Build Upper Body Muscle Fast

by C.J. Murphy, M.F.S. and Joe DeFranco Men’s Fitness

There’s no magical set and rep prescription for building muscle. Or is there? It turns out that when you look at some of the most effective muscle- and strength-building programs, they share a common trait: The total number of reps for the main exercises usually add up to around 25. Shoot for this number and your gains will add up too.

A moderate number of low-rep sets provide a blend of intensity and volume, which has always been associated with size and strength gains. Almost any combination will work: five sets of five, six sets of four, or eight sets of three all allow you to put some work in with big, challenging loads, and that’s as much math as any meathead should have to do in the gym.

The first time you perform the workout, you’ll hit 25 reps for the main lifts by completing five sets of five, as shown. If you repeat the workout, perform six sets of four reps. In the next session, do eight sets of three. Do not perform this workout more than twice a week, and allow at least three days before repeating it. On each lift that you use the 25-rep rule for, spend the first three or four sets warming up so that only the last two are done with heavy weights.



Sets: 5 Reps: 5 Rest: 90 sec.
Set the bar up in a squat rack or cage and grasp it just outside shoulder width. Take the bar off the rack and hold it at shoulder level with your forearms perpendicular to the floor. Squeeze the bar and brace your abs. Press the bar overhead, pushing your head forward and shrugging your traps as the bar passes your face.

Sets: 5 Reps: 5 Rest: 60–90 sec.
Set an adjustable bench to a 30- to 45-degree angle and lie back on it. Grasp the bar just outside shoulder width, arch your back, and pull it off the rack. Lower the bar to the upper part of your chest and then drive your feet into the floor as you press it back up.

3. DIP
Sets: As many as needed Reps: 50 total Rest: 60 sec.
Suspend yourself over parallel bars and then lower your body until your upper arms are parallel to the floor.

Sets: As many as needed Reps: 50 total Rest: 60 sec.
Hang from a pullup bar with hands just outside shoulder width and palms facing away from you. Pull yourself up until your chin is over the bar.


Forced reps, dropsets, static holds, and various other bodybuilding techniques all have their place for building muscle. But you shouldn’t place a priority on any of these techniques over simply aiming to increase your strength. If you’ve spent years trying to trick your muscles into new gains with fancy programs that ignored the basics, it’s time you learned how to add weight to the bar.

The max effort method is probably the most powerful strength-building protocol available, and it’s a mainstay of powerlifters and football players. It’s also very simple to do: Keep adding weight to the bar until you reach the heaviest load you can handle for a given number of reps. After you max out your bench press, you’ll train the rest of the body heavy using exercises that help you to keep driving up your bench press and overall upper-body strength. As your strength increases, so will your muscle gains. And then we’ll revisit those forced reps.

Perform the paired exercises (marked “A” and “B”) as supersets. So you’ll do one set of A and then immediately do a set of B, rest, and repeat for the prescribed sets. For the remaining exercises, complete all sets for the move before going on to the next one.

Sets: See below Reps: Work up to a 3-rep max Rest: As needed
Grasp the bar just outside shoulder width and arch your back so there’s space between your lower back and the bench. Pull the bar out of the rack and lower it to your sternum, tucking your elbows about 45 degrees to your sides. When the bar touches your body, drive your feet hard into the floor and press the bar back up. Perform several warmup sets, keeping your reps to five or fewer. Gradually work up to the heaviest weight that you can perform three reps with (this should take at least five sets). Be sure to use a spotter or perform your sets in a power rack with spotter bars in place.

Sets: 4 Reps: 8, 8, 6, 5 Rest: 180 sec.
Grasp a dumbbell in each hand and lie back on the floor. Rest your triceps on the floor with elbows close to your sides and palms facing each other. Press the weights over your chest and then lower your triceps back to the floor, but do not rest them. Pause for a moment under tension and begin the next rep.

Sets: 2 Reps: 8, 20–25 (each side) Rest : 120 sec.
Rest your left knee and hand on a bench and grasp a dumbbell with your right hand. Let the weight hang straight down. Retract your shoulder and row the dumbbell to your side. On the second set, choose a heavy weight and “cheat” it up, performing your reps explosively and with loose form.

Sets: 3 Reps: 10 Rest: 0 sec.
Hold a dumbbell in each hand and stand with palms facing each other. Raise the weights up and out 90 degrees until your arms are parallel to the floor.

Sets: 3 Reps: 10 Rest: 90 sec.
Hold a dumbbell in each hand and sit on the edge of a bench. Keeping your lower back flat, lean forward. Explosively straighten your body and shrug the weights so your arms rise. Allow the momentum to flip your wrists so you catch the weights at shoulder level.

Sets: 3 Reps: 8 Rest: 60 sec.
Stand holding a dumbbell in each hand with palms facing your sides. Keeping your upper arms in place, curl the weights, rotating your palms to face your biceps in the top position. Turn your palms to face down, and then lower the weights slowly, as in a reverse curl. That’s one rep.

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