Imagine Healthy Workouts

The Imagine Strength Training Program

Upper Body categories include Chest, Back, Shoulders, Biceps, and Triceps.

IMG_2169IMG_2168IMG_2167For the Imagine Strength Training Program, we’ll alternate upper body workout days with lower body workout days. Not each and every day of every week of your whole entire life, but let’s go for four days a week. No need to do everything all at once, and heavens, we want you to have time for a nice massage and to try out some great Imagine recipes, maybe take some time for yoga, and let’s not forget all the other joys of life, so we’ll keep it reasonable.

Imagine Upper Body strength training will focus on the muscle groups of the upper body. The following information will guide you through a well-balanced strength program, using the minimal equipment.  To avoid injury, it is better to start at a lower weight and increase as you go along.  We have a lifetime to become and be strong and fit; when it comes to working out, less IS more as you begin.  Personally, I’m going for fit and healthy, not body-builder bulk.  One could certainly increase the weights more and more over time and attain impressive muscle mass if that’s a goal that makes you happy. But for now, the focus is on healthy, sustainable strength-building. I’m suggesting, start lighter than you think you can handle.  You can always add more weight as you go–unless you’ve torn a ligament or strained a muscle because you overdid it too soon! No pain is not a definitive indicator that there was no gain.  The gain of strength over time is the gain I’m after, and personally, I’m over the whole pain thing.  I’m 51; things hurt without me intentionally hurting them, so I’m promoting loving our bodies strong.  No pain, no problem; I’m all good with less pain.  That’s not to say we won’t get sore sometimes, but I’m not promoting pushing blindly through pain when our body is screaming for us to stop.  That’s a different sort of workout program, and for me, it didn’t work out.

To make it easy and accessible, this workout uses only dumbbells or your own bodyweight. Every gym has dumbbells of various weights, and often there’s much less wait time for dumbbells than at the machines.  If you prefer to work out in-house, you can usually find a cheap set of decent (if mismatched) weights by perusing thrift shops.  Or buy the shiny matched set if you prefer, though I’d start with just the bare minimum until you find your comfort zone.  My personal preference is to use lower weights and do more repetitions. That’s always worked for me and has been the method my coaches have recommended. It is not the only way to lift weights, by any means.  But it is a gently effective way to strengthen the body.

Imagine Strength workouts all follow a similar pattern: the first set of 12 reps with the lowest weight is a warm-up, followed by progressively increased weights for the next three sets. The last two sets of 12 reps are a cool-down. Nice and easy, beginning and end.  May not feel like your “killin’ it,” but quite frankly, I’m over “killin'” myself in order to get healthy…just seems like a painful oxymoron (which murdered a nice running career); I suggest we go for “lovin’ it” instead. I’ve put an overview of the dumbbell weights routine I use below.  I like it because it’s efficient: the warm up and cool down are all part of the weightlifting so I can get the whole workout in, within a reasonable 30-40 minutes.  Don’t rush it, but also don’t feel bad if it doesn’t suck up your whole evening.

For a more detailed look at what I did for this Upper Body Strength Training, click the links below to take a peek at workouts I created, and have been using for over a decade (with modifications whenever needed).

Before you start any fitness program, be sure to consult your doctor.  These exercises are provided as suggestions only and should be modified as necessary to fit your fitness level. 

Imagine Upper Body Workout A

Click the links below to see illustrations and specific workout suggestions.  Remember, these are suggestions: listen to your own body to avoid injury! It’s wise to consult a fitness professional, personal trainer, or physical therapist if you have questions or concerns about how specific exercises might affect your body.

Click: Imagine BASIC Upper Upper Body Workout A

Click: Imagine ADVANCED Upper Body Workout A

If at any point you are unable to complete any exercise slowly and to your full range of motion, decrease the weights for all sets until you can do the exercises comfortably and with good muscle control.


Progression through each exercise consists of doing six sets of the same exercise, with more repetitions at lower weights, and fewer repetitions of the exercise at the higher weights.

  • Set One: 12 reps, rest one minute
  • Set Two: 10 reps, rest one minute
  • Set Three: 8 reps, rest one minute
  • Set Four: 6 reps, rest one minute
  • Set Five: 12 reps, rest one minute
  • Set Six: 12 reps

Then rest for two minutes before going on to the next exercise.


The BASIC workout example gives a starting point which utilizes lower weights and has you choose one of two exercises for each muscle group.


For a more intense workout, when your body is ready, choose TWO exercises from each category, and increasing the weights slightly on every set.


If the weights listed in the ADVANCED list are not challenging for you at all, it’s time to set your own weight increments. Listen to your body, and consult a fitness professional for further advice.  In the Imagine CHALLENGE workouts, two exercises are chosen from each category at higher weight increments you determine yourself.

To determine what weight you’ll start with, find the maximum weight that you can do the exercise–slowly and at the full range of motion–for six repetitions. Please don’t choose the biggest weight you think you can handle to start.  Check out a weight below what you think your max is, try it six times, see how it goes.  Too easy?  Try a slightly heavier weight.  Again, if you find it’s not challenging you at all, go a bit heavier, and repeat until you find one that you find to challenge your limit, without sacrificing form or slow, even lifting.

Once you’ve found that sweet maximum weight just suited to your musculature, work backward to find your starting weight: decrease incrementally by 2-5 pounds for each of the starting sets: Three, Two, and One. The same lowest weight is what you’ll use for your warm-up Set One, and your two cool-downs, Set Five and Set Six. To clarify, let’s frame it as an example.

Let’s say, for our example, that you are able to do six repetitions of the dumbbell press with 25-pound weights–slowly, and without sacrificing your full range of motion, without pain or strain, AND without having to drop the weights at uncontrolled speed on the return!  If that’s the case, then 25 pounds becomes your peak weight for that particular exercise, the weight you’ll lift six times. So, for that exercise, your maximum lift would be 25 pounds.  First you’d warm up your muscles by lifting less. And after lifting your highest weight, you’d cool your muscles down again by lifting lower weights before moving on to the next exercise.

For this example your dumbbell press progression might look like this:

  • Set One: 12 reps with 15-pound weights, rest one minute
  • Set Two: 10 reps with 18-pound weights, rest one minute
  • Set Three: 8 reps with 20-pound weights, rest one minute
  • Set Four: 6 reps with 25-pound weights, rest one minute
  • Set Five: 12 reps with 15-pound weights, rest one minute
  • Set Six: 12 reps with 15-pound weights

Periodically, you might find your maximum weight doesn’t feel like your max anymore.  At that point, go through the slow process of testing to see what your new max is.  A general rule of thumb is to never increase workouts by more than 10% week over week.  So, if you were maxing out at 25 pounds, you could add another 2.5 next week.  Jumping up to, say, 35 pounds would entail the risk of unnecessary injury and pain.  That 35-pound dumbbell isn’t going anywhere; it’ll wait patiently for you to get to it safely.


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