The Best Upper Body WOD and 21 Other Excellent Upper Body Workouts

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What is the biggest barrier to starting CrossFit for the average gym bro?

I think I know the answer!

There is a very big emphasis on seemingly every muscle (and movement) except those in the upper body.

That’s probably an exaggeration, but if you’ve done CrossFit for more than, like, a week…well…you know that one of oldest gym mantras really holds up:

“Don’t skip leg day!”


While this is true about 99 percent of the time, today, we’ve got something for the globo gym heroes who want to give CrossFit a try. It’s finally time to put all of that bench press strength to good use!

The Best Upper Body WOD and 21 Other Excellent Upper Body Workouts


upper body wod

Equipment: Pull-up bar/rack

What better way to start than with an all upper body WOD!

You’re not going to say many workouts where every single movement involves only the upper body! Thankfully, the pull-up variation gets “easier” throughout each round…but you’re still putting in 90 upper body reps each round.

Make sure you have an XXL t-shirt to wear after your workout…you’re going to be blown up.


Equipment: Barbell, bumper plates

Diane…one of the most beloved “CrossFit Girls” and general WODs of all time. Although deadlifts are more of back and leg exercise, you still gotta pull that barbell off the ground. The handstand push-ups, especially if you done them strict, are the epitome of upper-body movements.

2014 CrossFit Age-group Qualifier WOD 4

Equipment: Pull-up bar/rack, wall ball

Just about any CrossFit “expert” will tell you that the wall ball shot is a “full body exercise”.

And they may be right! But anyone who has actually done a wall ball shot, particularly large sets of wall ball shots, will bemoan how sore their arms feel.

For those who have done such a big set after doing 100 pull-ups…well…the argument that the wall ball shot is a “full body exercise” as opposed to a “my arms just got killed, oh my gosh they hurt so bad” completely falls apart.


Equipment: Pull-up bar/rack

6 strict pull-ups and 20 push-ups…doesn’t really seem too bad, does it?

…until you realize you have to do this sequence twenty times!

120 strict pull-ups and 400 push-ups…take that Murph!

Another “pure” upper body WOD…I hope it was worth “skipping leg day” for Aplin!


Equipment: Pull-up bar/rack, air runner, dip bar

A WOD with 1-and-a-half miles of running…classified as…an upper body WOD…?

4 rounds of strict pull-ups, strict dips, and strict handstand push-ups…while vested will do that for ya!


Equipment: Pull-up bar/rack, air runner, vest (optional)

Of course, Murph had to make the list.

300 upper-body movements (100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups) will do that for you. These movements are not only exponentially more difficult to do under fatigue, but make the following squats and run that much more difficult, as well.

Really begs the question…is there any WOD category Murph can’t fit into?

2015 CrossFit Regionals WOD 4

Equipment: n/a

You could argue that this is more of a “gymnastics” WOD.

I argue that being upside down and on your hands for the distance of almost a football field is the epitome of an upper body WOD.

A pretty unorthodox WOD to try, but at least you have Alec Smith’s 1:32 time to shoot for!


Equipment: Barbell, plates, pull-up bar/rack

These body weight bench presses…kind of give you those Linda vibes, don’t they?

Regardless, Volkswagon certainly seems to favor a lighter athlete.

Doesn’t matter, though…45 bench presses and 45 pull-ups will make sure that all of your upper body will get a bit of a workout!

Rogue’s “The Wheel” Challenge

Equipment: Bumper plate

Rogue’s challenges are awesome. They are all pretty creative and provide the opportunity to do some…interesting workouts.

“The Wheel” Challenge is one the more “interesting”, yet simple of these challenges.

Personally, I can barely hold that plate in front of my face for more than a second or two. If you can go longer than that, you deserve a hot dog!

2023 CrossFit Age-group Qualifier WOD 3

Equipment: Climbing rope, barbell, plates

Athletes went through this one pretty recently. Although they had to do almost a mile of shuttle runs, the 14 rope climbs and decently heavy bench presses definitely worked the arms.

Also, unlike during the 2023 CrossFit Open, athletes really couldn’t do “shuttle walks” if they wanted to make it to the next round!


