Upper body strength: how to improve yours with these 4 exercises

Good upper body strength is important for athletes, particularly triathletes, if they want to perform at their best and protect themselves from injury. Here are four exercises that will help you improve your upper body strength.

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The key to this exercise is to pull yourself forward, keeping your neck and shoulders relaxed (see top image). This will help the lats stay active as it’s easy for them to switch off and leave your upper traps doing all the work. At the top of the row, squeeze your shoulder blades together and slowly lower yourself down. Do this with as much control as possible while keeping the shoulder blades depressed. Example set 4 x 15reps; 60secs rest.


Press ups

A typical upper body exercise that’s great for building strength and endurance. When performing press-ups, watch that your elbows are not directly opposite your shoulders. Try to have them slightly below the joint line as this will take the pressure off your shoulder joints and increase activation of the lats and serratus anterior. If struggling, regress to performing the exercise on your knees or from an incline.

Example set 5 x 6-12 reps depending on strength and let the number of reps be decided by holding good technique.

Pull ups

Pull-ups are one of the hardest body weight exercises to do. To get better at these, consistency and building the reps up slowly is important in managing progression. Mix up the different grips and hand widths, as these variations will help strengthen different muscles in your upper body. If it’s too challenging, use a TRX to mimic the pull-up movement. Sit on the floor, arms stretched and pointing upwards. Depress your shoulder blades, activate your lats and slowly pull yourself up from the floor, relying on your arms – not the legs – to dictate the movement.



This is a tricep-specific exercise. Depending on what’s available, dips work well when performing them on a bench or any apparatus that’s roughly around knee height. But if there’s a calisthenics gym in the park, the two gymnastic parallel bars are a great way to test your strength and technique.
Example set 4 x 3-8 reps (technique dictating number of reps) with 90secs rest. 


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