Exercises for the Upper Extremity & Shoulder

To have a strong and flexible upper body, you must also have a strong and flexible lower body, because it is your base of support and where most of your strength begins. According to physical therapist and strength coach Gray Cook, exclusive upper-body training does not carry over strength to the entire body as lower-body training will. Therefore, when training your upper body and shoulders, establish a solid support base and use your entire body for better results.

Standing Cable Row and Push

These two exercises strengthen the upper body, shoulders, core and hips, and they should be done back to back with little rest between sets.

For the row, use a standing cable machine and set the handles’ height to about your shoulders’ height. Stand facing the cable with one leg in front of the other. Grab the handles and pull your arms back to your armpits while pulling your scapulae together. Slowly return to start position and repeat.

For the push, face away from the cable machine and stand in the same position. Start with your arms close to your armpits and push forward. Slowly return the arms to start position. Keep your spine neutral and brace your trunk throughout the exercises. Do 10 to 15 reps for two to three sets.

Powerball Swings

A powerball is a medicine ball with a single handle hollowed into it. It is made up of a strong elastic rubber filled with sand, resembling a kettlebell. This swinging exercise series moves your upper body and shoulders in all three planes of motion while developing strength, balance, coordination and flexibility.

Hold two powerballs and stand with your feet hip-width apart. Bend your knees and hips and use your hips and legs to help swing your arms and weights forward at chest level. As you gain momentum and rhythm, increase the range of motion until your arms are over your head. Do this pattern for 30 to 60 seconds without rest.

For the side-to-side pattern, start in the same position but swing the powerballs to the side of your body, making a letter T. As you gain momentum, swing the weights above from the side and knock the them together above your head.

For the rotation pattern, swing the powerballs back and forth in front you like a pendulum. As you gain momentum, increase the swing until you are a making a large U.

Push-ups and Pull-ups

Like the cable exercises, these two classic exercises should be done back-to-back to maximize muscle growth, muscular endurance and strength development.

If you are a beginner, do push-ups using an elevated platform, such as stairs or use the bar on a Smith machine. As you get better, decrease the elevation until you are doing it on the ground. For pull-ups, set the bar on the Smith machine or cable columns to 2 to 3 feet high. Grab the bar and crawl under it facing up. Place your hips and feet in a bridge position and your chest beneath the bar. Exhale and pull yourself up until your chest almost touches the bar. Lower your body and repeat.

For advance trainees, do the regular pull-ups with a pull-up bar and push-ups on the ground. Experiment with different hand and foot positions to vary your workouts.

About this Author

Nick Ng has been writing fitness-related stories since 2003, focusing on nutrition, injury prevention and exercise strategies. He received his Bachelor of Arts in communications from San Diego State University in 2001 and is a certified fitness coach from the National Academy of Sports Medicine since 2002.