Workouts for Shoulders and Arms – Effective Ways to Build a Stronger Upper Body

These workouts for shoulders and arms provide variety and stimulus to suit a wide spectrum of goals. Whether you are looking to enhance strength, build or tone muscle, improve mobility or test how well your upper body copes and performs under fatigued conditions then there is a workout below to suit your needs.

As an ancillary benefit, these workouts for shoulders and arms will also strengthen your entire upper body. The benefits they bring will transfer well over to outdoor fitness activities such as climbing, surfing and wild swimming.

Arm Muscles

arm muscles
Arm muscles

The biceps (branchii) consist of two (bi) heads, called the long (outer) and the short (inner) heads. The Brachialis sits underneath the biceps.

The triceps consist of the long, short and medial heads and work in conjunction with the biceps to move the arms.

workouts for shoulders and arms
Stronger arms and shoulders make you a better athlete ©Luis Lopes

Shoulder Muscles

The traps and deltoids are the largest shoulder muscles. However, these shoulder workouts will also target the serratus anterior, rhomboid major and even the lats in some cases.

Vital for shoulder movement are the four rotator cuff muscles – the subscapularis, supraspinatus, infraspinatus and teres minor muscles – which connect the scapula to the humerus and provide support for the glenohumeral joint.

shoulder muscles
Shoulder Muscles

Building stronger, more mobile shoulders will have huge long-term benefits throughout your entire life.

WORKOUTS FOR SHOULDERS AND ARMS

Scaling the workouts

Each of the workouts for shoulders and arms can be adapted to suit any ability level.

Weights

The weights are included next to each exercise in brackets. The lighter weight is for women and the heavier for men.

Terms

AMRAP means as many reps as possible within the given time limit.

EMOM means every minute on the minute perform the prescribed work.

WORKOUTS FOR SHOULDERS AND ARMS – INTENDED STIMULUS

Each workout has been designed to improve your functional fitness in a different way. Based on what you wish to achieve, you can select the most useful workouts for shoulders and arms for your needs.

  • Workout 1 – Build better shoulder strength endurance
  • Workout 2 – Muscle growth for shoulders and arms whilst pushing your limits to the max
  • Workout 3 – Speed, control and shoulder strength under fatigued conditions
  • Workout 4 – Enhance upper body strength. Build mental toughness
  • Workout 5 – Test and improve skill, technique and shoulder and arm conditioning under fatigued conditions
  • Workout 6 – Shoulder and arm mobility, strength and conditioning. Good test involving varied movements
  • Workout 7 – Improve skills and strength with a dumbbell. Challenging mix of many different exercises that improve arm and shoulder power and stability in different ways
  • Workout 8 – Challenge shoulder strength and power
  • Workout 9 – Pure muscle growth for arms. Pump session
  • Workout 10 – Muscle growth for shoulders and arms. Pump session
Woman performing a dumbbell snatch in the gym
Improve your fitness ©Jahir Martinez

WORKOUT 1

For Time

21-18-15-12-9 reps of:

  • Thrusters (95/65 lb)
  • Calorie Ski Erg

Then, directly into:

  • 30 Handstand Push-Ups

Time Cap: 15 minutes

With a running clock, as fast as possible perform the prescribed work in the order written. Athlete will perform 21 Thrusters and 21 calorie Ski Erg before moving to 18 Thrusters and 18 calorie Ski Erg etc.

After the last set of 9 Thrusters and 9 calorie Ski Erg, athlete will perform 30 Handstand Push-Ups.

Score is the time on the clock when the last rep of handstand push-ups is completed.

Movement Standards

Thruster: Full lockout overhead, squat below parallel. Must be performed in one full motion. Front squat into push press is not allowed.

Ski Erg: Must reset the erg every round. Must hold the handles until the ski erg clearly has clicked to the specified number of cals. If an athlete gets off early, there is a 2-rep penalty assessed at the end.

Handstand Push-Up: 3’x2′ box. Feet together at the top of each rep with arms locked out.

