Travel Workouts

Upper Body Machine Only Workout

If you don’t have free weights and a barbell to hand, your chest and back day need not be ruined. Try this upper body machine workout to slot in nicely for any Hypertropthy or Cutting focused training regimes.

Upper Body Machine Workout Plan

Sometimes when you’re travelling, you don’t get the luxury of a room full of barbell benches, or rows of Ivanko dumbbells. This means your training may need to consider ….. MACHINES!

Horror I know 🙂 But seriously, don’t sleep on these bits of kit, peer reviewed scientific testing has said they may be getting an unfair rap, and with that, I’m going to show you my favourite upper body machine workout. I am currently using this as I move my training toward maintaining conditioning while cutting, and I discovered how good a workout I was getting from it, after some rehab a few months back.

Basically, this is a decent pump and if you have this on your phone saved for your travels, you won’t be out of some training inspiration. With that, let’s dive into a machine only chest, back and shoulder pumper.

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Author // David
Author // David

Bothering dumbbells since 2003. I visit a lot of hotels with terrible gyms, so you don't have to. @masononsocial

To the point

Upper body only gym machine workout
Lee at the Watson 24 Hour Gym in Frome

This particular upper body workout is best suited for hypertrophy focused training. Hypertrophy is fancy wording for muscle growth. It’s something that I am using currently alongside a calorie deficit to retain muscle hardness with the goal of looking more than just emaciated at the end of my fat loss cycle. 

If I’m going to starve myself for 2 months, I better look damn good at the end of it. Besides, I’m off to review more of the best bodybuilding gyms in the US and I want to look my best.

I got into using machine only upper body workouts when needing to take it easy after an operation. I wanted to stimulate the muscles without overly exerting stabilisers and my entire body when doing so. I still got DOMs and I didn’t look any worse for it.

Where this machine only upper body workout uses the 12 rep range and failure/exhaustion, we aren’t looking to care so much about increments in weight load, nor is the rep range geared toward explosive strength gains. 

“The mid-range of the repetition continuum (from 8 to 12 repetitions) is commonly referred to as the hypertrophy zone”  National Library of Medicine


So, if you’re an athlete on your travels and prefer the 4-6 rep range, then you may want to adjust the reps to suit, or just stick to this format for a bit of a change up. 

What does the science say about machines vs free weights after investigating the two forms of training? 

“No differences were detected in the direct comparison of strength, jump performance and muscle hypertrophy.”


That’s the science, as for us, we are a combined 4 decades deep in resistance training and are all trained in the arts of PT’ing, as well as some bonus qualifications along the way. 

This workout follows the 1 working set model. What this means, is doing two warm up sets super slowly, each a little heavier than the last, for 12 reps at each station, before landing on your working set weight.

At this point, you need to know the following:

  • When you can’t complete a full range of motion rep – keep doing partial reps
  • When you can’t do a partial rep – pause for 10 seconds, then try again.
  • If that still doesn’t work, then drop the weight by 30 (ish) % – now carry on.
  • Repeat this until there is no more weight left to drop and fail again on.

True failure takes a bit of a mental adjustment. Don’t stop when it hurts, stop when you can’t squeeze even a partial ego rep out. 

Upper Body Machine Workout Download

Upper Body Machine Workout Plan Template

You’ll find that this upper body machine workout can probably be done with a single cable column, which makes it a pretty versatile training plan, but it’s also built with hotel gyms in mind, where they tend to be a bit more loaded up on pin selectors, particularly names like Technogym.

To learn more about some of the upper body gym equipment we will be talking about, check out our guide to the best back machines to use next. It dives into what we like and why we like them.

Muscles Worked

  • Pectoralis (Chest)
  • Rhomboid (Middle/Upper Back)
  • Deltoids (Shoulders)
  • Latissimus Dorsi (Back V)
  • Biceps (Guns)
  • Triceps (Bigger Guns)

The Moves…

Aim to work through each of these resistance machines, with one minute rest between the sets.

In the first two sets of each station, go slower up and down than you normally would. This means pick lighter weights and gradually find your ideal 12 rep range 3rd set weight.

(P) means primary muscle

    • Pullover: 12 – 12 – Fail | Lats (P) – Rhomboids – Intercostals – Rear Delts – Core.
      Nothing seems to warm me up like this bad boy. Considered to be the best lats movement, it also hits the chest too. 

    • Low Row: 3 Sets > 12 – 12 – Fail inc dropping weight to complete fail | Rhomboids (P) – Lats – Biceps – Trapezius – Rear Delts.
      The elite back movement, follows up a great lats smasher, it engages your biceps too, and when you throw in another pull movement, there isn’t much more you need to do for your biceps. 

    • Close Grip Pulldown: 3 Sets >  12 – 12 – Fail (as above method) | Rhomboids (P) – Lats (P) – Biceps (P) – Trapezius – Rear Delts. 
      I’ve put this as the final back move, and performed correctly, you can make this into a really solid bicep exercise. If you’re lucky and have access to those Watson close grip handles, you can get a really good pump here.

    • Chest Press: 3 Sets >  12 – 12 – Fail | Pecs (P) – Front Delt – Triceps.
      I’m not precious on which one of these you use, whether it’s incline, decline or flat. The difference for the average person is extraordinarily insignificant.

    • Pec Flye: 3 Sets >  12 – 12 – Fail | Pecs (P) – Front Delts. 
      Similar to chest press, don’t worry if it’s called a Pec Deck instead, the focus here is on the range of motion you work on. This can also be traded in with a cable crossover.

    • Shoulder Press: 3 Sets > 12 – 12 – Fail | Delts (P) – Triceps. 
      Carrying on with the push part of this upper body workout, kill off the delts and upper chest with the shoulder press.

    • S/Set – Tricep Pushdown: 3 Sets > 12 – 12 – Fail | Triceps (P). 
      Superset this with the Lats machine below. I’m a big fan of overhead tricep extension using a rope on the column, and underhand leaves a nice feeling too. Pick your poison.

    • S/Set – Lat Raise: 3 Sets > 12 – 12 – Fail | Delts (P) 
      Supersetting this with a tricep blast, smash out what’s left of your deltoids with the lateral raise. If the fitness suite you’re in doesn’t have a lateral raise machine, then stick a handle on the cable machine and perform the movement that way.

See what I mean? You really can get a solid upper body workout with just machines. Enjoy the DOMs tomorrow and go and make the most of your protein window. Need some on-the-go protein food tips?

Time Needed For This Workout?

You will get through this 24 set workout in approximately 45-50 minutes. Don’t waste time on your phone!

We Love This…Upper Body Machine Workout Playlist

  • You can check out our Barbell’s Abroad Playlist on Spotify – but when it comes to getting an upper body workout in, It’s either the first day back or a weekend, either way I like something a little more banging. Try this UK hip hop gem put together by Gymshark.

Outro // Strapping Up

Upper Body Done! See what I mean? It’s not a bad workout, and i’d not recommend or even do it, if I thought it was a waste of your time or mine.

Performed properly and through the pain barrier with those evil final sets, you WILL feel this in the coming days. And that is the beauty of using machines for this training approach, it’s so much easier to drop the weight down each time. 

Grab a copy of this upper body machine workout by clicking the red button up the top and saving to your phone. Thanks for stopping by. 

Where next? Prep for your machine leg workout next or try our full body machine workout here.

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