How To Tone Your Upper Body

A common question we receive is what is the best way to tone your upper body?

Usually the first exercises people tend to choose are isolation exercises like:

– Biceps curls
– Lateral raises
– Front raises
– Pec fly

These exercises are great as supplementary exercises for the end of your workouts.

But they are not ideal to base the majority of your training around.

If anything, isolation exercises should comprise of no more than 20% of your training.

The majority of your exercise selection should be multi-joint movements where you are using multiple muscle groups at one time. These are called COMPOUND exercises.

Curls work the biceps…

Barbell rows work the Lats, Trapezius, Lower Back, Rear Deltoids AND the biceps!

So when we’re looking for optimal results for your body, is it best to hit one muscle at a time or get more bang for your buck with compound exercises and hit 3-6 muscle groups at once.

The latter would be the better choice.

So, what is the best exercise to tone up/build the upper body?

You could pretty much choose any big PUSH or PULL exercise and you wouldn’t be wrong.

For this post we’re going to talk about one of our favourite upper body exercises;


The OHP is a phenomenal exercise for activating a lot of muscles in the upper body.

It’s the ultimate wo/man maker!

Muscles worked:
– Deltoids (shoulders)
– Triceps
– Pectorals (chest)
– Upper back
– Lower back
– Core/abdominal muscles
– And pretty much the entire lower body to stabilise

We’re talking about the STANDING overhead press here too. Not those sissy sitting down ones.

Don’t get me wrong, seated presses are also great exercises which we also perform at RTB with our members. Seated dumbbell presses can also be a great alternative if your gym doesn’t have barbells.

BUT… If you have access to a barbell, use it!

Men – You’ll build a great frame, become broader, fill out T-shirts and overall LOOK STRONGER!
Women – You’ll tone up your shoulders and arms and notice the difference in how you feel in that little black dress or bikini.

It’s important to remember:

GETTING TONED is nothing more than simply reducing your body fat and building lean muscle.

Being toned is basically making the muscle more visible. We do this by losing the fat and shaping the muscle.

So if you want toned arms, you need to get those guns working.

Here’s 3 quick points to summarize:

– No amount of cardio will give you tone.
– You cannot get toned without strength training.
– No one ever got in great shape from just doing isolation exercises.

Check out our Standing Overhead Press demonstration below:

NOTE: It’s important you DON’T USE YOUR LEGS. If you start using your legs to generate momentum this turns into an exercise called a PUSH PRESS. The push press is a completely different movement.

I see so many people do the Standing Overhead Press where they keep it strict through reps 1-4, then slowly start using more and more momentum from their legs to jerk the weight up through reps 5-10.

They end up doing half strict reps and half push press.

To avoid any temptation of doing this, make sure your legs are hip width apart and you contract (tense up) your bum and thighs. This gives you a stable foundation whilst you’re pressing and stops you from using momentum.

Ignore people who tell you to keep your knees bent, this is WRONG!

Sets: 3-5
Reps: 4-6
Increase weight minimally only when you can achieve 3-5 sets of 6 reps with good form and NO MOMENTUM!

Owner of Raise The Bar Liverpool


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