The road to sculpting a lean upper body doesn’t always require a gym membership or fancy equipment. In fact, some of the most effective exercises can be performed using just your body weight. Whether you’re a tenured gym-goer or a beginner who’s looking to kickstart your fitness journey, this exercise guide unveils my top 10 bodyweight exercises to build a lean, toned upper body.

When the gym doors are shut, accessibility is limited, or your schedule may leave little room for exercise during travels. That’s why incorporating a bodyweight workout proves to be invaluable. It’s the perfect solution to maintain consistency in your fitness routine and bring you closer to your fitness goals. In an ideal scenario, carrying dumbbells everywhere would be convenient, but reality doesn’t always align with perfection. So, when the need arises to fit in a workout—or perhaps you simply lean toward the effectiveness of bodyweight exercises—what’s your strategy?

I took the lessons I’ve learned over the last decade of fitness coaching to guide you through these meticulously selected bodyweight exercises to sculpt a lean upper body. Every muscle is given its due attention in this lineup, aiming to target each aspect for a polished physique. You’ll be targeting everything from the waist up—pecs, shoulders, triceps, biceps, and core—as you knock out sets and reps of these bodyweight exercises. While there might be instances where creativity is key in your workouts, let me guide you in the right direction to get you kickstarted!

Keep reading to learn more, and when you’re done working out, be sure to read up on these 11 Strength Exercises To Regain Muscle Mass as You Age.


illustration of pushups

Pushups are arguably the best bodyweight compound exercise you can do to enhance strength and muscle size in your upper body. They target your pecs, shoulders, triceps, and core, creating an effective movement to add to your exercise repertoire. Not only are they a great movement due to their effectiveness, but I love programming them even more due to the number of variations you can use to modify the movement.

To knock out reps of pushups, position your hands beneath your shoulders, and start in a plank position, ensuring your arms are straight. Squeeze your core, and lower your body close to the ground, pause, then push back up. Repeat for desired sets and reps, prioritizing form. Complete three to four sets of 12 to 15 reps. For a bonus, perform your last set to failure.

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Renegade Rows

bodyweight renegade row

This exercise allows you to target your lats, upper back, and biceps. Renegade rows, like many other bodyweight exercises, require you to move dynamically while engaging the core—capturing multiple benefits from a single movement.

Start in a plank position with your hands under your shoulders. Lift one hand, pulling your elbow to the ceiling in a strong rowing motion, while balancing on the other arm. Alternate sides, maintaining stability and squeezing your core. Perform renegade rows for three sets of 10 to 15 reps per side.

Pike Press

The pike press is an excellent compound/bodyweight exercise to develop a lean upper body. It’s hands-down the best option for improving pressing strength and sculpting your delts. This exercise will target your shoulders, triceps, and abs while tossing in the benefit of improving t-spine mobility.

To perform a pike press, start in a downward dog position with your hands slightly wider than your shoulders. Lift your hips slightly higher while keeping your arms and legs straight. Shift your weight onto your shoulders, lowering your head toward the ground. Press back, engaging your abs the whole time. Look to complete three sets of eight to 12 reps. To make the pike press more challenging, use slow tempos in the lowering phase of the exercise.

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Yoga Pushup

pushups illustration

This exercise combines upper-body strength with sculpting effects by seamlessly blending pushups and downward dogs. The dynamic combination targets upper-body muscles from diverse angles, promoting a well-rounded and sculpted physique. Take your time, and find a flow as you move through each position.

To perform a yoga pushup, start in a plank position, and inhale as you lower into a pushup. Next, exhale as you push through your hands and drive yourself into a down-dog position. Inhale, returning to plank. Perform three sets of five to eight reps for the yoga pushup. Opting for fewer reps is advisable, given the intensity of combining two movements into one cohesive exercise.

Tricep Dips

woman doing tricep dips

Tricep dips effectively engage all three tricep heads, contributing to the development of lean and defined upper arms. Enhance the challenge of this exercise by incorporating tempos and pauses, increasing the intensity of your workout for optimal results.

