Workouts · Apr 19, 2022

6 of the Best Upper Body Strength Exercises for Boxers

Here are some of our favorite upper body exercises for staying in tip-top boxing shape. These exercises strengthen the major muscle groups in your arms, chest, shoulders, and back, enabling you to generate maximal force. 

Join us for a Strength Training workout to try some of these exercises out with one of our Trainers. Or, add a few of these into your training routine and tackle them on your own. Make sure to check out our core strengthening exercises next and you'll start feeling stronger and more confident in no time.

1. Push-ups

Push-ups are the ultimate full-body, zero equipment exercise. They work not only your arms, shoulders, and chest but also that all-important boxer’s core. They even activate the muscles in your legs if you’re in a full push-up position. There are so many variations to the push-up that no matter what fitness level you’re at, there’s a push-up option for you.

Major muscles worked: 

  • Arms (triceps and biceps)
  • Chest muscles (pectorals)
  • Shoulders (deltoids)
  • Back (erector spinae)
  • Core (rectus abdominis and the internal and external obliques)

How to do a push-up:

  1. Start in a plank position with your hands slightly wider than your shoulders and your feet about hip-width distance apart.
  2. Keep your core tight, your back straight, and your shoulders above your wrists.
  3. Inhale as you bend your elbows at a 90-degree angle, lowering your chest down to the ground until your nose or chest touches the floor.
  4. Exhale as you lift back up into a plank position while keeping your body in a straight line the entire time.

Variations and modifications:

Modified knee push-ups

If you’re arching your spine while performing a regular push-up or struggling to lift yourself back up into a plank position, try dropping your knees to a modified knee push-up while following the steps above. This exercise continues to work the same upper body muscles without sacrificing your form and straining your lower back. Once this variation gets easy, you can try moving off your knees and onto your toes.

Incline push-ups

An incline push-up involves the same movement as a regular push-up, only you’re performing the exercise with your upper body positioned at an incline. This makes the push-up a bit easier because you’re taking the pressure out of your upper body and putting it into your lower body. Try using a kitchen counter, bench, or another stable object to place your hands. The higher the incline, the easier the exercise, so adjust as needed until you find the right difficulty level.

Decline push-up

The opposite of the incline push-up is the decline push-up. This variation increases the intensity of the exercise by positioning your legs above your head. Don’t move into this variation until you’ve mastered a regular push-up. 

Stabilization challenge

You can increase the difficulty level of your push-up by adding in a stabilization challenge such as doing a push-up on a stability ball or BOSU balance trainer. You can play around by putting your hands or your feet on the ball and seeing what works for you.

Tricep extension push-up

Get into a pushup position with your hands extended out slightly farther than usual. Slowly lower your forearms down to the ground rotating between a high plank and low plank position. This exercise works your triceps, which are the muscles responsible for the power behind your full extension in a punch. 

2. Pull-ups

Pull-ups are a great exercise for building boxing power. They help strengthen your upper back and shoulders, two major muscle groups that are easily overlooked but very important for throwing a punch. If you have a pull-up bar or access to a playground, you could do this at home or in a public facility without needing a gym membership. 

While the pull-up is a difficult exercise, there are ways you can modify it to match your fitness level. With enough practice, it won’t be long until you’re repping out unassisted pull-ups. 

Major muscles worked: 

  • Back (latissimus dorsi or “lats”)
  • Arms (biceps)
  • Shoulders (deltoids, rhomboids)
  • Core

How to do a pull-up:

  1. Hang from a bar with your knuckles pointing straight ahead away from your body (or, keep your palms facing you if you want to do a chin-up).
  2. Start with your arms fully extended as you inhale, then, keeping your chest up and shoulders back, exhale as you pull yourself up until your chin rises just slightly above the bar.
  3. Lower yourself back down until your arms are straight. 

Most people aren’t able to do multiple pull-ups right out of the gate, it takes a lot of training to get to this point. Here is a great progression sequence you can follow, or you can head to our modification suggestions below. 

Variations and modifications:

Assisted pull-up machine

If you have access to a gym, the assisted pull-up machine is a great tool to help you work towards an unassisted pull-up. The machine adjusts the amount of weight you’re lifting, making the exercise easier. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds and set the machine at 130 pounds you’re only lifting 20 pounds of your weight. As your strength builds, you can slowly lower the amount of weight that the machine is supporting until you’re able to do a pull-up completely on your own. 

Banded pull-ups

Wrap a fitness band around the bar and position it below one of your feet. This band, like the pull-up machine, takes off some of the weight making it easier to perform the exercise. But unlike the pull-up machine, the banded pull-ups create the same movement pattern as a regular pull-up. This makes it a great practice tool.

Hang from the bar

Don’t have a band or access to a pull-up machine? Even just hanging from the bar is an excellent shoulder-strengthening exercise. Hang from the bar for as long as you can, rest, then repeat the exercise a few more times.

3. Dumbbell Chest Press

The dumbbell chest press (or bench press if you’re using a barbell) is a great strength training exercise for targeting your arms, chest, and shoulders all in one go. It helps build strength and muscle using the same pushing movement you’ll experience in boxing.

Major muscles worked: 

  • Chest muscles (pectorals)
  • Arms (triceps)
  • Shoulders (deltoids)

How to do a dumbbell chest press:

  1. Lie flat on your back on a bench or the floor (keeping your dumbbells close by so you can grab them).
  2. Bend your legs and place your feet flat on the ground.
  3. With a dumbbell in each hand, start with your elbows in line with your shoulders, at a 90-degree angle. Keep your arms in a cactus-like position with your palms facing toward your feet.
  4. Inhale and as you exhale push the dumbbells up towards the sky, extending your arms directly over your shoulders.
  5. Then, slowly lower the dumbbells back down to your starting position.

