8 Best Exercises To Workout Your Shoulder And Bicep

Jessica Carter
Jessica Carter

When getting into weightlifting and bodybuilding, the body parts that people mostly wish to grow are the biceps and the shoulders. Having nicely built arms will surely make you look and feel bigger, stronger, and more attractive.

When I got into bodybuilding, I did a bunch of exercises for these muscles without the slightest clue of what I was doing.

After some time, I decided to learn more about these muscles and create a workout program that made sense. Not long after working out with a plan, I started seeing results like never before.

In this article, I will explain the technique, dosage, optimal usage, and everything else related to some of the best exercises you can use in your next shoulder and bicep workout.

Let’s start by briefly learning about the functions of these muscles.

Biomechanical Functions of The Shoulders and The Biceps

Anatomy and Functions of the Biceps

The biceps has to be one of the most known muscles, whether you are into bodybuilding or not.

It is a symbol of strength. Think of Popeye and how he always flexed it after eating spinach.

However, even if it’s the most known muscle, many people don’t know all of its functions.

The biceps is formed by a long and short head of the biceps brachii muscles. It has three main functions. The first one is flexion in the elbow joint. It is assisted by synergistic muscles like the brachialis and brachioradialis.

The second function is supination. Some of the forearm muscles help this movement.

What is supination?

Starting in a position where your palm is facing down, rotate your hand so it’s facing up. Great job! You just did a supination movement.

And the third and often forgotten function is flexion of the shoulder. Knowing about this function can come in handy in getting the best stimulus out of the exercise, something we will be talking about later.

Anatomy and Functions of the Shoulders

The shoulders are mainly divided into three parts with different functions. Those are the front, side, and rear delts.

  • The front delts are doing a movement called anteflexion. In other words, it’s lifting the arm in front of you.
  • The side delts are the abductors of the arms. That’s a movement where you are moving the arm up on the side.
  • The rear delts are external rotators and horizontal abductors. You are doing this movement when you extend your arm behind you to throw a ball, hugging someone, etc.
 

Now that we learned about the anatomy of the biceps and the shoulders and understood their main functions, we can use that information to structure the best possible program and use the most optimal exercises in our shoulder and bicep workout.

Creating the Ultimate Shoulder And Bicep Workout

We will first talk about some of the best exercises you can use in your shoulder and bicep workout, the best way to do them, and the dosing of the sets and repetition you should be doing.

Let’s start with the biceps, then continue with the shoulder, and finish with some time-efficient exercises that are good for both.

Barbell Bicep Curl

Difficulty
2/5

It wouldn’t be a bicep guide if we didn’t start with the classic, and as some are referring to it, the king of all bicep exercises.

When doing this exercise with a full range of motion, we check all three functionality boxes: elbow flexion, slight supination, and shoulder flexion.

Also, when performing this exercise requires you to be stable and avoid swinging, so to do that, you are also working on your core stability.

Instructions
Equipment Needed
US Weight Duracast 55 lb. Barbell Weight Set with Two 5 lb....

Preacher Barbell Curl

Difficulty
2/5

Another great barbell exercise to consider in your next shoulder and bicep workout is the preach barbell curl. Slightly different and safer from the barbell curl, it’s more beginner-friendly because of the elimination of the swinging element that can cause some low-back issues.

That swinging is mainly happening because people are doing the exercise with an improper technique resulting from using heavier weights than needed.

The preacher barbell curl, however, is done in a sitting position on a preacher curl bench with the arms and armpits resting on the pad. This way you don’t have to worry about stability and focus on a good contraction of the bicep.

Instructions
Equipment Needed
HIRALIY 47' Olympic EZ Curl Barbell Bar for 2-inch Weight Plates...
WF Athletic Supply Cast Iron 2-Inch Olympic Grip Plate for...

Dumbbell Bicep Curl

Difficulty
2/5

We’ve played with the barbells, and now it’s time to get some of the benefits the dumbbells offer.

This exercise is very similar to the barbell curl but it has one element of its own that, depending on the program, can make it superior.

