In a previous article on lower body training, I mentioned that a common excuse for my gym members not getting in is “not enough time”.
I get it, we’re all busy. The good news is that you don’t need to set aside a couple of hours to train – I regularly don’t have that long to train, so I’ve become adept at cramming a lot of work into not a lot of time.
I probably average 45 minutes for a gym session.
In this program, I’m going to share with you an approach I use to build my upper body when I just don’t have the time to indulge in a long workout. It’s not an easy workout, but it’s an effective one and it’ll pair really well with the Mass in Minutes Leg Workout.
- Mass in Minutes Upper Body Workout: Benefits of the approach
- 6 Steps to Use the Mass in Minutes Workout to Build Upper Body Muscle
- Step 1: The workout is pairs of superset exercises – remember this at all times
- Step 2: Work for time, not for reps
- Step 3: Set your equipment out in advance
- Step 4: Rest after a superset
- Step 5: Splitting the training week
- Step 6: Getting your warm up right
- Step 7 – Add 2-5% of weight every workout (unless you fail more than 1 set)
- Mass in Minutes Upper Body Workout Training Notes
- Mass in Minutes Upper Body Workout
- The upper body workout exercises…
- Upper Body Workout – FAQs
- Mass in Minutes Upper Body Workout: The bottom line
Mass in Minutes Upper Body Workout: Benefits of the approach
If we could be promised better results in less time, I’m sure we’d all take it. The reality is it’s possible, as long as you are willing to put the work in. Here are three of the many benefits you’ll experience by taking the approach…
Benefit 1: You won’t waste time thinking about exercises
The Mass in Minutes approach requires you to follow a single workout twice per week. It’s the same workout in both sessions, the only difference being the rep ranges. Everything else remains the same. It’s an all-out assault on the upper body.
The workout is about efficiency, so you’ll use a limited amount of equipment to allow you to get through the work quickly. No time wasted on switching up the equipment.
Benefit 2: Your whole upper body is trained in one day
To save time here you won’t be following a training split – the workout will train your whole upper body. Chest, back, shoulders, arms, abs. If it’s above your butt, we’re going to hit it. This keeps our training time down and our results up.
If you do pair it (as I suggest) with the Mass in Minutes Leg Workout, you’ll be following an upper/lower split, ensuring you won’t miss any body part across the week.
Benefit 3: The time saving is huge!
We can keep the workout time down by utilizing supersets – an approach to training that allows opposing muscle groups to work. For example, whilst your chest is working, your back is taking a rest. We then switch over.
Whilst there’s no dedicated ‘rest’ as such, you’ll have mini breaks as you change weights etc. It means you’ll still be able to recover, but you’ll be training hard for the duration of the session.
6 Steps to Use the Mass in Minutes Workout to Build Upper Body Muscle
As a workout that will cover the entire upper body, incorporating different movement patterns in less than 45 minutes, we have to be clever in its execution. Read this section thoroughly, because it’s your how-to guide for the program.
Step 1: The workout is pairs of superset exercises – remember this at all times
We’d only be able to cover such a lot of ground in a short space of time by utilizing supersets – two complimentary opposite upper body exercises, performed one after the other. There are 5 supersets in the workout, meaning there are 10 exercises.
The workout itself looks like this…
Superset 1: American Kettlebell Swings into Deficit Push Ups
Superset 2: Barbell Bench Press into Barbell Bent Over Rows
Superset 3: Dumbbell Curls into Tricep Dips
Superset 4: Snatch Pulls into Shoulder Press
Superset 5: Hanging Leg Raises into Dorsal Raises
This means that as soon as you finish the first exercise, you go straight into the second exercise without a defined rest period. Of course, there’ll be a slight delay as you change equipment over etc, but it shouldn’t be a rest.
We maintain the intensity by sticking strictly to this schedule of minimal rest.
This is backed by research as well – a 2010 study by Robbins et al (basically answering the question does superset training influence training volume and efficiency?) concluded that…
‘Practitioners wishing to maximize work completed per unit of time may be well advised to consider paired set training.’
Essentially this means by pairing your upper body exercises you get more done in less time.
Step 2: Work for time, not for reps
We’re after efficiency and training volume here, so we’re going to mix things up and take us away from the usual ‘numbered’ rep scheme.
Instead we’re going to work for time, because I want you to take focus away from working for reps and instead focus on maximizing output in the workout. I’ve noticed this anecdotally before, where I program timed sets for a client rather than a rep scheme, they manage more reps in the given time.
More reps = more gains!
