Don’t get it twisted—looking the part is important for any long-term fitness training.
Yes, CrossFit preaches health and functional movements above everything else.
But if you go to a box for four years and still don’t look like you lift weights, are you really going to be motivated to stick with it?
A lot of athletes want to increase muscle size in their upper body: the chest, arms, shoulders, and upper back.
There’s nothing wrong with this. In fact, there are CrossFit-related benefits available to you if you decide to prioritize muscle growth in your training.
If you’re unsure whether CrossFit can help you grow your upper body strength, or you’re looking for guidance on how to add it to your training, this article will help you.
Plus, you’ll find nine killer upper body CrossFit WODs you can try at the end.
What is a CrossFitUpper Body Strength Workout?
An upper body CrossFit workout blends functional movements with the goal of muscle hypertrophy. Said another way, using compound exercises (bench press, overhead exercises, pendlay rows) to increase muscle size and upper body strength.
CrossFit is a general physical preparedness (GPP) program, meaning it’s designed to prepare you for anything life might throw at you.
As we’ve discussed in other articles on this site, this means CrossFit gets you good at everything—but never great at any one thing.
This means that if you have specific goals, such as increasing muscle in your upper body, you’ll have to prioritize it in your training or customize your program a little.
Upper Body CrossFit Workout Benefits
Aesthetics (looking good) aren’t the only reason you might prioritize upper body strength and muscle hypertrophy. There are functional benefits available, too.
Larger muscles in the shoulders, arms, back and chest can also carry over to your CrossFit performance. For example, larger shoulders will help the front rack position and back squat resting position feel more comfortable.
More muscle in the front and back of your shoulders will protect you from injury and also make really heavy lifts feel comfortable, leading to more PRs.
There’s a reason top powerlifters use straight squat stand-ups in their training.
And the truth is, there’s nothing wrong with wanting a larger upper body. Functionality be damned. It’s a psychological benefit, one that can keep you training consistently for a long time.
If you put in serious training hours in the gym, looking the part is rewarding.
CrossFit is doing a better job of ditching the stigma around athletes who aren’t solely focused on functional training.
But at the end of the day, if your goal is to get bigger, who cares what anyone else thinks?
Best Upper Body CrossFit Workouts
Whether you’re at a box, working out at home, or training without equipment, here are some upper body CrossFit workouts you can plug into your training.
CrossFit for Beginners – Upper Body Workout Examples
These WODs are either classic or spin offs of a classic. No curls in this section (don’t worry, they’re coming).
- Bodyweight Bench Press, max reps
Score = total reps completed in the ten sets.
*Do strict pull-ups for maximum upper body gains.
2. Overhead Hell
5 Rounds For Time:
- 3 Strict Presses
- 6 Push Presses or bench press
- 9 Push Jerks
Beginner Weight: 75/55lbs
RX Weight: 115/75lbs
3. CrossFit Upper Body Barbell Complex
Complete ten total rounds:
- 5 Deadlifts
- 5 Bent Over Barbell Rows
- 5 Hang Power Cleans
- 5 Push Press
- 5 Behind The Neck Push Press
Start with 65 pounds on the bar, add 5lbs for every set (ending at 130 pounds)
Score is the round you fail on (or time if you finish all ten sets)
Upper Body Crossfit Workout At Home
We’ll assume your home gym has a set of dumbbells and not much else for this section of WODs.
CrossFit Dumbell Workout:
1. DB Thruster/Pull ups
2. Look, One Hand WOD
Complete 5 sets:
- Left Arm Dumbbell Push Press, 6 Reps
- Right Arm Dumbbell Push Press, 6 Reps
- Left Arm Dumbbell Row, 8 Reps
- Right Arm Dumbbell Row, 8 Reps
- Left Arm Dumbbell Curl, 10 Reps
- Right Arm Dumbbell Curl, 10 Reps
Complete 5 sets of 36 reps without putting the dumbbell down. Each time it goes down, do five burpees. Go as heavy as possible.
Upper Body AMRAP Crossfit Workouts
CrossFitters perform handstand during WOD
Both of these mimic the classic CrossFit WOD, “Cindy”. Expect sore triceps.
1. Upper Body Workout “Cindy” Style CrossFit WOD
15 Minute AMRAP:
- 5 Handstand Push-ups
- 10 Pull-ups
- 15 Push-ups
2. AMRAP “Cindy”, Bro Style
15 Minute AMRAP:
- 5 Pendlay Rows (95/65 lbs)
- 10 Strict Curls (65/45 lbs)
- 15 Push-ups
Upper Body Crossfit Workout With No Equipment
1. No Equipment “JT”
- Handstand Push-ups
*The normal hero workout “JT” calls for ring dips. If you don’t have access to rings, use a box, chair, or something else.
2. Partner WOD w/ No Equipment
Alternating Rounds For 20 Rounds (10 each)
- Max Push-ups
- Max Bodyweight Partner Rows
How Often Do You Need to Train Your Upper Body?
The answer to this question always depends on your goals.
If your goal is to increase your size and upper body strength, you’ll need to prioritize it in your training.
This could mean doing it in place of a workout or adding it in accessory work.
If you call yourself a CrossFitter, you should not be just training upper body.
However, one or two times a week of specific upper body training shouldn’t take away from your CrossFit workouts.
Four to six weeks of the same plan will be enough to push your body into adaptations. From there, change up your upper body exercises or reassess your goals.
Keep in mind that too much volume or intensity will take away from other areas of your fitness.
CrossFit programming is kind of like one giant puzzle—it’s on you to determine your goals and see how everything fits.
Always start small and add slowly instead of doing too much, which risks injury or decreased performance.
Upper body CrossFit workouts will help you feel good about yourself and your training.
If your goal is to increase upper body strength as well as muscle size in your chest, arms, shoulders or back, don’t feel bad about prioritizing it in your training.
And, there’s some functionality to it.
Just tell anyone that asks why you’re doing extra curls and trap exercises that it’s to improve your back squat. And don’t forget to call them “bro” while you’re at it.