10 Best Functional Upper Body Exercises for Strength

Functional Upper Body Exercises

Functional upper body exercises are using motions that replicate daily tasks and target the muscles in your upper body, including your chest, back, shoulders, and arms. 

Incorporating functional upper body exercises into your training program is a wonderful place to start if you want to increase your upper body strength, stability, and general fitness.

These activities target several different muscle groups, which makes them more useful and efficient for enhancing daily tasks and performance. 

In this post, we’ll examine some of the top functional upper body exercises you may include in your training program and the advantages they provide for your fitness and health objectives.

Now let’s dig in and learn how these exercises may assist you to advance your upper body fitness!

Our Recommended Functional Upper Body Equipment

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Quick Summary

  • Exercises for functional upper body strength target various muscle groups and movement patterns.
  • When coupled with a good diet and enough rest, functional exercise can help you increase your body composition and build lean muscle.
  • Functional training can enhance everyday tasks and athletic performance.
  • The best equipment for developing functional upper body strength includes kettlebells, resistance bands, TRX straps, dumbbells, and bodyweight movements.
  • Building functional upper-body strength requires consistency and advancement.

10 Functional Upper Body Exercises for Functional Upper Body Workout

We’ll go over 10 functional upper body exercises you can use for the best outcomes in your fitness regimen.

These exercises are intended to target several muscles at once, enhancing your upper body’s general strength, stability, and coordination.

They will advance your routine regardless of whether you’re an athlete, a fitness enthusiast, or just trying to enhance your general health and wellness [1].

1. Kneeling Kettlebell Press

The kneeling kettlebell press is a strenuous exercise that uses the vertical pushing movement pattern.

It targets your shoulders, chest, and triceps, among other upper body muscles, and utilizes kettlebells as equipment.

Radomir performs kneeling kettlebell press.
Inhale, brace your core and keep your back flat during the whole movement.

How to Perform a Kneeling Kettlebell Press

  1. With your knees hip-width apart and your toes tucked under, begin by kneeling on the ground. 
  2. Utilizing an overhand grip, lift the kettlebell to shoulder height while holding it in one hand. Face your hand away from your body so that the palm is facing outside.
  3. Press the kettlebell above, completely extending your arm, while maintaining a tight core and a straight back. All during the exercise, be careful to have good form and control.
  4. Repeat the motion for the required number of repetitions before lowering the kettlebell gradually back to the starting position.

2. Negative Push-up

The negative push-up is a powerful bodyweight exercise that belongs to the horizontal push movement pattern and targets the chest, shoulders, and triceps among other upper body muscles.

This push-up variation employs no equipment and concentrates on the eccentric (lowering) part of the exercise.

Radomir performs negative push-ups
Keep your core and glutes tight to avoid sagging the lower back.

How to Perform a Negative Push-up

  1. With your feet hip-width apart and your hands somewhat wider than shoulder-width apart, start off in a high plank position.
  2. Maintaining your elbows tight to your sides and your abs engaged, slowly lower your body to the ground.
  3. The optimal time to reach the bottom of the action is 3-5 seconds. Lower yourself as gently and with as much control as you can.
  4. Kneel down after you’ve reached the bottom of the action, then push yourself back up to the starting position while continuing to repeat for the required amount of repetitions.

3. Inverted TRX Row

The inverted TRX row falls under a horizontal pull movement pattern and works your back, shoulders, biceps, and other upper body muscles.

It involves the use of a TRX suspension trainer, a piece of equipment that is common in gyms.

It’s critical to maintain appropriate form and control throughout this exercise.

Avoid sagging hips or an arched back since these postures might place too much strain on your lower back.

Radomir performs Inverted TRX rows.
Squeeze the shoulder blades at the end range of motion.

