Best Shoulder and Bicep Workout for Size & Strength

Connor Sellers
Published by Connor Sellers | Senior Coach
Last updated: January 8, 2024
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When it comes to building strength through workout routines, focusing on the muscle groups of the upper arms and shoulders is key.

Whether my fitness clients are looking for better arm and shoulder joint movement, recovering from a rotator cuff injury, or wanting aesthetically pleasing upper arm and shoulder muscles, I have created dozens of arm and shoulder workouts.

This article will outline some of my favorite exercises, and whether you’re a beginner or an experienced gym-goer, there is something here for you.

Quick Summary

  • An effective bicep and shoulder workout will include overhead presses, lateral raises, and bicep curls.
  • The dumbbell hammer curl is a simple yet effective upper arm exercise that beginners can quickly master.
  • According to a National Institutes of Health (NIH) study, the shoulder is vital for raising the arms and maintaining posture, while the biceps primarily flex the elbow and rotate the forearm.
  • In our opinion, maintaining proper exercise form and incorporating a variety of exercises are key to achieving strong and well-defined shoulders and biceps.

Best Workouts for Shoulders and Biceps

A person doing best shoulder and bicep workout routines at the gym

Based on a study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the shoulder plays a crucial role in raising the arms and supporting proper posture, while the biceps take the lead in flexing the elbow and rotating the forearm [1].

Initially, use lighter weight and concentrate on proper form to avoid injury and maximize the benefit.

Beginner

A person doing shoulder workouts at the gym

Based on my first-hand experience, I'd like to share this simple yet highly effective beginner bicep and shoulder training routine.

For those specifically looking to bulk up their biceps, consider incorporating the best bicep exercises for mass.

Don’t forget to warm up; push-ups are a great option to get the blood flowing to your upper body and activate your core.

Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press

  • Sit on a bench. Hold a dumbbell in each hand.
  • Have the dumbbells at shoulder level, palms facing forward.
  • Keep your core engaged, your back straight, and your chin up.
  • While exhaling, press the dumbbells upward, straightening your arms above your head.
  • Lower the dumbbells back down to shoulder level in a controlled manner while inhaling.
  • Repeat for three sets of 8-10 reps.

Learn more: Best Dumbbell Shoulder Exercises for Strength and Mass

Dumbbell Lateral Raise

A person doing dumbbell lateral raises workout at the gym
  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent, with a dumbbell in each hand and arms at your sides.
  • Slightly bend your elbows and have your palms facing your body.
  • Raise your arms to your sides, keeping them parallel to the ground until your elbows are at shoulder height, exhaling during this movement.
  • Hold this position briefly before slowly lowering the dumbbells.
  • Aim for two sets of 12 reps.

Front Raises

  • Hold dumbbells in front of your thighs.
  • Lift them straight in front until shoulder level.
  • Lower them back down slowly.
  • Complete 3 sets of 12-15 reps.

Standing Dumbbell Bicep Curl

  • Stand with your feet shoulder distance apart.
  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand.
  • Your elbows should be tight to your body, and your upper arms stationary.
  • Curl the dumbbells upwards towards your shoulders while contracting your biceps while exhaling.
  • Hold briefly at the top of the movement, squeezing your biceps.
  • With control and while inhaling, lower the dumbbells back down to the starting position.
  • Aim for three sets of eight reps.

Also Read: How To Do Bicep Curls 21s

Intermediate

A person doing dumbbell workout press workouts at the gym

Based on my practical knowledge, the intermediate workout includes the dumbbell overhead press and lateral raise shoulder exercises, which have been instrumental in improving muscle strength and shoulder mobility during my training sessions.

Seated Dumbbell Arnold Press

  • Sit on a bench. Hold a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder level, with your palms facing your body.
  • Keep your core engaged, your back straight, and your chest up.
  • Rotate your arms so your palms face outward.
  • Exhaling, press the dumbbells overhead while rotating your palms forward, straightening your arms above your head.
  • Hold briefly at the top of the movement, squeezing your shoulders and triceps.
  • Slowly lower the dumbbells back to shoulder level in a controlled manner while rotating your palms back to starting position and inhaling.
  • Perform two sets of 12 reps.

Chest-Supported Lateral Raise

A person doing chest supported lateral raises
  • Lie facedown on an incline bench.
  • With a dumbbell in each hand, allow your arms to hang straight down toward the floor. Your palms should face in.
  • Keeping your arms straight, raise them until they are parallel to the floor, exhaling during this movement.
  • Hold briefly at the top of the movement, squeezing your shoulders.
  • Lower the dumbbells back to the start using a controlled movement and inhaling.
  • Aim for three sets of 15 reps.

Dumbbell Rear Fly

  • Stand with your feet shoulder distance apart.
  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand and have your palms facing each other.
  • Bend your knees slightly and lean forward at your hips, keeping your back flat and your core engaged.
  • Allow your arms to extend straight down with a slight bend in your elbows.
  • Raise the dumbbells to your sides, keeping your elbows slightly bent, exhaling during this movement.
  • Squeeze each shoulder blade together at the top of the movement.
  • Lower the dumbbells back to the start using a controlled movement and inhaling.
  • Perform two sets of 20 reps.

