5 Underrated Upper Body Exercises Everyone Should Try

Looking to shake up your upper body workout? Discover five underrated exercises that can boost your strength and add variety to your routine.

Keep reading for a detailed breakdown of each exercise and how to incorporate them effectively into your fitness plan.

Kettlebell Halo

The Kettlebell Halo is a dynamic exercise that not only sculpts the upper body but also engages your core, promoting functional fitness and mobility.

Ideal for those looking to spice up their routine with something different, this exercise targets multiple muscle groups in a single motion.

What is the Kettlebell Halo?

The Kettlebell Halo primarily works the shoulders, triceps, and the muscles of the upper back, while simultaneously engaging the core, including the abdominals and obliques.

By moving the kettlebell around the head in a circular motion, this exercise helps improve shoulder mobility and core stability, making it a great all-around choice for upper body strength and coordination.

Step-by-Step Guide to Performing the Kettlebell Halo

  1. Choose the Right Weight: Start with a light kettlebell to master the form before progressing to heavier weights.
  2. Starting Position: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold the kettlebell in front of your chest with both hands on the handle, the ball facing up.
  3. Movement Phase:
    • Slowly move the kettlebell around your head, staying close to your scalp to maintain control.
    • Begin by moving to the right, going behind the head and completing the circle by bringing it to the front on your left side.
    • Ensure the motion is smooth and controlled; the kettlebell should orbit your head evenly.
  4. Repetitions: After completing a circle to the right, reverse the direction, moving the kettlebell around to the left.
  5. Duration: Perform 8-10 rotations in each direction per set, aiming for 2-3 sets.

Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

  • Losing Grip: Ensure your hands are dry; use chalk if necessary to prevent the kettlebell from slipping.
  • Too Fast: Performing the halo too quickly can lead to loss of control. Maintain a slow, deliberate pace to keep tension in the correct muscles.
  • Poor Posture: Keep your back straight and core engaged throughout the exercise. Avoid leaning backwards or forwards; your body should remain upright.
  • Using Too Heavy a Weight: Starting with a weight that's too heavy can compromise form and lead to injuries. Begin with a manageable weight and only increase when you can perform the exercise with perfect form.

Variations and Progressions

  • Seated Kettlebell Halo: To isolate the upper body more and reduce the reliance on your core, perform the halo while seated on a bench.
  • Half-Kneeling Halo: Increase core engagement and stability by performing the exercise in a half-kneeling position.
  • Kettlebell Halo with Pause: Add a pause at the back of the head to increase time under tension, improving strength and endurance in the shoulder girdle.
  • Increase Weight: As you become more comfortable with the form, gradually increase the weight of the kettlebell to further challenge your muscles and enhance strength gains.

Farmer's Carry

The Farmer's Carry is a straightforward yet incredibly effective exercise that enhances strength, stability, and endurance.

This functional movement not only builds muscle but also improves grip strength and overall body resilience, making it a must-try for anyone looking to boost their physical performance.

Benefits of Farmer's Carry

  • Enhances Core Stability: As you carry weight on either side of your body, your core has to work hard to keep you upright and balanced, strengthening the abdominal and lower back muscles.
  • Builds Grip Strength: Holding onto weights for extended periods increases the endurance and strength of your forearms and grip.
  • Improves Postural Strength: The need to maintain an upright position while moving enhances the stability and strength of your postural muscles, including those in your back and shoulders.
  • Increases Cardiovascular Fitness: Depending on the distance and speed, the Farmer's Carry can also provide a cardiovascular workout.
  • Whole-body Conditioning: It engages almost every part of the body, including legs, arms, shoulders, and the core, providing a comprehensive workout.

How to Properly Execute Farmer’s Carry

  1. Selecting the Weight: Choose weights that are challenging yet manageable to hold for the duration of the walk.
  2. Grip and Lift: Squat down to lift the weights using a safe and solid grip; stand up by straightening your legs, keeping your back straight.
  3. Posture: Keep your shoulders back, chest out, and look straight ahead. Your back should be neutral, and your core should be tight throughout the movement.
  4. Walking: Start walking using short, quick steps. Keep the weights steady at your sides without swinging them.
  5. Setting Down: Once you've reached your distance, carefully squat slightly and lower the weights back to the ground without rounding your back.

