4 Upper Body Exercises You Can Do With Just Weight Plates

Plates don't need barbells to give you a solid workout.

Breaking news: Weight plates are not just for putting on a barbell. They can be a useful exercise tool on their own, and for people who have limited access to dumbbells, barbells, and kettlebells.  

Editor’s note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it shouldn’t take the place of advice and/or supervision from a medical professional. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. Speak with your physician if you have any concerns.

The Pros and Cons of Weight Plates


  • Because you need to grip them hard enough that they don’t fall onto your wrist, holding a weight plate bottoms up provides the same benefits of holding a bottoms up kettlebell — better grip strength, more rotator cuff stability, more muscle irradiation.
  • Their smooth surface means you can slide them along the floor, which can makes it great for some core exercises
  • They can help improve finger strength


  • They only come in set sizes and the weight jumps are large. For example, there are no other weights between 10- and 25-pound plates
  • Not as versatile as dumbbells

Here are four exercises that will have you looking at the weight plate in a different light.

1. Plate Pinch Carries

Your fingers are strong. And you will lose grip strength if it’s not trained and it can lead to some functional limitations and disabilities as you age.(1)

Plate pinch carries will take your grip strength to the next level and may help keep you alive if you find yourself hanging from a mountain.

Programming Suggestions

 If you’re not able to carry a 45-pound weight plate, pinching together two or three 10-pound weight plates can be a great, if brutally tough alternative. Pairing a pressing or squat exercise that doesn’t demand a lot of grip strength works well. For example,

1A.  Single arm floor press 8-12 reps

1B. Plate pinch carry 40 yards

2. Tall Kneeling Bottoms Up Overhead Press

This is similar to the kettlebell bottoms up press and provides the same benefits with less load because of the tension needed to hold the plates bottoms up.

The bottoms up weight plate gives you instant feedback on whether you’re doing the lift correctly because anything short of ideal pressing technique and plate positioning will result in a missed rep and bruised forearm.

Programming Suggestions

This exercise can be performed either from a standing, tall kneeling, or half kneeling position.  And start with 10 or 25-pound plates to dial in your form before moving on to the 35- or 45-pound plate.

Pairing this with a carry variation will get your shoulders rocking. For example,

1A. Tall Kneeling Bottoms Up Overhead Press 8-12 reps

1B. Plate pinch carry 40 yards

3. Plank Chest And Reverse Fly

Having 3 points on the ground while dragging a weight plate will train core and shoulder stability (on one side) and your chest and upper back shoulders on the other.

The sliding plate doesn’t give you the same resistance as the traditional chest and reverse fly variations but being in the prone position while training unilaterally will still provide you a challenge.

And you’ll love the extra core work.

Programming Suggestion

Set up with your feet wider than hip position to prevent your hips swaying from side to side. Start with the weight plate behind your left hand and slide in and out with the right hand. 

Note- There and back is one rep.

This exercise can be used as a warmup exercise or paired with a crawling variation to totally exhaust your core and blast your shoulders. For example,

1A. Plank Chest And Reverse Fly 8 reps each side

1B. Leopard Crawl 20 steps on each side

4. Javorek’s Shoulder Complex

This exercise is traditionally performed with dumbbells but if you haven’t access to them or your shoulders are bothering you, then this is a viable alternative.

This trains all three deltoids (front, lateral and posterior) which provides a great shoulder pump and will save you time from training each deltoid muscle separately.

Programming Suggestion

Grip the plate by putting two fingers through the hole and holding the edge of the plate with your thumb. And do the exercises in order (as shown) for a maximum shoulder pump.

If 10-pound plates don’t challenge you, adding pauses at the end of the rep and slowing down the eccentric will have you feeling the burn.

Do this exercise at the end of your training session for 2-3 sets with 60 seconds rest between sets.  

Wrapping Up

Weight plates are a great tool to add variety to your training and are a viable substitute for dumbbells and kettlebells. And your core and shoulders will not what hit them.

You are welcome.

Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Featured image via sklyareek/Shutterstock


1. JAMA. 1999 Feb 10;281(6):558-60. Midlife hand grip strength as a predictor of old age disability. Rantanen T1, Guralnik JM, Foley D, Masaki K, Leveille S, Curb JD, White L.