Former Emmerdale and Hollyoaks star Gemma Atkinson is known for having a figure that is fit, firm, feminine and strong!

Gemma actually built her head-turning body during a 12-week transformation at Ultimate Performance with the end goal of creating the very best version of herself.

During Gemma’s U.P. transformation she transformed her physique and her confidence shot to new heights, learning to train with weights and shape her body.

What is even more inspiring is her transformation story was the catalyst that has inspired so many women to start their own body transformation journeys.

If you are like any normal person who has a busy job, home life, social life and other priorities then you probably do not want to be in the gym for hours and hours each day trying to chip away at random exercises to get the look you want.

What is needed is smart, hard and time-efficient training.

For that, we have set you up for success with this upper body workout that gives you the most bang for your buck in the shortest amount of time.

Supersets (two exercises performed back to back before taking a short rest and repeating) are a fantastic way of achieving this. 

Now let us move onto the secrets on how to effectively build the female upper body. The biggest misconception is that you will look big, bulky and manly. 

Why This Workout Works

 

Set yourself up for success with this upper body workout that gives you the most bang for your buck in the shortest amount of time. 

Supersets (two exercises performed back to back before taking a short rest and repeating) are a fantastic way of achieving this. 

Now let us move onto the secrets on how to effectively build the female upper body. The biggest misconception is that you will look big, bulky and manly. 

As Gemma has proven with her inspiring transformation, this is far from the truth.

 

How does this fit into your weekly workout routine?

 

The great thing about this upper body workout is that it can fit in with any kind of training split. Below is a favourite workout split that incorporates so much value and bang for your buck. 

 

Monday – Upper Body

Tuesday – Lower Body

Wednesday – Rest/Yoga

Thursday – Cardio (Gym Class, StairMaster or Outdoor Sport)

Friday – Upper Body

Saturday – Lower Body

Sunday – Rest – Get outside in the fresh air!

Here is an upper body workout with some added cardio conditioning to help you get a body like Gemma Atkinson:

The Workout

*D1 ‘Upper Body Conditioning’ – add in Gemma’s 10-minute Battle Rope training from Workout 2.

How to Perform the Exercises

This guide is aimed at trainees with a good knowledge of the exercises and how to train safely and effectively. 

If you are unsure and want access to training programmes, nutrition information and over 250+ demonstration videos, sign up for LiveUP online coaching today or consult a qualified PT.

The Set-Up

  • Pick up the dumbbell using a neutral grip and sit on the 45-degree bench with them resting on your thighs, close to your hip crease. 
  • Position your feet shoulder-width apart, under or behind your knees and flat on the floor. 
  • Lean back against the bench, using your thighs to help get the dumbbells into position, level with your chest and then up to a stacked position, with the wrist, elbow and shoulder all aligned. 
  • Point your chest upwards (but keep the ribcage tucked down) towards the ceiling and tuck your shoulder blades down into your back pockets. 
  • Your shoulders and glutes should be touching the bench, and there will be a small gap between your lower can and the bench. 
  • This is the start and end position for each rep. 

 

The Movement

  • From the stacked position at the top, “pull” the dumbbells down towards your chest with the arms at an angle of 45-60 degrees to your torso.
  • You have reached the end of your range-of-motion when you can no longer lower the dumbbells without the shoulder rounding forwards.
  • Pause before reversing the motion, under control, to return to the start position.
  • Pause again before repeating for the desired number of reps. 
  • On the last rep, lower the dumbbells to your chest, tuck your elbows in and sit forwards using your legs to generate momentum. You can also ask a training partner to take one dumbbell from you at a time. 

 

Trainer Tips

  • Make sure that the dumbbells do not clang together at the top of the movement. 
  • Ensure that you do not ‘shrug’ the weight up at the top. This reduces shoulder stability and increases the risk of injury. Focus on keeping the shoulder blades tucked down throughout. 

