Upper Body Strength Workout Plan (For Beginners & Body Recomposition)

Upper Body Strength

Fitness Savvy has designed the ultimate upper-body workout for building strength and packing on size.

Forming part of our body re-composition series, this upper body routine is simple but effective; making it ideal for those just starting out.

We’ve also created a series of videos and a complete PDF guide so you don’t have to worry about how this will fit into a full workout routine.

Upper body strength workout video

To make life easier, we’ve started off with the video. Check it out, subscribe, leave a comment or questions and we’ll get back to you!

About the upper body workout

This is a great beginner upper body workout for men and women.

The simple routine can be done at home in your garage, or at the gym. It forms part of an upper/lower body split training plan (illustrated below) which was designed to help you add muscle while losing fat at the same time – a process called body recomposition.

Over the course of 16 weeks, you can pack on a serious amount of lean muscle while losing fat at the same time.

Body Recomposition Workout Split

You can check out the other workouts by clicking the links below:

  • Lower body strength
  • Upper body hypertrophy
  • Lower body hypertrophy

Weeks 1 – 4

For the first four weeks, you will work with a lower weight and RPE so you can get the form or find your feet if returning from an injury.

In weightlifting, the RPE (rate of perceived exertion) is a great (however, subjective) way of referring to intensity. In short, it measures how close you get to failure. Failure is the point at which you could not possibly perform another rep.

Important note – ensure you’re using a power rack or have a spotter present if planning to go to failure. Lifting weights can be dangerous, so it is important to ensure you keep yourself safe.

If you’re not sure what type of rack you need, check out our power and squat rack buying guide (at the bottom of the page).

Anyway, back to RPE. An RPE of 10 means you reached failure, whereas an RPE of four means you would have stopped the set with around six reps left in the tank.

Here is how the RPE should increase over the first four weeks with this workout:

  • Week 1: RPE of 3 – 4. You should select a weight where you can reach six reps with about six or seven reps left in reserve.
  • Week 2: RPE of 4 – 5. Increase the weight by 5% or so. This won’t be a huge change, so should still be comfortable and not too challenging.
  • Week 3: RPE of 5 – 6. Increase the weight by a further 5% or so. You’ll likely hit all six reps on all five sets, but by the last set, you will be within about three or four reps of failure.
  • Week 4: RPE of 6 – 7. Again, increase the weight by about 5%. On the final set, you should be within two or three reps of failure.

Think of the first four weeks as a warm-up. Things will start to get serious from here on out!

Weeks 5 – 16 (progressive overload)

From week five onwards you’ll aim for an RPE of seven or eight.

Your mind-muscle connection should have improved, and you’re now ready to start pushing yourself.

Here is how the next stage might look:

Week 5:

Add 5% to week four’s load. Let’s say you’re now loading up the barbell with 135 lbs (60 kg) for the bench press.

  • Set 1: 6 reps (RPE 7 – you could have done another three reps before hitting failure)
  • Set 2: 6 reps (RPE 7 – as above)
  • Set 3: 6 reps (RPE 8 – only two reps left in the tank)
  • Set 4: 6 reps (RPE 8/9 – you’re at your limit, so will stop a rep early on your next set)
  • Set 5: 5 reps (RPE 8 – as above)

Total volume = 135 kg x 29 = 3,915 lbs

Week 6:

Keep the weight at 135 lbs (because you did not complete all reps).

  • Set 1: 6 reps (RPE 6 – you could have done another four reps before hitting failure)
  • Set 2: 6 reps (RPE 6)
  • Set 3: 6 reps (RPE 7)
  • Set 4: 6 reps (RPE 8)
  • Set 5: 6 reps (RPE 9)

Total volume = 135 lbs x 30 = 4,050 lbs

Week 7:

Add 5 lbs to the bar (about 4%) 140 lbs

  • Set 1: 6 reps (RPE 6 – you could have done another four reps before hitting failure)
  • Set 2: 6 reps (RPE 7 – you’re within three reps of failure)
  • Set 3: 6 reps (RPE 8 – only two reps left in the tank)
  • Set 4: 6 reps (RPE 8/9 – getting close to failure here, so cut a rep from the next set)
  • Set 5: 5 reps (RPE 8 – as above)

Total volume = 140 lbs x 29 = 4,060 lbs

Your progression at this stage should be linear. This means that you will add weight to the bar each week, or increase your reps.

More advanced lifters need to periodize their training, however, this is not necessary for beginners or lifters returning to the game. Periodization includes deload or rest weeks, and requires more advanced scheduling.

At the start of your weight lifting journey, there is no need to overcomplicate things. You’ll probably come across all kinds of videos and articles about changing up your routine to keep your muscles “guessing” but this is really not required.

The upper body workout: exercises, reps, sets, and rest

Bench Press Upper Body Workout


Barbell bench press

The first exercise in the upper body strength workout is the barbell bench press.

This compound upper body exercise is an impressive move to pack size on your shoulders, chest, and triceps.

As you get stronger, you will be able to lift more on high-volume workout days where muscle hypertrophy is the primary goal.

Ideally, you should have a barbell, weight bench, power rack, and some weight plates. It is also fine to use dumbbells for this but remember you won’t be able to lift as heavy.

  • Sets: 5
  • Reps: 4-6
  • Rest: 2-3 minutes

Barbell Row Upper Body Workout


Barbell row

The second exercise is the barbell row.

It is a great back exercise and an excellent way of splitting the routine. You will have hit shoulders in the first exercise, so this provides a little break before hitting them again with the overhead shoulder press.

If you like, you can swap this move out for a row of your choice. During my second recomposition, I did the seated cable row and still had great results.

  • Sets: 4
  • Reps: 6-8
  • Rest: 2-3 minutes

Overhead press Upper Body Strength workout


Overhead shoulder press

Serratus Anterior Muscles - Anatomy Muscles

Serratus Anterior Muscles

The final exercise in this upper body strength workout is the overhead shoulder press. This version is the strict press (sometimes called the military press).

It is a brilliant shoulder exercise and also a fantastic way to work your serratus anterior.

  • Sets: 5
  • Reps: 4-6
  • Rest: 2-3 minutes

Benefits of this upper body routine

  • Build upper body strength.
  • Get in and out of the gym in less than an hour (including warm-ups).
  • Proven to build mass.
  • Easy enough for beginners to try.
  • No need to worry about isolation and accessory moves.

Robin Young

Robin Young

Robin is the founder and CEO of Fitness Savvy.As a freelance writer, he has written for publications such as Muscle & Strength, Sparkpeople, Inquisitr and many more. When he's not collating product reviews or working directly on improving the website, he is creating innovative content for the website's blog and Fitness Savvy YouTube channel

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