Quick Upper Body Workout Featuring Tabata

Build your upper body muscles with this quick workout.


By Anthony Fowler


Right now I am on leave in the states. When traveling, there is always a degree of uncertainty for those wanting to stay in shape. I have personally experienced the drawback of not having a good gym at my apartment complex. Between this and the fact that I don’t have much time, things can become rather difficult.

As a soldier, I am required to be in shape at all times. I rather enjoy working out, but as you can imagine with leave and three children, there isn't exactly a plethora of spare time. I need to be able to get in and out of the gym quickly. This led me to develop a quick and dirty workout for the area I have been focusing on over the past few weeks: my upper body.

I wanted to be able to get a really quick and effective workout without the fuss of specialized equipment and lengthy hour long routines. I decided to go use the Tabata approach. This is an approach to training where one performs 20 seconds of hard intense exercise followed by 10 seconds of rest.

It is a really fast paced workout that will provide an intense workout in little time. It normally lasts about 20 minutes and can be a great routine for any goal.

Intensity is the name of the game. Since you will be constantly working for the 20 seconds and only getting 10 seconds of rest, the workout is very challenging and has the capacity to increase both your aerobic and anaerobic capacities. After 4 minutes, or 8 rounds, you rest for one minute before immediately moving to the next exercise. These exercises are intense and you should be working the whole time. If needed, you should lessen your weight or resistance.

For my workout I did the following (Found in Fitness Buddy App):

  • Bodyweight Pushup (Decline Regular Grip)
  • Cable Lat Pulldown (Seated Overhand Grip)
  • Dumbbell Bench Press (Flat Overhand Grip)
  • Dumbbell Biceps Curl (Neutral Grip)
  • Bodyweight Pushup (Incline Regular Grip)

Since I do 5 exercises, my routine lasts about 25 minutes.

Definitely consider the above routine if you want to focus in on a different area of your body. The Tabata routine can be very versatile as long as you apply the correct principles to your selected exercises.

You can also build your own upper body workout. Start by choosing a couple exercises that highlight the muscle groups you want to work on. After selecting the areas you want to workout, choose some good compound movements. You can consult the Fitness Buddy App to see several different variations on the exercises listed below.

Some examples of compound exercises include:

  • Pushups (Chest, Shoulders, and Triceps)
  • Pullups (Back and Biceps)
  • Lat Pulldown (Back and Biceps)
  • Rows (Back and Rear Shoulders)
  • Bench Press (Chest, Shoulders, and Triceps)

To make it a quick and dirty workout, try to include exercises like the above that:

  • Require little to no equipment.
  • Allow quick weight adjustment
  • Can be performed no matter what gym you go to
  • Can be adjusted in case you are at home or in a place where there is no gym

You want the exercises to require little to no equipment so it is easy to begin your workout and you will not have to wait around for equipment to become available. I hate when I have to wait in a queue for the Squat Rack or Incline Bench. Choosing to perform my Bench Press without the bench eliminates the wait. Besides, the floor is always available.

Because you want to work hard and continuously during the 20 second work cycle, ensure that your exercise weight can be adjusted. This means you should avoid barbells as they can be a pain to adjust. Use machines or dumbbells. Go light, and adjust as necessary.

If you decide to use body-weight when you do push-ups don't be afraid to get on your knees. Leave your pride at the door. When no one is watching you and if they are, they will see that you have been doing push-ups for the past four minutes. Work hard and continue to push yourself. The goal is to work the whole work period.

Pick exercises that don't require special equipment. This means avoid T-Bar Rows or Cable Pulley exercises. Smaller gyms (like ones in apartment complexes) don't have them. Also, as stated before, if someone else is using them, your workout won't be as quick.

Finally, pick exercises that can be adjusted for when there isn't a gym around and you have to use body weight. Now that you’ve read this whole article, what are you going to do about it? Tabatas are a great way to switch up your workout regimen or find a routine that works better for your current time constraints. Now get to work!

Anthony Fowler is a certified Army Master Fitness Trainer who has been a fitness and nutrition enthusiast since he was 19. He has tried everything from Kefir to Tribulus in his quest to gain muscle mass and maintain a healthy lifestyle. He is a husband and father of three, and aspiring chef who enjoys lifting heavy weights, cooking healthy meals, and sharing his knowledge and experiences with anyone who will listen.

Main Photo Credit & Third Photo Credit: bogdanhoda/; Second Photo Credit: Jasminko Ibrakovic/; Fourth Photo Credit: cybrain/