5 upper body exercises for stronger arms

Everyone loves a good upper body session, right? Getting to do all of the benching and pull ups that you want until you can’t touch your shoulders anymore. Oops…. I just mentioned 2 exercises already that you should be doing, but that’s alright because you probably already know about benching and pull ups anyways. With this blog I want to talk to you about some of the lesser-known movements that I think are great for overall strength development in the upper body. Like I said, we are not talking about benching and pull ups but we’re also not talking about bicep curls and triceps extensions.

Biceps curls and triceps extensions are both great accessory movements that you can do to target those smaller muscle groups. The problem with these 2 movements is that they will never lift a heavy load that is needed to make them significantly stronger. With a compound lift like a bench-press your triceps will be used as well and way more muscle fibers need to be recruited to get that movement done. Essentially what I am saying here is; focus on your big/ compound lift* first, then maybe worry about spending some time on things like curls and extensions.

*Compound lifts: a lift (like a bench press) where multiple muscle groups are used to get the movement done.

So, what are these movements that I am talking about?

Pendlay row

If you have been following for a while now, you know I like my Pendlay rows. It’s a slight variation of the good old bent over row, but that slight variation is enough to put it in its own category. With this movement the range of motion is as big as it can get which means the most amount of use out of the muscles. On top of this, you’re moving the weight from a dead point every single time, so there’s no leveraging the momentum here.


Like the pendlay row, the Z-press doesn’t use any momentum or strength from the legs. By sitting down on the ground with the legs straight you take any power away from the legs. This movement is so great to focus on just building pure pressing strength from the shoulders and arms.

Ring rows

Rings are always a great tool to use because they challenge the balance and coordination of your muscles. If the coordination in your muscles improves, it will take you less energy to do the lift, in turn that means you will be able to lift more weight.

With the ring row, you move yourself towards the rings rather than the other way around (like the pendlay row). This one is especially great if you’re strong with weighted movements like the pendlay row, but your strength to bodyweight ratio is lacking. Spending more time doing tough bodyweight movements might just help you out here.

Ring rows tend to be done at a high rep count which is why they don’t work for strength gains, UNLESS you make it that hard on yourself that you’re able to squeeze out 8 or less reps.

Inverted barbell rows

The ring row and inverted row might look very similar but if you have done both of them before, you will know that they feel completely different. I would not advice doing these on the same day, but both have their place in a balanced program. Just like the ring row, make sure we keep ourselves from using the hips for momentum and we want to stay south of the 10-rep mark. Make it challenging, add some weight or push your feet further forward to increase the difficulty.

Negative pull ups

This one is for all of you who can’t do more than one or maybe any pull ups. This is how I worked my way up to getting my first pull up as well. I know I kind of cheated right here by putting a different pull up variation in there but this could almost be in a completely different category because of the way it needs to be executed.

For this to be successful, you need to be able to support yourself while hanging with your chin over the bar, at least for a split second. If you’re not able to support yourself, you will drop straight away and the movement is gone. When you support yourself for just a second, make sure to pull your shoulders and lats as tight as possible and then lower yourself down to full extension in 5-10 seconds. This is not a high-volume exercise!

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