Why is this upper-body circuit workout my favorite? Because it works! These exercises help keep my physique strong and flexible. (Plus, they’re a lot of fun to do.) Also, I like that I can do this circuit workout anywhere – outside, at the gym, or at home.
This workout is for both men and women, and you can modify any exercise to match the mobility of your joints and your current fitness level.
The video below will prove helpful.
The Best Do-Anywhere, Upper-Body Circuit Workout
I do this workout on “Torso Day” because it strengthens and defines the upper body.
How many times you go through each circuit is determined by your current fitness level:
- Beginners = 2x each circuit
- Intermediates = 3x each circuit
- Advanced Athletes = 4x each circuit.
How many repetitions (“reps”) you do is up to you, but 12 is a good number to shoot for. If you’re a beginner, do fewer. If you’re advanced, do more.
HIIT Workout for Upper Body: The Science Behind This Circuit
Resistance training is a wise idea for everyone, and especially for people over 50:
- Increased muscle mass: As you age, you naturally lose muscle mass, a process called sarcopenia. Resistance training helps counteract this.
- Improved bone density: Resistance training has been shown to improve bone density, which is especially important for mature adults at increased risk of osteoporosis and fractures.
- Reduced risk of chronic diseases: Resistance training has been linked to a lower risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some types of cancer.
- Improved balance and mobility: Resistance training helps improve balance and mobility, reducing the risk of falls and improving your overall quality of life.
- Increased metabolic rate: Resistance training can increase metabolic rate, which can help with weight management and maintaining a healthy body composition.
- Improved mental health: Resistance training has been linked to improved mental health outcomes such as reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety.
- Increased functional independence: Resistance training can help older adults maintain functional independence by improving their ability to perform activities of daily living such as carrying groceries and climbing stairs.
This upper-body circuit is designed upon the principles of high-intensity interval training or HIIT.
HIIT is a form of cardiovascular exercise involving alternate periods of high-intensity exercise with periods of low-intensity recovery or rest.
HIIT can be performed using a variety of modes of exercise, such as running, cycling, rowing, or bodyweight or resistance training.
The high-intensity intervals typically last anywhere from 20 seconds to several minutes and are performed at high intensity (even close to maximum effort).
The recovery periods, however, are usually shorter and allow the body to partially recover before the next high-intensity interval or full circuit begins.
– Face-Up Row (for the back muscles)
– Leaning Push-Up (for the lower pecs)
– Hanging Knee Raise (for the lower abdominals)
– Jump Rope (for conditioning)
– Decline Push-Up (feet up on bench; for upper pecs)
– Side Dip Plank (for the obliques)
– Handstand Push-Up (for the deltoids)
– Chin-Up (back and biceps)
– Dip (chest and triceps)
– Resistance-Band Pullover (for the lats)
– Parallel-Bar Push-Up (chest)
– Resistance-Band Bent-Over Fly (for posterior deltoids)
– Resistance-Band Arm Curl (biceps)
– Close-Stance Triangle Push-Up (triceps)
– Sit-Up (abs)
I use a jump rope, but that’s optional – you could just as easily jump in place. It helps to have access to some monkey bars. And if you have a resistance band, that’s good too:
- If pull-ups are too hard for you at this point, put your foot in a resistance band to give you a boost, or, have a partner give you a spot, or, do jump-up pull-ups one at a time.
- If handstand push-ups are too difficult right now, Simply keep your feet on the ground, or, halfway up the wall.
- If you don’t have access to parallel bars or monkey bars, do regular push-ups on the ground.
Why This Upper-Body Circuit Matters
This upper-body circuit is strategic and beneficial because in modern life – particularly for mature adults in developed countries – asymmetries or muscular imbalances in the upper body are common. This often leads to poor posture, pain, and decreased function.
Some common asymmetries or muscular imbalances that people today have in their upper body include:
- Forward Head Posture: a postural deviation where the head is positioned forward of the shoulders. It can be caused by spending too much time sitting – and tight trap muscles and weak scap muscles. This condition is often accompanied by a “neck hump,” a fat pad on the upper back that’s trying to protect the protruding cervical vertebrae.
- Rounded Shoulders: where the shoulders are rounded forward, and the scapulae are protracted. Also caused by too much sitting and a weak posterior chain of muscles (such as middle and lower trapezius and the rhomboids). Also, this is often accompanied by too-tight chest muscles (pectoralis major and minor).