Equipment Options

  • Traditional Dumbbells or Kettlebells: These are standard in most gyms and perfect for Farmer's Carries.
  • Barbells: Can be used for a different grip and balance challenge.
  • Sandbags: Offer a more unstable weight, increasing the challenge for grip and core stability.
  • Water Jugs or Heavy Buckets: Great home alternatives that also challenge stability due to the shifting weight of the water.

Incorporating Farmer’s Carry into Your Routine

  • Beginner Workout Plan:
    • 3 sets of 20 meters carry, twice a week. Increase the distance by 10 meters each week.
  • Intermediate Workout Plan:
    • Combine 30 meters of Farmer’s Carry with 15 bodyweight squats, 3 sets, three times a week.
  • Advanced Workout Plan:
    • Integrate into a circuit: 40 meters of Farmer’s Carry, 20 kettlebell swings, 10 push-ups, 5 rounds with minimal rest between rounds.
  • Daily Life Integration:
    • Incorporate short carries into your daily routine, like carrying groceries from the store to your car or carrying laundry baskets up and down stairs.


Chin-ups are a classic upper-body exercise that is often overlooked for its more popular counterpart, the pull-up.

However, chin-ups offer unique benefits for targeting the biceps and back, providing an intense workout that enhances both strength and muscle definition.

Chin-Ups vs. Pull-Ups: Understanding the Difference

  • Muscle Targeting: Chin-ups require you to grip the bar with your palms facing towards you, which places more emphasis on the biceps compared to pull-ups, which have an overhand grip that targets the back muscles more intensely.
  • Difficulty: Chin-ups are generally considered slightly easier than pull-ups because the biceps can help more effectively in the lifting motion.
  • Wrist Position: The underhand grip of chin-ups is typically easier on the wrists, making it a better option for those with wrist issues.

Mastering the Chin-Up

  1. Start with Grip Strength: Develop your grip by hanging from the bar with both hands for as long as you can. Aim to increase your hang time gradually.
  2. Negative Chin-Ups: Jump up to get your chin over the bar and slowly lower yourself down. This helps build strength in the relevant muscles.
  3. Assisted Chin-Ups: Use a resistance band under your feet or knees to support some of your weight as you pull yourself up.
  4. Full Chin-Ups: Begin with your arms fully extended, pull yourself up until your chin is over the bar, then lower yourself back down slowly.
  5. Volume and Consistency: Start with as many full chin-ups as you can manage, then complete your set with assisted or negative reps. Aim for 2-3 sets, 2-3 times a week.

Tools and Aids to Help Improve Chin-Ups

Advanced Techniques

  • Weighted Chin-Ups: Add extra weight with a belt or vest to increase difficulty once you are comfortable with body-weight chin-ups.
  • L-Sit Chin-Ups: Pull yourself up while keeping your legs extended in front of you in an L-shape to engage your core significantly.
  • One-Arm Chin-Ups: A highly advanced variation that requires exceptional strength and balance.
  • Typewriter Chin-Ups: Pull yourself up, then move side to side before lowering back down to work different angles of the muscles.

Bottom-Up Kettlebell Press

The Bottom-Up Kettlebell Press is not only an impressive skill to demonstrate but also an excellent exercise for enhancing shoulder stability, grip strength, and overall upper body control.

This challenging variation turns the typical kettlebell press upside down, quite literally, adding a unique component to any strength routine.

Exploring the Bottom-Up Press

  • Enhanced Shoulder Stability: Holding the kettlebell in the bottom-up position requires significant muscle control and stabilization within the shoulder complex.
  • Increased Grip Strength: The demand to maintain the kettlebell's inverted position greatly enhances forearm strength and the muscular endurance of the grip.
  • Improved Motor Control: Performing presses in this manner teaches precision and control, improving neuromuscular coordination.
  • Core Engagement: The unstable nature of the kettlebell in this exercise forces the core to engage deeply to maintain balance and posture throughout the movement.

