The Ultimate 2021 Personal Trainer Sacramento Guide to Upper Body Workouts

Precise and focused upper body training is vital to building a strong, muscular, and fit body.  This personal trainer Sacramento guide is perfect to improve upper body strength, boost athletic performance, and make daily tasks easier.   

As Sacramento’s premier personal trainer, taking a comprehensive approach to fitness will deliver long-lasting results.  This article will focus on the best compound exercises for building a strong and muscular upper body and strategies to get the most out of your workouts.  

Our results-based methodology for personal training will ensure you’re maximizing gym time to build muscle and fitness faster than ever.  

How to Train Upper Body Like A Personal Trainer Sacramento

Resistance training

Resistance training is essential to building muscle and improving overall fitness.  Allocating a significant amount of workout time toward improving your ability to move external weight or your bodyweight against gravity is the best way to increase strength and build muscle.   

Resistance training is any exercise that causes muscles to contract against an external resistance.  You can expect to see increases strength, power, muscle gain, and endurance from these efforts.  Resistance training can be performed using free weights, machines, or using your body weight.  

Free weights and bodyweight movements are optimal because they challenge a greater range of motion, work joint stabilizing muscles, balance, and coordination.  Free weights and bodyweight training have the best carryover to everyday living and sport.  Machines use a fixed range of motion that requires minimal stabilization.

As a top personal trainer in Sacramento, each client’s needs are met through careful planning and personalized workout programming.  Exercise selection is critical to maximizing gains, and will exercise progressions will be selected based on fitness level.  

Compound Pushing and Pulling Movement Patterns

Compound exercises offer the biggest bang for your buck because they work many muscles and have fantastic carryover to real-world tasks.  Compound exercises are the best choice for rapid and functional gains in strength and power.  

Upper body resistance-based exercises fall into two groups:

  1. Pushing
  2. Pulling

Pushing exercises function to condition the anterior or front of the body, while pulling trains the muscles on the posterior or back of the body. It’s essential to balance pushing and pulling to keep the shoulders healthy and reinforce postural muscles.  

Pushing and pulling have two distinct patterns, vertical and horizontal:

  • Pushing
    • Vertical pushing
      • Overhead Press
      • Bodyweight Pike Press-Ups
      • Handstand Push-Ups
    • Horizontal pushing
      • Push-Ups (and variations)
      • Bench Press (flat, incline, decline)
  • Pulling
    • Vertical pulling
      • Pull-Ups
      • Chin-Ups
    • Horizontal pulling
      • Dumbbell Rows
      • Inverted Rows

We’ll go into more detail about a few of these exercises further down. 

Clearly defining pushing and pulling exercise options will help guide you design a weekly training schedule.  A comprehensive approach to training the upper body should include aspects of each movement pattern category to maximize muscle gain, rest, and recovery, mitigate injury and improve performance.  

Why You Need to Train the Upper Body

Upper body training is crucial for thriving with everyday tasks and athletic performance.  A strong upper body is essential for lifting and carrying heavy objects, which helps avoid straining the lower back muscles.  Muscles like the rotator cuff, deltoids, biceps, triceps, and pectoralis can improve grip, grasp, and clench abilities, enhance fine motor skills, establish a full range of motion, build healthy shoulders and help with posture.  

Building a strong back is critical for establishing good posture.  Improving posture can reduce stress, boost confidence, enhance productivity at work and open up the airways for breathing.  Upper body resistance training can also promote heart health.  

Properly strengthening the upper body is a proactive measure to mitigate injury.  

Exercise Selection for Training the Upper Body 

At Team Iron Mind and Bodies, the focus is on gradually improving performance using practical exercises to build a strong and muscular upper body.  Each of these exercises is time-tested and significant for packing on muscle and improving fitness.  


Push-ups are one of the most hailed bodyweight exercises of all time and have been used for centuries to build strong and capable bodies.  Push-ups are classified as an upper-body pushing movement pattern and incorporate a horizontal pushing motion.  The pressing action of push-ups is different than a vertical pressing motion, such as an overhead press.  

The push-up mainly works the muscles of the chest, shoulders, arms, and torso. More specifically, push-ups are fantastic for building the pectoralis major, triceps brachii, anterior deltoid, and rectus abdominis.

Although push-ups are a fantastic choice for building the chest and arms, every repetition requires a significant contribution from the core to stabilize the movement.

