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How to Design an Upper Body Session

Your guide to constructing the perfect upper body session.
Coaches handing Sam Warburton dumbbells

Away from the athletic programs we design, we also have training plans aimed at muscle gain or fat loss, depending on the client’s goal. For this post we will look at a muscle gain (hypertrophy) session.

Here we will talk through the design of an upper body session. You upper body session, after a warm up should include:

1. Horizontal Push

2. Horizontal Pull

3. Vertical Push

4. Vertical Pull

5. Isolation Exercises / Smaller muscle groups

We more often than not superset exercises because it means you can fit it more volume. For those who don’t know what a superset is, you pair opposing exercises and alternate back and forth.

Using the above structure let’s have a go…

For horizontal push you can select from, dumbbell press, incline dumbbell press, machine chest presses, barbell bench press, weighted press ups. The list is endless. Today we will select for simplicity, barbell bench press.

Now, we need to match this with a horizontal pull. Low row, single arm dumbbell row, seated chest supported rows, t-bar row, bent over row. Again, many options! Lets chose single arm dumbbell row.

Let’s move onto the second superset. Vertical push option to choose will be dumbbell shoulder press. We used a barbell for bench press, so for this push option let’s use dumbbells to ensure the arms are working independently from each other. Similarly, with the vertical pull. Let’s use a Lat Pull Down as it’s a double arm movement as opposed to the previous unilateral movement of single arm dumbbell row.

To finish with, this is a good chance to focus on something which you may feel is particularly underdeveloped. It’s also worth considering doing isolation exercises. More multi-joint, compound exercises may become a little too taxing, particularly for the nervous system, so let’s not shoot too high on the volume. Ill often chose a tri-set here which would include a rear shoulder / upper back exercise as most people often undertrain this and its good for shoulder health, with a bicep and triceps exercise.

We like to begin the session with heavier loads for more sets, then as session progresses, increase the reps and lower the sets. Its worth mentioning there is no one rep range which specifically builds muscle. From lower rep ranges all the way up to 25 can build muscle.

So here’s the session we have just designed using the above framework…

1A - Bench Press – 5 x 4

1B – Single Arm Dumbbell Row – 5 x 5

2A – Dumbbell Shoulder Press – 3 x 8-10

2B – Lat Pull Down – 3 x 8-10

3A – Dumbbell Bicep Curl – 3 x 10

3B – Tricep Extension  - 3 x 10

3C – Face Pulls – 3 x 12-15

There you have a very complete upper body session, ticking all the boxes. If you can perform an upper body session like this 2 x per week consistently, you will achieve some great success.

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