Dumbbell Hammer Curl

A person doing dumbbell hammer curls at the gym
  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Have a dumbbell in each hand with a grip so that your palms face toward your upper body.
  • Keep your elbows tight to your torso and your upper arms stationary.
  • Curl the dumbbells towards your shoulders, exhaling during this movement.
  • Hold briefly at the top, squeezing your biceps and forearms.
  • Lower the dumbbells back to the start using a controlled movement and inhaling.
  • Aim for three sets of 12 and then one drop set.

You may also like: Best Dumbbell Biceps Exercises

Incline Dumbbell Curl

The incline dumbbell curl is an effective biceps exercise in a beginner's workout.

For the intermediate shoulder and bicep workout, you will do three sets of 12 reps and then one drop set.

“Incline dumbbell curls target your biceps brachii, which is the biggest muscle in the biceps region. As you curl up, you’re putting resistance on the biceps brachii, which in turn engages and tightens, a process called a concentric contraction.”

- Kristeen Cherney, PhD

Advanced

A person curling a barbell at the gym

Based on my first-hand experience, I can confidently say that the advanced routine will indeed be a challenging shoulder and biceps workout.

Add ten lateral raises between each exercise to target those muscle groups effectively.

Barbell Curl

  • Stand with feet shoulder distance apart and your hands grasping a barbell with an underhand, shoulder-width grip.
  • Keep your upper arms stationary and elbows close to your torso.
  • Curl the barbell towards your shoulders, contracting your biceps and exhaling during this movement.
  • Hold briefly at the top of the movement, squeezing your biceps.
  • Lower the barbell to the starting position using a controlled movement and inhaling.
  • Perform four sets of 6, 8, 10, and 12 reps.

Related: How to Do Barbell Curls

Incline Dumbbell Curl

Because the incline dumbbell curl is a must-have in any shoulder and bicep workout, I have also included it in this advanced routine.

Here, you will challenge yourself by performing three sets of 12 reps and then two drop sets.

Dumbbell Rear Fly & Band Pull-Apart

A person doing dumbbell rear fly band full apart for shoulder muscles

Increase the challenge of the intermediate workout by combining dumbbell rear flys with resistance band pull-apart for an effective shoulder workout that targets the rhomboid, trap, and posterior deltoid muscles.

Perform as a bicep superset workout and aim for three sets of 15 reps for each exercise.

Here’s how to do the resistance band pull apart:

  • Stand with feet shoulder distance apart.
  • With palms facing down, hold a resistance band in both hands.
  • Extend your arms in front of you, parallel to the ground, with the band stretched between them.
  • Pull the band apart. Keep your arms straight, and squeeze your shoulder blades together as you go.
  • Fully extend your arms out to your sides and pause.
  • Slowly return to the starting position, returning your hands to the center in front of your chest.

Training Tips

A person curling a dumbbell

Keep the following in mind when training:

  • Focus on form: It is critical to use proper exercise form to avoid injury and maximize gains, even if this means using lighter weights. Use controlled and steady motion, avoiding momentum or swinging, and keep your core engaged.
  • Vary your exercises: To effectively target the shoulder and bicep muscles, vary your workouts and incorporate a mix of compound and isolation movements. Compound exercises include push or pull-ups, while isolation exercises include biceps curls or lateral raises.
  • Increase weight gradually: Gradually increase weight and resistance over time to stimulate muscle growth and prevent plateaus.
  • Rest and recover: According to a study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), it is vital to allow enough time for your muscles to rest and recover between workouts and fuel your body with adequate protein, carbs, and healthy fats to support muscle growth [2]. Drinking a protein shake post-workout increases your protein intake and jumpstarts muscle recovery.

FAQs

Is It Better to Do Shoulders With Biceps or Triceps?

It is better to do shoulders with a biceps workout because many bicep exercises involve the shoulder muscles and vice versa. Ultimately, it’s personal preference and goals, but working shoulders and biceps can fit well in a push-pull training split.

How Can I Bulk up My Arms and Shoulders Fast?

You can bulk up your arms and shoulders quickly by adding volume to your biceps and shoulders workout. You can do this by adding an exercise or set, building up to 20 or more sets weekly of shoulder and biceps exercises.


References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537148/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15107010/
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About The Author

Senior Coach
Connor Sellers holds a degree in Kinesiology and Exercise Science from Rutgers University He is an author and personal trainer with the mission to inspire people to relentlessly pursue their fitness and lifestyle goals. He mantra is that staying fit has an overall positive effect on one’s body, mind, and spirit.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Kristy June Dayanan, BS, MD is an author with a BS degree from University of the Philippines and an MD from University of Perpetual Help System. Her ability to simplify medical science complexities and dietary supplement jargon for the average reader makes her a valued medical fact checker and reviewer.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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