If you’re doing a bench press, the action is the same only you’re using a barbell instead. You’ll want to inhale as you bring the barbell down right below your chest and exhale as you lift and extend your arms. Keep your elbows straight and arms locked as you replace the bar on the rack. Be mindful of how much weight you’re using and grab a spotter to help you if you need it.

4. Bicep Curl

The bicep curl targets those all-important biceps, muscles you use for both boxing and everyday activities like picking up your heavy grocery bags. You don’t need a barbell or dumbbells to perform the exercise (although these are great tools if you have them). All you need is a resistance band

Major muscles worked: 

  • Arms (biceps)
  • Core 

How to do a bicep curl:

  1. Stand with your feet about hip-width distance apart.
  2. If you’re using a resistance band, place the middle of the band below one (or both) of your feet and then grab the two handles. The more resistance on the band, the harder the exercise, so try using one foot at first.
  3. Start with your arms straight by your side with your palms facing away from your body and with your core engaged.
  4. Inhale then exhale as you lift your palms to your shoulders, keeping your elbows tucked in at your side and your shoulders relaxed (if you find your elbows are having a hard time staying by your side you might be using too much weight).
  5. Pause then slowly lower your hands back down to the starting position keeping your palms facing forward.

Take time to focus on the movement—don’t rush it! This helps not only build strength in your arms but also to target your core. You have to keep your core engaged and tight to help counterbalance the weight as you slowly move your hands up and down. 

5. Standing Tricep Extensions

Like your biceps, the triceps are important muscles to target for boxing training. Located on the back of your arm, it’s responsible for the full extension of your elbow. And if you’re boxing, you’re doing a whole lot of arm extension every time you throw a punch. So by strengthening this major muscle, you can boost the power behind your extension. 

Major muscles worked: 

  • Arms (triceps)
  • Core

How to do a triceps extension:

  1. Stand with your feet about hip-width distance apart.
  2. If you’re using a resistance band, place the middle of the band below one (or both) of your feet and then grab the two handles. The more resistance on the band, the harder the exercise so try using one foot at first.
  3. Inhale as you bend forward slightly, keeping your elbows tucked in at your sides at a 90-degree angle.
  4. Exhale as you extend your arms back toward the ceiling, keeping your palms facing inward.
  5. Pause during your extension to engage those triceps before you lower. 

Tricep dips

Don’t have a resistance band? You can work the triceps without any equipment by doing tricep dips on the edge of a chair, table, bench, or any surface close to the ground. 

  1. Start by sitting with your palms on either side of you pressed flat into the surface of your object of choice. 
  2. Keep your heels and palms planted as you lift your butt. 
  3. Slowly lower your butt to the ground until your elbows are slightly bent at around 45 to 90 degrees. 
  4. Then, lift back up until your arms straighten and repeat. 
  5. Try the exercise with your feet closer in or farther out to change the intensity. The closer your feet are to you, the easier the exercise. 

6. Front and Lateral Raises 

In boxing, the shoulders are often one of the biggest areas of injury. All that pressure from landing punch after punch goes right into the shoulder joint, which is the least stable joint in your body. That’s why exercises like front and lateral raises—that work the front, middle, and rear deltoids in your shoulders—are super important. 

These exercises put a healthy amount of tension on the shoulder joint, helping to build and strengthen these muscles and get them ready for action in the ring, while hopefully avoiding injury along the way.

Major muscles worked: 

  • Shoulders (deltoids)
  • Back (trapezius)

How to do a front raise:

  1. You can do this exercise with dumbbells or a resistance band. You’ll want to start by grabbing either the ends of your resistance band or your dumbbells and standing with your feet about hip-distance apart. 
  2. Inhale, keeping your arms straight and shoulders relaxed.
  3. Exhale as you lift your arms in front of you to about shoulder height, as if you’re creating a bridge with your body. Keep your arms straight and your palms facing the floor (aside from the starting position) throughout the entire exercise.
  4. Slowly lower your arms back down.

How to do a lateral raise:

  1. You can do this exercise with dumbbells or a resistance band. You’ll want to start by grabbing either the ends of your resistance band or your dumbbells and standing with your feet about hip distance apart. 
  2. Inhale, keeping your arms straight, shoulders relaxed, and palms facing in towards your legs.
  3. Instead of raising your arms in front of you, lift your arms to the side at about shoulder height, as if you’re making a giant “T” with your body.
  4. Slowly lower your arms back down.

Variations and modifications:

Bent arms

Shoulder work is hard! You might need to bend your arms slightly to make the movement possible or reduce the amount of weight you’re lifting. Both of these take out some of the intensity from the exercise while still working your shoulders. Even performing these exercises with only your body weight is a great way to build shoulder strength.

Stabilization challenge

If this is too easy, try changing the surface you’re performing the exercise on. Some examples include sitting on a stability ball, standing on one leg, or standing on a BOSU ball. These modifications introduce a balance challenge that helps build stabilization in the boxing ring. 

Build Strength With Litesport

The best way to get in great boxing shape is to spend more time boxing. But sometimes you need extra motivation and particularly fun workouts to stay on track with your fitness goals. 

That’s what Litesport and our best-in-class Trainers are for. It’s like having a personal instructor in your own home who can help walk you through these exercises and more. 

We aim to not only get you in great fighting shape but also to help you build confidence and reach whatever goals you’re striving for with your workouts. With 600+ workouts in the Litesport app, including our Strength Training workouts, there’s always something new to keep you motivated. 

What are you waiting for? Hit play on your next Litesport workout or learn more about Litesport. We can’t wait to see you on the Leaderboards.

you may also like

Litesport trainer GW holds battle ropes as a user in VR works out

join litesport today

Starting under $15 a month