How to Build Your Upper Body Without Weights

How to Build Your Upper Body Without Weights

There’s no need to throw heavy weights around to get a lean, sculpted upper body. Building muscle does require resistance; however, the method of opposition that you employ doesn’t really matter as long as you are stressing the muscle fibers and allowing proper rest for growth and recovery. The main muscle groups of the upper body -- the pectoralis major on the chest, latissiumus dorsi on the back, deltoids of the shoulders and the upper arm biceps and triceps -- can be developed using body-weight exercises and resistance bands rather than barbells, dumbbells and machines.

Body-Weight Exercises
Your own body weight is a resourceful form of resistance that you can use to effectively build muscle. The key to building muscle when using your body as resistance is to work to failure, which means that you could not perform another repetition with proper form. Common body-weight exercises that target the upper body are pushups, pullups, planks, arm circles and dips. Focus on your form to maximize muscle development. During a pushup, for example, it is common to allow the hips to drop and the shoulders to inch toward the ears; the compromised alignment improperly places stress on your lower back and shoulders and decreases the use of the pectoralis major and triceps. Correct pushup form requires that you maintain one straight line from head to heels, while the shoulders slide down toward your back and the stomach is pulled in toward the lower back.

Resistance Band Exercises
Portable and simple to use, resistance bands are an alternative to weights and provide an efficient form of strength training. The bands are color-coded by resistance levels. Lighter colors, like yellow, usually signify less resistance, green and red are usually medium resistance, and darker colors, such as black, blue and purple, represent heavier resistance. Start with the lighter resistance bands if you have been sedentary for a while. Move on to higher resistance levels when the exercises become too easy. For example, if 12 reps of biceps curls using the yellow resistance band have gone from challenging to simple, then switch to a more difficult band. Constantly stressing your upper body muscles will help to maximize development. All of the major muscle groups in the upper body can be challenged with resistance bands; lat pulldowns work the back, presses for the chest, lateral raises for the shoulders, triceps curls to strengthen the back of the upper arms and biceps curls for the front of the upper arms.

Progression as You Build Strength
Regularly increasing the stress placed on your muscles can help to circumvent a plateau and allow for a continual building of lean muscle mass. Progressions help to accomplish this with body-weight and resistance-band exercises. For example, once you can perform more than 10 repetitions of the basic pushup without fatiguing, increase the difficulty by elevating your legs on a bench or on a stability ball, or lifting one leg into the air, which all increase the stress on your upper body. Sitting on a stability ball or balancing on one leg while performing resistance-band exercises, such as the chest press, lat pulldown or biceps curls, can add a complex element to basic moves. Your body has to work harder to remain stable while you execute the exercises with proper form.

Supersets for Intensity
Supersets are an intensity-boosting training technique that can help to spur muscle growth during any kind of resistance training, including those using body weight and resistance bands. A superset consists of two different exercises performed back to back without resting in between. A common and powerful practice is to perform a superset that targets the same muscle group in an effort to exhaust the muscle. The compound move is executed first, followed by the isolation exercise. Using the chest as an example, a set of pushups would be followed immediately by a set of flys with a resistance band; both sets would be worked to failure. Alternatively you can train opposing muscles back to back, such as a set of triceps dips followed by biceps curls. Perform three to four supersets per muscle group.

Training Logistics
For optimum results, train your full body two times per week. Perform three to four sets of two to three exercises per muscle group in each training session. Allow 48 hours rest before training the same muscle group again. Warm up with five to 10 minutes of cardio exercise at the start of your training session to get the blood and oxygen flowing to your muscles. Spend 10 to 15 minutes stretching at the end of your training session to help with recovery.