Some people don’t always have a ton of days that they can hit the gym, so they have to maximize the time they do have there. Luckily, there are multiple routines that accommodate this exact problem like the upper/lower split workout routine to get ripped.
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About Built With Science
When it comes to the gym, there are really two types of people you will meet: Those that follow every workout routine posted by a social media influencer because they look good, and those that follow the science to optimize their workouts.
The latter more aptly describes the approach that is brought by Jeremy Ethier, founder of Built With Science.
Jeremy Ethier is a:
- NASM certified personal trainer
- FMS certified trainer
Basically, this dude is smart and knows his stuff.
Jeremy has built an incredible following on social media and YouTube (over 3 million to be exact) simply by distributing scientific information in a much more palatable format. He takes complex concepts and makes them easy to understand for just about anyone.
His content has been featured on:
- KTLA5 News
- Men’s Health
Because of the incredible results he achieves by doing the most logical thing: using science to help people get healthy.
The Best Upper Body Workout Routine Overview
Jeremy has a lot of acclaim online, and even in the news, but it’s common knowledge that it doesn’t necessarily translate to quality. I’m going to dig in and take a look at his rendering of The Best Upper Body Workout Routine.
There are two variations of the workout to make it a bit more scalable depending on your experience level in the gym. But Jeremy’s main point is that, oftentimes, people only have a few days they can reasonably make it to the gym, so an upper/lower split may be optimal instead of a full body workout.
Here’s a real overall breakdown of the routine:
- Fitness Level(s): Beginner to advanced
- Duration: 16 weeks
- Workouts Per Week: 2-4 days a week
- Average Workout Duration: 45 minutes – 60 minutes
- Equipment Needed: Gym equipment
- Goal: Build muscle, stimulate hypertrophy
Note: This routine requires standard gym equipment, but you can still get a ripped upper body at home if you don’t currently have access to the gym.
Built With Science Upper Body Workout Schedule and Details
The way Jeremy designed this program was to hit all the musculature to create a balanced look. Think of thick shoulders, a powerful chest, and proportional arms.
The Best Upper Body Workout Routine and Exercises utilizes a push/pull opposition design. This setup allows you to use opposing muscles consecutively.
So, the program starts with a horizontal push, followed by a horizontal pull. Then comes a vertical press and vertical pull. The workout finishes with accessory movements.
A big benefit of designing a routine like this is because the large pushes and pulls are compound movements, meaning they activate more than one muscle group at a time and utilize multiple joints in the movement (such as shoulders and elbows for a pull-up as opposed to just elbows for a bicep curl).
The smaller muscles will be a little more tired when going to the accessory movements, which will actually help you get forced reps in to maximize hypertrophy.
Second, the specific lifts chosen were because it maximizes the muscle activation for the desired muscle group targeted in comparison to other lifts for the movement pattern.
- Incline Dumbbell Press: 4 sets x 6-8 reps (2-3 minutes rest)
- Chest Supported Row: 3 sets x 8-10 reps (2 minutes rest)
- Overhead Press: 3 sets x 6-8 reps (2-3 minutes rest)
- Pull-Ups OR Lat Pulldowns 3 sets x 8-10 reps (2 minutes rest)
For all these lifts, Jeremy suggests performing a progressive overload technique.
To do this, you would pick your weight – such as doing 35 lbs dumbbells for the incline dumbbell press – then perform the lift with the same weight every set. If you can successfully do all 6 reps, the next workout, you try for 8. Once you successfully complete every lift with the maximum reps suggested, you would add weight. Typically, you would simply add 5 lbs, but occasionally, you will be able to add more.
If you add the weight, but can’t complete the minimum reps, then drop the weight back down to finish the set. Next time at the gym, you simply try again until all reps can be completed successfully.
Jeremy also added a recommended bench angle range to help you optimize it to your needs. He says studies show an angle between 30 and 56 degrees is optimal for chest activation.
This gives you a little range to play around with until you feel the most chest activation.
Intermediate to Advanced Routine
- Incline Dumbbell Press: 4 sets x 6-8 reps (2-3 mins rest)
- Chest Supported Row: 3 sets x 8-10 reps (2-3 mins rest)
- Overhead Press: 3 sets x 6-8 reps (2-3 mins rest)
- Pull-Ups OR Lat Pulldowns: 3 sets x 8-10 reps (2 mins rest)
- Incline Dumbbell Curls: 3 sets x 8-10 reps (2 mins rest)
- Overhead Dumbbell Extensions OR Incline Bench: 3 sets x 6-8 reps (2-3 mins rest)
- Kneeling Face Pulls OR High to Low Cable Chest Flies: 3 sets x 8-10 reps (2 mins rest)
The first four lifts are still recommended to use progressive overload. This is the same technique that is used by just about all advanced lifters, and it’s beneficial at all experience levels no matter the program you’re using to get ripped.
