As a female I understand precisely the fear of working the upper body too much. (This post is for men too, but this is just a disclaimer). As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to understand the importance of balance. Just like men shouldn’t skip leg day (I’m sure you’ve seen the men who do and it isn’t pretty), women shouldn’t skip upper body day. You can have great legs, but if you’re walking around with terrible posture it’s not going to look good.
I am splitting this post in two. This first post consists of 8 upper body muscles you should be working. The second post will include the lower body muscle groups and some good exercises for them.
Lets start top down.
The delts are made up of three muscles. The front anterior delt can be worked with frontal raises. The middle medial delt can be worked with lateral raises. The back rear delt can be worked with a rear delt fly or reverse fly. For female “bikini” bodybuilders, this is one of the most important muscle groups in judging, besides the glutes of course. I agree that that shoulder “capping” is really beautiful. I also feel like shoulders are one of the easiest body parts to screw up. Most people I know have one injury or another with their shoulders. Be careful here. But also, there are a ton of ways to mix up exercises for these three muscles in a really fun way, so don’t be afraid to get creative.
If you have poor posture it could be that your anterior delts are stronger than your rear delts (the ones pulling your shoulders back) I love to do face pulls on the cable machine to get some extra work in on these.
The pecs can be worked with a bench press (girls, please don’t be scared to bench, it can be fun) or push ups. If you struggle with push ups, modify them by going on your knees or raising your upper body to an incline. To be honest, I can hardly do a full pushup, so I’m not sure if there’s much point to me bench pressing, but I do it to look like a badass.
This is the middle part of your back that pulls your shoulder blades together and it is so important for good posture (many of us have tight pecs and weaker rhomboids, making it difficult to hold good posture). These can be worked with various types of rows – I like to switch off between cable rows and single arm dumbbell rows. You can also use a barbell. Most people struggle to actually activate their rhomboids during rows because the traps and biceps tend to be stronger and take over. Be mindful.
Actual body builders will do rows (and other exercises like a bench press) at different angles. Which you can do, but I like to master the basics first and it’s taken me years to work on actually activating my rhomboids and not letting other muscles take over.
Equally important in posture, these pull your shoulder blades down. I used to be told all the time to bring my shoulders back and down for good posture, and my lats and rhomboids simply weren’t strong enough to hold that. That’s why I love back day. Plenty of youtube videos exist explaining the correct form for lat pull downs. I suggest watching a few.
To be honest, I get a good bicep workout during my lat pull downs (a compound exercise) and since I don’t have the goal of having ginormous biceps, I don’t do an isolation workout (i.e. biceps curls) for them. Any movement pulling/curling your arm in will use your biceps.
Also, am I the only one who has always pronounced them bicepts?
Again, always pronounced and spelled these tricepts. I can’t help it. Once in a while I will do some tricep pull downs on the cable machine (you can also do tricep kickbacks, skull crushers, overhead raises, or anything pushing your arm out.) I feel I get a good tricep workout anytime I do pushups or bench press (compound movements) so I don’t do many isolation exercises.
Ok, there are hundreds of workouts for abs. But I should include the important point that abs are mostly made in the kitchen – there is no denying that. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work our abs in the gym though. In fact, I do ab workouts before any heavy lift. Being able to activate your core muscles is crucial to lifting more weight safely because it gives us good posture. (Btw, your abs are not the only muscles that need to be worked in order to have a strong core.)
I like to think of my abs in terms of upper abs and lower abs. For upper abs I love doing what I call 25 25 25 abs. For these you do a set (of 25, but you can lower it if you need) of crunches with your feet on the floor, then a set with your knees raised off the floor at a 90 degree angle, then a set of crunches with your legs straight up in the air. Then you do another set with your knees bent like before and a final set with your feet back on the ground, working your way up then down. (Totaling 5 sets).
For lower abs I love leg lifts. I’ve found the best way to do them is lying on a bench with my arms above my head to hold onto the side of the bench. This gives me enough leverage so that my lower back doesn’t lift of the ground. There are a couple important notes I’d like to make about these. First, make sure the small of your back is flat on the bench, or you will get back pain. I lower my legs to the point when I can feel my lower back is about to raise off the bench and then I stop. Hold on tight to the bench, or if you’re doing these on the floor place your hands under your butt. Secondly, I like to raise my legs up quickly with power, but lower them back down as slow as I can and hold for a few seconds at the bottom. This way I really feel a good burn.
Recently I have been training in jiu jitsu and have seen insane ab results. I may make a post about that ab routine in the future.
Personally I don’t work these because mine are oddly already very defined, and I don’t want to look imbalanced. But good old Russian twists are the most fun way to work these. And it looks pretty badass when you see these muscles popping out.