If you don’t have a ton of time available, you can still get in a great strength-training session. Enter: a 15-minute upper-body workout that you can do anywhere—meaning, no weights required.
You absolutely can work your muscles without using external resistance like dumbbells or resistance bands, ACE-certified personal trainer Sivan Fagan, C.P.T., tells SELF. “You can certainly use your own bodyweight as resistance,” she says. “Your body has to work against gravity when you do the exercises, so your muscles are generating tension in order to complete the moves.”
An upper-body workout that uses bodyweight-only moves is also a great option for when you’re short on time. To get the most out of a short routine, you’ll want to choose exercises that are compound movements—meaning, they work across multiple joints and recruit large muscle groups, Fagan says. Another way to max out a quick upper-body routine is to perform it in circuit form (one exercise after another without rest) rather than with traditional sets, where you rest after each exercise.
This 15-minute upper-body workout created by Fagan combines both of these factors into a short but intense routine that smokes your shoulders, pectorals (chest), back, and core while totally working up a sweat.
Yep, there is specific core work in this upper-body routine. That’s because a strong core is vital not only for everyday movements like twisting, walking, or even standing upright, but also for completing upper-body exercises efficiently, Fagan says.
“The core is the center of your body, and you have to have a strong core to perform compound exercises,” she says. “If you don’t have a strong core, you are risking what we call ‘energy leak,’ which is when you cannot stabilize your spine.” That’s why a lot of people tend to feel exercises primarily in their lower back, instead of in the muscles that they intend to work—something which can lead to lower back pain or strain.
A bodyweight-only upper-body workout like this, which is programmed in circuit form, is also a great way to improve your muscular endurance, says Fagan. This makes it a solid complement to other strength training routines you may have in your program, especially those where you may be working more on building strength—say, with heavier weights, lower reps, and more rest.
Ready to get started? Here’s what you need for this quick 15-minute upper-body workout that’ll be done before you know it.
What you need: An exercise mat for comfort and a sturdy box or step.
- Diamond push-up
- Pilates 100
- Elevated push-up
- I-Y-T raise
- Superman with pull-down
- Complete each move for 30-40 seconds, going from one exercise to the next without resting. After all five moves are done, rest for 1 minute. Complete 4 rounds total.
Demoing the moves below are Amanda Wheeler, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and co-founder of Formation Strength (GIFs 1-3); Erica Gibbons (GIF 4), a California-based personal trainer and graduate student becoming licensed as a marriage and family therapist; and Morit Summers (GIF 5), a Brooklyn-based trainer and the owner of body-positive gym, Form Fitness Brooklyn.