How To Do an Upper Body Workout With No Weights

Work your upper body with these creative, challenging exercises. No weights required.

Good news for at-home exercisers: You do not need a set of weights to get a solid upper-body workout. For an upper body weight workout, you only need a few household items, Jennifer Romanelli, co-owner of Trooper Fitness in New York, told Health.

A powerlifter at heart, Romanelli abandoned the barbell when gyms closed at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Romanelli found joy in pushing her body in other ways—like in her living room, using chairs and towels to target the chest, back, shoulders, and arms. 

Here's how to do Romanelli's full upper-body workout, as well as the benefits and precautions of this type of exercise.


Upper Body Strength Training Benefits

Strength training improves physical and mental health and overall quality of life. As muscle mass increases, you will begin to burn more calories even at rest and be at a lower risk of injuries.

The American Heart Association (AHA) advises exercising each muscle group at least twice weekly. You can reap these benefits using your body weight—no weights required.

"The benefit of doing [body-weight-only] work is that you learn about you," said Romanelli. "You're able to move your body efficiently, get stronger, and then when you do apply weight. Your body's more receptive to it."

Bodyweight exercises not only build muscle but can power you through your days. 

"Tweak your training to what you want to do in your life. Make it work for you," added Romanelli. For Romanelli, that means carrying a toddler in one arm and a stroller in the other while walking up five flights of stairs.

Your sense of accomplishment will grow every time you do more push-ups or hold your plank a little longer. That progress will motivate you to work through the challenges.

Upper Body Workouts With No Weights

Here are some exercises to work out your upper body without any weights.

Romanelli's upper body workout includes:

  • Modified handstand push-ups
  • Shoots
  • Towel chest fly
  • Triceps extensions
  • Bat wings
  • Towel ab rollout
  • Adductor plank

Modified Handstand Push-Ups

  • Put your hands on the floor, then place your feet on a chair in the back so your body forms an L-shape.
  • Bend your elbows and lower head toward the floor and between your hands.
  • Press back up, then repeat.


  • Place your hands on two chairs, then walk your feet back to a plank position. Keep your shoulders over your wrists.
  • Bend your elbows 45 degrees and lower your chest toward the chairs to perform a push-up.
  • Press your back up to plank.
  • Drive your hands into the chairs, lift your hips and feet off the ground, and sweep them underneath you. Land in a reverse plank with your legs straight out in front, heels on the floor, and arms straight.
  • Bend your elbows 45 degrees, and lower your butt toward the floor to perform a triceps dip.
  • Press back up, driving your hands into the chairs and lifting your hips and feet off the floor to sweep them underneath you and back to a plank position for the push-up.
  • Continue alternating between push-ups and dips.

Towel Chest Flys

  • Start in a modified plank position on your knees. Place each hand on a towel or glider in front of you.
  • Maintaining modified plank, with your pelvis tucked slightly forward, your glutes and abs engaged, drive the towels straight out to the sides. Keep a slight bend in your elbows.
  • Press up as you slide the towels back under your shoulders, then repeat.

Triceps Extensions

  • Place your hands on a chair and walk your feet back to a plank position. Keep your feet wide to make it easier or closer together to increase the challenge.
  • Squeezing your elbows toward each other, bend them straight back. Lower your upper body toward the floor with your shoulders steady.
  • Press back up to straighten your arms, then repeat.

Bat Wings

  • Start seated, your knees straight and heels planted, leaning slightly backward. Bend your elbows and place each on a towel behind you.
  • Drive your elbows outward, your back lowering toward the floor.
  • Squeezing your shoulder blades together, pull your elbows back toward the center as you sit taller, then repeat.

Towel Ab Rollouts

  • Start in a forearm plank position, your shoulders right over your elbows and both feet on towels.
  • Maintaining a strong plank, glide your feet back so your shoulders come behind your elbows.
  • Pull forward, your shoulders returning over your elbows.
  • Continue moving back and forth.

Adductor Plank

  • Start with your right elbow on the floor, then put your left foot on top of a chair and your right foot under the seat, getting into a side plank position.
  • Keep your hips stacked and your right shoulder directly over your right elbow.
  • Keep your body in a straight line from shoulders to feet. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch sides.

The Upper Body Workout Circuit Routine

You can combine these exercises into three circuits to perform Romanelli's upper body workout, using only your body weight. Here's how these exercises look when used in a circuit routine.

Circuit 1: Pyramid

Perform modified handstand push-ups and shoots "pyramid" style. Start with two reps each, building to four, six, eight, and 10, then back down.

Circuit 2: Tri Set

  • Do 12 reps of towel chest flys.
  • Do 10 reps of triceps extensions.
  • Do 15–20 reps of bat wings.
  • Repeat three times.

Circuit 3: Ab Finisher

  • Do 15 reps of towel ab rollouts.
  • Do 30 seconds on each side of the adductor plank.
  • Repeat three times.

Precautions Before Starting an Upper Body Workout

Strength training can offer various health benefits but can be dangerous if you are not using the proper technique. Consulting a healthcare provider and certified fitness instructor is best if you start strength training. They can ensure you follow an exercise program that suits your needs correctly and safely, reducing your risk of injury.

Seeing a healthcare provider before strength training is especially important if you are older than 40 or have any health conditions. People with certain health conditions like acute myocarditis or uncontrolled high blood pressure may need to refrain from or take precautions while strength training.

A Quick Review

Strength training has much to offer, from boosting your health and quality of life to reducing your risk of injuries. These exercises provide an upper-body workout with no weights required.

Consult with a healthcare provider or certified fitness instructor before starting a strength training program, especially if you have any health conditions.

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4 Sources uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. American Heart Association. Strength and resistance training exercise.

  3. Victoria State Government. Resistance training – preventing injury.

  4. Bryant CX, Green DJ. ACE advanced health & fitness specialist manual: The ultimate resource for advanced fitness professionals. San Diego, CA: American Council on Exercise; 2012. 

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