Press exercises to improve your upper body strength

When it comes to building a strong and well-defined upper body, addingupper body press exercises into your fitness routine is key. Press exercises target the muscles in your chest, shoulders and arms.

Press exercises will help you develop strength, power and overall upper body appearance.

You will find that you can do variations to the exercises with different types of resistance types, including a cable machine, barbells, dumbbells and resistance bands. Using various resistance types is an effective way to target upper body muscles in your workout program.

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What are upper body press exercises?

Upper body press exercises involve pushing a weight away from your body using your upper body muscles, such as the chest, shoulders and triceps. These exercises are great for building strength, increasing muscle tone, and improving upper body aesthetics.

rack of dumbbells in the gym

Three key benefits of upper body press exercises:

  1. Strength building: Press exercises, like the bench press and overhead press, are great for developing upper body strength. When you consistently challenge your muscles by pushing against resistance, your body responds by getting stronger. Over time, increased upper body strength can positively impact your overall functional fitness and daily activities.
  2. Muscle tone and definition: If you’re looking to sculpt and tone your upper body, press exercises are your go-to moves. These exercises specifically target muscles including your chest, shoulders and triceps, helping to shape and define them. As you progress with your training and build lean muscle, you’ll notice a more sculpted and defined upper body appearance.
  3. Improved posture and stability: Press exercises play a vital role in enhancing your posture and stability. Many of these exercises also engage your core muscles, which are crucial for maintaining a strong and stable foundation. By strengthening your upper body muscles, you can correct muscle imbalances and your posture.

Remember, press exercises are not just for bodybuilders or advanced athletes. They are beneficial for all fitness levels. If you’re new to the gym, start with lighter weights or modified variations of these exercises. Focus on proper form, gradually increase the intensity and be consistent with your training.

Bench press

The bench press is arguably one of the most popular and effective upper body press exercises. It primarily targets the chest muscles (pectoralis major and minor) but also engages the shoulders and triceps. 

barbell bench presses
  • Lie back on the flat bench and place your hands on the bar with an overhand grip. Keep your feet flat on the floor.
  • Extend elbows to a 90-degree position, triceps should be resting while holding the barbell above your chest.
  • Embrace your core and lower the bar down toward your chest. Then exhale and press the bar towards the ceiling.

Variations: Dumbbell bench press, Smith machine bench press

Incline bench press

Similar to regular bench presses but performed on an inclined surface, the incline bench press can help target your upper chest and front delts (shoulders) more effectively. Increase the incline of your bench for more difficulty or decrease it for more accessible progressions.

woman doing ncline barbell bench press
  • Sit down on an incline bench. 
  • Once you lie on the bench with your feet flat on the floor, your arms should be parallel to the barbell and your hands roughly wider than shoulder-width apart. 
  • Slowly lower the bar to your chest, above your breasts and below your collarbone.
  • Focus on squeezing your upper chest together to raise the bar back up.

Variations: Dumbbell incline bench press, Smith machine incline bench press

Push-up: A versatile press exercise

Regular push-ups are versatile bodyweight exercises that can be modified to fitness levels. They primarily target the chest, shoulders, triceps and core. 

  • Start in a plank position with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and your body in a straight line.
  • Lower your chest towards the ground by bending your elbows, keeping your body in a straight line.
  • Push back up to the starting position, fully extending your arms.
  • Keep your core engaged and maintain proper alignment throughout the exercise.

Tip: If pushups are difficult, start with an elevated position like a wall. As you get stronger, move closer to the ground, including a table, chair or workout bench, before getting to the ground.

Overhead Press

The overhead press, also known as a military press, is an excellent upper body press exercise that primarily targets the shoulders and triceps. 

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a barbell or pair of dumbbells at shoulder height with an overhand grip.
  • Press the weight overhead by extending your arms, then lower it back to shoulder height.
  • Keep your core engaged, and avoid arching your back or using excessive momentum during the movement.

