This Push/Pull Upper-Body Workout Only Takes 12 Minutes

Group perform overhead press exercise with barbell
(Image credit: iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Not sure if you have the time to fit in a worthwhile gym workout? Not any more. You can train your upper body in less than a quarter of an hour with this session from Jess Rosart, gym manager and coach at WIT Fitness. She’s put together a 12-minute workout that just requires a barbell.

“When I think of the perfect upper-body workout, it incorporates both a push and a pull exercise to leave me feeling like I got the most of that session in a short amount of time,” says Rosart. Push/pull workout plans are a bodybuilding staple, but combining push and pull exercises in the same workout is a great way to ensure a balanced session no matter your goal.

“I also like to give myself a time frame to complete the work to keep me focused, and get me in and out of the gym in a short amount of time,” says Rosart. Of course, that time includes a warm-up and warm-down.

“This barbell workout will help build up your back, shoulders and traps,” says Rosart.

How To Do This Workout

Set a timer for three minutes and complete 10 reps of each of the three moves below in that time. Spend any time that’s left in your three-minute window resting. Repeat for a total of four rounds.

“Aim to keep the work to 90 seconds, leaving you another 90-second rest before the next round,” says Rosart. Use that guidance to help you choose an appropriate weight. If you don’t have a barbell available, you can also use dumbbells, which comes with the advantage of letting you quickly switch to heavier dumbbells for the bent-over row, before going light again for the upright row. 

Set your timer and get ready to work.

1 Overhead press

Woman performs overhead press exercise with barbell

(Image credit: Getty Images / Corey Jenkins)

Reps 10

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding the barbell in front of your chin with your palms and elbows facing forwards. Lock out your knees to ensure you don’t use them to help lift the barbell. Press the barbell straight up until your arms are extended. As you finish the movement push your head forwards so your ears are next to your biceps. The barbell should stop directly above your shoulders. Move your head back and lower the barbell under control.

“Good form means an upright torso, locked-out legs and elbows just in front of the bar. Ensure you are pressing the bar in a straight line overhead,” says Rosart.

2 Underhand bent-over row

Group perform underhand bent-over row exercise with barbell

(Image credit: iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Reps 10

Stand holding the barbell in front of your thighs with your palms facing away from you. Keeping a slight bend in your knees and a flat back throughout, push your hips back, lowering the barbell to below your knees. Lift the barbell to your chest by moving your elbows past your torso and behind you. Squeeze your shoulder blades at the top. Then slowly lower back to the start. 

“Ensure your back stays straight, and your shoulders are pulled back and engaged,” says Rosart.

3 Upright row

Reps 10

Stand holding the barbell in front of your thighs with your palms facing you and your hands slightly closer than shoulder-width apart. Keep your core engaged and back flat as you lift the barbell towards your chin, with your elbows rising above your shoulders. Then lower slowly.

Lucy Gornall

Lucy is an experienced health and fitness journalist, and was formerly health editor for TI Media’s portfolio of women’s titles. Lucy qualified as a level 3 personal trainer with Train Fitness in 2016, and also holds qualifications in pre- and post-natal fitness, as well as in nutrition for exercise.