Upper Body Workout for Women Who Fear Chest Day

Upper Body Workout for Women Who Fear Chest Day

In gyms all across the country, women are boldly kicking back at the cable station, fearlessly bending over with heavy dumbbells and hip thrusting loaded barbells in the middle of the weight room floor. They have even de-mystified the squat rack. But there is one exercise that many ladies feel uncomfortable about: the bench press.

Maybe it’s because our lower body strength comes more naturally, or perhaps the booty-blasting craze is still in full effect? I tend to think there are three reasons:

  1. Women are afraid to have “manly” pectoral muscles or,
  2. of accidentally augmenting their breast position and size, and
  3. The bench press is our weakest lift, so it is daunting and makes us feel like we don’t have the “right” to take up space at the bench, which is usually mobbed by a bunch of bros, anyhow.

Related - Best Leg Workouts for Women

Fear not, ladies! I’m here to give you two days of upper body sessions that you can interject between your “project peach” workouts. These will keep your body symmetrical and strong without adding the type of bulk you may be afraid of.

Why is Chest Important?

I hear a lot of women say they want sexy, capped shoulders, but no pecs. However, if you work on your shoulders all day and not your chest, you will create an unsightly imbalance where your shoulders draw in and give you the appearance of hunching over.

If you neglect the chest, other muscles start trying to compensate, such as arms, back, and, especially your shoulders. This can leave you open to all kinds of imbalances and injuries.

Pressing exercises get you off the floor if you fall down. They shove a creepy guy out of your personal space. They assist your back muscles with holding the weight you squat firmly on your back. They hold things above you, away from you and help protect your ribs and chest cavity from injury.

You may think none of this is a problem at the moment, but consider this: One day you will be 70 years old, then, 80. You will fall down. Will you be strong enough to get up, having never done a push-up or pressing exercise? Your butt won’t look so great if you can’t get it off the floor is all I’m saying.

How to Bench Press Properly

Lie on the bench and plant your feet firmly on the floor where they are comfortable. The key is to get them close to your butt, while still being able to press your feet flat into the floor.

Pinch your shoulder blades together and press your upper back into the bench. This may produce an arch in the lower back. This slight arch is perfectly fine. (If you get into powerlifting, you will learn how to do an exaggerated arch, but that skill requires a coach.)

Raise your arms up to the bar and grip it with your thumb wrapped around the bar. Try to make sure the bar itself rests on your mid to lower palm and not the upper part of your hand, which will put unnecessary stress on your wrists.

Take a deep breath, brace yourself, and unrack the bar. Exhale.

Take another deep breath and brace everything. Lower the bar to your chest and then push it up as if you are trying to push something off of you. Some people equate it to “throwing” the bar off of you, but there isn’t a need to be explosive or lock your arms when you are just starting out. Exhale when it is up.

Make sure your whole body is tight. On the push, you may also drive your feet down into the ground. This will help you understand what position is best for a solid press. Do not let the bar path travel up to your eye level, you want it over your upper chest at the end, not over your shoulders or face.

Now that we know how to perform the lift, let's start building some upper bodies to go with those fabulous legs!

Chest Workout A

General warm-up: (10 minutes on a cardio machine of your choice, at an easy/moderate pace)

Specific warm-up: 2 rounds of:

  • 5 push-ups
  • 5 one armband pulldowns
  • 8-10 dislocates with PVC or band


  • Bench - 1 set x 10 reps, 1 set x 7 reps (3 sets x 5 reps) 2-3 min rest
  • Incline dumbbell - (4x8) 60-90 second rest
  • One arm row - (10, 8, 6) 60-90 second rest
  • Lat pulldown - (3x10) 60-second rest
  • Shoulder lateral flyes - (4x10) 60-second rest
  • Rear delt flyes - (4x10) 60 seconds

Chest Workout B

General warm-up: (10 minutes on a cardio machine of your choice, at an easy/moderate pace)

Specific warm-up: 2 rounds of:

  • 5 push-ups
  • 5 one arm band pulldowns
  • 8-10 dislocates with PVC or band


  • Overhead Press - 1x10, 1x7, (3x5) 2-3 minute rest
  • Close-grip bench - (4x8) 60-90 second rest
  • Seated cable rows - (3x10) 60-90 second rest
  • Pull-ups - (assisted 4x5 -OR - unassisted 4 sets of AMRAP – target 2-3) 1-2 min rest
  • Dips - (assisted 4x8 – OR – Unassisted 4 sets of AMRAP – target 8) 60-90 second rest

How This Program Works

Alternate workout A and workout B in between your lower body and core days. Make sure there is at least one day in between them to rest your upper body and recover.

There is one big press each day, which you will perform for strength, followed by accessories and other functional movements that support the lift. The goal is to go as heavy as you can for each rep range, with the allotted rest periods. If it is too difficult, lower the amount of weight you are lifting until it is challenging, but not completely exhausting.

Each workout will give you full push and pull, so no need to add bicep curls or triceps kickbacks, or any of those type of isolation movements. I did not include cable chest flyes, either, because they will produce more hypertrophy than strength.

A note on pull-ups and dips: feel free to use the assisted pull-ups or dips machine at the gym or light bands for the pull-ups. Women’s upper body strength varies and some can bang out push-ups and pull-ups and dips, while some have a difficult time with just a few.

Use your best judgment and modify anything you need to. This program is designed to balance your upper body, give you functional strength, and make you comfortable with bench pressing, not to be a strong woman or a bodybuilder. Go at a pace that builds your confidence.

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