce chronic pain from osteoarthritis and low back
  • enhance mental health
  • improve posture
  • build lean body mass and improve metabolic rate
  • counteract the loss of estrogen
  • improve your ability to complete activities of daily living
  • improve self confidence

While lifting weights in the gym is ideal, you can strength train anywhere. Your body weight, resistance bands or cords, or a few dumbbells provide options for strength training. Shoot for 2-3 strength training sessions per week. You may choose to do a whole body workout or divide up your body parts over a few sessions. Always allow 48 hours between strength sessions for each body part.

Target 8-12 repetitions (reps) for each exercise. Work up to 3 sets. If 12 reps is easy, up the resistance. Some exercises are “push” while others are “pull”. A pushup is a push and a pull up is a pull. These are intuitive and functional for how you live your life include both. Work opposing muscles groups at the same time, like chest and back or quadriceps and hamstrings.

Start with a basic strength training for your upper body. Muscles groups to work include arms, shoulders, chest, and back. As you master this program, you can vary the exercises, intensity, and frequency. Start slowly with one set, and light weight.

Upper Body Strength Routine


Bicep curl: sit or stand (with a slight bend in your knees) with a light dumbbell in each hand. Assume an upright posture. Curl the dumbbell up towards your biceps, keeping your elbows at your sides. Squeeze the bicep at the top of the exercise. Lower down slowly. Repeat 8-12 times.

Triceps extension: stand (with a slight bend in your knees) and a light dumbbell in each hand. Bend over to a 45 degree angle with a straight back. With your arms at your side, and elbows at your sides, extend your hands behind you until your arms are straight. Squeeze the triceps at the top of the exercise. Lower the dumbbells down towards the floor. Repeat 8-12 times.


Shoulder press: sit or stand (with a slight bend in your knees) and dumbbells ready at the top of your shoulders. Press the dumbbells up until your arms are straight. Slowly lower back down to shoulders. Repeat 8-12 times.

Shoulder extension: Sit or stand, holding very light weights in each hand, down by your sides. Extend your straight arms forward and upward to shoulder height. Lower down. Extend straight arms out to the side to shoulder height. Lower back down. Repeat 8 times.


Chest press: lay on the floor or a bench with a medium dumbbell in each hand. Elbows are bent, with weights at your chest. Pull the dumbbells up above your chest to straight arms. Slowly lower back down. Repeat 8-12 times.

Push up-: Start with your knees down and hand directly under your shoulders. Make sure your body makes a straight line. Lower down to the ground, elbows going back. Push back up. Repeat 4-12 times.


Lat flyover: lay on a bench or floor, hold one dumbbell with both hands, directly over your chest. Lower the dumbbell overhead with just a slight bend in your arms. Once the weight is level with your head, pull it back up to the start position. Repeat 8-12 times.

Bent over row: stand, bent over to a 45-degree angle with a straight back and a medium dumbbell in each hand, down at your sides. Using the muscles of your upper back, pull the dumbbells up towards your armpits. Slowly lower back down. Repeat 8-12 times.

Use cords, bands, or even water bottles to add resistance training to your fitness routine and keep it varied. There are so many ways to gain strength and it’s never too late to start. Make 2021 the year you get STRONG!

 by Christy Coughlin