There is noticeably added volume to the intermediate to advanced routine. As you would expect, this is more taxing and will ultimately result in more muscle activation and growth.
You should NOT attempt the intermediate to advanced routine without first progressing from the beginner routine. Work through the beginner routine first to get a feel for the routine before advancing.
Built With Science Upper Body Workout Pros
I won’t beat around the bush, but one of the best things that Jeremy does, and why he’s become so well known, is that he truly follows the science. All of his suggested lifts come from scientific research, plus it’s adaptable to more experienced lifters.
Easily Digestible Information
He’s not the researcher doing the experiments, but he is taking the information gained by others and making it easy to understand and apply to regular folks’ (I mean people that don’t have science backgrounds) health and workouts.
Can Scale Up for Experience
Another pro to this program is its scalability. Instead of simply saying “science says this is the best workout to get ripped,” Jeremy laid out a formula for people to use. Due to individual variability, people respond to workouts differently.
At the very beginning, he gives the most basic formula for a successful upper body workout routine: A horizontal push and pull, a vertical push and pull, and accessory work when you are able to successfully do it.
I really appreciate how scale-able this workout is, and that would be the biggest pro in my opinion. It’s adaptable for a busy schedule and lays out how to successfully do the best workouts as proven by science.
Built With Science Upper Body Workout Cons
Right off the bat, the biggest cons to this routine are the noticeable lack of core work, no warm-up routine, and the horizontal lift choices.
No Core Work
This is partially motivated by my personal love of core work. In all seriousness though, a strong and stable core is necessary for strength and aesthetics, as well as everyday life.
Your core is used in every major compound lift – which could be an argument for not having them, but this routine calls for a lot of supported workouts to enhance focus on that muscle group.
That just proves to me that there is even more need for direct core work then.
I think by adding some core exercises, this routine could become essentially perfect. My recommendation would be a stabilization movement, like planks, a twisting exercise, such as Russian twists, and a flexing movement, such as hanging knee raises or crunches.
This hits all the major movements of the muscle group to optimize those abs.
I would assume the fact the first lift has an extra set added on was supposed to be used as a warmup set, but that’s not enough.
I also don’t think simply adding in cardio at the beginning or ab workouts would suffice as a proper warmup.
My biggest critique is the lack of warm-up here. And when doing a warm-up, it needs to be done with intention. For example, a proper warmup for an upper-body routine should include shoulder mobility warm-ups, such as banded dislocates to warm up the shoulders and take them through a full range of motion.
I would then do a banded version of the 4 main lifts with a light band to get the joints warmed up and focus on the full range of motion movements first. Instead of doing all 3-4 sets though, I would do 1 set for each lift and do between 12-15 reps to make sure I am feeling connected to the muscles being activated.
Horizontal Planar Lifts
Another con is his horizontal push and pull don’t feel like the truly optimal lifts. Instead of doing an incline dumbbell chest press, a flat bench version feels like a better option.
That’s even using the science that Jeremy cites from Brett Contreras’s EMG analysis study.
This is compounded by the fact he has an incline bench as an optional accessory movement.
As for the horizontal row, the chest supported row is more of an accessory movement as well. There are other options that would hit the same muscles and be more efficient.
The argument for doing a dumbbell movement for the horizontal push was to allow for the maximal range of motion, so this concept could be applied here as well. The use of a bar for the chest supported row is a big limiting factor.
A better option would be a single-arm supported dumbbell row, or lawnmower pulls in layman terminology.
Built With Science Workout Conclusion
Jeremy Ethier is a very smart person and has utilized his own routine to get himself an impressive physique. He also built an impressive following by delivering value and using actual science instead of “bro-science” to help tons of people.
I just don’t think this is his best routine. It could be limited because this is one of his free content ideas, but ultimately, he is lacking in some important areas.
The fact he has no core exercises, no warm-up, and uses lifts that are less than ideal, makes this a less than an optimal workout.
His use of scientific backing feels like he has the potential to really create strong routines, but this one feels weak to me; however, any routine is better than no routine. It’s always smarter to have some sort of plan because after finding its flaws, it can be improved.
Keep in mind – this is just a workout routine. To truly get a ripped body that gets attention, you need to take a wholistic approach with good nutrition and maybe even some sports supplements to move the needle.