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How to get an Amazing Upper Body: 3 Effective Circuits

What I really love about circuit training is that it is very time efficient, and can elevate your heart rate giving you the additional cardiovascular workout you need.

I also like programs that you can do almost anywhere and with little to no equipment. Each exercise can be modified to increase or decrease the intensity. You can choose to do one loop or all. Very adaptable to various fitness levels.

Having a strong upper body is very important to your daily activities and posture. And as an extra benefit, tight and toned muscles look good too.

Here are three circuits that you can do. They will also complement the Lower Body Circuit Training workout.

You could alternate one-day lower body and one-day upper body, making sure that you take at least one full day off in a week for active recovery.

CIRCUIT EQUIPMENT: Body weight and a Band

Note: I will explain the focus of the exercise and the primary muscles used. Keep in mind that there are many other muscles involved which either assist or stabilize the movement pattern.

Cautions & Tips:

  • Always when you are new to exercise or have any medical condition check with your doctor prior to starting any fitness program.
  • Do not hold your breath through any exercise…. BREATHE!
  • Your core is your foundation and needs to be set before performing any exercise. So tighten and engage your midsection muscles.
  • If you have any joint injury or pain, stop, and either choose a modification that feels right OR do not perform the exercise.
  • Keeping proper alignment and technique is more important than how many reps you do.
  • Exercises are performed slow and controlled. When you slow down the movement, you will get more time under tension and fatigue the muscles without having to do so many repetitions. It also stops you from trying to go with momentum.
  • Stretch the muscles you just worked after each circuit to bring the tissues back to pre-exercise length.

This Circuit series we will do timed.

1 minute of work and 15 seconds of rest in between exercises. 

Each Circuit is repeated three times.

I will tell you which muscles(s) are the focus and will also include some of the muscles which are assistants or stabilizers in the movement.

 

Warm-up

Prior to starting any workout out program you will need to warm-up first.

Take 10 – 15 minutes:

  • march on the spot
  • marching knee lifts with arm reaches above your head
  • butt kicks (bring your heel to your buttocks, alternating legs) with arm reaches in front of you.
  • light jog on the spot
  • side-to-side lunge
  • Anything that will warm-up your muscles and start to increase your heart rate. 

CIRCUIT #1

1. Wide Push-ups:

Focus: Chest (Pectoralis major), Back of upper arms (triceps)

Step-by-step:

  1. Laying flat on the floor with your hands a little wider than your shoulders and fingertips slightly rotated in. Toes curled under. Neck stays in neutral
  2. Tighten your core. Push yourself up until arms are extended (do not lock out in the elbow joint). Pause
  3. Slowly lower yourself towards the floor without touching. Repeat

Modifications:

To decrease intensity:

  • Keep the knees on the floor
  • or you can do the push-up from all fours. 

To increase intensity:

  • Lift one leg off the floor as you lower yourself to the ground. Place back down as you push up.

2. Band Lat Pulldown:

Focus: Back (the back muscle that gives you that excellent ‘V’ shape, Lattisimus Dorsi).

Step-by-step:

  1. Holding the band overhead and in front of the body, with your hands slightly wider than shoulder width. Knees slightly bent and core tight maintaining a neutral spine.
  2. With the right hand held in this position, pulling on the band keeping the left arm straight (with a slight bend in the elbow) bring the left hand / elbow down towards and behind the left hip
  3. Bring it back up to the starting position and repeat with the right side. Continue alternating arms.

Modifications:

To decrease intensity:

  • Use a lighter intensity band
  • Only go through the range of motion that is comfortable

To increase intensity:

  • Use a stronger intensity band
  • Balance on one foot.

3. Plank-Ups:

Focus: Chest (Pectoralis Major), Back of upper arms (Triceps)

Step-by-Step:

  1. Start in a push-up position with the hands directly under your shoulders
  2. Tighten the thigh and buttocks muscles along with your core to maintain a straight alignment.
  3. Bring one elbow/forearm to the ground, then the other
  4. From here place the right hand on the floor and press up as you set the left hand on the floor
  5. The next time you come up the left side will be placed down first to start the push. So you are alternating which hand is placed on the floor.

Modifications:

To decrease intensity:

  • Start from the knees instead of the toes
  • Do the push up from all fours

4. Band Side / Front Raises

Focus: the side of the shoulder (lateral deltoid), the front of the shoulder (anterior deltoid)

Step-by-step:

  1. Stand on the band with one foot, it should be placed in the middle of the arch area. Place the other foot behind you so that you are in a mini lunge position. Keep your core tight.
  2. Keeping your shoulders pressing down (do not shrug them up towards your ears as you lift), slowly raise your arms out to the sides. Lifting no higher than shoulder height. Pause at the top.
  3. Slowly return the arms back down to your sides.
  4. Now, slowly bring the arms straight up in front of you as high as is comfortable.
  5. Slowly lower back down to your starting position.

MODIFICATIONS:

To decrease intensity:

  • Use a lighter intensity band
  • Bend your arms at the elbows and keep bent throughout the range of motion
  • Only go as high as you feel challenged but can maintain proper alignment

To increase intensity:

  • Use a stronger intensity band
  • Pause for longer at the top of the range of motion

CIRCUIT #2

1. Down Dog – High Plank – Triceps Push-up

Focus: shoulders (anterior deltoids), chest (Pectoralis Major), back of upper arms (triceps), core

Step-by-step:

  1. Start on all fours. Hands placed slightly in front of shoulders.
  2. Bring yourself into a Downward Facing Dog Position. Pause.
  3. From here shift forward into a high Plank position. Pause.
  4. From here, slowly lower towards the floor keeping your elbows close to the sides of your body. Do not touch the floor then push yourself back up into high plank then back to downward dog. Repeat.

