Pick moves than don't strain your joints.
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Working your upper body is a key part of any training regimen. While many people wanting to lose weight often skip the weights in favor of cardio, building upper-body muscle can help boost your metabolism, meaning you burn more calories, and also gives your body shape. If you're overweight, just starting back to weight training or have recently suffered an injury, stick to low-impact exercises. Low impact doesn't have to mean low intensity though. You can still get a great workout without negatively impacting your joints and muscles.
Any exercise where you pull a weight toward you is classed as an upper-body pull. These work your back, traps and biceps muscles. Most pulling exercises such as dumbbell or barbell rows, along with seated rows or lat pull-downs on a cable machine, are low impact. Trainer Tony Gentilcore of Cressey Performance in Boston specifically recommends using a TRX trainer or suspension system for upper-body pulls. Set the handles around chest height, grasp one in each hand, step your feet forward and lean back, then pull your torso toward your hands. The farther you lean back, the harder this will be. Add one-arm cable rows and band rows, too, advises Gentilcore.
Pushing exercises involve pushing a weight away from your center of mass. Dumbbell presses in various forms are your best bet here. Perform either dumbbell presses lying on a flat bench to work your chest or sitting up to hit your shoulders. You have more control over dumbbells than a barbell, so change hand and shoulder position slightly to reduce the impact. Pushups are a good choice, too, but full pushups can be high impact to start, so begin with pushups on your knees.
What to Avoid
Unless you're particularly advanced, plyometric exercises are out the window. These are explosive moves that involve leaving the floor. According to the American Council on Exercise, when performed safely, plyometric moves can strengthen joints, but one false move could be severely detrimental. Avoid clap pushups and medicine ball throws, where you throw a medicine ball with a partner -- catching the ball could impact against your wrists, elbows or shoulders. Boxing is high impact, too, so stick to low-impact cardio such as walking or swimming.
Planning the Program
How you set up your workout depends on your goals. If you're training for strength, keep your repetitions lower, weights higher and rest periods longer. Pick four or five exercises for each upper-body workout, and perform three to five sets of six to 10 reps on each, resting two to three minutes between sets. For muscular endurance, go with two to three sets of 12 to 20 reps and 45- to 60-second rest periods. If you're picking low-impact exercises as you're overweight or obese, your goal should be to keep moving for the whole session, writes coach Michael Boyle on StrengthCoach.com, so perform your exercises in a circuit-fashion and add in small bouts of cardio or mobility drills between upper-body moves.