40 Minutes Is All You Need For This Upper-Body Strength Workout

Woman uses Smith machine
(Image credit: Gorica Poturak / Getty Images)

It’s easy to spend way more time than you planned in the gym, especially if you go in without a plan, but an effective strength session doesn’t need to take up lots of your time. In fact, this upper-body workout created by personal trainer Zoë MacFadyen only takes 40 minutes to build muscle.

The session begins with the shoulder press in the Smith machine and seated row, then finishes with dumbbell moves and a bodyweight exercise.

“Using this workout allows you to hit the shoulders, back and arms meaning you get a well rounded workout,” MacFayden tells Coach. “For the bigger compound movements you are using the machines to stabilize yourself and work on base strength. This means you can safely and effectively increase the weight while you’re getting used to the movement patterns.”

The weights machines may seem a bit intimidating if you’re quite new to the gym, but once you’ve completed this sort of beginner upper-body workout with free-weights, or this dumbbell upper-body workout, machines allow you to use heavier weights without needing a spotter to bail you out if you hit failure halfway through a rep.

Take a look at MacFayden’s Instagram Reel below where she demonstrates each of the exercises.

After straight sets on the machines, the session finishes with two dumbbell supersets. A superset means you pair two exercises together. So instead of doing two sets of lateral raises followed by two sets of front raises, you perform a set of lateral raises and a set of front raises, twice.  

Supersetting shoulder exercises is tough so make sure you’re using light dumbbells, you’re confident your form is perfect and add in a couple of movements from this shoulder warm-up at the very least to reduce the risk of injury. “Prioritize form over ego lifting,” says MacFayden, “and when you’re ready to increase the weight, use small increments instead of big jumps.”

Alice Porter

Alice Porter is a journalist who covers health, fitness and wellbeing, among other topics, for titles including Stylist, Fit & Well, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Grazia, VICE and Refinery29. When she’s not writing about these topics, you can probably find her at her local CrossFit box.