People throw around a number of different words they think are “synonyms” when it comes to strength training: weight lifting, resistance training… the list goes on. But really the term “strength training” incorporates body weight exercises, bands, machines, weighted equipment, and essentially anything that isn’t running, swimming, jump roping, or flexibility training (like stretching), according to Men’s Fitness‘ Group Training Director Sean Hyson, C.S.C.S. So it’s not synonymous with weight lifting—it’s an umbrella term that includes it. And while weight lifting is great, there are tons of other strength-training moves that don’t include actual weights that can help you sculpt a strong, muscular upper body.
In fact, the most effective strategy is to integrate a combination of compound exercises into your routine. Some of those will include barbells and dumbbells and machines, yes, but others just require your own body weight and some call for resistance bands.
Here, we combed through our database of upper body exercises and Hyson narrowed it down to the top 25 strength-training moves, which will target and trigger muscle growth in your back, biceps, triceps, chest, forearms, and shoulders.
Most of these exercises can be modified, too. (I. e. one-arm row can be done with either a cable or a dumbbell, and a face pull can be done with either a band, TRX, or cable.) So, mix up the variations by using either your body weight, a resistance band, dumbbell, or a suspension trainer, depending on your personal fitness goals and the readily available equipment you have.
Not only will these moves increase your overall strength, but they will decrease your risk of injury, create a more symmetrical build, and will naturally improve your core strength for everyday functional fitness.