Equipment: Barbell, plates, gymnastics rings

One of the most aptly named workouts on this list, you’re really going to have to have serious upper body endurance in order to get through this one. Not only are the movements tough, but they are all somewhat…obscure (except the body weight bench presses…we’ve actually seen these a few times in this list).

The Dood

Equipment: Concept2 rower, Pull-up bar/rack, barbell, plates

Kinda hard to score this one, isn’t it? Make sure you remember your row calories (although this is, admittedly, a nominal part of the workout)!

For most people, this is an all upper body WOD (I’ve seen you’re rowing videos…not too much leg action going on there!), but one that you have to be strategic with. Don’t let that first row screw up the rest of the workout and don’t blow yourself up so much that you can’t bench at the end!

2021 CrossFit Age-group Qualifier WOD 1

Equipment: Dumbbells, Concept2 rower

Unlike the previous WOD, the row in this one is a little more leg-dominated. People who have made it this far in the CrossFit Games qualifying process are a little more adept with the rower!

Regardless, even opting for dumbbell push presses will blow your shoulders up. And you always have those handstand push-ups to kick off each round!


Equipment: Gymnastics rings, kettlebell

Nate is great…really! One of the all-time best CrossFit WODs, who doesn’t love getting up on the rings, up on their hands, and throwing the heavy kettlebell around for a bit!

Truth be told, there is a lot of hinging in this one, but sometime in those 20 minutes, you’ gonna start to get tired. When you do, there is going to be a bit more…pressing happening with those heavy swings.

All 8 of them…every round.


Equipment: Barbell, bumper plates

A lot will argue that there is too much leg drive in this one to be considered a true upper body WOD. For a lot of proficient Olympic lifters, this may be the case.

However, if you really want to put up a good, sprint time on this one, you’re gonna want to recruit your shoulders to help out a bit.

Those weights are no joke, either!


Equipment: Air runner, climbing rope

Again, tough to classify something as an upper body WOD when there is that much running involved.

But 250 push-ups…and twenty-five rope climbs…?!

Make sure you’re shaking those arms out on the last ~200 meters or of every run. You’re going to need them as lactic-free as possible to make it through this one!

2019 CrossFit Age-group Qualifier WOD 3

Equipment: Gymnastics rings, barbell, bumper plates

Ring muscle-ups and decently heavy shoulder-to-overheads followed by…ring muscle-ups and heavy shoulder-to-overheads…

Pretty obvious why this one was reserved for the top 10 percent of performers in each CrossFit age group category!

Like BAMF V2, you can recruit some leg assistance to get you through the barbell work, but your upper body is still going to be smoked for those forty muscle-ups!


Equipment: Barbell, plates, pull-up bar/rack

One of the more subtle and less well known “CrossFit Girls”, the beauty of this one is you get as much as rest as you want! Feel like dragging this one out for a few days to maximize your score and rest? Why not?!

In a “normal” setting, you’ll keep the rest windows tight to ensure that this is a “true” upper body WOD with each movement making the next movement that much harder.

2017 CrossFit Age-group Qualifier WOD 3

Equipment: Barbell, bumper plates, pull-up bar/rack

One of those “that doesn’t look like that much work” kinds of WODs that ends up seriously humbling those without the muscle endurance or technique required. Thankfully, the scores of the top master’s athletes should be motivating enough to keep you moving!


Equipment: Air runner, barbell, bumper plates, wall ball, GHD

Quite the “ragin’ cajun”, indeed!

The run and GHDs book-end (or, after the first row, will be performed in one continuous flow) are where you need to resting your arms. With the upper body movement weights being as “light” as they are, you’ll be expected to sprint through these if you want to put up a good score.

70-plus bench press reps, though….yeah…this is definitely the kind of workout where you see people get stuck under the bar!

John Florio

Equipment: Barbell, plates, gymnastics rings

Bench presses done with a percentage of one’s own body weight…where have we seen this one before…?

Movements descending in weight and difficulty while ascending in number…where have we seen this one before…?