Dumbbell shoulder press

Dumbbell shoulder presses is an excellent upper body exercises that help improve muscle mass. The dumbbell should press targets the front and side delts helping give additional shape to your upper arm.

dumbbell shoulder press
dumbbell shoulder press in tricep and shoulder workout
  • From a seated or standing position, hold a heavy dumbbell in each hand by your side.
  • Press the dumbbells straight overhead, keeping elbows narrow. At the top of the dumbbell press, rotate the dumbbells so your palms face out (away from you).
  • As you lower the dumbbells, elbows should go wide, arms bent at 90 degrees (like goal posts). Keep your elbows in line with your shoulders rather than letting them drop down.
  • Repeat.

Variation: Arnold press

Dumbbell fly

The dumbbell fly is a fantastic exercise for targeting the chest and shoulders. 

  • Lie on a flat bench with a dumbbell in each hand, arms extended straight above your chest.
  • Lower the dumbbells out to the sides in a wide arc until you feel a stretch in your chest muscles.
  • Bring the dumbbells back up to the starting position, squeezing your chest muscles.
  • Maintain control throughout the exercise and avoid excessive swinging or using heavy weights that compromise form.

Seated chest press machine

The seated chest press machine is a great option for beginners or those who prefer machine-based exercises. It targets the chest, shoulders, and triceps. 

chest press vs bench press. which to use to train chest?
  • Adjust the seat height so that the handles are in line with your mid-chest.
  • Sit with your back firmly against the seat, grasp the handles, and push them forward until your arms are fully extended.
  • Slowly return the handles back to the starting position, maintaining control throughout the movement.
  • Avoid locking your elbows or using excessive momentum to complete the exercise.

Bench tricep dips

Tricep dips can be performed as a bodyweight exercise or with additional resistance. It targets the chest and triceps muscle groups.

  • Sit down on a bench, hands next to your thighs. 
  • Walk your feet out and extend your legs, lifting your glutes off the bench and holding them with extended arms.
  • Slowly lower your body as far as you can or until your arms form a 90-degree angle.
  • Push up through your palms back to start.
  • Repeat

Tip: You can also perform a bench dip off a stair or other elevated surface; the same steps apply.

Variation: Overhead dumbbell tricep extension 

Incorporating upper body press exercises into your workout routine is essential for developing a strong, sculpted upper body.

It’s important to maintain proper form and technique while performing these exercises to prevent injury and maximize results. Start with lighter weights or modified variations if you’re a beginner and gradually increase the intensity as you progress.

Push day workout keys to success 

While the Push Pull Legs workout split routine is a great way to build strength and add muscle, you need to make sure that you are checking all of the boxes to ensure that you meet your goals. Here are the push days keys to success:

Progressive overload

Progressive overload is the key to building muscle mass and getting stronger. This means you will gradually increase the weight and intensity of your workouts over time, which stimulates muscle growth.

Focus on good form

Good form is important to prioritize regardless of the exercise to help with muscle growth and prevent risk of injury. This means taking the time to learn each exercise, starting with lighter weights and gradually increasing the weight as your form improves.

Proper nutrition

To support muscle growth and recovery, it’s important to fuel your body with the proper nutrition. Make sure you’re consuming enough calories(be in a calorie surplus) and protein to support muscle growth. 

Ensure rest and recovery

Performing workout split routines should ensure that you are getting adequate rest and recovery. While it can be tempting to push yourself to the limit every workout, it’s important to allow for rest and recovery between workouts.

Make sure that you are getting enough sleep (7-8 hours) and listening to your body to see when you need to dial back the intensity. 

Consistency is key

Consistency is key when it comes to achieving results. Stick to your workout schedule and make adjustments based on your progress and feedback from your body. 

Push day workout at home 

Don’t have access to a gym or prefer to work out at home? There are still plenty of exercises you can do to target the chest, shoulders and triceps. Bodyweight exercises such as using different pushup variations, can be effective at building strength in your chest, shoulders and triceps.

Additionally, you can use resistance bands or dumbbells to increase the intensity of the workout.

FAQs about press exercises

Three exercises that target the chest are barbell bench press, dumbbell fly exercises and push-ups.

A typical push day workout focuses on exercises that involve pushing movements for the upper body. It often includes exercises like bench presses, shoulder presses, tricep dips and pushups. These exercises primarily target the chest, shoulders, and triceps.

Press exercises involve movements where you push or press away from your body, targeting muscles like the chest, shoulders and triceps. Pull exercises, on the other hand, involve pulling movements, targeting muscles like the back, biceps and rear shoulders.

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