There’s more than that though – by working for time, not a rep number the workout timings are simplified because you know exactly how long a set takes from start to finish.
It might not come naturally to you, but embrace the change and the challenge. It won’t be easy to get your head around, and you may be wondering how you’re going to know when a set is up – you can’t exactly keep an eye on the clock when you’re bench pressing.
The solution here is to get a workout timer app on your phone – something like this will work.
Step 3: Set your equipment out in advance
Setting your equipment up in advance will help keep delays between exercises down significantly. This is much easier to do if you’re training in your own home gym, where you can get yourself set up and ready for the workout ahead.
If you train in a public gym, be respectful of others but I think you’ll probably be able to get hold of a couple of exercises’ worth of equipment. You don’t need much for this workout. If you end up spending 5 minutes between exercises looking for plates, dumbbells etc you’ll kill your intensity.
By reading the workout before you start, you’ve got an idea of what order you’ll need to do things in. This means you can get yourself prepared and keep plate changing, equipment adjustments and setting out to a minimum.
The Mass in Minutes Upper Body Workout is all about efficient training, so stack the deck in your favor early on. Here’s how you could do it – everything you need for the workout in a few square feet…
Step 4: Rest after a superset
You may be thinking there’s no rest at all to be had in this workout, but that’s not the case – you can rest between supersets, just not between exercises.
In practice, it looks like this…
In the American Kettlebell Swings into Push Ups superset, you’d perform your set of American Kettlebell Swings, then drop straight to the floor and perform your push ups without any resting.
Once you’ve performed your push ups, THEN you can rest for 1 minute before repeating the superset. Having completed the required number of rounds of the superset, you then move on to the next one.
The whole workout (including the warm up) should take a maximum of 45 minutes.
Step 5: Splitting the training week
My recommendation is to combine the Mass in Minutes Upper Body Workout with the Mass in Minutes Leg Workout. This means you’ll cover all of your bases in a single week. Of course, you don’t need to do it this way – it’s merely a suggestion.
If you follow my advice of stacking the two programs together, you’ll be performing each one twice per week. It’ll effectively give you an upper body/lower body split routine, but one that is significantly quicker to complete than most split routines because of the high-intensity nature of them both.
The programs will complement one another and it makes your training week ‘clean’ – there’s no overlap, there are clear days for each and it still allows plenty of rest.
Here’s how I suggest you split your week…
Monday: Mass in Minutes Leg Workout
Tuesday: Mass in Minutes Upper Body Workout
Thursday: Mass in Minutes Leg Workout
Friday: Mass in Minutes Upper Body Workout
Following this approach will give you a perfectly balanced training week and will need only 3 hours in training time across the whole week!
Step 6: Getting your warm up right
As an upper body workout with multiple exercises in different planes of movement (unlike a workout that only consists of say, pulling exercises), we need a warm up that will be both fast and effective.
We’ll do this with a two-exercise approach because we want to be quick. The plan is to keep the workout to 45 minutes or less, so we have to get tactical.
- 3 minutes of upper body heavy cardio – an Air Bike, Ski Erg, Rower, Skipping, Shadow Boxing are all ideal.
- 2 x 10 Alternating Dumbbell Snatches – this includes a pull, rotation, and a push and uses all of the upper body musculature, so is efficient.
It’s a straight-to-the-point warm up, but it’ll be perfectly adequate for what we’re about to do. The warm up here is merely that – way for your body to get warm and prepared for what it’s about to do. It’s not an indulgence.
Step 7 – Add 2-5% of weight every workout (unless you fail more than 1 set)
If you manage to perform the 30 seconds of exercise without failing a rep then the next workout increase the weight by 2-5%.
For example, you bench press 100lbs and fail in only the 4th set, the next session I would increase the weight to 105lbs.
Fractional plates are really helpful for making these small adjustments.
If you cannot complete the full 30 seconds of exercise in the 4th set I would still add a small amount of weight on. However, if you fail the 3rd and 4th set or any more than that I would suggest keeping the working weight the same.
If ever you cannot increase the weight for a week (more than 2 workouts) then I would even recommend “deloading” and taking 5% off your working weight.
Mass in Minutes Upper Body Workout Training Notes
This workout is purposely designed to use very limited equipment. The idea is to be slick with your changes between upper body exercises, so the more equipment setups required, the harder this process is.
It’s also written to be as home gym friendly as possible.
All of these things are widely available for home gyms and commercial gyms alike. If you train in a commercial gym and it doesn’t have all of this equipment, move! You’re in a crappy gym!
