Looking for the Old Website?

If you are member of the old Jillian Michaels website:

Please use this link to login:

Old Website Login

Old Website Help

How to Build a Big Upper Body

by Jen Weir Google

About Jen Weir

Jen Weir writes for several websites, specializing in the health and fitness field. She holds a Bachelor of Science in exercise science from Montana State University, is an NSCA-certified strength and conditioning specialist and maintains a personal trainer certification from the American College of Sports Medicine.


A big upper body is common among body builders and many athletes. A wide back and large arm, chest and shoulder muscles are a source of power and strength. In order to build a big upper body, you must build the muscles that constitute that part of your body. Strategic strength-training exercises and adequate nutrition are the keys to building a big upper body.

Step 1

Use the bench press to build your pectoral muscles. Lie face up on a horizontal bench, with your buttocks on the bench and your feet flat on the ground. Grasp the barbell with an overhand grip wider than shoulder-width. Inhale and lower the bar to your chest with a controlled movement. Push the bar away from your body by extending your arms. Exhale at the end of the effort. This exercise may also be performed on an inclined or declined bench or with dumbbells.

Step 2

Build your shoulder muscles and triceps with seated dumbbell presses. Sit on a bench with your back straight. Hold a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder level with an overhand grip, or your palms facing away from you. Inhale and extend your arms vertically. Exhale at the end of the movement then slowly lower the weights back to the starting position. This exercise may also be performed with a barbell.

Step 3

Perform upright rows to build your shoulders, biceps and trapezius muscles. Stand with your legs slightly apart and your back straight. Grasp the barbell with an overhand grip slightly wider than shoulder width. Begin with the bar resting against your thighs. Inhale and pull the barbell up along your body to your chin, keeping your elbows as high as possible. Lower the bar in a controlled manner without abrupt movements. Exhale at the end of movement.

Step 4

Utilize a lat pull-down machine to build the bulk of your back. Sit facing the machine with your legs positioned under the pads. Grip the bar with a wide overhand grip. Inhale and pull the bar down to your sternal notch while puffing out your chest and pulling your elbows back. Exhale at the end of the movement.

Step 5

Practice bent over rows to build your back, shoulders and arms. Stand with your legs slightly bent. Grasp the barbell with an overhand grip and your hands wider than shoulder-width apart. With your back straight, lean forward 45 degrees at your waist so that the bar is level with your knees. Inhale and hold your breath as you contract your core and pull the bar up to your chest. Carefully return to the initial position and exhale. Never round your back during this exercise.

Step 6

Consume a nutritious diet and increase your caloric intake. A healthy diet is vital to muscle growth. Lean sources of protein and fresh fruits and vegetables are ideal. The American College of Sports Medicine suggests that for weight gain to occur, caloric consumption should increase 400 to 500 calories per day. This can be accomplished by increasing portion sizes at meals, consuming more nutrient-rich, energy-dense foods, and snacking between meals.

Items you will need

  • Barbell
  • Plate weights
  • Exercise bench
  • Dumbbell
  • Lat pull-down machine


  • The American College of Sports Medicine recommends using 70 to 85 percent of your one-repetition max weight for eight to 12 repetitions of each exercise to build the muscles in your upper body.
  • Perform each exercise two to three nonconsecutive days per week, resting at least 24 hours between each workout.


  • Avoid injury by using slow, controlled movements.
  • Always use a spotter when training to avoid accidents and injuries.

References (2)

  • ACSM's Resources for the Personal Trainer, Second Edition; Nicki Anderson, et al.; 2007
  • Strength Training Anatomy, Second Edition; Frederic Delavier; 2006

Photo Credits:

  • Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images

This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.