Upper Body Workout Variations

Are you a frequent gym-goer? Are you new to the gym? If you answered yes to either question, then you could benefit from exercise variations. Why is that? The simple reason is, we all can benefit from variation in our training. (Variation in terms of training can mean intensity, volume, frequency, lifting tempo, exercise selection and so on).

Today we would like to share some simple upper body strengthening exercises. We picked a few that we see people perform consistently at the gym. Especially for a beginner, we think it is essential to know some of the big muscle groups that are targeted before performing an exercise and the difference in modifications of each exercise. Use this as a general guideline when tweaking your exercise routine and regardless of your experience working out, always emphasize proper form.

Push Up Variations
The push-up is an extremely functional and simple exercise that can easily be altered to train different parts of your body. Whether you’re a beginner or advanced gym-goer, knowing the different variations of the exercise can be useful when tailoring your workout and building full body strength. Regardless of alteration keep a neutral spine with chin slightly tucked.

  • Shoulder width
    • Targets deltoids>pecs>triceps
    • Focus on neutral spine throughout the movement
    • Hands slightly outside shoulder level

  • Wide placement
    • Targets pecs>deltoids>triceps
    • Hands should be further outside of shoulder level slightly above mid pec level

  • Close placement
    • Targets triceps>deltoids>pecs
    • Keep hands at or slightly inside of shoulders at level just below the pecs

Pull Up Variations

The pull up is another very functional upper body strengthening exercise.  The pull-up can be adjusted with arm positioning and grip variations to target different muscles in your body. Keep in mind however, the main muscle groups will include your lats, rhomboids, biceps, and forearm musculature regardless.

  • Wide and close grip
    • Back muscles (lats, rhomboids)>biceps>forearm

  • Open grip
    • More biceps activation here with less back and forearm activation

  • Closed grip
    • More forearm/bicep activation here with less back activation

Curl Variations

You’ve likely tried or seen people doing different variations of curls at the gym. All curls should not be considered the same however. With whatever variation you choose to perform, keep the shoulders back and down, keep a neutral spine and work through full elbow ROM.

  • Supinated (open) grip
    • Palm up
    • Targets biceps>medial forearm>lateral forearm
    • Be careful not to lose the palm up grip when lowering the weight.

  • Pronated (closed) grip
    • Palm down
    • Targets lateral forearm>biceps>medial forearm
    • This is typically a more difficult curl, so go down in

  •  Neutral grip
    • In-between an open and closed grip
    • Equal activation of biceps and lateral forearm (roughly), not much medial forearm activation here
    • weight and focus on form