8 Upper Body CrossFit Workouts (Top WODs)

8 Upper Body CrossFit Workouts

CrossFit has remained one of the best workouts you could get for over twenty years. They use a functional approach to fitness that promotes “general physical preparedness.” That means they’ll help you get harder, better, faster, and stronger in no time. Good CrossFit programming varies the targeted muscle groups constantly, so you’ll experience improvements all around. One day might be upper body heavy, another might be mostly legs. Over time, you will realize excellent results from commitment to the process.

CrossFit provides an exceptional upper body workout using strength training. Exercises include overhead press, back squat, and deadlifts. Many benchmark WODs are available to challenge your upper body abilities and promote growth. Regularly completing CrossFit WODs and lifting will substantially improve your upper body strength and physique. Additional benefits of CrossFit include improved posture and boosting your metabolism.

How can you realize these upper body gains using CrossFit today? Let’s dive in.

Does CrossFit Build Upper Body Strength?

CrossFit can help you experience gains all around. Each box will approach class differently, but some similarities are to be expected. Usually, CrossFit classes include a warm-up, strength section, conditioning, and a cooldown period for stretching.

The strength section is generally designated for CrossFitters to practice and push the limits for one lift. It may be an overhead press, back squat, or deadlift. By lifting regularly and pushing limits, CrossFitters can build upper body strength over time.

Conditioning generally involves completing a metcon, or “metabolic conditioning.” This part prioritizes completing a number of movements while imposing certain parameters. For instance, it may be timed and require you complete everything as fast as possible. It may AMRAP, or “as many rounds as possible” within the specified time. It could be EMOM, or a set of movements to be completed “every minute, on the minute.”

Combining strength and conditioning in this fashion yields innumerable benefits.

5 Benefits of CrossFit Upper Body Workouts

  1. You’ll improve your posture– Good upper body strength assists the core in maintaining good posture. This helps your appearance, and staves off aches and pains associated with poor posture.
  2. The strength translates to other workouts– For instance, you’ll rely mostly on your legs in a cycling class. Good upper body strength, however, will help hold the body at the handlebars and reduce strain on the legs.
  3. You’ll boost your metabolism– Simply having more muscle requires more energy to sustain. Therefore, sculpting a great upper body will assist in burning more daily calories even at rest.
  4. Daily life gets easier– You might find it easier to carry groceries from the car or throw your child into the air during playtime. However, it manifests, more upper body strength will help your daily life be a little easier.
  5. You’ll look great– There are many functional and health reasons for building a good upper body. There are also shallow, superficial reasons, which can also be important! You will look and feel great with a painstakingly sculpted upper body. CrossFit WODs can help you get there!

How to Build Upper Body Strength CrossFit

There are many ways to build upper body strength with CrossFit:

  1. Come to class regularly– The key to succeeding in fitness is consistency. Attend class at least 3 times a week. Additionally, come even more often if your schedule and membership plan allow for it.
  2. Stay after class– How did you get better grades in school? Sometimes you stayed after class to study. For building upper body strength, stay after class an extra fifteen minutes or so and get in one more set. Of course, listen to your body and your coach to manage an appropriate workload. You’ll hinder your gains if you wind up overdoing it.
  3. Work with your coach– CrossFit usually is done under the watchful eye of a professional coach. They know your strengths, weaknesses, and limits almost as well as you do. Consult them and share your goals. Together you can come up with a plan that is safe and effective.

Upper Body CrossFit Workout at Home

You can complete a number of WODs with minimal or no equipment. Here are some great CrossFit WODs to do at home that focus on upper body strength.

The Back and Forth

  • 10 push-ups.
  • 50m bear crawl.
  • 10 air squats.
  • 50m walking lunges.

Complete 10 rounds for time.

Fifty meters of bear crawling may not be possible in your home. If the room is too small, simply move from one side to the other. Completing a lap around the room can work as well for especially tight quarters. Alternatively, you may perform this WOD outside.

Modified “JT”

JT is a hero WOD which requires 21-15-9 reps of handstand push-ups, ring dips, and push-ups. You probably don’t have gymnastics rings at home, so here’s how to get it done.

  • Handstand push-ups– If you can throw your body into the wall and do a legitimate handstand push-up, good for you! They’re not easy! To modify the HSPU, place your feet on an object that is of medium height. Position your hands directly over your head and do the push-up motion.
  • Ring dips– To perform at home, use two sturdy chairs to perform regular tricep dips with. Dedicated, freestanding dip bars are available for purchase and are excellent in-home gyms.
  • Push-ups– Can be done anywhere, anytime.

Upper Body CrossFit Workout for Beginners

CrossFit occasionally mixes in technical movements or lifts that can be difficult for beginners. Here are some beginners friendly CrossFit WODs to start building upper body strength now.

Push-Up, Push Press Ladder

Alternate between sets of push-ups and push press, increasing the number of reps in each round. 3 repetitions are usually a great place to start and increase by 3 for each round. For example:


Set a timer and aim to make it to the highest round possible in that time period. We recommend 10 minutes for beginners, or 20 minutes for intermediate and advanced.

For the push press, make sure you use a weight that is “comfortably uncomfortable.” The goal is to challenge yourself without overdoing it. Choose a weight that is 50-60% of your one-rep max so you can move it for the whole duration.

Upper Body Dumbbell Sets

  • 10 bicep curls.
  • 10 overhead presses.
  • 10 standing skullcrushers.

Repeat for 5 sets.

Beginners can time themselves on this set or choose not to. It’s often a great way to make your workout more efficient and prevent resting for overly long periods. However, beginners will do just as well to simply fill the quotas when first starting out.

Upper Body CrossFit Workout No Weights

No weights? No problem!

