Four Moves To Build Upper-Body Muscle In Less Than 20 Minutes

Woman crouched next to barbell
(Image credit: Getty Images)

It’s all well and good for celebrities to spend six hours a day in the gym, but most of us don’t have that luxury. Even a typical muscle-building upper-body workout needs a good hour. This quick conditioning barbell workout lets you hit your whole upper body in less than 20 minutes, with a bonus benefit of taxing your heart and lungs too.

The session has been created by former CrossFit athlete and fitness coach Marcus Filly, and it contains just four movements: the Z-press, pull-up, barbell floor press and Pendlay row.

They are all examples of compound exercises which work multiple muscle groups at the same time, and most of them will also engage your core to keep your body stable. 

The workout splits the exercises into couplets, beginning with the Z-press and pull-up. Perform the exercises back to back, beginning with a set of 15 reps, then 12 reps, then nine, six, and three to finish. Rest as little as possible between sets, and aim to move at a consistent, controlled pace throughout. Rest for 60 seconds, then repeat that sequence for the barbell floor press and Pendlay row. 

Watch Filly demonstrating the exercises in the video below, then you should be ready to take this workout for a spin. On your marks, get set, sweat.

Filly’s use of compound exercises isn’t the only feature of this workout that we like. His couplet combinations also contain exercises focusing on contrasting movement patterns.

He pairs push and pull exercises (which you may be familiar with through push/pull workout splits). Push movements primarily recruit the chest, shoulders and triceps, while pull exercises engage the back and biceps first and foremost. 

By putting them together, you can fatigue one set of muscles at a time while the other recovers. This allows you to jump between exercises, negating the need for lengthy rest periods. 

These short rest times also keep your heart rate up, which tests your cardiovascular and muscular endurance

Harry Bullmore
Staff writer

Harry covers news, reviews and features for Coach, Fit&Well and Live Science. With over a decade of training experience, he has tried everything from powerlifting to gymnastics, cardio to CrossFit, all in a bid to find fun ways of building a healthy, functional body.