To be fair, John Florio isn’t the most original upper body WOD and it certainly isn’t the longest. However, as far as being a workout devoted to “true” upper body movements, only one WOD might beat it out…


Equipment: Gymnastics rings

The winner of the most upper body WOD of all time…JT!

JT also might win the award of the most “oh, this doesn’t look so bad…I’ll knock this out in no time….oh man, it’s still the first round and I’m already dead!” WOD of all time!

The combination of ring dips and handstand push-ups makes the normally innocuous “standard” push-up sooooo much harder. By the second round, the lactic has built up so much in the arms, that you’ll be thankful to be doing bigger sets than singles.

One time, Mat Fraser and the HWPO crew programmed “Strict JT” (no kipping in any of the movements) with a 5-minute rest and then “normal” JT. To be honest, these movements are my jam so I got through…decently quick. I feel like everybody else got rhabdo, though!

How to Prepare your Upper Body

One time I was at my old CrossFit gym in Spain and Linda happened to be programmed for the day. I was prepping for the workout with this British tourist who happened to be joining us for the workout that day. He seemed a bit concerned, really lamenting the bench presses to come.


“Tooom” he said in the most British accent possible. “You can make yourself lift the barbell and you can do singles with the cleans…but when you arms goooo, they gooooooooo…”

Thankfully, my arms didn’t give out that day, but I saw his point. It is something to keep in mind as you’re gutting through these WODs, especially with the strict movements. If you don’t have the sufficient strength, but, especially, sufficient muscle endurance in your upper body, some of these workouts may be impossible to complete.

“…when your arms gooo, they goooooo…”

Want to avoid this arm leave of absence? Keep these items in mind:

Don’t Neglect Strict Movements

Besides building overall strength better than kipping movements do, strict movements will better prepare you for the trials to come in a few ways. For one, if you ever lose your kipping “rhythm”, you can default to strict movements, even if they’re in the form of fast singles.


More importantly, as CrossFit continues to up the ante, we’re seeing more and more “strict (blank)” required in workouts. Worked on kipping handstand push-ups forever and now you’re in CrossFit Open WODs 19.3, 23.3 or CrossFit Quarterfinal 23.1? Bet you wish you had done some strict work now!

Work Muscle Endurance

Getting up to a lot of weight on weighted dips or pull-ups will certainly build your upper body strength. Loading up your dip belt with a plate or two is a totally different experience than knocking out a big set of 15 strict pull-ups.

But in workouts where volume is the name of the game, muscle endurance is going to get you further than your ability to do a pull-up with a kettlebell dangling beneath you.

Whether you work some larger sets of push-ups, dips, pull-ups, or other bodyweight exercises into your regime, volume work is going to go a long way.

Muscle endurance “newbie gains” are a thing!


For whatever reason(s), CrossFit has historically seemed to hate the bench press.


Thankfully, in last year’s regional workouts, the second iteration of The CrossFit Total (colloquially known as “The Other Total”) was introduced.

upper bpdy wod

Along with a max bench press component!

No matter what the CrossFit purists will tell you, getting a big bench will help with a multitude of upper-body movements. Why not work a lot of upper body muscles really hard with only a single movement?

While your weightlifting friends are snickering (“muh technique, brah!”), you’ll be laughing last when they post a big “DNF” on Linda!

The Upper Body WOD…Simply Good for the Soul

In CrossFit, you really gotta be good at everything.

This is a statement that has been used to bemoan classic “gym bros” (and their yuge chests) since the early days of the sport.


In my opinion, a good upper body WOD proves that point. You may be able to air squat, bike, and cycle a barbell until the cows come home, but if you’re in an upper body WOD and your arms go…

“they goooooo…”

Do some big sets of strict exercises and actually go and bench (please, though…any day but Monday!) You’ll be ready to crush everyone the next time JT is programmed!

Speaking of benching…you want to bench 225…right?

Photo of author


Tom, CrossFit Level 1 Trainer, ISSA-CPT, PN1-NC, DPA, CAPM has been CrossFitting for over 10 years. He has participated in a number of team and individual CrossFit competitions across Europe and the United States. He was the 2012 Chick-fil-A Race Series champion (North Georgia Circuit) and has put together a few gnarly garage and basement gyms in his time!

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