The 4 Best Upper-Body Exercises That Aren't Push-Ups

Upper body exercises
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

Push-ups may be a great arm exercise, and two-hour arm workouts are fun if you happen to be a meathead bro (um, like me), but the truth is that cranking out push-ups over and over doesn't appeal to most people.

In fact, for a lot of people, push-ups are just plain boring, and the thought of spending two hours in the gym is something many people abhor. So what should you do?

Well, despite what the internet tells you, there are a number of super-effective upper-body exercises that aren't push-ups, and typically involve minimal equipment. Here are four of the best.


Pull-ups aren't just one of the best upper-body exercises you can do -- they’re one of the best exercises you can do period. They’re excellent at building back, shoulder, and arm strength. They also challenge the core a ton, because you're being forced to keep your body stable as you move through space.

Not strong enough to do a bodyweight pull-up? Don't worry; I've got your back with the very next suggestion.

Inverted rows

One of the first exercises I like to give new clients is the inverted row. It's a scaled-down version of the pull-up that does a great job in working the back, shoulders, and arms. But unlike the pull-up, it can be adapted to any strength level.

A straightforward way to do this movement is with a TRX suspension trainer, but if you don't have one of those available, don't worry. Setting up a barbell at your gym on the lowest setting, or even using a chair, works well.

Chair dips

Push-ups are outstanding at building chest, shoulder, and arm strength, but if you're not at the point where you can knock out push-ups continuously, give chair dips a try. Chair dips are also ideal if you're looking to target your triceps more directly. All you need is a chair (duh) or a sturdy elevated platform that can support your weight.  
They're scalable to all strength levels, work similar muscle groups to the push-up without being quite so difficult, and offer a great change of pace when the push-up just gets plain boring.

Resistance-band overhead press

The overhead press targets the shoulders, but is also an excellent overall exercise. Because not everyone has the necessary equipment to do a heavy overhead press, using a resistance band is a good way to make this move portable. The resistance band will help you build plenty of shoulder and arm strength, plus you can scale the level of resistance you're getting from the band to match your strength level.

These exercises work similar muscle groups to the push-up, but they all train your muscles at various angles, which means a more symmetrical and well-rounded upper body overall. And while the push-up truly is a fantastic upper-body exercise that works the chest, shoulders, and arms, it's by no means your only option.

So if you're tired of thinking you have to do push-ups all day long to get that upper body you've dreamed of, give some fresh exercises a try.

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Tanner Baze is a personal trainer and writer who didn't do push-ups this morning. Follow him @dtbaze.