Strength-training exercises for upper body

These exercises develop the muscles of your upper body, such as the muscles of your chest, shoulders and arms.

Remember to check with your health care team before beginning any exercise program. Although we have provided strength-training exercises to suit most people, some of them may not be right for you.

Exercise instructions and videos on this page:

Standing push-up

Muscle group: Chest and shoulders
  1. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Lean slightly against the wall with your arms outstretched at shoulder height and your hands on the wall. Do not lock your elbows or knees.
  2. Slowly move your body towards the wall, bending your arms at the elbow.
  3. Once your nose is close to the wall, push away, against your body weight. Breathe out as you push back to the starting position. Repeat the standing push-up.

Modified push-up

Muscle group: Chest, shoulders and arms
  1. Start with your knees and hands on the floor and your arms extended. Keep your back and bottom as straight as possible, and keep your head in line with your spine.
  2. Lower your torso slowly, bending your arms at the elbow.
  3. Push up – try not to lock your elbows at the top. Breathe out as you push back up to the starting position. Repeat the modified push-up.

⇓ If you feel any pain in your back doing this exercise, bring your hands closer to your body.

Standing row

Muscle group: Shoulders, back and triceps
Equipment: Elastic resistance band 
  1. Attach the resistance band to a fixed point, ensuring it is well secured. Stand with your arms outstretched at waist height.
  2. Pull the resistance band by drawing your elbows backwards and maintaining hands at waist height. Breathe out while pulling the band. Make sure your spine does not move, but keep your neck and upper shoulders relaxed.
  3. Slowly return to the starting position, then repeat the standing row.

Shoulder press

Muscle group: Shoulders
Equipment: Gymstick, barbell, pole, broomstick or hand weights
  1. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Hold the bar at chest height with your elbows almost completely bent (so they are almost touching your sides).
  2. Push the bar up until it is above and slightly in front of your head. Breathe out during the lift and maintain good posture – don’t raise your shoulders.
  3. Pause, then lower the bar back to the starting position. Repeat the lift.

⇑ Increase the difficulty by adding weight or elastic resistance to the bar.

Upright row

Muscle group: Shoulders and trapezius
Equipment: Hand weights 
  1. Stand with your arms by your side and your feet shoulder width apart. Hold the weights with palms facing your thighs. Tighten the tummy muscles (abdominals).
  2. Bending your arms, raise both weights slowly up to shoulder height. Breathe out when lifting the weights and avoid jerking them up. Maintain your head and neck position, looking straight ahead. Feel the exercise work the muscles in your shoulders and not in your neck.
  3. Pause, then lower both weights back to the starting position. Repeat the lift.

Biceps curl

Muscle group: Biceps
Equipment: Hand weights, gymstick or barbell
  1. Stand with your arms by your side. Hold the weights with your palms pointing forward.
  2. Bend your elbows to lift the weights to shoulder height. Keep your elbows tucked in, avoid moving your shoulders and make sure your body does not sway. Breathe out during the lift.
  3. Slowly return almost to the starting position but do not fully straighten your elbows – keep them slightly bent. Repeat the lift.

This information was last reviewed in April 2016
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