The element we are talking about is the ability to gain much greater supination of the biceps since the wrists aren’t locked on a bar. This way, you will get a greater squeeze at the top of the lift, which can be very growth-promoting.

However, this exercise cannot be loaded the same as the barbell curl, so the progression in weight and repetitions is also different. It’s wise to use it in the higher end of the repetition ranges on the shoulder and bicep workout.

You can do this exercise in various ways. An overhand grip variation which activates the forearm muscles more and a neutral grip one which offers a greater brachialis activation. There is also an option to do this exercise with one arm at a time.

Instructions
Equipment Needed
Bowflex SelectTech 552 Adjustable Dumbbells (pair)

Bicep Cable Curl

Difficulty
3/5

You may have heard that free weights are the most effective and superior to machines when it comes to muscle building.

While it may be true to some point, it doesn’t always has be the case. Now we will leave the free weights and use some of the benefits the machines can offer in a shoulder and bicep workout.

This variation of a curl isolates the biceps more, is easier on the joints, and is also less fatiguing, making it the perfect choice for an exercise after the main and harder one (barbell curl for example).

The reason why we won’t use this exercise as the main one is because of something called raw stimulus. In simple terms, this is the amount of growth one exercise can produce no matter taxing it is.

The free-weight exercises are more taxing and have a higher raw stimulus. That’s why they are used earlier when we are fresher.

Instructions
Equipment Needed
GDLF Lat Pull Down Machine Low Row Cable Fitness Exercise Body...

Shoulder Press

Difficulty
2.5/5

This is one of the most beneficial compound exercises for your shoulders. All three delts are engaged with the biggest focus on the front and slightly lower on the side delts. Also, we have the triceps working as a synergist muscle and the core muscles as the main support to keep us balanced.

The shoulder press can be done both standing and sitting. You can use a barbell, a dumbbell, or a specialized shoulder press machine.

All options are viable and can be used depending on the person’s anatomy, goals, and preferences.

Doing this exercise with a barbell allows you to use more weight. Doing it with dumbbells allows for a slightly better range of motion and can also show and fix strength imbalances. Finally, doing it on a machine allows for better isolation of the shoulder muscles but decreases core activation.

Instructions
Equipment Needed
US Weight Duracast 55 lb. Barbell Weight Set with Two 5 lb....
Bowflex SelectTech 552 Adjustable Dumbbells (pair)

Lateral Raise

Difficulty
4/5

A popular shoulder exercise used to grow the side delts. Using dumbbells or cables, the lateral raise can be done two-handedly and one-handedly, also called bi-lateral and unilateral. In some gyms, you can find lateral raise machines that can also be a great option.

Same as the shoulder presses, all options can be used and be beneficial depending on the person, the type of training they are doing, and their preferences.

Remember, not everyone is built the same, and what may work for you may not work for another person and vice versa.

The main difference between dumbbells and cables is in the muscle tension. Doing the exercise with cables provides constant pressure in both the concentric and eccentric phases of the lift.

With a pair of dumbbells, you will have a better engagement of the stabilization muscles, which can benefit general shoulder health.

We mentioned that you could do this exercise two-handedly or one-handedly. The first option is more time efficient and allows for exercising with more weight, and the second option is great for fixing strength imbalances and for better isolation of the muscle.

Instructions
Equipment Needed
Bowflex SelectTech 552 Adjustable Dumbbells (pair)

Face-pull

Difficulty
4/5

There are many amazing choices for exercising the rear delt, such as the bent-over raises, but you can never go wrong with choosing the face-pull as the most important rear delt exercise in your shoulder and bicep workout.

The main benefit this exercise offers is the ability for a much greater external rotation than the other rear delt exercises.

Since the rear delt is an external rotator of the shoulder, there is no better way to engage it to the fullest. Also, this exercise is done standing, allowing for great core activation.

Apart from the rear delt, the other muscles of the rotator cuff are involved in performing this movement resulting in a better, bigger, and fuller growth in that area.