The Set-Up

  • Attached a neutral-grip attachment to a seated cable stack. This attachment will have your hands in a position where your palms will be facing each other.
  • Extend your legs out onto the platforms in front for stability.
  • Sit back so that your legs are almost straight.
  • Keep a vertical torso 

 

The Movement

  • Begin to pull the handle towards yourself, leading with the elbows. 
  • As you pull the elbows back, pinch your shoulder blades together, making sure not to raise them up and hunch.
  • Ensure you keep a vertical torso throughout. 
  • Now guide the weight back towards the stack in a controlled manner.

 

Trainer Tips

  • To get an optimal contraction and muscle stimulation, as you pinch your shoulder blades together, keep your chest pushed upwards.
  • Make sure the movement is kept under complete control in order to maximise the benefits.
  • If your grip begins to fail, you can use straps so that grip does not become a limiting factor.

The Set-Up

  • Start with the dumbbells on your legs and kick them up to your shoulder area to properly load yourself in the right position.
  • Maintain a position that allows for your lower back to stay in contact with the back pad as well as maintain thoracic extension (keep your chest high).
  • Keep the abs engaged throughout the movement to lock your position in place throughout the movement while also keeping the feet pressing into the floor for extra support.

 

The Movement

  • Example: Press the dumbbells overhead until your arms are straight, bring them back down to ear height or lowest point you can maintain tension in the shoulders.
  • Concentric: The fully shortened position is determined by how far you can press the dumbbells without allowing for the shoulder blades to elevate or have the lower back come off the back pad.
  • Eccentric: The fully-stretched position is determined by how far you can bring the dumbbells down while still maintaining tension in the shoulders. If you come down too low, tension will drop off and your shoulders might round forward.
  • Common Errors: As the set becomes progressively more challenging, it’s typical to see the lower back come off the pad, changing the incline into a flat bench and taking the tension off the shoulders and placing it elsewhere

 

Trainer Tips

  • If you have shoulder problems, such as tightness throughout the shoulders and traps as you raise your arms straight overhead, you can do this movement pain-free if you change the 90-degree upright seated position to more of a 60-70-degree incline.
  • You can also try bringing your elbows closer to the body, keeping the arms in a slightly diagonal position

The Set-Up

  • Grip the cable attachment with a neutral grip and sit down on the bench with your upper thighs securely positioned under the padding. 
  • Sit up as tall as possible (keeping the ribcage tucked), with your arms fully extended above your head but avoid shrugging your shoulders up to your ears.
  • This is the start and end position for each rep.

 

The Movement

  • Keeping your torso still, initiate the movement by dropping your shoulder blades down into your back pockets (closing the gap between your armpit and your hips). Think ‘taking the elevator down’ not ‘pinching’ when it comes to the shoulder blades.
  • Draw the elbow downwards vertically (not backwards), maintaining the same torso position and high chest throughout. 
  • You have reached the end of your range-of-motion when your elbows cannot travel any further without your shoulders rotating inwards and upper back rounding. 
  • Pause for a moment and focus on contracting the lats by squeezing your elbows into your sides. 
  • Reverse the motion, under control, to return to the start position.
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps. 

 

Trainer Tips

  • Imagine you are taking your shoulder blades up and down like an elevator; allow them to move through their full range-of-motion rather than yanking the bar with your arms. 
  • Avoid using cable attachments that are narrower than your shoulders as this can restrict your range-of-motion. 
  • Use lifting straps to avoid grip becoming a limiting factor in the movement.
  • Watch how far the weight stack travels on each rep as a reference point for your range-of-motion. If this shortens significantly between the first and last rep, the weight is too heavy. 
  • The arm muscles will contribute to this movement but they should not be doing all the work. Focus on drawing the weight down using the back only, the arms should simply assist in the movement.

