Upper body exercises in CrossFit are a crucial component of any effective training program. In CrossFit, we make sure they show up in our workouts as more than just bicep curls and bench presses. We target the entire upper body, which consists of muscles of the chest, middle/upper back, neck, and arms. We work the large powerhouse muscles that produce a lot of force at once while also exercising the smaller, stabilizing muscles that support and protect your joints. In this blog, we will discuss different upper body movements and workouts you can do in CrossFit to reach your strength goals, prevent injuries, and perform everyday tasks easier. After all, who really wants to take more than one trip to carry all those groceries inside?
3 Great Upper Body Warm-Up Exercises
- PVC Passthroughs – This movement actively stretches your shoulder flexors, extensors, and rotators to prepare your joints to move through their full range of motion. We especially love doing these on snatch days, given that both motions use the same wide grip.
- Down Dog Push-Ups – The Down Dog position allows you to bear weight through your hands to begin to load your shoulders. It also stretches your chest and shoulders. Hold this position for several seconds. Then, perform a push-up (either on or off your knees) to further warm up your chest, shoulders, arms, and wrists. This combo is an excellent way to prep for any kind of pressing exercises.
- Single Arm Bent Over Rows – Performing exercises with just one arm is a great way to detect differences between both sides. Using a light dumbbell or kettlebell, perform several bent over rows on each side. If you notice one arm feels tighter or less stable, take a minute to give that side some extra attention. This will ensure that you are moving symmetrically during any pulling movements in your workout.
5 Upper Body Strengthening CrossFit Exercises
- Strict Press – The strict press is the first of many pressing movements performed in CrossFit. This lift requires you to use only your upper body to press the bar straight overhead. It creates foundational shoulder strength that can be built upon to prepare you for the more dynamic push press, push jerk, and split jerk, as well as gymnastics movements like handstand push-ups. Try doing the movement at a tempo by rapidly pressing the bar up and then slowly lowering it down over 3-5 seconds. This puts your muscles under tension for longer periods of time and forces them to stabilize in every position.
- Bench Press – The bench press creates strength for pressing out in front of you, as opposed to overhead. This engages your chest muscles more than the strict press while still targeting the shoulders and back. It also builds excellent strength for push-ups. This workout, dubbed “Linda,” incorporates bench press alongside two other lifts. If you don’t have a bench but still want to do this workout, use a variation called “floor press.” Simply lie on the floor and lower the bar towards your chest until your elbows reach the floor, then press.
- Pull-Ups – There is no pull-up variation more important than the traditional strict pull-up given the strength it demands of both our large and accessory upper body muscles. Don’t stress if you can’t do a strict pull-up yet though, as there are plenty of modification options! You could use a resistance band for assistance. You could complete pull-up “negatives,” in which you jump up to bring your chin over the bar and then slowly lower down to build strength. You could pass on the pull-up bar entirely and do ring rows or bent over rows instead. Your arms will feel like noodles by the end of the workout no matter what progression you choose!
- Kettlebell Swings – Kettlebell swings are a fantastic way to develop strength in a more cardio-intensive manner than other traditional upper body exercises. This movement is fast and rhythmic and challenges your ability to coordinate upper and lower body movements simultaneously. The kettlebells can be swung to chest height (referred to as “Russian Kettlebell Swings”) or completely overhead (“American Kettlebell Swings”). This makes them adaptable for all kinds of athletes. If you want to do a workout with both kettlebell swings and pull-ups, take a crack at “Helen.”
- Overhead Squat – It is important to stretch and strengthen your body in many different positions to promote lasting mobility. The overhead squat provides a unique movement that requires both upper and lower body strength and flexibility to execute. Practicing this lift not only improves these domains of fitness but also your snatch form when Olympic lifting! Check out how overhead squats can be incorporated into your strength programming via this sample CrossFit workout.
7 Tips for Performing a CrossFit Favorite: The Push-Up
- Understand the Points of Performance – To get better at push-ups, which are a staple in CrossFit workouts, we must understand how to perform push-ups correctly. Start in a plank position with the arms extended. Without letting your knees touch the ground, lower your body until your chest contacts the floor. Then, push your body back up until your arms are fully extended and you have returned to the starting position. These are the standards for completing a push-up “Rx” (meaning without any modifications).
- Start in a Strong Plank – Place your hands on the floor directly under your shoulders. Push down into the floor to draw your shoulder blades away from each other. Your legs should be extended out behind you with your knees extended and feet set hip-width apart. Tighten your core. You are now in a rock-solid position to start your push-up!
- Keep Your Elbows Tucked – As you lower your chest to the ground, keep your elbows tucked in at your sides. They should remain parallel to your body and not flare out at an angle. This places your biceps and triceps in a better position, giving you more power to complete the movement.
- Push the Floor Away – Once your chest touches the ground, begin your ascent by driving your hands into the floor. This recruits muscles in your chest and upper back to help lift your torso off the ground. Continuing pushing the floor away from you until your elbows are completely straight.
- Squeeze Your Thighs and Glutes – Do this during both the ascending and descending portions of the push-up. Tightening your thigh muscles will keep your knees extended and off the floor. Squeezing your glutes will enhance your core stability and prevent you from arching or rounding your back. You should be rigid throughout the entire movement to keep your whole body steady.
- Progressions – Don’t have Rx push-ups yet? Keep your knees on the ground throughout the movement instead. Lower your chest all the way to the floor and lock out your elbows fully at the top. When you are ready, progress this by keeping your knees on the ground only as you push up. Once locked out at the top, lift your knees off the ground and lower in a slow, controlled manner. This gives you assistance as you rise and a challenge as you descend. Keep practicing these and you’ll be transitioning to full Rx push-ups in no time!
- Modifications – Do you have a wrist injury that is aggravated by the push-up position? Hold a pair of dumbbells while you perform them. This stacks your arm over your wrist in a neutral position, rather than a bent one. Do you have trouble getting down onto or up from the floor? Perform the push-ups while standing and leaning against an elevated surface, like a tall box or a wall. There are endless variations to chose from to create a great push-up workout for you!
*Sample Workout – Put your push-ups to the test in this classic CrossFit workout known as “Cindy.”
Why You Should Participate in Upper Body CrossFit Workouts
Upper body strengthening and conditioning is part of what makes CrossFit a total-body, all-inclusive workout, and the benefits are plentiful. It can teach us appropriate lifting mechanics to reduce risk of injury during functional activites at home or work. Additionally, it can help combat back, neck, and shoulder pain by strengthening weak postural muscles and mobilizing tight, overworked ones. Upper body exercise has a place in our programming at CrossFit LPF because it helps foster development of well-rounded members. Come see the results for yourself!