Mass in Minutes Upper Body Workout
Here’s the program itself. You’ll notice how it’s written differently because of the sets being timed rather than numbered, so there’s little variety. It allows for clarity in workout time though…
|American Kettlebell Swings Deficit Push Ups||4 of each exercise||30 seconds for each exercise|
|Barbell Bench PressBarbell Bent Over Rows||4 of each exercise||30 seconds for each exercise|
|Hammer CurlsTricep Dips||4 of each exercise||30 seconds for each exercise|
|Snatch Pulls Shoulder Press||4 of each exercise||30 seconds for each exercise|
|Hanging Leg RaisesDorsal Raises||4 of each exercise||30 seconds for each exercise|
The entire workout will be completed in 45 minutes. Here’s where that calculation comes from…
Warm up will take 5 minutes…
- 3 minutes cardio
- 2 x 20 Alternating DB snatches (allowing 60 seconds per set – it’s a light weight, so rest will be minimal)
Each superset will take 60 seconds. There’s 4 rounds to complete, across 5 different supersets.
- 5 supersets x 4 minutes = 20 minutes work time
Allowing a 60 second rest between supersets adds another 20 minutes
Warm up (5) + Workout (20) + Rest (20) = 45 minutes
The upper body workout exercises…
A quick description of every exercise in the Mass in Minutes Upper Body Workout. Remember to execute them all with great form and pick a weight you can manage for good quality reps for thirty seconds at a time…
1. American kettlebell swings
The American kettlebell swing is here thanks to the huge range of motion and the fact that it trains the shoulders and back without relying on them to work against too much resistance. There are also excellent functional fitness benefits to the exercise because it’s a secondary ab exercise. It’s a real bang-for-your-buck inclusion.
Equipment needed for American kettlebell swings:
How to do American kettlebell swings:
- Hold the kettlebell with both hands in an overhand grip
- Keeping your back straight, tilt your hips back and drive them forward using your glutes – this puts momentum into the kettlebell
- Swing hard, so the kettlebell is almost immediately overhead – just don’t lean too far back and risk the kettlebell going behind you!
- At the top of the swing, squeeze your glutes together hard
- Keep your legs mostly straight throughout the whole exercise – the only joints to move a lot are the hips and shoulders
- Repeat as many times as required
Note: check out our kettlebell swing alternatives if you don’t have kettlebells, or if you want to switch this exercise up with another appropriate alternative.
2. Deficit push ups
The deficit push up really forces a stretch across the chest throughout the shoulder abduction elements of the lift. It also engages the pectoral muscles through a huge range of movement, making it a fantastic chest exercise. There’s a lot of tricep activation, which is further enhanced by the additional range of movement. The deficit can be created with dumbbells, plates, boxes etc.
Equipment needed for deficit push ups:
- Dumbbells or plates
How to do deficit push ups:
- Set your deficit to an appropriate width and height. Wider and higher means more pectoral engagement.
- Start with arms fully extended and lower yourself down through the movement.
- Lower yourself until you’ve reached full depth. You’re looking for more than 90 degree elbow bend and a full stretch of the chest.
- Slowly press yourself back up to a straight arm position.
- Repeat as many times as required.
These are the dumbbells we recommend for ‘most people’.
We have spent over 50 hours of research and compared over 100 dumbbells. Adjustable dumbbells make sense for most home gyms as they save space.
The Nüobell dumbbells go all the way to 80lbs per hand. This means they are much more versatile than most 50lbs adjustable dumbbells. You can use these for heavy shrugs, squats and bench press etc.
The main reason they are the top pick is because of their shape. They actually feel like real dumbbells and are not awkward to lift like some others.
3. Barbell bench press
What more is there to say about the barbell bench press? It’s the most popular upper body exercise of all. The bench press is the OG of chest exercises and does have excellent pec, shoulder and tricep benefits which is a big advantage in a workout designed around efficiency. Technique wise it’s a simple exercise to learn as well.
Equipment needed for bench press:
How to do a bench press:
- Lie under the barbell, with your hands slightly wider than your shoulders
- Taking the bar off the rack, position it over your chest
- Slowly lower the bar to your chest, bending your elbows outwards until you reach a depth around 1 inch from your chest
- At full depth, pause and push the bar back to the starting position
- Repeat as many times as necessary
This is the weight bench we recommend for ‘most people’.
We compared over 70 benches against 12 criteria. This is our highest-ranked flat, incline & decline (FID) bench.
