When it comes to constructing the perfect workout routine for muscle growth, it’s easy to feel like you have too many options. After all, body part splits are fantastic for muscle-building — if you can put together a routine that works for you.
You might not think that shoulders and biceps belong together. After all, the two muscles don’t perform many related functions. However, for bodybuilding specifically, pairing unrelated muscles together might help you unlock new gains.
How? Mixing biceps with shoulders ensures that there’s no interference. Torching your biceps won’t diminish your pressing power or vice-versa. If you want to dedicate maximum effort, energy, and focus towards muscle growth, give these three workouts a shot. They’re scaled by difficulty so you can dive right in.
Best Shoulder and Biceps Workout
- Bodybuilding Shoulder and Biceps Workout — Beginner
- Bodybuilding Shoulder and Biceps Workout — Intermediate
- Bodybuilding Shoulder and Biceps Workout — Advanced
As a first-time gymgoer or new bodybuilder, you should generally pair synergistic muscle groups together. This can help you develop proper technique and learn to use your body as a unit. That said, these concerns aren’t directly relevant for muscle growth.
Like any beginner bodybuilding workout, you can make a lot of out of a little. While much of the contemporary literature on training volume suggests that greater than 10 weekly sets is optimal for growth, a majority of those gains come from surprisingly few sets. (1)
So, as a newbie, hit this workout twice per week and focus on training hard. It’s a short session, but the gains will come.
- Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press: 3 x 6
- Dumbbell Lateral Raise: 2 x 12
- Standing Dumbbell Curl: 3 x 8
- Inclbine Dumbbell Curl: 2 x 12
How to Progress
Early on in your lifting career, your best bet for progress is to push your intensity as hard as you (safely) can. In the context of resistance training, intensity typically refers to how heavy you can lift as a percentage of your 1-rep max.
You probably don’t have a 1-rep max dumbbell curl, so in this context, think of intensity as a stand-in for the weights you use in general. Try to work with slightly heavier weights on at least one exercise every week.
Pairing shoulders and biceps for muscle growth is right up your alley as an intermediate bodybuilder. Why? Well, if you’ve been training awhile, it’s the perfect time to experiment with how you organize your workouts to squeeze more juice out of each session.
Pairing these two muscle groups together allows you to focus on each and every repetition without worrying too much about the accumulation of muscular fatigue. You’ll also employ some more complex techniques like top sets and down sets, as well as the occasional high-intensity technique.
- Barbell Overhead Press: 1 x 3, then 3 x 6
- Seated Dumbbell Arnold Press: 2 x 12
- Chest-Supported Lateral Raise: 3 x 15, then one drop set.
- Dumbbell Rear Flye: 2 x 20
- Incline Dumbbell Curl: 3 x 12, then one drop set.
- Rope Hammer Curl: 3 x 12, then one drop set.
How to Progress
After a few years in the weight room, you might find it difficult to regularly slide another weight plate onto your barbell to facilitate progress. This is perfectly normal and is an unfortunate consequence of a career in the gym; your body is simply less sensitive to the physical stress than it once was.
However, that absolutely doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do. As an intermediate, focus on volume and, occasionally, pushing past muscular failure. Literature indicates that training to failure isn’t necessary for optimal muscle growth, (2) but it might be particularly helpful if you’re working with lighter weights and higher reps — which, during a shoulder-and-biceps workout for mass, you absolutely are.
After many years in the gym, you may have evaluated your physique and determined that your shoulders or biceps are weak points. A sensible solution would be to tackle these muscles on the same day so you can give them your undivided attention.
However, you’ll also have to get creative about your programming. Long-term muscle growth is a tall order, so you should be prepared to get down and dirty during your workouts and push your limits on every movement.
As an advanced bodybuilder, you need heaps of training volume to stimulate your muscles for growth. To avoid each workout feeling like a three-hour marathon, your solution is going to be elegant but brutal. You’re going to weave shoulder training in-between each biceps exercise. Think of it like one very, very long superset.
- Barbell Curl: 4 x 6, 8, 10, 12
- Preacher Curl: 3 x 8
- Incline Dumbbell Curl: 3 x 12, then two drop sets.
- Dumbbell Rear Flye + Band Pull-Apart: 3 x 15 each, as a superset.
Note: Perform one set of 10 lateral raises between each set of the first three exercises.
