Beginner Series: 15-Minute Upper Body Workout

15-Minute Beginner Upper Body Workout -- with detailed exercise descriptionsHopefully this beginner series has been helpful so far! It’s on to upper body today. And before we get to it, it’s worth mentioning that low-weight, high-rep arm workouts are another great place to start for beginners. I’ve posted two HERE and HERE that might be worth trying out in addition to today’s interval workout.

Beginner Series: 15-Minute Upper Body Workout

Equipment I Used:

  • Pair of dumbbells (I used 10lbs; true beginners, use 5lbs)
  • Bench (chair or other elevated surface will work)
  • Interval timer
  • Pen and paper to write down rep numbers

Set an interval timer for 20 rounds: 30 seconds of work and 15 seconds of rest. You’ll go through the following circuit of exercises four times. At the end of each work interval, write down the number of reps you were able to complete of the exercise in the 30 seconds. Do this for each round. As you tire toward the end of the workout, challenge yourself to stay within a couple reps of what you got the first time through. Here are some rep goals so you have an idea of what to shoot for:

target-rep-numbers-arms

Don’t get hung up on these rep numbers. They’re to motivate and challenge you, not to discourage you. Do the best you can do, and next time you try this workout, focus on improving from your previous numbers. Never sacrifice proper form to get high numbers. 15-Minute Beginner Upper Body Workout -- with detailed exercise descriptions

Seated Lateral Raise

Sit down on a bench or armless chair with your feet planted firmly on the ground, one weight in each hand down by your sides. Before you do anything, roll your shoulder cage up, back and down, opening up your chest. Then engage your abs, pulling your bellybutton in towards your spine and slightly tucking your tailbone. Maintain this upright, tall, open posture throughout the exercise: don’t let your shoulders shrug up or roll forward, and don’t let your low back arch excessively.

From this starting position, lift your right arm up to shoulder height, palm down, at a wide angle. With control, lower it down to your side and repeat with the left arm. That’s one rep.

MAKE IT EASIER

  • Use lighter weights.
  • Rotate your arms so that your thumbs point up as you do the raise. If you have a history of shoulder/rotator cuff issues, definitely take this modification. It’ll bring your biceps in to help out the lats as you raise your arms.

MAKE IT HARDER

  • Raise both arms at the same time instead of alternating. If you do this, just keep in mind that your rep numbers will be double of what I have listed as your goal.
  • Stand up. Doing this from a standing position will require more core stability. Same posture rules apply: shoulders back and down, tailbone tucked, abs engaged, soft bend in your knees (don’t lock them out).

Seated Shoulder Press

Sit down on a bench or armless chair with your feet planted firmly on the ground, one weight in each hand down by your sides. Before you do anything, roll your shoulder cage up, back and down, opening up your chest. Then engage your abs, pulling your bellybutton in towards your spine and slightly tucking your tailbone. Maintain this upright, tall, open posture throughout the exercise: don’t let your shoulders shrug up or roll forward, and don’t let your low back arch excessively. Bring your arms to goal post, elbows bent at 90 degrees at shoulder height, palms facing forward. This is your starting position (note the posture): 15-Minute Beginner Upper Body Workout -- with detailed exercise descriptions

From here, press the weights overhead, straightening your arms (don’t lock the elbows out straight though). With control, lower back down to goal post—try not to let the elbows drop down lower than this. That’s one rep.

MAKE IT EASIER

  • Use lighter weights.
  • Lower elbows all the way down to your rib cage after each press. Instead of stopping at that 90-degree goal-post position, lower elbows down to sides after each press to give your shoulders a little breather. 

MAKE IT HARDER

  • Stand up. Doing this from a standing position will require more core stability. Same posture rules apply: shoulders back and down, tailbone tucked, abs engaged, soft bend in your knees (don’t lock them out).

Incline Push Ups

Start in an incline plank position with feet on the floor and your hands planted firmly on a bench or other flat elevated surface. From here, bend your elbows, lowing your chest towards the bench. As you do this, think about engaging your core and legs so that your body stays in one straight, diagonal line. When you reach your lowest point, press back up, straightening your arms to the starting position. That’s one rep.