Technique Breakdown

  1. Starting Position:
    • Begin by cleaning the kettlebell to a front rack position with the kettlebell bottom pointing upwards and the handle gripped tightly.
    • Keep your wrist straight and the elbow pointed down to stabilize the kettlebell.
  2. The Press:
    • Tighten your core and glutes to stabilize your body.
    • Press the kettlebell upward slowly and steadily, ensuring it remains vertical and does not wobble.
    • Extend your arm fully at the top of the movement, locking out the elbow.
    • Keep your eyes on the kettlebell to help maintain balance and control.
  3. Returning to Start:
    • Carefully lower the kettlebell back to the front rack position while maintaining control.
    • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions before switching arms.

Safety Tips

  • Start Light: Use a lighter kettlebell than you would for a standard press until you are comfortable with the balance and technique.
  • Focus on Form: Quality over quantity. Perform each rep with precise form to prevent injuries.
  • Avoid Rushing: Move slowly and deliberately to keep the kettlebell stable.
  • Warm-Up Properly: Ensure your shoulders are well warmed up before attempting this exercise to prevent strain.

Building a Workout Around the Bottom-Up Press

  • Strength Circuit:
    • Combine Bottom-Up Presses with squats, pull-ups, and deadlifts for a full-body strength session.
    • Perform 5 reps of the press on each arm, 10 squats, 5 pull-ups, and 10 deadlifts. Complete 3-5 rounds.
  • Core and Stability Focus:
    • Pair Bottom-Up Presses with planks, Turkish get-ups, and single-leg deadlifts to enhance core stability and balance.
    • Aim for shorter sets (3-5 reps per arm) interspersed with longer core exercises (1-minute plank, 5 Turkish get-ups per side, 10 single-leg deadlifts per leg).
  • Shoulder Rehabilitation:
    • For those recovering from shoulder injuries, integrate gentle Bottom-Up Presses with physical therapy exercises like band pull-aparts and external rotations to strengthen and stabilize the shoulder joint gradually.

Lat Pushdowns

Lat Pushdowns are a stellar exercise for anyone looking to focus on their latissimus dorsi muscles, crucial for achieving that coveted V-shaped torso.

This targeted movement helps to define and strengthen the back, enhancing both aesthetics and functional strength.

Targeting Your Lats Effectively

The latissimus dorsi, or lats, are large muscles that run from the mid-back to under the arms, playing a key role in shoulder movement and stability.

Strengthening the lats is vital for improving overall upper body strength, enhancing posture, and reducing the risk of shoulder injuries.

Effective engagement through exercises like lat pushdowns also contributes to better performance in swimming, rowing, and other pulling activities.

Setup and Execution of Lat Pushdowns

  1. Equipment Setup:
    • Use a cable machine with a bar or rope attachment. If using resistance bands, secure them overhead to a sturdy anchor point.
  2. Starting Position:
    • Stand facing the machine with your feet shoulder-width apart. If using a band, ensure it is taut when starting.
    • Grasp the bar or rope with an overhand grip, hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  3. Execution:
    • Start with your arms extended fully above your head.
    • Engage your core and pull down smoothly, bringing the bar or rope towards your thighs while keeping your elbows close to your body.
    • Focus on using your lats to pull down, not just your arms.
    • Slowly return to the starting position, allowing your lats to fully stretch.
    • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Choosing the Right Resistance

  • Trial and Error: Begin with a lighter weight or less resistance to focus on form. Increase the weight or resistance once you can perform 10-12 reps with good technique.
  • Progressive Overload: Gradually increase the resistance as your strength improves. This approach helps in continuously challenging the muscles, which is key for growth and strength gains.
  • Comfort and Control: Ensure that you can control the weight or resistance throughout the entire range of motion. If you can't, it's likely too heavy.

Complementary Exercises

  • Pull-Ups: Excellent for overall upper body strength, particularly enhancing grip and back strength.
  • Barbell Rows: Target the same upper back muscles but add a horizontal pulling motion, which complements the vertical pulling of lat pushdowns.
  • Deadlifts: Work the entire posterior chain, including the lats, and help improve overall body strength and posture.
  • Face Pulls: These target the rear delts and upper back, balancing the shoulder development and improving posture.


Integrating these five underrated upper body exercises into your workout routine can significantly enhance strength, stability, and muscular definition.

Each exercise offers unique benefits that target different muscle groups, providing a comprehensive approach to upper body conditioning.

By following the detailed guides provided, you can safely incorporate these movements into your fitness regimen, ensuring continued progress and variety in your workouts.