Building Upper Body Strength for Women

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People want to be strong.

Every day, I work with someone that is striving to lift more weight in order to build strength.

Women are no different than men in this regard. In general, women tend to struggle with upper body strength.

I used to go to a Work Out World until I started working in the field and that place just breeds stereotypes.

Colorful light weights, tons of machines, and a women’s only section in their locker room. There was literally a section of machines in the ladies locker room, hidden away from the world.

On one side of the equation, I can see why. There was a lot of intimidation on the surface. A lot of big and strong people would go to the gym and move some impressive amounts of weight.

This is a problem when it becomes a deterrent to reaching strength goals.

Women who want to increase their upper body strength need to actually lift weights. I am lucky because I coach adult classes in a small group setting. This allows for less gymtimidation and for some female clients to out-lift their male counterparts.

There are some strategies I employ that help build real upper body strength.

1. Stick to the big rocks

Keeping a focus on the main exercises is essential to building upper body strength. Utilizing bench presses, bodyweight rows, pushups, chin-ups/pull-ups, etc. actually makes it simple to build upper body strength.


People just need to stick to these lifts, continue training with them and their strength will increase in no time.

These exercises will get you the most bang for your buck and should be utilized most often.

2. Don’t train like a body builder

Body builders incorporate a lot of single joint, small muscle exercises because they need to maximize hypertrophy in their body.

The average woman is not a body builder and has no business doing lateral raises, bicep curls, or rear delt flies. These are old school exercises that have been given more importance than they deserve.


For people that want to get strong and look good, they need to stick to compound lifts like the ones I lifted above.

3. Put some weight on the bar

There is no need to be afraid of putting weight on the bar.

Adding weight to the bar provides overload for the body and overload is what creates progress.

Your body adapts to the demands put on it and weight provides a new demand. Otherwise, progress ceases and we are left to wonder what happened.

This is actually one way women become more successful than men in training. They are far less concerned with weight, add it slowly, and reap the benefits of good training. Guys on the other hand load the bar too quickly, miss all of their lifts, and then wonder why their bench hasn’t gotten better.

Weight on the bar is not a bad thing; it is a powerful sign of progress.


Sorry that had to be in all caps.

I find it hard to believe that we are still having this debate today. Actually sometimes its not even a debate with me. I have had female clients (on more than one occasion) tell me that they are concerned with getting “bulky.” When I try to explain why they cannot physically become bulky on a good diet, they respond with “I bulk up really easily.”

Here is the deal with “bulking up”: Building strength increases the size of the muscle, but not in the way that will make someone sprout into Arnold.

Men are able to put on a lot of muscle mass because of testosterone, genetics, and diet. Women do not nearly have the amount of testosterone in their body that men have, preventing them from slabbing on pounds of muscle.

Women also tend to eat less than men, which makes putting mass on almost impossible.

It might seem like it is easy to look like the giant man on the bench press in the corner, but he did not gain all of that muscle easily.

That being said, anyone that feels as though they are becoming huge from lifting weights needs to address their diet. Strength training should be bringing about more defined musculature; anything else is based on diet.

It might not be easy but building upper body strength is simple.

We need to stick to the main exercises, avoid training the tiny muscles, and add some weight to the bar.

Using 5 lb dumbbells to do shoulder presses is not going to get any kind of progress. We need to challenge ourselves with appropriate loading and difficult exercises.

Soon you will be on your way to becoming the envy of the others doing front raises with pink dumbbells.