Some adjustable benches can be a bit wobbly when on the incline. But the AB-3000 is very sturdy.
With a height 18mm it’s comparable to benches that cost twice as much.
Want some ideas on a lower body workout as well? If that’s the case, you will find these handy:
4. Bent over barbell row
This is the classic horizontal row exercise and has been a staple of training programmes for years. It’s a way to not only train the back and biceps, but it also activates the glutes and lower back as it requires them to work in order to keep the torso stable whilst lifting a heavy weight. With such a lot of benefit from a single upper body exercise, it had to be included.
Equipment needed for bent over barbell rows:
How to do bent over barbell rows:
- Hold the barbell with the grip of your choice – overhand or underhand
- Set your body position – straight, stiff back. Chest pointing towards the floor, perhaps with a slight incline, slight knee bend
- Pull the barbell up towards your chest, squeezing the shoulder blades together at the top
- At the top of the movement pause then slowly lower the barbell, but don’t let it touch the floor
- Repeat as many times as required
Bumper plates are ideal for a home gym.
They can last a lifetime and allow you to do additional lifts which require you to drop the bar.
Our team has compared over 100 types and the Rogue Fleck plates came out on top.
They are great value, use color allowing you to quickly see how much you’re lifting and the pattern will give your home gym a unique look.
5. Hammer curls
Hammer curls are probably the bicep exercise I programme the most – they tend to be the most elbow-joint friendly and they train the long head of the bicep, as well as the brachialis and the brachioradialis. This more general training of the bicep muscle group is an effective change from the other exercises, plus it gives your arms a new challenge.
Equipment needed for hammer curls:
How to do hammer curls:
- Stand with a dumbbell in each hand, hands by your sides, palms facing inwards
- Perform a standard curl, but keep your arms in a neutral grip (palms facing one another) throughout the entire movement
- Curl the dumbbells up slowly and smoothly until they reach full contraction
- At the top of the movement, slowly lower them back down until the your arm reaches full extension
- Repeat as many times as required
6. Parallel bar dips
The dip is a basic yet effective exercise for the chest and shoulders, again requiring very little in the way of additional equipment. It’s not an easy exercise, but the benefits are numerous and the injury risk is very low. It’s an easy exercise to progress and regress if you need to, so is suitable for all levels.
Start with bodyweight and focus on the full range of movement first. You can always add weight as a progression.
Equipment needed for dips:
- A dip bar
How to do dips:
- Take hold of the bars with a firm grip and jump to the start position, with arms at full extension
- Leaning forward slightly, initiate the movement by pushing the elbows back
- Continue the descent until you reach a 90 degree or further elbow bend – you’re looking to achieve a good pectoral muscle stretch
- At full depth, pause and push yourself back up to a full extension
- Repeat as many times as necessary
Looking for an affordable yet high quality power rack?
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After comparing over 100 types of squat racks the PR-4000 came out on top.
You can add any attachment to it (including cables, dip bars and plate holders). You can even add additional uprights to back to make it even more of a beast!
The 1 inch westside hole spacing means you can position the spotter arms to the ideal height when you bench press. So you can safely drop the bar and have a full range of motion when you lift.
And the 3×3″ 11 gauge steel make this the best value rack we could find.
7. Snatch Pulls
I like the snatch pull because it’s an exercise that involves the traps and erectors – muscles that are used in the pull up extensively. It also involves scapula (shoulder blade) movement and control that are also a part of the pull up movement. They’re an excellent upper back exercise.
Equipment needed for snatch pulls:
How to do a snatch pull:
- Keeping your back upright and straight, squat next to the bar
- Hold the barbell with a wide overhand grip, almost to the ends of the barbell
- Stand up by driving the feet into the floor, maintaining a straight back throughout
- Once the barbell is at hip height, aggressively pull the bar to the chest
- Lower the bar to the hips, then to the floor and repeat the movement
Check out our reverse pec deck alternatives if you’re looking to strengthen your upper back muscles.
This is the bar that we recommend for ‘most people’.
We have spent over 120 hours of research and tested over 100 barbells.
It is affordable but comes with some high specs. The Rogue Work Hardening and 190k PSI tensile strength mean the bar will last a lifetime in a home gym.
It is a multi-purpose bar with a 28.5mm diameter shaft and composite bushings in the sleeves. This means it’s balanced for heavy slow bench presses but you can also perform snatches and fast overhead lifts.