The Set-Up

  • Pick up the dumbbells and sit on the bench. 
  • Let your arms hang by your sides and hold the dumbbells with either an underhand or neutral grip. 
  • Point your chest up and pinch your shoulder blades back together.
  • Position your elbows directly below your shoulders. 
  • This is the start and finish position for each rep. 

 

The Movement

  • Curl the dumbbells up towards your shoulders. 
  • Keep your upper arms still and wrists straight throughout the movement. 
  • You have reached the end of your range of motion when you cannot move any further without your shoulders or elbows pulling forwards.
  • Pause for a moment and focus on contracting (squeezing) your biceps). 
  • Reverse the motion, under control, to return the start position. 
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps. 

 

Trainer Tips

  • Keep your upper arms still and elbows fixed below your shoulders to keep maximal tension on your biceps. 
  • Focus on curling your little finger up towards the ceiling to help create a more intense contraction. 
  • Single-joint exercises like the dumbbell biceps curl require less full-body effort than multi-joint exercises and it can be tempting to cut short your rest period. Make sure you stick to the recommended rest interval to give your muscles time to recover and maintain performance levels.

The Set-Up

  • Adjust the cable to the highest setting and attach two standard length rope attachments or one long rope attachment.
  • Hold the ropes with a neutral grip and take three to four steps back from the station. 
  • If performing the standing version, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, push your hips back and lean forward slightly. 
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades back together and pull your elbows back behind your shoulders. 
  • This is the start and finish position for each rep. 

 

The Movement

  • Keeping your upper arms and torso still, extend your elbows to straighten your arms. 
  • You have reached the end of your range-of-motion when you cannot move any further without your upper back rounding and shoulders rotating inwards. 
  • Pause for a moment and focus on contracting (squeezing) your triceps. 
  • Reverse the motion, under control, to return to the start position. 
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps. 

 

Trainer Tips

  • Make sure to move through the fullest range-of-motion possible, fully flexing your elbows on the return to the start position. 
  • Keep your upper arms still and do not let the weight pull you out of position. The only movement should come from your forearms hinging on your elbow joints. 
  • Single-joint exercises like the cable triceps extension require less full-body effort than multi-joint exercises, and it can be tempting to cut short your rest period. Make sure you stick to the recommended rest interval to give your muscles time to recover and maintain performance level.

The Set-Up 

  • Pick up the dumbbells, sit on the end of a flat bench bench and lean forward slightly from the waist, keeping your back straight. 
  • Hold the dumbbells with a neutral grip and let your arms hang just outside of your thighs (to maintain a slight level of tension throughout) with a small bend in your elbows. 
  • This is the start and end position for each rep. 

 

The Movement

  • Push the dumbbells out to your sides while keeping your shoulders depressed. Your elbows should travel just in front of your shoulders. 
  • You have reached the end of your range of motion when you cannot lift the dumbbells any higher without your shoulders shrugging upwards. 
  • Pause for a moment before reversing the motion, under control, to return to the start position. 
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps. 

 

Trainer Tips

  • Do not use momentum to ‘swing’ the weight upwards. Keep control of the dumbbells at all times. 
  • Keep your little finger slightly higher than your thumb throughout the movement to keep maximal tension on your medial deltoid. 
  • If you cannot pause briefly at the top and bottom of the rep, the load is too heavy. 
  • Single-joint exercises like the lateral raise require less effort than multi-joint movements but make sure to stick to the prescribed rest period to ensure you can maintain performance. 
  • This is a complex exercise so start light and only increase the load when you are happy with your technique. Use a mirror to monitor your form.

Alternate between Bicep Waves and Big Slams with 20 seconds work, 20 seconds rest, for 10 minutes as follows:

If your gym doesn’t have battle ropes then here are 2 more fantastic options for you to add in:

Assault Bike – 10 minutes of 20 seconds of sprint 40 seconds of rest
Rower – 10 minutes of 20 seconds of sprint 40 seconds of rest

By Dan Dubois

 

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