Having all these muscles developed well also helps for a better posture, something to put the focus on in this computer and smartphone era.

Instructions
Equipment Needed
GDLF Lat Pull Down Machine Low Row Cable Fitness Exercise Body...

Dumbbell Bicep Curl to Shoulder Press

Difficulty
5/5

A great and simple exercise if you want to be more time-efficient in your shoulder and bicep workout.

It’s a straightforward combination of the bicep curl and the shoulder press. Both are exercises we’ve talked about in this article. 

To do this, you should follow the instructions for both exercises. Simply put, set yourself up for a curl. Lift the weight to the shoulders, and then without swinging, lift the dumbbells in front of you in a controller fashion.

An important tip is to lower the weight step by step, which helps to avoid swinging or dropping the weight fast.

Equipment Needed
Bowflex SelectTech 552 Adjustable Dumbbells (pair)

A Shoulder and Bicep Workout Sample

We will use two biceps and three shoulder exercises in this workout. This way covers every part of the muscles and promotes optimal growth.

You can do this workout as a separate session, but we recommend doing it on the same day as your chest or back workout.

We will start with the more taxing and compound exercises to provide the muscles with the best stimulus while the energy is at its highest. So, the first exercise will be the shoulder press.

You can do this using any of the options mentioned, but stick to the 8-12 repetition range to gain the best results. Do this for 3 to 5 sets. If you are more of a beginner to an early intermediate, stick to the 3 sets and slowly progress.

The more advanced lifters can go up to 5 sets. The important part is to be well-rested for every set, and not push yourself above the limits.

Then we move on to the side delts. Do a lateral raise of your choosing, go for 3-4 sets, and keep the repetitions around 12 to 15. Avoid trap activation and focus on the best possible isolation of the side delts.

To finish the shoulders, we are doing face-pulls for 3 to 5 sets for 15-20 repetitions.

Here, the repetition range is higher because we want to work with lighter weights and achieve maximal mind-muscle connection that provides the best activation and growth of the desired muscles.

Let’s move on to the second part of this shoulder and bicep workout.

Next up is the barbell curl. Aim for 3-5 sets doing around 8-15 repetitions. Choosing a lighter weight will isolate the biceps more, which we want to accomplish with this exercise.

The heavier weights, however, will cause swinging and greater forearm activation, something we don’t want.

To finish the nearly exhausted biceps, we will do the cable curl as an easier exercise that will help us isolate the muscles while still putting in some decent work.

Do this exercise for 4-5 sets for 15 to 20 repetitions for the same reasons as the face-pull.

In short, the shoulder and bicep workout should look like this:

  • Shoulder Press. 3-5 sets | 8-12 repetitions
  • Lateral Raise. 3-4 sets | 12-15 repetitions
  • Face-pull. 3-5 sets | 15-20 repetitions
  • Barbell Curl 3-5 sets | 8-15 repetitions
  • Cable Curl 4-5 sets | 15-20 repetitions

The Final Set

Sometimes, the shoulders and the biceps aren’t getting the love they deserve-. As muscles are a significant factor in how you look, it is important to have a proper idea of how you will give that love to them.

To do that, you need to learn about the anatomy and functions of those muscles and use that knowledge to properly choose the best exercises possible.

You have to know why you are doing some exercises, how to do them, and how to dose them for optimal results. 

The workout we’ve provided you is a sample of what a shoulder and bicep workout should look like. If you don’t want to build your own, feel free and try that one.

If some exercises are not giving you the best stimulus, re-read the article to see if you are doing something wrong or change the exercise with another variation. 

If you want to take your workouts to the next level and learn more about proper exercising, feel free to read the other articles on our page. Also, don’t keep these tips a secret and share them with your friends. Let’s grow!

Jessica Carter
Jessica Carter
Jessica is an AFLCA certified personal trainer and holds a Masters degree in physical therapy from the University of British Columbia. She has been working in the field for 5 years and writes as a freelance about all things fitness related.