8. Shoulder Press
The shoulder press is the perfect overhead press – it’s an upper body exercise that has huge crossover benefits in sports too. It helps to develop strength, power, hypertrophy and upper spinal stability, so there’s much more to the movement than pure aesthetics – it’s a functional movement too. A must when training shoulders, plus it compliments the snatch pull perfectly, because it’s a horizontal push after a horizontal pull.
Equipment needed for barbell shoulder press:
How to do a barbell shoulder press:
- Hold the barbell with a slightly-wider-than- shoulder width grip on the chest
- Use an overhand grip (palms facing away from you)
- Press the bar directly overhead, maintaining a good grip throughout
- At full extension, pause and lower the bar back down to the starting position
- Repeat as many times as necessary
9. Hanging Leg Raises
This is probably my favorite ab exercise of them all, because it’s three benefits in one. First of all it trains the abs very well – you’re having to engage them fully to lift the legs up and down, so there are very few moments where they’re not engaged. Secondly, it’s a great way to improve grip strength. Thirdly, the passive hanging nature of this exercise helps to stretch the lats, which is always a good thing.
Equipment needed for hanging leg raises:
- Pull up bar (check out our guides on best wall mounted pull up bars and best free standing pull up bars if you’re looking for the right pull up bar for your needs)
How to do hanging leg raises:
- Start by hanging from the bar with an overhand grip and relaxed shoulders. The toes should be pointing towards the floor
- Keeping your back and legs straight, lift the legs until your toes are pointing out in front of you
- When your legs are parallel with the floor, slowly lower them down to the start position
- Make sure your movements are slow and deliberate – if you go too fast you’ll swing backwards and forwards
- Repeat until the set is over
10. Dorsal Raises
The dorsal raise is a simple back exercise that helps strengthen right through the middle of the back, down to the glutes. It’s a simple but effective exercise and really helpful for preventing injury. It’s the opposite of the hanging leg raises and benefits the lower back in an extension pattern, which can help general core strength.
Equipment needed for Dorsal Raises:
- Floor space to lie down in
- Yoga mat (optional)
How to do Dorsal Raises:
- Lie face down on the floor
- Lift your upper and lower body off the floor at the same time, making you ‘U’ shaped
- Slowly return to the starting position
- Repeat for the thirty seconds
So these exercises conclude the Mass in Minutes Upper Body Workout. They work together to build a complimentary program that will help you pack on upper body muscle and build a great physique in minimal time.
Upper Body Workout – FAQs
Answers to questions you may have on the program…
Can I do cardio on the program?
You can, but factor it around your weight training. My suggestion is that you follow the upper and lower body workouts in the same week, using the Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday schedule you’ll have Wednesday and the weekends free.
How long should I run this program for?
As with the leg workout version, I’d suggest 8 weeks before the first break. If you want to continue after that, go ahead. For the start though, stick with it for 8 weeks and see how you get on.
Is this a good fat loss program?
I think if you do the two together it’s perfectly suitable for fat loss. It’s not designed to be an outright strength program, and if I knew a client was tracking their food properly I’d be more than happy to use these programs to help them with their fat loss.
It’ll certainly help you get in/stay in excellent shape when done properly.
Can I switch the time for reps?
No. Challenge yourself. Change your thinking. Use it as a way to grow, to develop and to experience new ways of training. There’s definitely a value in keeping your body guessing, and this is a definite way to do that.
You never know – it might change your training forever.
How do I progress when it’s a time-based workout rather than rep based?
The exact same way – just add more weight. If you can’t manage a full 30 second set on your new weights, don’t worry. Train to failure anyway – in time you’ll develop the strength and capacity to lift the new weight for the full 30 seconds.
As always, keep aiming for that 2-5% weekly increase in strength across the length of the program.
Mass in Minutes Upper Body Workout: The bottom line
This is a perfect program for those people who think they don’t have enough time to get a great workout in. Try this approach and you’ll see just how effective it is.
It’s a simple yet effective workout, designed to maximize the workload and efficiency. You don’t need much in the way of equipment (the picture earlier in the article shows how you can set up the entire workout in a few square feet), but it delivers great results.
It’s time to shake off the belief system that you need a lot of time or equipment to get great results in the gym. With a handful of exercises, some basic equipment and ruthless execution of the workouts you can achieve great things!
Get yourself in the gym and get to work… it won’t take you long!
Check out our lower body workout program to complement this one.
Want to improve your home gym?
Use the hours of research, testing and experience inside the ultimate guide to build a home gym. Find out…
- The 4 items of kit every gym needs
- What you should avoid
- Where to find bargains and discounts
Click here to learn more about how to build a home gym.