The upper body is essential, and we are constantly using it. We need the muscles in our arms, chest, shoulders and upper back to pull heavy items down from an over-head shelf, to push ourselves up off the ground, and even to hold our hair dryers for a long period of time — which is why strength in our upper-body muscles is important to living a full and functional life.
But you don’t always have to slave away in the gym to strengthen your top half.
Check out these five activities outside of the gym you can do to maintain and build the muscle you need to face the strength challenges of everyday life.
1. Rock Climbing
Rock climbing is a fun way to challenge your body and mind at the same time. While it takes strength to go from one spot to the other, it also takes strategy. Before every move, you have to decide where the best position will be based on your current hand and foot placements and your strength abilities.
The best place to start rock climbing is an indoor gym, where experienced climbers can help you learn the basics of this fun and challenging sport.
Before heading out for your first climb, remember these tips:
- You may be required to take an orientation before climbing and will have to sign a waiver.
- You can’t wear street shoes on the climbing walls—you’ll need to rent those, a belay device and harness from the facility.
- Wear loose fitting clothes that aren’t too baggy; and yes, your spandex will be fine. Note that you may get chalk on these clothes, so don’t wear anything you don’t want to get a little dirty.
If you’ve ever had to hold a downward-facing dog yoga pose, you know that your upper body needs to be strong. Luckily, yoga is one of the most popular athletic activities right now, voted the fourth most popular indoor hobby of 2016, and as such, you can almost always find a yoga studio nearby, especially if you live in a big city. You can also sometimes find free yoga classes in parks or in retail stores, so check your local community event listing.
While all yoga will help you improve upper-body strength, some yoga styles are more focused on strength building than others. Here are two specific types of yoga to look for:
- Sculpt: These classes throw weights into the mix, allowing you to build strength and endurance.
- Vinyasa: This fast-paced form of yoga will get your heart rate up while flowing through a variety of poses, many of which will challenge your arms, upper back and shoulders.
Most studios offer their own proprietary classes that can be extra challenging for your body as well, so be sure to inquire about those.
I’ve recently started doing boxing as a way to improve my upper-body strength, and quickly realized it’s also an intense cardio workout. The trainer I was working with said that, as a fit person, my body is likely used to the cardio portion, but adding in punches and quick movements like ducks and shuffles is what makes it that much more tiring.
Not to mention, most of the power of your punches should come from your lower body, so you’re doubling up on upper and lower body training at the same time.
While a boxing facility may seem intimidating, it’s the best place to start learning how to properly throw a punch. Most boxing gyms offer beginner classes and courses just for athletes like you. Sign up, learn the ropes and then add your favorite moves into your regular gym routine or hop into the ring to test your skills.
Tennis is a great way to build upper-body strength year round. In the winter, you can use inside courts—at your gym or otherwise—and in the summer you can soak up some sun on an outdoor court.
The best part: You can play with friends during one-on-ones or partner games. If you don’t have any friends who like tennis, look for a recreational league where you can meet new people and get better, thanks to playing against people who have been playing longer than you.
If you’re not sure if you’ll love tennis, don’t invest in all new gear right now. Head to a local second-hand sports store to get a racket and then play in regular gym clothes. After a few weeks, or even a full season, you can decide if it’s worth investing in a new racket, the proper attire, and a membership at a club. And all the while, you’ll be building your upper-body power, mobility and strength.
5. At-Home Challenges
You don’t have to be doing an organized sport to build upper-body strength outside the gym—you can do it at home, in the park, in your yard and more. Instead of doing just a regular at-home workout, choose an area of your upper body that you want to improve, or a movement you want to get better at, and find a fun challenge that helps you improve over a period of time—often 30+ days.
Do a search, and you’ll find fun challenges focused on this like the following:
- 50 Push-ups Challenge
- 31-Day Plank Challenge
- 30-Day Tricep Challenge
- 30-Day Arm Challenge
Remember, a strong upper body will help you function in your daily life much better than a weak one. Even if you don’t want to spend hours in the gym, there are plenty of activities out there to build up your top half. And who knows, you may even find a new favorite sport or workout in the meantime.
Photo credit: Thinkstock, iStock, EpicStockMedia.