An Upper-Body Workout With No Equipment That Strengthens Your Arms, Shoulders And Core

James Middleton demonstrating the upward-facing dog position
James Middleton demonstrating the upward-facing dog position from his upper-body workout with no equipment (Image credit: James Middleton)

While most of us turn to weights machines and free weights for an upper-body workout, there are times when you don’t have access to a well-appointed gym. But it’s possible to get a really tough upper-body workout with no equipment – as long as you plan your session carefully. We asked James Middleton, who provides online coaching through Coach James Club, to pull together a routine for us. 

“This bodyweight workout is great for practising key movements used in weight training,” says Middleton. “Building strength using just your bodyweight can help you progress to complex lifts, which incorporate more resistance.” You’ll also find this type of workout contributes to your muscular endurance

Designed to work your back, shoulders, chest, and core, the routine is an extremely efficient upper-body crusher that makes for a great home workout.

How To Do This Upper-Body Workout With No Equipment

Perform each pair of exercises back to back for the time specified, then repeat. Rest for 30 seconds, then repeat that sequence for the next pair of exercises. Do the whole thing four times in total. The whole workout will take 30 minutes.

1A Press-up

Press-up demonstrated by James Middleton

(Image credit: James Middleton)

Sets 2 Time 30sec

Start in a high plank position on your hands and toes, with your hands directly under your shoulders and arms extended, and your body held in a straight line from head to heels. Engage your core, then slowly bend your elbows and lower your chest to the floor for the count of four seconds. Keep your elbows close to your body and lead with your chest rather than your hips. Without pausing at the bottom, press back up quickly, focusing on using your chest muscles.

If you’re new to press-ups, start on your knees to avoid putting strain on your lower back. To progress this exercise, press up explosively to lift your hands off the floor and clap.

1B Plank walk-out

Sets 2 Time 30sec

Starting in the same position as the press-up, engage your core, glutes and thighs, then place one hand further forwards, followed by the other. Continue to walk your hands out with control and without letting your hips drop. When you have reached your limit, begin walking your hands back in until they are both directly underneath your shoulders. Continue walking your hands in and out. Move from your toes to your knees to make it easier.

2A Strict burpee

Sets 2 Time 30sec

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms by your sides. Squat down and place your hands on the floor in front of you. Jump your feet back and land in a high plank position. Bend your elbows to lower your chest to the floor, keeping your core engaged and not letting your hips sag. Briefly lift your hands off the floor, then press yourself back up to a high plank. Jump your feet back to your hands and jump straight up, raising your hands above your head.

To make it easy, remove the press-up and/or step instead of jumping your feet back.

2B Superman

Superman position demonstrated by James Middleton

(Image credit: James Middleton)

Sets 2 Time 30sec

Lie face down with your arms and legs extended, and allow your forehead to rest on the floor. Inhale. As you exhale, lift your arms, chest and legs off the floor, while maintaining a soft bend in your elbows and knees and squeezing your glutes. Try to lift your thighs so your centre of balance is in your torso. Pause, then pulse your arms and legs up and down for 30 seconds. Don’t hold your breath.

If you’re finding the exercise difficult, let your thighs rest on the floor and just raise your body and pulse your arms.

3A Downward-facing dog to upward-facing dog

James Middleton demonstrates the downward-facing dog and upward-facing dog positions

(Image credit: James Middleton)

Sets 2 Time 30sec

Start in a high plank position with your feet hip-width apart and fingers spread wide. Push your hips back and up, keeping your back straight, and look between your legs; this is your downward-facing dog. Keeping your elbows locked, sweep your body down and forwards so that your chest, then stomach, pass close to the floor. Press through your hands and lift your chest. Untuck your toes and press through the tops of your feet for upward-facing dog. Move fluidly from one pose to the other. 

3B Pike press-up

Pike press-up demonstrated by James Middleton

(Image credit: James Middleton)

Sets 2 Time 30sec 

From the downward-facing dog position, bend your elbows to lower your head towards the floor, keeping your elbows close to your body, then press yourself back up. Ensure your elbows remain in line with your hands to avoid putting excess pressure on your joints. Bend your knees for an easier version of this exercise.

Sam Hopes
FItness writer

Sam is a personal trainer, reiki practitioner, and fitness writer at Future, the publisher of Coach. Having been trained to work with both the mind and body, Sam is an advocate of using mindfulness techniques in sport and aims to bring mental wellbeing to the forefront of fitness. She’s also passionate about the fundamentals of training and how we can build more sustainable training methods. She writes about the importance of habit-building, nutrition, sleep, recovery and workouts.