Begin by placing your hands on a stable surface (chair, couch, or even the floor) with your fingers forward. Extend your legs, keeping a slight knee bend, and place your heels on the ground. Lower your body by bending your elbows until your upper arms are parallel to the ground. Push through your palms to extend your arms fully, squeezing your triceps at the top. Maintain an upright position, avoid shrugging shoulders, and focus on controlled reps. Modify by bending your knees more if needed. Complete three to four sets of 12 to 15 reps. If you intend to use tempos or pauses, decrease the reps to eight to 12.

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Tricep Extensions

Take your upper arm workout to the next level with bodyweight tricep extensions—a slightly more advanced alternative to tricep dips. This challenging exercise not only intensifies your strength training but also offers a shoulder-friendly option. Get ready to sculpt and define your triceps.

Execute bodyweight tricep extensions by placing your hands shoulder-width apart, fingers forward out in front of you. Lower by bending your elbows. Push through your palms to fully extend your arms. Maintain a straight body, and engage your core. Perform controlled movements for the desired reps. This advanced exercise efficiently targets and sculpts the triceps, requiring no extra equipment. Aim to perform two to three sets of eight to 15 reps.

Plank with Shoulder Taps

plank shoulder taps

Here’s another great one-two punch to add to your bodyweight workouts. Planks with shoulder taps offer a dynamic core workout, simultaneously enhancing shoulder strength and stability while building strong, tight abs. This exercise combines the stability of a plank with the challenge of resisting side-to-side movement during the shoulder taps. Balancing on one arm further demands significant shoulder stability, making it an outstanding and comprehensive exercise for overall core strength and control.

Perform planks with shoulder taps by starting in a plank position with your hands beneath your shoulders. Lift one hand, tap the opposite shoulder, and return to the starting position. Repeat with the other hand, alternating taps. Engage your core, maintain stability, and perform controlled movements for the desired reps. Knock out three sets of 10 to 12 reps each, or switch things up and perform for three sets of 20 to 30 seconds.

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Rotating T Plank

Nothing encapsulates a lean upper body more than having a defined midsection. To develop this, you need to target all of the muscles in your core. A rotating T plank does just that. You’ll train your obliques and abs in this demanding core exercises aimed at boosting your potential for a lean upper body—serving as an excellent complement for any bodyweight workout. Additionally you’ll target your shoulders and upper back.

Start in a plank positionwith your hands beneath your shoulders. Lift one arm, rotate your torso, and extend the arm toward the ceiling, forming a T shape. Maintain a tight core throughout, squeezing your abs as you rotate. Return to the plank, position and repeat on the other side. Three sets of five to eight reps per side will get the job done.

Plank Up-Downs

up-down plank illustration to melt your gut

Step up your ab game with plank up-downs as you dive into a core workout that moves you through high planks to forearm planks. You’ll feel the burn as you challenge not just your core stability, but also target your upper back, shoulders, and triceps. It’s not just about defined abs; this exercise brings strength to your upper body, making every rep a step toward a sculpted physique.

Start plank up-downs in a high plank, with your hands beneath your shoulders. Lower to a forearm plank one arm at a time and return to the high plank, alternating sides. Keep your abs engaged for stability and execute methodically. Complete to to three sets of eight to 12 reps.

Side Plank with Hip Dips

side plank hip dip

Say goodbye to the usual side plank and welcome a more demanding alternative: the side plank plus hip dips. This ab exercise hones in on the lateral side of your core, helping to develop defined and stable obliques. While many workouts concentrate on the front of your abs, this one breaks the mold. Amp up the intensity by incorporating tempos and pauses to truly challenge yourself.

To execute the side plank with hip dips, begin in a side plank position with your elbow under your shoulder, and stack your feet. Lower your hip in a controlled dip, then push it back up, squeezing your obliques. Focus on maintaining a straight line throughout each rep. Perform two to three sets of 10 to 15 reps per side.

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