How to Perform Inverted TRX Row

  1. Start by adjusting the TRX straps so that you can do the exercise with perfect form.
  2. Walk your feet forward until your torso is at a 45-degree angle to the ground, at which point you should grab the TRX handles with an overhand hold.
  3. Pull your body toward the TRX handles, pushing your chest nearer your hands while maintaining a squeezed core and a straight back.
  4. Repeat the movement until you have completed the appropriate number of repetitions, then lower your body back down to the starting position.

4. Negative Pull-up

The negative pull-up is a bodyweight exercise that focuses on your upper back, shoulders, forearms, and biceps and belongs to the vertical pull movement pattern.

It is an eccentric pull-up variant that may be performed without any additional equipment.

To make the exercise more difficult, increase the length of time it takes to lower yourself or add weight to your body. You can also try a variation called neutral grip pull-up if you find negative variation too easy already.

Radomir performs negative pull-ups
Aim for 3-5 second eccentric-lowering phase.

How to Perform a Negative Pull-up

  1. Reach the top of a pull-up bar by standing on a stable platform. Put your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and take an overhand hold on the bar. 
  2. Your chin should be above the bar after you jump or step up.
  3. Spend around 3-5 seconds lowering your body as far as you can go before touching the ground.
  4. Release your hold on the bar after you’ve reached the bottom of the exercise, then rise back up to the beginning position.

Our Recommended Functional Upper Body Equipment

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5. Single Arm Dumbbell Row

The single-arm dumbbell row is an excellent exercise for developing the size and strength of your back muscles, particularly the lats, rhomboids, and rear delts.

You may read our guide on dumbbell rows muscles worked for a more comprehensive analysis regarding primary and secondary muscles.

It falls within the horizontal pull movement pattern and calls for a dumbbell as equipment.

Maintaining appropriate form and control during a single-arm dumbbell row is crucial.

Pay special attention to squeezing your shoulder blades together to engage your upper back muscles.

Read our comprehensive guide to learn how to do dumbbell rows correctly.

Radomir performs single-arm dumbbell rows supported on the bench with the non-working hand.
Row towards the hips to activate your latissimus dorsi more.

How to Perform Single Arm Dumbbell Row

  1. Start by standing close to the bench and placing your left knee and hand on it. You should have your left hand precisely beneath your left shoulder and your back parallel to the floor.
  2. Pick up the dumbbell with your right hand and stretch your arm toward the ground.
  3. Pull the dumbbell towards your body while keeping your back straight and your core engaged, bending your elbow and pressing your shoulder blades together.
  4. Lower the dumbbell to its starting position and repeat for the appropriate amount of reps before switching sides.

6. Battle Ropes

Battle ropes are a fantastic functional upper-body exercise that primarily works your shoulders, arms, and core muscles. It is a part of the vertical pull and push movement patterns.

It may be changed to stimulate different muscle groups and test your coordination and balance by executing a range of actions, such as smashes, circles, and side-to-side waves.

Radomir does battle rope exercise.
Keep your core tight and avoid lowering intensity during the whole exercise.

How to Perform Battle Ropes

  1. Start by standing facing the secured ropes with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. With your palms facing inward and your arms outstretched in front of you, grasp one rope in each hand.
  3. Start off by raising and lowering both ropes simultaneously to form a wave-like action.
  4. As you grow more adept at the technique, you can begin to introduce modifications, such as switching which rope you move or arranging the ropes in a figure-eight pattern.

7. Tyre Flip 

The tyre flip is a powerful full-body exercise that works the muscles in the legs, hips and upper body as a whole.

You will need a huge tire, such as those found at construction sites or junkyards, to do this exercise, which is part of the horizontal pushing and pulling movement patterns.

Radomir performs a tyre flip exercise.
Push through your legs to assist the upper body to flip the tyre.

How to Perform a Tyre Flip

  1. Standing behind the tire, with your feet shoulder-width apart and your hands on the bottom edge of the tire, is a good place to start.
  2. While maintaining your back straight and your core active, squat down and hold the tire with both hands.
  3. With your legs, hips, and core working together, forcefully pull the tire off the ground.
  4. Flip the tire over in a single, fluid motion when it has left the ground, propelling it forward with your legs and hips.

