One of the best ways to stay away from unwanted problems is to stick to the basics. The more basic the exercise, the easier it is to track progress. When it comes to upper body training there are two very affordable exercises that offer infinite progression – dips and pull-ups.
Dips work the pushing muscles – chest, triceps and front shoulders (anterior deltoids) whereas the pull-ups attack the back with more emphasis on the lats. Together, they form an almost perfect upper body routine. If you are good at dips and pull-ups, you cannot have a weak upper body by default.
However, the dip and the pull-up do not work all upper body muscles. The two lacking body parts would be the spinal erectors and the neck muscles because they are not heavily worked during either of the exercises. Therefore, adding movements such as deadlifts, barbell rows, squats, lower back hyperextensions and specific neck work is required to strengthen the upper body from top to bottom.
Nevertheless, you can definitely reach the natural potential of your latissimus dorsi and lower chest with dips and pull-ups. (Note: Some people may need horizontal pressing to fill the upper chest. It depends primarily on your insertions.)
The majority of the population cannot do even a single dip or a pull-up. If you fall into that category, we recommend the following articles.
Once you can do a few pull-ups and dips, you can follow many different routines to get your numbers up. One of the most popular ways is the ladder method.
The next step is to add weight to your pull-ups and dips by using a weight vest or a belt. Don’t add weight before you can do bodyweight dips for 2-3 sets of 15-20 and pull-ups for 2-3 sets of 12-15. This approach will condition your joints for the weighted versions.
Unfortunately, some people will experience shoulder and sternum pain from dips. In that case, you can replace the exercise with weighted push-ups.
The push-up is also a solid pushing exercise, but adding weight is not as comfortable.
Note: There are many articles on the site dedicated to pull-ups and dips. Use the search function to find them.