2 Best Body Weight Exercises for Upper Body Strength and Muscle


No, these aren’t any new weird exercises from a trendy workout program. In fact, they should be no surprise. They’re old school body weight exercises that professional bodybuilders, strength trainers, and athletes have used for decades (perhaps longer) to build upper body strength and muscle.

My 2 best body weight exercises for upper body strength and muscle are pull-ups and dips. And I’m going to show you how I integrated these two exercises into my strength training routine.

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Why Are Pull-ups and Dips the 2 Best Body Weight Exercises for Upper Body?

Let’s start with pull-ups. This body weight exercise for upper body targets your back, biceps, and shoulders (essentially, in that order). Anytime you’re pulling, you’re working your back and biceps. Think of weight training exercises such as barbell rows, dumbbell rows, seated rows, lat pulldowns etc. All of those exercises are pulling exercises.

With pull-ups, you’re using your own body weight to pull yourself up. This is dead-weight! And there’s a natural flow of the movement with pull-ups that you don’t get with it’s counterpart exercise, which would be lat pulldowns. For this reason, I prefer pull-ups over lat pulldowns.

Dips, another body weight exercise, is a pushing exercise. Doing dips works your chest, triceps, and also a little shoulders (both pulling and pushing exercises integrate your shoulders to some degree). You can adjust your elbows to work more chest or more triceps (arms flared works more chest while arms closer to your sides puts more emphasis on your triceps).

Like pull-ups, you’re pushing raw weight here, which is your own body weight. And there’s a natural and unique flow of the exercise that really targets those upper body muscles.

The beauty of these two body weight exercises for upper body is that you can add more weight once you get to a certain level with your own body weight. This is typically done with a belt that has a chain. *I’ll cover that in another upcoming blog post.

How I Use Pull-ups and Dips

There are several ways you integrate these two body weight exercises into your workout routine. If I’m doing more of a bodybuilding style workout, I will do these towards the end of the workout. If I’m adding more weight on top of my own body weight, I may do them in the beginning since I want to be stronger for this.

My current weight training routine is catered to increasing strength. As you know, if you follow me on Facebook, I’ve been focusing on compound lifts like squats, deadlifts, bench press, overhead press, and barbell rows.

I’m using pull-ups and dips two ways. As I’m wanting to get better at pull-ups, I’m doing them almost everyday I train. On what I call my power days, I do them at the end of my workout. On my non-power days, I do them in the beginning or somewhere in the middle. I only do dips once or twice a week with my current routine.

Strength Training Routine

My power days (strength workouts) are the days I do my heavy compound exercises, which are Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I’ll end those workouts with pull-ups. On Tuesdays and Thursday, I do some lighter workout and will do both pull-ups and dips. Where I place these within my workout is random on those days, but I’ll often start with them.

Sometimes on Thursdays I will only do pull-ups and dips, and will increase the number of sets for both body weight exercises. This is usually because my body is pretty beat up by this day of the week, and I want to be somewhat fresh for my final strength workout on Friday.

Common sense may suggest taking Thursdays off, but I just don’t feel right if I don’t get in the gym and do something! 

I’ve said this before, and actually sort of preach this on my site; I don’t do any crazy or trendy exercises. I’m not saying they don’t work, and I’m certainly not against innovations. But in my book, there’s nothing better than the basics if you’re going for strength. And I believe throwing in these two body weight exercises has enhanced my compound lifts even more. So I will certainly continue doing pull-ups and dips!

I’d like to know if you currently do pull-ups and dips on a regular basis, and how you use them. So feel free to comment!

Train with Passion,


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About the Author Jason Stallworth