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17 Brutal Upper Body Workouts for CrossFit Athletes and Fitness Fanatics

These upper body workouts will help you build muscle and strength in your chest, shoulders and arms so you can lift heavier, push harder, and reach your goals.


For the longest time, the bench has been considered a major marker of upper body strength, and rightfully so. I like to call them arm squats, because you’re basically using every muscle in your upper body to lift maximal weight AGAINST gravity. So what is considered the chest?

CrossFit-Chest-workoutsSource: Photos courtesy of CrossFit Inc
Bench presses work the upper body hard.

The pectoralis major, the larger and more superficial, originates at the clavicle (collarbone), the sternum, the ribs, and a tendinous extension of the external oblique abdominal muscle. The pectoralis major extends across the upper part of the chest and is attached to a ridge at the rear of the humerus (the bone of the upper arm). Its major actions are adduction, or depression, of the arm (in opposition to the action of the deltoideus muscle) and rotation of the arm forward about the axis of the body.

upper body workouts

When the raised arms are fixed (as in mountain climbing), it assists the latissimus dorsi and teres major muscles in pulling the trunk up. The pectoralis minor lies, for the most part, beneath the pectoralis major, arising from the middle ribs and inserting into (attaching to) the scapula (shoulder blade). It aids in drawing the shoulder forward and downward (in opposition to the trapezius muscle).

So you’re saying the pecs are used in BOTH pushing and pulling? Yes. If you’ve ever rock climbed or completed a lot of rope climbs, you’ll know this. My pecs are ALWAYS sore the day after and it’s because of the muscles’ necessity to assist the lats in pulling movements.

How to Strengthen the Pecs

Bands are a little more difficult to use here, but still possible. Movements such as banded bench press, banded flys, etc. are all GREAT, but like I said, a little more difficult to perform, so I’m more of a fan of the old school way to train your chest.

Tempo. In place of bands, I typically like to perform slow TEMPO when I’m hitting these chest accessory pieces:

  • Single-Arm Dumbbell Bench Press
  • Dumbbell Incline Bench Press
  • Decline Bench Press
  • Wide-Grip Bench Press
  • 1-1-2 Dumbbell Bench Press
  • Push-Ups
  • Floor Press
  • Board Bench Press

But, spoiler alert again… you want a strong bench? Train your TRICEPS!


What are the muscles of the shoulder?

The shoulders are like the steering wheel of your car. Ever tried driving without one? Yeah me either, and you shouldn’t go on training without focusing on this muscle group! Now, I’m not going to get into the specifics of the shoulder, we can go over that at another time, but I will get into some movements that are general and broad for training this area!

Crossfit Mobility ProblemsSource: CrossFit Inc

The shoulder is a complex ball-and-socket joint comprising the head of the humerus, the clavicle (collarbone), and the scapula. The shoulder’s main motions are flexion, extension, abduction, adduction, internal rotation, and external rotation.

It does everything. Without it, there’s no steering the car.

How to Strengthen the Shoulders

Bands are PHENOMENAL for training the shoulders because of all the small stabilizing muscles and baby muscles you’ve got in there. The shoulders are more than just deltoids, so train them as such.

  • Band Pull-Aparts
  • Banded Face Pulls
  • Banded Lateral Raises
  • Banded Front Raises
  • Banded High Pulls
  • Banded Presses

In addition to this I like to perform these same movements with light weight dumbbells. Be careful not to go to heavy because the risk of injury is high AND it’s a lot harder to target little muscles when you’re going too heavy. The big muscles will subconsciously take over and you’ll be left with over developed big muscles and under- or non-developed little ones (simple terms).

Training with Bands

Side note: when training bands I like sets of 25+ reps, and when training with weights I prefer a 6-10 rep range depending on the day and loading. Boom.


Add these into your training. 


AMRAP in 23 minutes

  • 9 Devil Presses (2×40/25 lb)
  • 20 Alternating Dumbbell Lunges (2×40/25 lb)
  • 9 Dumbbell Push Presses (2×40/25 lb)
  • 20 Sit-Ups

On a 23-minute clock, perform as many rounds and repetitions as possible (AMRAP) of the prescribed work in the order written

Score is the total number of rounds and repetitions completed before the 23-minute clock stops.


For Time

  • 400 meter Run
  • 60 Box Step-Ups (24/20 in)
  • 60 Push-Ups
  • 400 meter Run
  • 60 Push-Ups
  • 60 Box Step-Ups (24/20 in)
  • 400 meter Run
  • Wear a Weight Vest (20/14 lb)

With a running clock, as fast as possible complete the prescribed work in the order written.

Score is the time on the clock when the last 400 meter Run is completed.

Scaling Options

For Time

  • 400 meter Run
  • 120 meter Walking Lunges
  • 60 Push-Ups
  • 400 meter Run
  • 60 Push-Ups
  • 120 meter Walking Lunges
  • 400 meter Run

Wear a Weight Vest (20/14 lb)


For Time (with a Partner)

  • Buy-In: 988 meter Row

Then, 10 Rounds of:

  • 14 D-Ball Ground to Over the Shoulders (100/70 lb)
  • 20 Partner Plank Burpees
  • 33 Wall Ball Shots (20/14 lb)

Buy-Out: 132 calorie Bike

With a running clock, as fast as possible complete the prescribed work. Athletes must complete the buy-in of 988 meter Row before moving on to 10 rounds of 14 D-Ball Ground to Over the Shoulders, 20 Partner Plank Burpees, and 33 Wall Ball Shots. Once the 10 rounds are completed, athletes must perform the buy-out of 132 calorie Bike

Score is the time on the clock when the 132 calories are completed.

Movement Standards

D-Ball Ground to Over the Shoulder: Athlete must clean the D-Ball and then toss it over the shoulder. This counts as one rep.

Partner Plank Burpee: Partner A performs a Plank Hold while Partner B performs a Lateral Burpee and jump over Partner A. This counts as one rep. Switch after every rep.



  • DB Power Clean
  • DB Thruster
  • Assault Bike Calories

You’re going to feel a burn in your legs during the cleans…then a little more during the thrusters… and then you still have the assault bike to get through! This is a nasty grinder but the reward will be worth it!


6 Rounds For Time:

  • 4 Deadlifts
  • 4 Hand-release Pushups
  • 40 Alternating Plank Shoulder Taps (total)

Use 75-80% of your 1RM
Add 4 reps each round

Score is the amount of time it takes to complete all 6 rounds.

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