MODIFICATIONS:

To decrease intensity:

  • Do a child’s pose instead of a downward facing dog (sit back into your heels with your arms stretched out in from of you.
  • Do the push-up from the knees rather than the toes.

To increase intensity:

  • Lift one foot off the floor as you go down into the push-up
  • Pause longer at the bottom of the push-up and the plank position

2. Band Reverse Flys:

Focus: Upper Middle Back (middle trapezius & Rhomboids), back of shoulders (posterior deltoids)

Step-by-step:

  1. Stand holding the band taut, with your arms straight out in front of you. Hands wider than shoulder width apart.
  2. Shoulders pressed down (don’t allow them to shrug up towards your ears). The core is tight.
  3. At the same time pulling on the band open the arms out to the sides as you squeeze your shoulder blades together.
  4. Release by returning your arms back to the starting position.

MODIFICATIONS:

To decrease intensity:

  • Use a lighter intensity band
  • Start with the hands wider apart
  • When you feel fatigued, take a break by bringing your arms down to your sides for a few seconds

To increase intensity:

  • Bring the hands closer together at the starting position
  • Use a heavier intensity band

3. Band Biceps Curl:

Focus: Front of upper arms (biceps)

Step-by-step:

  1. Standing on the band with both feet. It should be placed in the arch of the foot area. Holding a handle in each hand. Standing tall with good posture
  2. Arms begin by your sides. Slowly bend at the elbows, bringing the hands towards your shoulders. Make sure that the upper arms do not lift forward but rather stay tucked into your sides.
  3. Then slowly lower back down to the starting position.

MODIFICATIONS:

To decrease intensity:

  • Use a lighter intensity band

To increase intensity:

  • Use a stronger intensity band
  • Pause longer at the top
  • Make the movement slower

4. Plank – knee to opposite elbow

Focus: Core (core muscle groups; rectus abdominus and obliques)

Step-by-step:

  1. Bring yourself into a plank position. With hands under the shoulder joints, legs straight, and body in a straight line.
  2. Bring your right knee in towards your left elbow
  3. Bring back to starting position
  4. Repeat on the other side. Your left knee towards your right elbow

MODIFICATIONS:

To decrease intensity:

  • Only bring knee in slightly
  • Place your hands on the seat of a chair

To increase intensity:

  • Hold and pause knee into elbow position
  • Pick up the pace between knee exchanges

CIRCUIT #3

1. All fours limb lift

Focus: Core stabilization

Step-by-step:

  1. On all fours with your hands directly below your shoulder joints and your knees directly below your hip joints.
  2. Lift slightly off the floor (1-2 inches) the right hand and the left knee. Pause. 
  3. Lower back down to the floor and repeat on the other side, left hand, right knee. Pause.

MAKE SURE YOUR TORSO STAYS IN THE SAME POSITION. Try NOT to rotate the torso.

MODIFICATIONS:

To decrease intensity:

  • Lift only either the hand, or the knee

To increase intensity:

  • Pause for a longer time when hand / knee are lifted.

2. Side Plank hip lift Right:

Focus: Muscles on the side of your torso (Obliques)

Option A.

Option B.

Step-by-step:

  1. On your right side with your hips stacked and legs straight. Place your elbow and forearm on the ground. Align your elbow underneath your shoulder joint
  2. lift your hips off the ground bringing yourself into a straight line
  3. hold for 10 seconds then lower to the ground
  4. DO NOT allow your shoulder of the supporting arm to shrug up to your ear, rather push out of the shoulder to keep a strong posture.
  5. repeat

MODIFICATIONS:

To decrease intensity:

  • choose the option to pivot from the knees
  • lessen the time held in the plank position

To increase intensity:

  • choose the position from the feet
  • place the feet on top of each other rather than staggered.

3. Side Plank Hip lift Left:

Focus: Muscles on the side of your torso (Obliques)

Step-by-step:

Follow the same instructions as the previous exercise only this time you are on your left side.

4. Back extension /overhead reach:

Focus: Low back (erector spinae group), upper back posture muscles (middle trapezius/ rhomboids, posterior deltoid)

Step-by-step:

  1. Lay prone (on your stomach) with forehead on the ground and fingertips touching the back of your head with the elbows out to the sides
  2. Lift your elbows, forehead and upper body off the ground, keeping your feet on the ground. Neck stays in neutral
  3. Reach your arms overhead with the thumbs pointing up to the ceiling
  4. Bring the hands back to behind the head
  5. Slowly lower back down to the ground. Starting position. Repeat.

MODIFICATIONS:

To decrease intensity:

  • Just lift the arms and reach without raising the upper body
  • Just lift only the elbows with no reach overhead
  • Just lift the upper body with no arm reach

To increase intensity:

  • Add the feet lifting off the ground 1 – 2 inches as you raise the upper body
  • Pause and hold for longer

After you have finished your workout make sure you take the time to stretch out the muscles you have just worked.

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