The objective of most upper body exercises is to build strength and one important thing to remember is that exercises aimed at your upper body should be just one part of an overall routine. It's a good idea for example to alternate upper body work with lower body work and also include some general cardiovascular work, such as jogging.
Before starting your upper body workout, or indeed any other exercise session, make sure that you spend at least ten minutes warming up, including good stretching exercises. Warm, loose muscles are much less likely to sustain injury and it's also important to get your circulatory system working effectively and warm muscles will help with good blood flow.
Before starting any upper body workout you must also define your aims. Are you, for example, trying to build up your muscles, or are you simply looking to tone up your muscles. If you want to build muscle then you will need to work with reasonably heavy weights and complete a relatively small number of repetitions of each exercise. For tone, on the other hand, you should be looking at lighter weights but exercises involving a higher number of repetitions.
Whatever the case, these traditional exercises will help to get you going. Some don't require any equipment, while others require either a simple set of free weights or some resistance equipment. Here, resistance equipment would include things like handled rubber straps or springs which work by providing resistance when placed under tension.
One note of caution before you start: Ignore the commonly heard saying that "exercise is not doing you any good unless you can feel the pain". Some mild discomfort (particularly if you haven't exercised for some time) is normal, but pain is your body telling you that you're pushing it too hard.
Despite what many contemporary sports scientists might say, traditional push-ups are still an excellent upper body exercise. Lie on your stomach with your back straight, feet together and hands under your shoulders. Push up against the floor, keeping your back and legs straight, then lower yourself back down to the floor again. To make the exercise a little harder, simply slow the action down and raise and lower yourself more slowly. Try to start with about twenty push-ups and gradually increase this with each workout.
Grab a 10 lb (4.5 kg) pair of hand-held dumbbells. Lie flat on your back on a carpeted floor (or a hard floor with an exercise mat) and hold the weights in each hand with your palms uppermost and your arms straight out to each side of your body. Slowly lift the weights and bring your hands together high up above your chest. To vary this exercise, and give your biceps a good workout, bring your arms up to about twenty degrees and then bend and straighten your arms at the elbow before continuing to raise them above your chest.
Lats is the commonly used term for the latissiumus dorsi muscles which are the large muscles that run down the side of the upper body and which give men their 'triangular' shape.
Still with the same pair of dumbbells, stand up straight with arms and dumbbells at your side. Make sure that your body is well balanced and breathe normally. Breathe in and, at the maximum point of inhalation, thrust your arms away from the body, palms inward. Breathe out as you raise your arms to shoulder height and then lower them again slowly to your sides. Start with about ten repetitions of this exercise and then build up gradually with subsequent exercise sessions.
Biceps and Triceps
To exercise the biceps and triceps, move the weights in front of your body, with your arms hanging above the front of your thighs. Then, without swinging or pushing off the thighs, lift the weights toward your chest using either both arms together or alternating between your right and left arm. Again try ten repetitions of this exercise to begin with and build up slowly.
If you don't have any dumbbells to hand then the exercises for the lats and biceps can be done using a long elastic resistance strap, holding one end in your hand and hooking the other under a foot.
Pull-ups or Chin-ups
This exercise will require access to a bar slightly above head-height, perhaps at your local gym or in a nearby playground. Alternatively you could use a 'removable' bar which can be fitted into a door frame at home.
This exercise is simply a case of taking hold of the bar with both hands and then pulling yourself up until your chin comes level with the bar and then lowering your body back down again. Chins ups are performed with your fingers curled toward you around the bar and pull-ups are carried out with your fingers pointing away from you.
This is an excellent exercise for building biceps, triceps, lats and pectorals all at the same time.
Regardless of the exercise routine you decide to follow, don't overdo it. Build up your upper body strength slowly and gradually.