MAKE IT EASIER

  • Do these against a wall. Changing the angle of your body will make these easier.

Push up Modification from 15-Minute Beginner Upper Body Workout -- with detailed exercise descriptions

MAKE IT HARDER

  • Do these on the floor. Just like with the easier modification, changing your body angle the other way (to a straight plank) will make push ups harder. You can always do these from your knees if you chose the floor.

Renegade Row to Kickback

| Start in a tabletop position, hands stacked under shoulders, knees stacked under hips. Your right hand should be gripping a weight; your left hand can be planted firmly on the floor. From here, row your right elbow up towards the ceiling, bringing the dumbbell up towards your armpit. Then straighten your right arm, kicking the dumbbell back and up, squeezing the back of your arm (triceps). Reverse the movement back to starting position (bend the elbow and then lower the weight). That’s one rep.

MAKE IT EASIER

  • Use lighter weights.
  • If mobility prevents you from getting down to the floor, do this in a standing position. Lean forward slightly with a flat back, abs engaged, knees softly bent and hips back. From here row the elbow back and up at an angle and then kick the weight behind you as you straighten the arm.

MAKE IT HARDER

  • Use a heavier weight. Typically we can go heavier with moves like this than we can with shoulder exercises (a generalization, but still something I notice a lot) so don’t be afraid to grab a heavier weight than you used for the first two exercises in this workout.
  • Do it in a plank position. Instead of having your knees down in tabletop, hold yourself in a plank. For more stability, you’ll want your feet wider than a typical plank.

Renegade Row to Kickback (left)

Same thing, isolating the other arm. 

The “Why” Behind This Workout

It’s easier to hold the correct posture while seated (vs. standing). With arm exercises—especially overhead movements—it’s easy to find yourself over-arching the low back and sticking out your bum (almost as if you were twerking) as your body tries to compensate for the weight. Start seated and really nail down your posture as you do these moves. Your core needs to work to stabilize! Once you’ve got it down, advance the movements by taking them to a standing position.

Keeping it on the shorter side (15 minutes) because we’re focusing on a smaller muscle group. It typically takes less time to burnout your upper body than lower body, especially for women (generalization here—certainly doesn’t apply to all ladies!). Because it’s on the short side and the low body isn’t working, this is a great workout to pair with some cardio (running, stair master, bike ride, etc.). 

Interval training is effective and gives you a way to track improvement (counting reps). Interval training improves your body’s ability to recover (with respect to cardiovascular and muscular recovery). The first time you do this workout, you might find your rep numbers dramatically dropping with each round because the 20 seconds of rest time won’t feel long enough toward the end. If you continue to incorporate this type of training into your workout routine, you’ll find your body becomes better able to recover from the cardiovascular and muscular strain of the work intervals, improving your performance (especially in those later rounds!). This will be reflected in steadier (and higher!) rep counts.

Moving gradually from seated to floor moves makes the transitions easier for people with joint issues or who are carrying a significant amount of extra bodyweight. While some of these exercises are done on the floor, I’ve included modifications for staying a little higher up for all. One of the biggest challenges a beginner may face is all the fast position changes that often come with workouts: hopping from laying on your stomach to your feet; jumping from plank to a squat; getting up and down from the floor—it’s not always very joint friendly. This workout moves from seated, gradually down to the floor so that you only have to get down (and then back up) once per circuit round.

15-Minute Beginner Upper Body Workout -- with detailed exercise descriptions

WEARING | tank: Alo Yoga c/o Carbon38 // leggings: Zara Terez c/o Carbon38 // sports bra: Nike c/o Kohl’s // sneakers: Nike

SHOT in a Breather room (Gloucester St #2) — you can get an hour of room rental time fo’ free if you sign up using the code PUMPIRON

MORE RESOURCES FOR BEGINNERS:

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Comments

  1. I love reading your post! Thanks for sharing. I teach a number of classes in Savannah, GA but one of my most challenging ones to plan are my senior fit class. They are unable to go to the floor but are really good at doing standing interval work outs. Could you share some ideas for that age group? I have used a lot of your arms and shoulders and low impact lower body but I’m always looking for something new. Thanks!

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