How to Progress
Progression looks very different for the advanced gymgoer than it does the beginner. To continue making progress late into your bodybuilding career, you’ll have to look into the finer details.
In practical terms, this means giving each and every repetition maximal mental focus, contracting your muscles as hard as you can, and working hard to ensure you have absolutely pristine form, even and especially when you’re fatigued.
You may also want to enlist the help of a training partner who can get you into (and out of) the pain cave. A good spotter can push you past your limits and help you unlock previously-untapped muscle gains.
Shoulder and Biceps Training Tips
They’re certainly an unlikely pairing, but don’t underestimate working your shoulders and biceps in the same session. You might find that it’s just what you need to kickstart new growth in those areas. Keep these tips in mind before your next session.
Train the Weak Muscles First
A good rule of thumb is to begin each of your workouts with a large, multi-joint compound exercise. This is undeniably sound advice for most lifters, as it sets you up for subsequent movements and gets your head in the game.
However, you’d be hard-pressed to find a big compound lift that involves both your shoulders and triceps. Instead, you can start your workout with whichever muscle needs a bit more love. You might be surprised at how hard you can focus and how quickly you can burn a muscle out when you’re fresh and ready to go.
Go Heavier on Biceps, and Lighter on Shoulders
This might seem unintuitive, but give it a shot. Your biceps brachii is actually somewhat fast-twitch dominant, meaning its muscle fibers are well-suited for heavy and explosive contractions. As such, curling heavier in the six-to-eight rep range might end up paying dividends.
Conversely, your shoulder is made up of many different small muscles that perform specific movements. This makes them prime candidates for higher-repeition, metabolic training. You’ll generally find it difficult to maintain good form on a set of lateral raises if you’re working with weights that are even a little bit too heavy. When in doubt, err on the lighter side and add a few extra reps instead.
Experiment with Supersets
Antagonistic supersets — where you work two muscles that perform opposing or unrelated functions back to back — are extremely underrated for muscle growth. This style of training shines if you pair shoulders and biceps together on the same day.
You can perform a set of overhead presses and jump right into your favorite curl variation without worrying about muscular fatigue. Your biceps and shoulders don’t generally synergize well, so one can rest fully while you exhaust the other.
If you’re going to build your own shoulder-and-biceps workout, or need to compress one of the above workouts to save time, try out some supersets.
Shoulder and Biceps Anatomy
These two tissues may not have very much in common, but you should still understand how they work and the functions they perform if you want to get the most value out of your muscle-building workouts.
Your shoulders are made up of, primarily, the three-headed deltoid muscle. There are several smaller tissues that articulate on the scapula or glenohumeral joint, but for the purposes of bodybuilding training, you’ll mainly prioritize your delts.
Your anterior, or front, deltoids perform shoulder flexion and work hard during almost any kind of push or press exercise. Your lateral, or side delts raise your arm out to the sides; you’ll need to do lateral raises to target this head.
Finally, your posterior deltoid helps stabilize your shoulder girdle and also draws your arm sideways. Rear delt training is particularly important for overall shoulder health and mobility, so don’t neglect it.
You’ve probably been training your biceps ever since you first stumbled into the weight room. A two-headed muscle located on the upper arm, your biceps brachii runs from your shoulder blade down to your forearm.
All manner of curl (that is, bending your elbow) will involve your biceps. However, there’s also the brachialis and brachioradialis muscles; these tissues serve a similar function. To emphasize biceps development above all when you train your arms, you’ll want to do your curls with a supinated, or palms-to-the-ceiling, grip.
The Anti-Sleeves Campaign Begins
If your wardrobe happens to consist of tank tops or sleeveless shirts, you’re probably on the prowl for a shoulder and biceps workout. After all, these two muscles contribute to the appearance of ripped arms more than any other.
However, bodybuilding workouts that pair them together can be hard to come by. They may seem like an unlikely duo at a glance, but training shoulders and biceps together for bodybuilding can elevate your physique in more ways than you think. Just remember to go sleeveless if you decide to try these workouts on for size.
- Schoenfeld, B. J., Ogborn, D., & Krieger, J. W. (2017). Dose-response relationship between weekly resistance training volume and increases in muscle mass: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of sports sciences, 35(11), 1073–1082.
- Nóbrega, S. R., & Libardi, C. A. (2016). Is Resistance Training to Muscular Failure Necessary?. Frontiers in physiology, 7, 10.
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