If the thought of push ups, plank holds and overhead presses sends a shiver down your spine, you’re not alone. For many women, upper body exercises are far more challenging than lower body moves and for that reason many of us shy away from isolating our arms, shoulders, backs and chests. According to Personal Trainer and Owner of the Sports Model Project, Hattie Boydle, building upper body strength is as simple as staying consistent.

“Developing upper body strength can be a serious challenge for women because so many programs are designed specifically for men then repackaged for women. I think a really great place for most females to start is with body weight exercises and movements that help to restore correct posture and range of motion,” says Boydle. She believes that in time any woman will be able to do a pull up, a correct push up for reps and have great posture provided their training program is well structured and strength focused.

“One of the problems for most women is their training frequency. Rather then chopping and changing your exercises stick with a core group and get better at them. Getting stronger requires practice, so practice as much as you can,” explains Boydle. She gave us her four favourite exercises that act as a good starting place to build stronger backs, arms, shoulders and chests. Add these into your routine with your lower body workout and repeat 3-4 times per week.

A: Bar hangs

The first step to proper pull ups is to be able to hold onto a pull up bar and hang for a minute. Think about tightening your back and retracting your shoulder blades as you hang.

This exercise will develop your upper body flexibility and give you the ability to hold your own body weight. Start with 20 second hangs as progress as you improve. Plus, if you bring your legs in front of your body and point your toes it adds a nice little core burn!
More advanced version: Use a box. Step up to the bar hold on and bring your chest to the bar height step off the box and hold at the top position for a minute.

B: Push Up + Scapular protraction

A push up can be made more easy or difficult by putting our hands on a box. This is a superior method for learning push ups than performing push ups from your knees on the floor as it teaches you full body tension. That means, getting your body really stiff like a plank. In this push up, as you come to the top push right away from the box or the floor so that your shoulder blades separate as much as possible, you almost want to round your upper back and pull your shoulders forward.
Elevate your hands if you are starting out and keep removing height until you can do a push up from the floor.

C: Single Arm Row

This move gets rid of desk posture and really helps define the décolletage. It’s a really great base exercise for improving upper body strength and can be adapted for beginners through to the more advanced.

Using a dumbbell, hinge forward from the hips until the body is parallel with the ground (or just above). Use your opposite hand to steady yourself on a bench or rack. Row the dumbbell upwards, keeping the elbow close to the body as you do so. A handy trick with this one is to keep your core turned on to remain stable and get more back activation.

D: Reverse fly

Also great for posture but more importantly it helps to give you strong shoulders. The reverse fly targets your rear delts. These are the muscles we need to ensure our shoulders don’t hunch when we’re resting.

The exercise is performed in a bent over position with light dumbbells (go for 2-4kg). Holding the dumbbells in your hands with elbows slightly bent, pull your shoulder blades together as the top of your hands raise to the ceiling, keeping the dumbbells parallel to your body throughout the move. Think of your arms like wings and the movement is as if you were taking off to fly.

“Make sure you increase the difficulty of the exercise each time you get to the gym. This might be by increasing the weight, increasing the volume or increasing the time under tension. Remember if you continue to do the same thing you will always get the same result,” Boydle reminds us.