- Asymmetrical Shoulders: when one shoulder is higher than the other. This asymmetry can be caused by a muscular imbalance or tightness in the muscles around the shoulder girdle.
- Shoulder Impingement: from muscular imbalance in the rotator cuff muscles or scapular stabilizers – or from basic lack of mobility in the ball and socket joints. The synovial fluid can dry up and cause “frozen” or “sticky” shoulder movement. Studies have established that synovial fluid plays a vital role in maintaining the function of the shoulder joint – lubricating the joint, reducing friction, and helping to distribute the load during movement.
Muscles Targeted During Dane Findley’s Upper-Body Circuit
The term “firm” in the context of exercise generally refers to the development of muscle tone, which gives the body a more defined and sculpted appearance.
When you exercise, you stimulate the muscles to contract and work against resistance, whether that resistance comes from weights, bodyweight, or bands.
Over time, this can increase muscle mass and reduce body fat, making your muscles more visible and giving your body a more toned or firm look.
Firming the body through exercise involves targeting specific muscle groups through resistance training. Here are the major muscle groups of your upper body that this circuit workout will engage.
Keep in mind that these muscles don’t work in isolation. Many exercises involve multiple muscle groups working together:
- Chest muscles (pectorals major and minor)
- Back muscles (latissimus dorsi, trapezius, rhomboids, erector spinae, teres major)
- Shoulder muscles (deltoids, rotator cuff muscles, supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, subscapularis)
- Arm muscles (biceps brachii, triceps brachii, brachialis, brachioradialis)
- Abdominal muscles (rectus abdominis, external obliques, internal obliques, transversus abdominis).
And, to a lesser extent, these muscles come into play in a support role:
- Neck muscles (sternocleidomastoid, splenius, semispinalis, longissimus, trapezius)
- Forearm muscles (flexor carpi radialis, flexor carpi ulnaris, extensor carpi radialis, extensor carpi ulnaris, pronator teres, supinator).
The Research Proves Upper-Body Training Can Be Intelligent and Beneficial
Research studies prove that strength conditioning for the upper body benefits a range of populations – including middle-aged women, older adults, recreational athletes, and men seeking to add muscle.
A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research examined the effects of a 12-week upper-body strength training program on middle-aged women. The results showed that the strength training program significantly increased upper body strength and muscle tone.
Another study published in the Journal of Gerontology examined the effects of a 12-week upper-body strength training program on older adults. The results showed that the strength training program significantly improved upper body strength, muscle mass, and functional performance.
A study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine examined the effects of an 8-week upper body strength training program on male recreational athletes. Results showed that the strength training program significantly improved upper body strength, power, and muscular endurance.
A study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology examined the effects of a 16-week resistance training program on muscle size and strength in men. The study participants were randomly assigned to either a resistance training or a control group. The resistance training group performed three sets of eight to twelve repetitions on eight different exercises thrice weekly for their major muscle groups.
The results showed that the resistance training group significantly increased muscle size and strength compared to the control group. The muscle size gains were measured using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and the strength gains were measured using one-repetition maximum (1RM) testing. The researchers concluded that resistance training is practical for males in increasing muscle size and strength.
Additional Resources for Upper-Body Training:
Reference: Kostek, M. A., Pescatello, L. S., Seip, R. L., Angelopoulos, T. J., Clarkson, P. M., Gordon, P. M., … & Visich, P. S. (2005). Subcutaneous fat alterations resulting from an upper-body resistance training program. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 37(7), 1177-1185.
Reference: Taaffe, D. R., Pruitt, L., Pyka, G., Guido, D., & Marcus, R. (1996). Comparative effects of high-and low-intensity resistance training on thigh muscle strength, fiber area, and tissue composition in elderly women. Clinical Physiology, 16(4), 381-392.
Reference: Bottaro, M., Machado, S. N., Nogueira, W., Scales, R., & Veloso, J. (2007). Effect of high versus low-velocity resistance training on muscular fitness and functional performance in older men. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 99(3), 257-264.
Reference: Fry, A. C., Kraemer, W. J., Van Borselen, F., Lynch, J. M., Marsit, J. L., & Triplett-McBride, N. T. (1997). Cytokine and hormone responses to resistance training. European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology, 75(4), 298-304.
Tokish, J. M., Alexander, T. C., Kissenberth, M. J., Hawkins, R. J., & Schoch, B. S. (2016). Relationship between synovial fluid and function of the glenohumeral joint in healthy individuals. Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery, 25(8), 1269-1275.