Overhead Press

Pressing weight overhead is considered a vertical press and will challenge the pectorals, deltoids, triceps, and trapezius muscles.  Overhead pressing can be performing in a seated, kneeling, or standing position.  

Standing while pressing overhead works the core and lower back muscles to stabilize and maintain balance.  Pressing overhead while seated focused the work on the shoulders and triceps, less stress to the core. 

Adequate shoulder mobility is a concern for performing vertical pressing safely.  If shoulder mobility is lacking, landmine angled presses can be substituted to be forgiving  


Pull-ups are a closed kinetic chain exercise, part of the vertical pulling movement pattern family. 

You’ll start in a dead hand position, palms turned away from the face, pulling yourself up to the bar, then lowering yourself back to the start position.  Pull-ups, similar to chin-ups, use a vertical motion.  

Pull-ups are capable of strengthening the back, arms, shoulder girdle, and forearm muscles. Due to hand position differences, pull-ups tend to be a more strenuous exercise.  Pull-ups require minimal equipment and can be performed anywhere there’s an overhead bar or tree branch.  

Athletes have long used pull-ups to build functional upper body strength, endurance, and hypertrophy.


Chin-ups are a vertical pulling movement pattern.  From a dead hang with straight arms, the motion involves vertical translation upward until the chin rises above the hands, reversing the action back to the start position.  

The most distinguishing feature of the chin-up is the hand position and elbow flexion.  

Hands are fixed on an overhead bar in a supinated position or palms toward the face.  The underhand grip works the biceps to a greater degree.  

Chin-ups work a lot of muscles, most notably:

  • Biceps
  • Lats
  • Rear Deltoids
  • Infraspinatus
  • Middle and Lower Trapezius
  • Teres Major
  • Rhomboids

Indirectly, chin-ups also condition the pecs, abdominals, and forearms.  Maintaining a rigid body position throughout the extensive range of motion requires a significant contribution by the abdominals. You’ll feel this after a few sets.    

Chin-ups are fantastic for improving grip strength and endurance.  Any exercise that involves supporting your bodyweight beneath a bar is going to build grip performance over time.  

Bench Supported Rows

Rows are a time-tested horizontal pulling movement pattern that builds the large muscles of the back and helps to improve posture.  Rows develop the postural muscles that help to retract the shoulder blades.  These muscles include the rhomboids and posterior deltoids. 

Bench supported rows are a unilateral exercise that trains one side of the body at a time.  During each effort, the stabilizing muscles of the torso go into overdrive.  Single-arm exercises challenge the core muscles, increase the workload since you’re doubling the exertion time, and do an excellent job at evening out muscular imbalances.  Rows also build grip, which translates well into other exercises such as deadlifts, pull-ups, and Olympic lifts like cleans and snatches.  

Inverted Rows

Inverted rows (sometimes referred to as body rows) are a functional back builder and one of the posterior chain’s most effective total-body pulling movements.  Inverted rows are a resourceful pulling exercise that can be performed just about anywhere.  

This style of row puts your body in a horizontal position, pulling yourself up and down.  Think of inverted rows as being “reverse push-ups.”  The grip is either overhand or parallel.  A suspension trainer, gymnastics rings, horizontal bar on a squat rack, or Smith Machine are good options for training inverted rows.  

Reps and Sets

After learning the exercise technique, the next big question is, “how many sets and reps should I do?” Reps and sets will depend on your current fitness level, goals, and resources.  

Endurance:  Less weight, more reps and sets (volume), adequate rest

Strength:  More weight, fewer reps, and sets, good rest

Metabolic conditioning:  Light/medium weight, varying reps and set, little to no rest

Muscle building:  Challenging weight, more time under tension, adequate rest

For most people, 3-5 sets of 5-8 repetitions in each workout is a sweet spot that creates a great training stimulus.  

Making progress with resistance training requires a sound stimulus, followed by time to rest and recover.  Refrain from doing performing the same movements every day at a high intensity.  This is where an understanding of how and when to implement pushing and pulling exercise variations comes in.  

Results-Based Personal Training in Sacramento

Finding a personalized and results-focused approach to building muscle and fitness is often overwhelming and confusing.  Team Iron Bodies and Minds personal training removes the guesswork while delivering results.  

If you found the exercises and muscle gaining strategies outlined in this article valuable, get in touch with Sacramento’s expert personal trainer for a consultation. We offer a free week of in-person training, grab a free personal training week!