T Nation

Upper Body Lagging Behind Lower


Hello guys, simple request for help. I'm tired of having stick arms and a puny chest and thick tree trunk legs. I've got 13 inch arms, but 26 inch thighs. It's bad. Here are some quick stats...

18 Years Old
200 lbs
Lifting PRs
295 3x5
265 3x3 (just started these, still progressing 10 lbs per day rather easily)
Bench Press
190 3x5
Pendlay Rows
175 3x5
Weighted Chinups
25 2x8
Weighted Dips
45 2x8

My training was never tailored for mass or overall strength, I have a background as a 100m sprinter so I always prioritized legwork. A shoulder dislocation when I was 16 only further worsened the issue. I started training with Starting Strength, but with my shoulder injury I've always been nervous about benching and then stopped, and for some reason never chose to do rows. I'd simply squat, dip, and do chinups after all my track work.

I've decided I've had enough of it. After some recent hip pain and bloodied shins forcing me to take a break from squatting and deadlifting, I want to tailor my routine to fix up my arms. Really I just want a decent routine. This is what I've been doing...

Bench 3x5 (close grip, careful with form because of shoulder)
Deadlift 3x3/Pendlay Row 3x5
Weighted Dips 2x8
Weighted Chins 2x8
DB Curls 2x8
Shrugs 2x8

I've been consistently adding weight but I know it's not a sound routine. I'll be adding deads and squats in asap. I've been looking for popular reccomended routines but I want less legwork and more of a focus on my upperbody, but don't know how to modify existing programs to accommodate that. Any input will be appreciated.


I have a couple of suggestions. First of all, your rep ranges are very low if you're looking to put on some mass, i'd up the bench numbers to anything between 6-15 reps, various ranges work for different people but you'll have to figure that out what works best for you.

If your shoulder allows it i'd also try using DB's instead of a barbell, i've found i get a much better pump from this and obviously the ROM is increased which is always a good thing. If your shoulder really cant hack the DB's. An alternative would be to try some cable flys, slow and controlled movement throughout, dont worry about what numbers your putting up, only about the mind muscle connection, make an concerted effort to really contract your pecs at the peak of the movement. If you set the cables quite low it should minimse the strain placed on your shoulder. BTW these should be done in addition to the bench, not instead of.

If you're looking to put mass on your arms 2 sets of curls and no tricep iso work isnt going to cut it. How many times a week do you train?


Thanks for the reply. My rep ranges are low because of all my Starting Strength reading. I'll up the reps, I figured keeping the reps lower would be good since my bench is fairly weak and could use the strength boost.

I tried DBs in the past, and they were iffy at best, but then again I've been BB benching for 2-3 weeks now without a problem so I'll give it a shot. I'm training three times a week, M/W/F at the moment.


In that case, do your upper body twice a week (Mon and Fri), and lower once (Wed).

Easiest way to prioritise bodyparts (increase frequency of it)


Good advice above, also try doing some kind of upper/ lower body split so you can focus your effort on raising your upper body lifts.


Can you add a day dedicated to arms on your weekend?


From the numbers you described, I wouldn't expect you to have much of a size imbalance. Minus the deadlift being lower than your squat, those numbers seem pretty well rounded. If anything I would say keep training everything but add in some more volume for your upper body. Something like 5/3/1 where you are training all the core lifts but essentially dedicate 2 days to upper body and only 1 to squatting and 1 to deadlifting. You can play around with the assistance work so that you are getting more volume on the upper body days.

Also, you were a sprinter and used a training program that had you squatting 3 days a week. It's kind of expected that you would have a little more size in your legs. Focus on improving everything and the upper body size will come. You've got a very solid foundation, just keep at it.


Thanks everyone for the input. jga, you would suggest doing 5/3/1 versus a more bodybuilding oriented rep scheme? Or do 5/3/1 and then add assistance work to hit those rep ranges.

I only train three days a week because of Starting Strength, I could add a day or two if it would help, especially once I start going to college and have a gym within walking distance.

If I were to do an upper/lower split, would this be fine?

3x8 Bench Press
3x8 Pendlay Rows
3x8 Chin Ups
3x8 Dips
3x8 BB Curls
3x8 Skull Crushers

3x3 Squat
3x3 Deadlift

3x8 Overhead press
3x8 Bench Press
3x8 DB Flye
3x8 Shrug
3x8 Chin Ups
3x8 Dips

I'm sure I'm missing muscle groups... How many working sets should I try to incorporate per day? This seems ridiculous compared to my usual routine, or Starting Strength, but I feel like I'm missing stuff. Thanks again guys for giving solid advice.


Not a bad split

Try to keep the session volume down a bit though, typically 8-12 work sets/session. This ensures a good balance between fatigue and growth. Also, when the volume gets high, the later exercises suffer a lot and you just end up going through the motions (getting a pump, prolonging recovery for no good return).

So you may have more volume on your primary movement for a bodypart, and less on your secondary/third one. Or as some people do, alternate movements for the same bodypart (e.g. lower chest on Monday, upper chest on Friday). Personally, I prefer to hit the muscle group with all it's exercises in one session (even if this means only doing 1 set for it) - my 3-way split easily allows more bodypart volume via extra exercises.

As a general rule of thumb, keep volume down to 4-6 exercises/session.

Along the same lines, bodypart weekly volume is good around the 8-12 set mark (mostly, except for when deloading/higher volume phases). For people who are more into their HIT (high intensity training...usually 1-2 sets taken to absolute failure or sometimes further), I'd say 4-8 sets/bodypart/week is more appropriate. This is because more intensity = more recovery and less tolerance to volume.

As for reps, you can expand them a little (e.g. 6-10 on most exercises). Back and biceps tend to respond better to higher volume (so either higher rep sets, or more sets, or more exercises...or a mix of all three). Chest/shoulders responds really well to the lower rep ranges.

Example routine (on first set, it should fall within rep range, then reps drop off on proceeding set):

2 sets per exercise


Barbell flat bench press, 6-8 reps
Rows, 10-12 reps
DB incline bench press, 8-10 reps
Chinups, 10-12 reps
Skull crushers, 8-10 reps
Incline seated DB curls, 8-10 reps


Squat, 3-5 reps, then drop load by ~20% and rep out (e.g. 12-20 reps)
Deadlift, 3-5 reps (ramp up to one set)
Standing calf raises, 10-15 reps
Seated calf raises, 12+ reps


Same as Monday except Shoulder Press replaces Incline Benching

After 3-4 months, switch exercises for the same bodypart (unless still making good progress). E.g. dips replace flat bench press, or pullups replace chinups, or t-bar row replaces dumbbell row etc.

Progression is the key.

Obviously, you will know your body better as you progress, and extra exercises/exercise adjustments may need to be made. This is why routines evolve. You may decide to train more often and go with a 3 way split (e.g. push/pull/legs) so that you can focus more on certain bodyparts. Whatever you do, be consistent and don't forget to eat for it. Most change their routine when it was their diet at fault (not enough protein/calories), don't make the same mistake! :slightly_smiling:


Forgot to say - always work extra work in gradually. Otherwise, how do you know at what point something worked?

Or worse, some people go completely in the opposite direction and do more than needed (sometimes negatively impacting recovery). If too much is done, not only does recovery often suffer, focus is taken away from the fundamentals of mass gaining (i.e. muscle over-load/progression).

When you start messing around with muscle groups here and there, adding tons of exercises/sets, your training starts to resemble "fluff" :slightly_smiling:

Basically, the added frequency for arms/chest alone is a very good start (for extra growth stimulus)...from there on, focus on strength progression