If all you can do is upper body strength training, how effective will this be for abdominal weight loss and a smaller waistline?

Due to a condition in your low back, hips or knees, suppose your ability to do lower-body strength training is very limited.

And, suppose you’d like to trim your waist and lose some fat in your belly.

You’ve heard that strength training is an excellent way to lose weight. However, you’ve also probably heard that the ideal exercises for shrinking the stomach – as far as using resistance – are the deadlift, squat, weighted walking lunge and leg press.

Not everyone, though, can perform those lower body moves with intensity due to an orthopedic issue or low back pathology.

This is where upper body strength workouts come in. Not being able to use your legs against intense or heavy resistance doesn’t mean you still can’t use weight training as a means of getting rid of excess fat in your tummy.

But this isn’t as straightforward as it may seem.

Upper body workouts with weights CAN help with weight loss in your middle. But this assumes two things:

  • You maintain portion control of your food intake, ideally a diet of mostly non-processed or minimally processed food.
  • You perform the upper body exercises correctly and intensely.

I’ve had clients who just didn’t have the “Ummph!” in them to push hard and fiercely against resistance.

They just couldn’t leave their comfort zone. And no, they weren’t old or didn’t have a medical condition preventing that “Ummph!” factor.

It’s about mindset and being enthusiastic about venturing well-out of one’s comfort zone.

How does upper body weightlifting trim the middle?

#1     It builds muscle. Muscle is the most metabolically active tissue: It requires more energy than any other tissue just to exist. The more muscle you have, the faster your resting metabolism will be.

#2     Your new lean muscle mass will need energy just to “breathe.” It’ll get some of that energy from where it’s stored: your stomach.

Weight loss from lifting weights is global, which means your stomach’s fat will be one of the areas that new muscle tissue will pull from.

However, if only your stomach appears to have excess fat, your midsection will still shrink from a good strength training program.

I’ve had clients whose only plump area was their middles. Their stomachs got flatter and waistlines trimmer just from lifting.

Of course, they did lower, not just upper, exercises. But the process is the same for weight loss, whether the workout is all upper or both upper and lower body: New muscle raises the metabolism.

Best Upper Body Exercises for Losing Belly Fat

• Pulling movements: lat pull-down, cable seated row, machine row, standing barbell row, bent-over dumbbell or barbell row, T-bar row. Let’s also add the pull-up and chin-up.

The T-bar row. Samuel Girven/Unsplash


The narrow pull-down. Sam Moghadam/Unsplash

• Chest presses: flat bench press, incline bench press, flat dumbbell press, incline dumbbell press, machine press.

The bench press. Zennis Se/Pexels


The seated chest press. Pexels, Gustavo Fring

• Shoulder work: standing (if possible) overhead press with a barbell or dumbbells; seated barbell or dumbbell press, seated machine overhead press.

The overhead press. Pexels/Gleb Krasnoborov

Honorable mention goes to the seated dip. However, for this shoulder/triceps movement to contribute to a smaller stomach, you’d have to add resistance.

This means a weight plate on your lap with your legs extended, feet on a second bench.

If you’re strong enough, you should add the parallel bar dip and work at adding a hanging weight plate.

How to “Lose the Stomach” with Upper Body Strength Training

The formula is as follows:

• The resistance is too heavy to do more than 12 repetitions, but “light enough” to do at least eight.

• This protocol means that the set of between eight and 12 will feel at least moderately challenging from the get-go. In fact, it may feel hard from the get-go.

• The last rep (between eight and 12) should require a LOT of effort to complete.

• Rest time in between sets, per given exercise, should be 60 to 75 seconds.

• As you do more sets, you may need to lighten the load to hit at least eight reps; this is perfectly fine if you truly cannot get eight.

• You must work HARD. There’s no way around this.

The good news is that you don’t have to do biceps curls or isolated triceps work.

This is because the biceps and triceps are small muscles; there’s no point in isolating them to melt off fat.

But if you’re up to doing isolation arm work for more tone or strength, then do so – as long as you don’t start thinking that these will trim your waistline.

The back and chest muscles are the biggest upper body muscles, which is why if you want to shrink your belly, your regimen should be mostly back and chest work if you can’t do much leg work.

Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified through the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained women and men of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health. 


Top image: Andres Ayrton/Pexels