20-Minute Routine to Build Upper Body Strength

by | Updated: December 2nd, 2016 | Read time: 3 minutes

Your shoulders and chest may be going under cover for the next couple of months, but that doesn’t mean they deserve any less attention in the gym. Keep (or sculpt!) a toned, strong upper body for when the sweaters and coats eventually come off with this workout, which is part three in my women’s fitness series. (Click for part 1, upper arms, and part 2, sexy legs.)

Upper Body Workout Routine

Training the shoulders and arms together works well, because when you train your chest the shoulder muscles are also being engaged. Start with the chest exercises first (the larger muscle group), and then do the shoulder routine.


Incline chest machine or dumbbells (works upper chest)
12 reps, 3 sets      

Chest press machine (works middle chest)
12 reps, 3 sets

Pec deck (fly machine) (works inner chest)
12 reps, 3 sets


Seated shoulder press (machine or dumbbells) (all-over shoulder exercise)
12 reps, 3 sets

Side lateral raises with dumbells or side lateral machine (works sides of shoulders)
12 reps, 3 sets

Front lateral raises with dumbbells (works front of shoulders)
12 reps, 3 sets                                    

Rear lateral shoulder exercise (works rear of shoulders)
12 reps, 3 sets            

How to perform the exercises:

Shoulder press – For support, sit on a short-backed bench with feet flat on the ground. Place dumbbells with palms forward at about ear level (90 degrees). Push up both weights at the same time, and then controlling the weight, bring it back down to starting position (don’t break 90 degrees when returning to start position).

Side lateral raise – Stand with dumbbell by your side and palms facing inward toward your thighs. Raise arms out to the side with a slight bend in your elbow, raising almost up to your shoulder. Bring your arm back down to starting position, keeping a nice, controlled motion.

Front lateral raise – Stand with feet shoulder width apart, holding dumbbells with palms facing inward toward your thighs. Raise dumbbells up to shoulder level, then lower to beginning position. (This exercise may be done with one arm at a time, or with both arms at the same time ).

Rear lateral (rear delt) exercise – Using the pec dec (fly machine), place the handles in the back holes. Sit in the seat facing toward the pad, keeping elbows up, and squeeze shoulders back.

Incline chest machine or dumbbells – If using dumbbells, lie back on an incline bench with a weight in each hand. Starting with weights above your head and palms facing outward (away from your body), lower weights down to about shoulder width, not breaking 90 degrees, then press up. Keep good control of the weights.

Chest press machine – Select your weight. Grab handles with palms facing down and elbows up (think of ballet arms), then press forward, breathing out. Return to starting position while breathing in.

Pec dec – Keep your elbows up (I always tell clients to think of a ballerina) and squeeze as you bring your hands together.

Working out can be tough on your body, and there are days when we just don’t get all the nutrients our bodies need. Make sure to take a good daily multivitamin geared toward women’s needs, such as Optimum Nutrition Opti-Women. Another important supplement to take, both before and after workouts if possible, is glutamine. It helps support strength, stamina and recovery of the muscles, and is important for healthy muscle maintenance.