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Best of Both Worlds: Upper-Body Workout

For upper-body mass, you don't have to choose between lifting heavy and light, low volume and high volume. This balanced approach has all your bases covered—and might save your shoulders in the long run.
Best of Both Worlds: Upper-Body Workout

It’s an undeniable truth, and there’s a simple beauty to the concept; continually pushing your body to lift weights it couldn’t before strengthens both the muscles and the mind. Push to the limit too frequently and for too many years, however, and the body will begin to falter. Of course, time breaks down even the fittest bodies, but managing this balancing act will dictate how long you can stave off breakdown.

How many 40- to 50-year-old powerlifters (or gym rat bench specialists) have good things to say about their shoulders? Conversely, guys who follow a high volume bodybuilding approach to adding size without first building up a respectable base of raw strength are left in the lurch as well. It doesn’t matter how many reps you can do if you’re not capable of testing your muscles with an appreciable amount of weight.


The chest and back workout we present here toes the line between these extremes, not by way of a weeks-long heavy phase followed by a deload week, but by doing so on a micro level within a single workout, incorporating elements of both bodybuilding and powerlifting. It contains just enough heavy work to build strength and enough volume to increase size while crafting an impressive physique at the same time.

Get Pumped

You start off with a pre-exhaust superset of band-resisted pushups and band-resisted pullups with only 60 seconds’ rest at the end of each superset. Pre-exhausting is an old-school bodybuilding technique that will give you a good pump to work with right out of the gate, and in this workout serves as a warmup for the heavy benching and dumbbell rows that come next.

On both the flat bench and the dumbbell row you’ll work as heavy as you can. Don’t worry about burning yourself out for later sets. In both of these exercises, you’re encouraged to take as much time as you need between sets so you’re fully recovered to lift heavy.

Make the most of these long rest periods because timed rest periods come back into play for the remainder of the workout. By the time you get to the final superset of TRX pushups and inverted rows, your pecs and lats will be pretty well torched— which is why you’re using only body weight instead of loading up more plates, to squeeze a little more volume out of the session without adding undue stress on your shoulders.

There is no magical program that can guarantee you won’t incur injury, but this program will allow you to aggressively pursue upper-body mass while minimizing risk to your shoulders. Even if you’ve never injured these crucial joints, it’s never too early to think about protecting them.

The Workout

How to Do It: Perform the following workout 1–2 times per week. If you don’t have access to a TRX or a comparable suspension trainer, substitute TRX pushups for feet-elevated pushups and substitute the TRX inverted row with a Smith machine inverted row. All TRX plank variations can be performed on the ground without a suspension trainer.