Men, do you want a chiseled chest and back? Women, maybe you've had problems doing push-ups and just want the strength to do them. Is your posture bad from hunching over a computer all day? It sounds like you could use some upper body strength.
Training the upper body is not only for bodybuilders. Everyone can benefit from conditioning the chest and back. You have a variety of machines to choose from to accomplish this. Two of my favorite exercises are the row and the chest press. Machines are good for beginners and those working out solo because they eliminate the need for a spotter. It can be scary to be caught underneath a loaded bar you can't lift.
When training the upper body it is important to keep the muscles balanced by working the chest and back evenly. Dominant chest muscles can lead to rounding the shoulders forward and bad posture. Working the back, while stretching the chest, can improve posture over time.
Doing these two exercises will work most of the upper body muscles. The primary muscles when doing the chest press are the pectorals. The secondary muscles are the triceps (behind the arm) and the anterior deltoid (front of the shoulder). The primary muscles used when doing the row are the latissimus dorsi (middle back), trapezius (upper back), and posterior deltoid (rear shoulder). The secondary muscles used are the biceps (front of the arm).
Some women may be concerned that if they work their upper body they will build bulky muscles. This is not the case. Women do increase their muscle mass as they train, but if they are not on an aggressive build program, they won't develop large muscles.
Start position... Sit in the machine with the feet firmly against the foot plates. The back should be straight and the core activated. Hold the hand grips with the arms extended.
Action... Pull the handles toward you. Squeeze the shoulder blades together at the end of the row. Slowly release to the starting position. Be careful to keep the back straight and not swing during the movement. Do 10-20 repetitions for 3-4 sets. Most row machines have multiple hand grips to allow for variations in training. In choosing the resistance level, select a weight that allows you to complete your repetition range with proper form.
Start position... Sit in the machine with the feet planted on the floor. (On machines with foot plates, place your feet firmly on the plate.) Adjust the seat so the bar is over the middle of the chest. Keep the wrists straight when gripping the bar. Be careful not to let them bend. Activate the core by drawing the tummy in.
Action... Push the bar forward until your arms are straight. Then return the bar to the starting position. Do not let the back arch during the exercise. Do 10-20 repetitions for 3-4 sets. Vary the exercise by altering the tempo of the movement. Count five seconds during the push and the release.
Exercising the chest and back once a week will help to increase strength by working most of the muscles in the upper body. Ask a trainer at your gym if you're unsure about form or repetition ranges.
Chris Huth is a Las Vegas trainer. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Before beginning any exercise program, consult your physician.