Simple Program Design: Upper Body

One are that most people have a hard time understanding is program design even though for most people it shouldn’t be rocket science. If you’re anything like me that means you over think things way too much. Because of that I thought it would be a good idea to give you a quick, yet basic, upper body training program.

The first issue to look at when trying to design an upper body strength training program is the movements that you are training. The keep things simple, there are four upper body movement patterns you need to focus on; vertical pressing, horizontal pressing, vertical pulling, and horizontal pulling.

The second issue we need to look at is what exercises fall into what movement category. Here are basic exercises that fall into each category – there are obviously more movements, these are just some basics that everyone knows;

Vertical Pressing

  • Standing Military Press
  • ½ Kneeling Dumbbell Military Press –> Video
  • Incline Barbell Press
  • Incline Dumbbell Press

Horizontal Pressing

  • Bench Press
  • Dumbbell Bench Press
  • Push Up

Vertical Pulling

  • Chin Up
  • Pull Up
  • Neutral Grip Chin Up
  • Pulldown Variations

Horizontal Pulling

  • Dumbbell Row
  • Barbell Row
  • TRX Row –> Video
  • Seated Row

The stay with the trend of the article and keep thing simple, I would recommend picking one exercise from each grouping. From there keep your sets and reps simple as well. 3 sets of 6-8 reps or 3 sets of 8-10 reps is simple yet effective. Here’s a sample program so that you can see it actually written out;

Bench Press – 3 x 6-8

½ Kneeling Dumbbell Military Press – 3 x 8-10

Chin Up – 3 x 6-8

TRX Row – 3 x 8-10


Standing Military Press – 3 x 6-8

Push Up – 3 x 8-10

Dumbbell Row – 3 x 6-8

Pulldown – 3 x 8-10

There you have it, a simple upper body training program. I would recommend training your upper body once, preferably twice a week by putting together 2 different training programs and switching off each time you hit the gym. After 4-6 weeks, change things up a bit and continue moving forward.

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