Basic Strength Training | My Upper Body Routine

by Nicole
Girls who lift weights

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Effective Upper Body Workout

When it comes to strength training, I appreciate variety but I usually stick to the basics, because they WORK. As a physical therapist, my clients trust me to select the appropriate exercises to heal and improve their functionality. I understand exercise prescription and would like to share that knowledge with you. That being said, everyone is different and every body responds differently to exercise so please use research and some trial and error to find the best routine for yourself. Please note that this is NOT personalized medical advice.

What are Split Days

There are multiple viewpoints on how to eat healthy and what diets to adhere to. Similarly, there is a lot of conflicting evidence out there on how to strength train and which regiment to follow. Some things to consider with strength training are age, training background, goals, and past/present injuries. Below, I am going to show you a simple, yet effective arm routine that can be done from the comfort of your own home. The only equipment needed is a set of heavy dumbbells which you can purchase here

My routine typically consists of split days. This means I work my major leg muscles 2 days a week, upper body/arms 2 days a week. For example in a 7 day week it may look like this arm day, leg day, rest, arm day, leg day, cardio, rest. Essentially an upper body/lower body split simply alternates lower body workouts from upper body workouts. Split days enable you to have recovery and rest for major muscles groups. I also believe incorporating at least 30 minutes of cardio is important and therefore I run or cycle 4-5 days a week.

Although I typically practice upper/lower body split days another variation of a split could be “push, pull, leg” days. In that case your weekly schedule may look something like this: push, pull, legs, rest, push, pull, legs. On push day you would want to work chest muscles, shoulders, and triceps. On pull day the focus would be on back and biceps. 

 With split days, cardio, mobility, and abs can all be interspersed within the program. As you can see below in the sample schedule, I always incorporate at least 4 days of cardio. While I’m lifting I am aware of engaging or “bracing the core” as this is important for proper form. Yoga is a wonderful form of mobility and as you can see below, I have that as an option 2 of the days in my schedule. Check out my video below on why mobility matters!

Sample Weekly Exercise Schedule

Monday – 45 minute arm, 30 minute run

Tuesday – 45 minute legs

Wednesday – Long run or Yoga

Thursday – 45 minute arms, 30 minute run

Friday – 45 minute legs 

Saturday – Long run or Yoga

Sunday – Rest day 


I don’t always adhere to this exact routine, but you get the idea now of what a split day schedule looks like. If you are just beginning, you may not want to incorporate 4-5 days of cardio, that is okay. A beginner schedule might look something like this: 


Monday – 30 minute arm, 1 mile run, walk, or bike 

Tuesday – 45 minute legs

Wednesday – Rest day  

Thursday – 30 minute legs, 1 mile run, walk, or bike 

Friday – 45 minute arm 

Saturday – 2 mile walk/run 

Sunday – Rest day 


I’ll be honest, I am really motivated to exercise but I am not too strict with myself. I know I will get the work done but I don’t like to set expectations for myself that I may not be able to meet. I set small, reasonable goals for myself and allow “rest day(s)” to be flexible. That way there, I never get too upset with myself.

1. Double Arm Row (Pull)
Row Exercise
2. Traditional Push Up (Push)
3. Chest Press (Push)
4. Lunging Row (Pull)
Lunge Row
5. Diamond Push Up (Push)
Push Up Variation
6. Pec Fly (Pull)
7. Bicep Curl (pull)
8. Tricep Extension (push)
Tricep Extension

Don't Skip Mobility!

Read my post about why mobility matters here. Try to save at least 10 minutes for mobility prior to initiating an exercise routine. If that means you need to take off 10 minutes from your routine then do it. You risk injury if you skip out on mobility which includes stretching and foam rolling. 

Exercise Prescription

Using a heavy weight, I would suggest 3 sets of 8-12 reps. 

Use what we call the RPE scale or, rate of perceived exertion. Mike Tuchscherer, author of The Reactive Training Manual, uses the following RPE model when training healthy individuals:

  • 10: maximal effort, no additional reps could be completed
  • 9: very difficult but could complete 1 additional reps if required
  • 8: weight too heavy to move fast but could complete 2-4 additional reps if needed
  • 7: with application of maximal force, weight can move quickly and with some ease
  • 6: light speed work
  • 5: warm up weight
  • 4: “recovery weight”
  • <4 not important, exercise should not be this easy 

PLEASE listen to your body and use this chart to help determine how many reps to complete. I suggest you be around an 8 on the RPE scale when determining how many reps to complete. It should feel hard and you should push your muscles to fatigue. That is the only way to get noticeable changes in the muscle.

Products I Love

  • Dumbbell Starter Kit (3 sets of light weights) – provides great variety so that you’re not restricted to one weight. There will be many exercises that you’ll want a heavier weight for (like bicep curls) and exercises like pec fly which would be better to start lighter. Purchase this kit here.
  • Heavier set of weights – these have a vinyl covering and are much more comfortable than using metal. It is good to have 1 pair of heavier weights for bicep curls and rows. Purchase the weights here
  • Exercise Ball – I would suggest purchasing this ball in a large or extra large size so you can plank on it, sit on it, or complete chest press and fly exercises on it. Purchase the ball here

Please note as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Thank you in advance & I hope you enjoy these products as much as I do!

Row Exercise

I like to make strength training fun. As always, feel free to ask any questions below or contact me directly. On my instagram @ahealthyprofit you will find a variety of exercise videos, photos, and info similar to this. Please like, follow, and subscribe! 



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