You can still cultivate superior upper body strength with some functional movements and bodyweight exercises. Try this WOD on for size!

Push and Pull Couplet

  • 50 pull-ups.
  • 100 push-ups.

There’s beauty in simplicity. All you need for this spicy couplet is a pull-up bar in your home or place to do pull-ups. Push-ups are great because they can be done anywhere.

As with any CrossFit WOD, set a timer for this workout and try to improve your time.

Dirty Thirty

  • 30 push-ups.
  • 30 sit-ups.
  • 30 air squats.

There’s a lot of versatility in this WOD. It’s possible to blast all 30 reps of each consecutively. Alternatively, you can do 3 sets of 10, or 6 sets of 5. You’re welcome to attack any way that fits your current ability level. Best of all– no equipment required whatsoever.

Upper Body CrossFit AMRAP

AMRAPs are an essential part of the CrossFit experience. Even when concocting your own personal WODs at home, the AMRAP structure is especially effective. Here are some upper body CrossFit AMRAPs.

Legless Cindy

  • 5 pull-ups.
  • 10 push-ups.

20-min AMRAP.

The regular “Cindy” hero WOD requires rounds of these two movements and a set of 15 air squats. As with all AMRAPs, you cycle through the movements to complete as many rounds as possible in the allotted time.

Legless Cindy removes the leg-focused portion and prioritizes the upper body. Be careful with this one. Removing that period of time where you could rest the arms during the squats makes the set even more challenging.

Handstand Heaven

  • 5 handstand push-ups.
  • 10 burpees.

20-min AMRAP.

Handstand heaven, or is it handstand hell? This WOD provides newbies to handstand push-ups with some practice. It also incorporates burpees for another upper body boost. Twenty minutes can be a long time. Be sure to scale the timer if you’re still new to these movements.

What Are the 9 Functional Movements of CrossFit?

At its core, CrossFit is so effective because it incorporates 9 functional movements. Knowledge of these 9 movements will give you ample preparation for anything CrossFit might throw at you.

1. The Air Squat

The air squat is your basic standing in place squat. As unassuming as it appears, it challenges many beginners and requires practice to nail the form. Proper form requires holding tension throughout the full motion and driving from the heels. If you go up on your toes, your form needs work.

2. The Front Squat

The polarizing cousin of the back squat, requires holding weight in front of the body during the squat movement. It features the added benefit of strengthening your core and shoulders.

3. The Overhead Squat

This squat will expose weaknesses if you haven’t regularly worked on shoulder mobility. Overhead squats require holding weight over the head and performing a standard squat. The snatch incorporates elements of overhead squats.

4. The Shoulder Press

Also known as the “strict press” or “overhead press,” is a movement that requires you to move weight from your shoulders to an overhead position. For the standard shoulder press, you must use your arms only.

5. The Push Press

This press is a strict press that uses some of your legs and hips to assist. From a shoulder press starting position, bend your legs slightly, push up from your hips, and clench your butt to help propel the weight overhead.

6. The Push Jerk

This one takes the push press one step further. From the starting position, you dip and explode upwards to shoot the bar overhead. This motion incorporates the legs much more, allowing you to push much higher weights overhead.

7. The Deadlift

The deadlift requires you to hinge at the waist and lift a weight from the ground. The top of the movement is roughly mid-thigh. The deadlift is also unassuming but requires excellent form to prevent injury.

8. The Sumo Deadlift High Pull

This pull requires you to assume a sumo deadlift position. That means you take your deadlift stance and widen your legs like a sumo wrestler. Now lift the weight from the floor to your chin.

9. The Medicine Ball Clean

The basic movement involved in “wall ball shots.” Basically, take a medicine ball, hold it in a front squat position, and then perform a push press with it. For wall ball shots, release the ball and catch in on the way back down. Simple, but brutal.

What Exercises Work Out the Upper Body?

When prioritizing your upper body, you’ll want exercises that mostly involve your arms, shoulders, and backs. Push-ups, pull-ups, and dips are some of the best basic exercises that target the upper body.

Lifting heavy weights is one of the best ways to sculpt a great upper body physique as well. 

The best upper body lifts include:

  • Bench Presses
  • Bent Over Rows
  • Bicep Curls
  • Chest Flies
  • Deadlifts
  • Hammer Curls
  • Push Presses
  • Shoulder Presses
  • Tricep Presses

Building WODs that use these lifts and movements will do wonders for your upper body strength and physique.

CrossFit Upper Body Tips

It’s tempting to get overzealous and start only focusing on your upper body. Nothing will cause overtraining or injury faster than targeting the same muscle group over and over. Here are some tips to help structure your training without risking your health.

  • Take rest days. This advice is applicable to training and exercise no matter what. Even if you feel great every day, incorporate rest days or light “active recovery” days to rejuvenate the body.
  • Alternate targeted muscle groups. You can hit the upper body 2-3 times a week if you’re really prioritizing it. You should still do other muscle groups on days in between to give your upper body rest.
  • Work with your coach. CrossFit provides you with coaches that get to know what you’re good at and what needs work. Communicate with them. Let them help you reach your goals safely.
  • Be patient and trust the process. Overall, you’ll never get great gains overnight. Be patient with the results, and trust that your hard work will pay off over time.

By following our tips and trying some of our WODs, you can start using CrossFit to build excellent upper body strength today!

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Christopher Covello

Christopher’s personal fitness and nutrition journey began in 2009 when he was working as a short order cook and came to recognize that his habits were unhealthy and unsustainable. He educated himself on mindful eating and balanced nutrition and has prioritized healthy living ever since. Today, Christopher writes in the fitness and nutrition niche, and is often found running, hiking, rock climbing, Spartan Racing, training at his CrossFit box, or practicing yoga.

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