8. Ball Slam

The ball slam is a dynamic exercise that works the upper body, core, and leg muscles.

This exercise is part of the vertical pushing movement pattern and requires the use of a medicine ball.

The weight of the ball can vary, depending on your level of strength and fitness.

Radomir performs ball slams.
Slam the ball on the floor with your whole body, including your hips and knees.

How to Perform a Ball Slam

  1. Start with holding the medicine ball in both hands at chest height while standing with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Lift the medicine ball up and away from your body by engaging your core and raising your arms above.
  3. When you’ve reached the peak of the movement, smack the ball forcefully against the surface in front of you.
  4. When the ball rebounds, grab it and bring it back up to your chest.

9. Dumbbell Bench Press

Dumbbell bench press is a popular upper-body exercise that emphasizes the chest, shoulders, and triceps and belongs to the horizontal push movement pattern.

A weight bench whose angle you may change to target different sections of the chest muscles is required for the exercise, along with a set of dumbbells.

Radomir performs dumbbell bench press
Keep your abdominal muscle and glutes activated to stabilize the movement.

How to Perform a Dumbbell Bench Press

  1. Begin by reclining back on a weight bench or stability ball with a dumbbell in each hand at chest level.
  2. Keep your elbows slightly bent and your hands facing front while pressing the dumbbells up toward the sky while engaging your core.
  3. Keeping control during the exercise, lower the dumbbells back down to chest height, and repeat the movement.

10. Dips

Dips are a fantastic upper-body exercise that works the triceps, chest, and shoulders.

This exercise is part of the vertical push movement pattern and includes pushing your body weight up and down using parallel bars or dip bars.

The use of a dip machine or the addition of weight can both increase the difficulty of the workout when performing dips.

Radomir performs dips
Aim to lower your chest on the bar level.

How to Perform Dips

  1. Starting from a standing position, grasp the parallel or dip bars with your palms facing down.
  2. Cross your feet behind you while raising your torso off the ground with straightened arms.
  3. Bend your arms while maintaining your elbows close to your body as you gradually lower your torso.
  4. Pull your body down until your arms are at a 90-degree angle, then push yourself back up to the starting position.

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How Do You Build Functional Upper Body Strength?

You build functional upper body strength by using a planned, all-encompassing strategy that emphasizes compound exercises, stability training, and good form.

What Are Functional Strength Exercises?

Functional strength exercises are ones that concentrate on enhancing your body’s capacity to carry out daily tasks with comfort, effectiveness, and no discomfort or damage. These workouts involve motions that imitate daily tasks including lifting, bending, pushing, pulling, and rotating to target several muscle groups.

Does Functional Training Make You Lean?

Yes, functional training makes you lean by concurrently working various muscle groups and emphasizing compound motions. These exercises promote the development of lean muscle mass while also reducing body fat, resulting in a more toned and defined physique [2].

Our Recommended Functional Upper Body Equipment

Amazon Basics Hex Dumbbell

Amazon Basics Hex Dumbbell
  • Durable cast iron
  • Non-slip grip
  • Available in multiple sizes

What Is the Best Equipment for Building Functional Upper Body Strength?

The best equipment for building functional upper body strength is free weights.

There are many examples of free weights, and some include barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, and medicine balls.

If you want to build a more functional and stronger upper body, read our guide on the best functional training equipment for 2024 to get you started.

Let me know which functional upper body exercise is your favorite and why.

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  1. https://rmdopen.bmj.com/content/6/1/e001141
  2. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphys.2021.738878/full
Picture of Vanja Vukas

Vanja Vukas

Student at the Faculty of Sport and Physical Education and a hardcore functional training enthusiast. Heavily inspired by Michael Boyle, a strength & conditioning specialist, and by Adam Sinicki, the founder of Bioneer. Vanja believes that transitioning to a movement-based exercise program can drastically improve your fitness, balance out your muscles, and support your current lifestyle.

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