T Nation

Is upper body training important?

Considering someone does not care about having a bodybuilding physique and does not like doing upper body workouts, what would be the most effective program for straightup looks?

I know upper body is a must, but couldn’t one just do the basic bench, mil. press, etc.? Will this keep the upper body in proportion with the lower body?

Better yet, if one does no upper body workouts at all, and just does lower body, would the composition of the upper body even be changed?

Very glad you made this post, it’s been on tip of my tongue for the longest.

I can attest w/o a doubt that ANY upper movement is a distant second to squats/deads. I have actually gained more on my upper body doing ONLY heavy squats… THAT’S IT!!! I never gained a as much on my lower b. doing benches & rows. That says enuff. I am not saying you can build a great body while ignoring the upper b… I honestly don’t really care that much anyway… I like the power feeling of 400+lbs squats.

I believe poliquin wrote that if you were only going to do 1 upper body excercise, chinning/pull ups would be it.

OK, what would be the best workouts to do for upper body just to keep it in proportion with the lower body?

(keep in mind this is for a female)

Assuming a good lower body program, an upper body maintenance program would be very simple.

Just pick a compound push and compound pull and do 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps or something like 5x5.


Pushes: Bench, Dips, Incline, Military

Pull: Chin, Row, Upright Row, Pullovers

Deadlifts in particular will, obviously, pack a lot of meat on your upper frame.

If you’re really focused on the lower body, you really only need a couple upper body movements. One horizontal push, one horizontal pull, one vertical push and one pull.

That is, for example: Bent over Rows, Bench, Miltary and Chinups.

“OK, what would be the best workouts to do for upper body just to keep it in proportion with the lower body?
(keep in mind this is for a female)”[/quote]

  1. There is no ‘best’ workout. Pick one, keep using it until you think you’ve exhausted it (ie, you’re not improving anymore), then change.

  2. There are no ‘special considerations’ for women.


no program is “gender specific”. They are more “individual specific”. So with that in mind, if you’re asking this question for the benefit of helping someone out; you need to provide some specifics.

Athletic/training experience. Is this a newbie? Phsique type/build. Are we talking about someone who is “bottom heavy” with a narrow shoulder/back?

Pullups, deads, and maybe benches are good.

Kurt, I can smell there’s a woman here that just want to have “toned” lower body, and is skared of any upper body movement 'cause it would make her look like a bodybuilder… if that’s the case, you’re not gonna convince her to train as the good common sense would suggest, no matter how much good will and patience and science you’ll put in your advices… believe it! Change her or accept her, she want fall in love with bodybuilding, neither if you try to mask it as “body composition would change doing only lower movement and if you do just this for upper body, you’ll appear more proportioned”.

Ok, considering there is no way she is going to go for the bulking and cuttin thing, what should I get her to do? What kind of rep patterns should I set her up with and what kind of cardio program? Right now:

day 1:lower/cardio
day 2:upper
day 3:off/cardio
day 4:lower/cardio
day 5:upper/cardio
day 6:cardio
day 7:off

Oh since you ask. 5 8, 135lbs

Do I have her doing too much cardio or not enough?

Kurt, you asked what was the best exercise for looks. I agree with Patricia – everything is individual-specific. However, I can’t imagine very many females who would be unhappy with the way their upper bodies look after a good deal of basic bodybuilding-style lifting.

You can’t lose by working pecs. For smaller-chested women, if they get some hypertrophy here it will be very nice. For big-chested women, pec development can reportedly help sagging (I wouldn’t know, but it seems reasonable that attaching something to a firm foundation would be better than the alternative).

How can you overwork and develop back? There can’t be many women out there who are going to see muscles popping out of their backs. It’s hard to develop lats, and there’s usually plenty of fat to cover them.

Shoulder development is, to me, the biggest bang for the appearance buck when it comes to upper body. Good shoulder alignment, without forward rotation, just looks good.

The only upper body part that I could see overdeveloping on an average woman, to the point where she wouldn’t like it, is perhaps biceps. Still, if bis get overdeveloped, then something else is probably lagging and needs to be priortized instead.

It takes a LOT of work over a LOT of time to build muscle that sticks around even after the workouts go away. No woman is going to wake up one day and have big muscles that weren’t there before. I once had overdevelopment (to my taste) of quads, right above the knee). I quit doing extensions, and the quads shrunk back down. Now I do a lot more compound exercises, squats, lunges, etc., in different styles, and I don’t get that bulge at all.

I think Jennifer Lopez is an interesting example for the average woman who doesn’t want to look too muscular. Her trainer has her do TONS of upper body, lots of pushups, lots of shoulders, to help “balance” her lower body. If you see pictures of before she worked out versus now, it’s quite impressive.

It’s also worth pointing out that if a woman thinks she looks too muscular, she can always gain a little more subcutaneous fat (which is generally not difficult!). This is the converse situation of the guy who wants to look muscular; it ain’t gonna happen till that layer of blubber is gone.

One last observation. A year or so ago, I hadn’t lifted regularly for a couple years, and I had lost a lot of the muscle I once had. I got back to the gym and gained back the muscle and lost some fat. Then, I gained a lot of fat, which I’m currently working on losing, but kept all the muscle. When I look at the pictures – last year before, last year after, and now – I can’t believe how much better I look now, even with the additional fat, than the “before” situation last year. I have 15 pounds more muscle this year than in the “before” picture last year, and look so much better.

Sorry for the long post – but it always amazes me how afraid women can be of getting “too muscular.” It’s like starting piano lessons and being afraid that you’ll become a virtuoso overnight and then how will you handle the pressure from the critics?!

Tsatsouline’s “Power to the People” book describes a very simple, basic plan that might be good. Just 2 exercises - the deadlift and one-arm side press. The combination of the 2 will hit just about every muscle group in the body. Although she can substitute the two-hand press for the side press, doing this with only one arm will force her core stabilizers to statically contract, not to mention the shoulder stabilizers. While this plan is probably too simply for many who post here, I think it is a great plan for someone just interested in basic, functional strength training.

Being worried about being too muscular is definitely putting the cart before the horse.

If it is a big worry, keep both the reps (1-6) and total volume (less than 50 reps/week) DOWN and the weight relatively HIGH. Cycle from 70-105% of maxes.

She’s going to balk at this, without doubt, because it goes against “common” wisdom: i.e. “heavy weights make you big”.

Nuh-uh. “Ripped, Rugged, and Dense” will tell you otherwise, and be right about it, too.

I work with a guy that only does lower body because he’s a cyclist. He looks like a total dork. His upper body is about as thick as one of his legs.

Looks pretty stupid.