Scaling

For Time

21-18-15-12-9 reps of:

  • Thrusters (75/45 lb)
  • Calorie Ski Erg
  • Then, directly into:
  • 30 Dumbbell Push Presses (2×50/35 lb)

WORKOUT 2 – CRACKED

5 Rounds in 15 minutes

EMOM for 3 minutes:

  • Minute 1: Max Unbroken Pull-Ups
  • Minute 2: Max Unbroken P-Bar Dips
  • Minute 3: Rest

Set timer for 15 minutes. One round consists of a 3-minute EMOM. Complete 5 rounds. Reps are broken when your hands come off the bar or your feet touch the ground.

Score is total reps completed in all five rounds.

Scaling

5 Rounds in 15 minutes

EMOM for 3 minutes:

  • Minute 1: Max Unbroken Ring Rows
  • Minute 2: Max Unbroken Hand Release Push-Ups
  • Minute 3: Rest
workouts for shoulders and arms with male athlete
Build a better upper body ©Luis Lopes

WORKOUT 3

8 Rounds for Time and Reps

1 minute of:

  • 200 foot Shuttle Run
  • Max Dumbbell Thrusters (2×50/35 lb)

Rest 1 minute

There are two scores to this workout:

  • Score 1: Total run time across all 8 sets.
  • Score 2: Total thrusters completed across all 8 sets.

Movement Standards

Shuttle Run: One hand and foot must touch the line on each of the turns. A 10-sec penalty will be added for each line you do not touch. You must stay within a 4′ wide lane for each of your runs. A 10-sec penalty will be added each time you go outside of the 4′ wide line.

Dumbbell Thruster: This is a standard thruster. Hip crease must pass below the knee at the bottom and full extension of the knee, hip and arm must be met with the DBs in line with your ear in profile.

Scaling

Scale dumbbell loading as needed.

If you want to learn how to specially adapt your fitness and training for optimising your time outdoors and in the mountains, check out these amazing programs.

WORKOUT 4 – LYNNE

5 Rounds of:

  1. Max Bench Press (bodyweight)
  2. Max Strict Pull-Ups

Rest as needed between movements and rounds.

Good Scores for “Lynne”

– Beginner: <100 reps

– Intermediate: 125-225 reps

– Advanced: 250-350 reps

– Elite: 400+ reps

Scaling

If a bodyweight bench press is too much then switch to a lighter weight or perform push-ups.

If you struggle with pull ups then swap them with ring rows

WORKOUT 5 – GRIP AND RIP

From Ben Bergeron, owner of Community Fitness New England.

For Time

From 0:00, perform:

  • 21 Burpees
  • 1 Round of “Dumbbell DT” (2×50/35 lb)
  • 18 Burpees
  • 1 Round of “Dumbbell DT” (2×50/35 lb)
  • 15 Burpees
  • 1 Round of “Dumbbell DT” (2×50/35 lb)
  • 12 Burpees
  • 1 Round of “Dumbbell DT” (2×50/35 lb)

From 10:00, perform:

  • 21 Air Squats Hops Over Dumbbell
  • 1 Round of “Dumbbell DT” (2×50/35 lb)
  • 18 Air Squats Hops Over Dumbbell
  • 1 Round of “Dumbbell DT” (2×50/35 lb)
  • 15 Air Squats Hops Over Dumbbell
  • 1 Round of “Dumbbell DT” (2×50/35 lb)
  • 12 Air Squat Hops Over Dumbbell
  • 1 Round of “Dumbbell DT” (2×50/35 lb)

1 Rounds of “Dumbbell DT” consists of: 12 Deadlifts, 9 Hang Power Cleans, and 6 Push Jerks

With a running clock, as fast as possible perform the prescribed work in the order written. This is a two-part workout. The first part is alternating Burpees and 1 round of “Dumbbell DT.” The second part is alternating Air Squat Hops Over Dumbbell and 1 round of “Dumbbell DT.”

Score is the time on the clock when the last round of “Dumbbell DT” is completed.

Movement Standards

For the Air Squat Hops Over Dumbbell, athlete will perform a standard Air Squat and hop over the dumbbell for one repetition.

Scaling

Reduce the weight of the dumbbells as required

WORKOUT 6

4 Rounds for Time

  • 6 Hand Release Deadlifts (365/255 lb)
  • 12 Single Arm Kettlebell Snatches (53/35 lb) (per arm)
  • 18 Wall Ball Shots (30/20 lb)

Time Cap: 16 minutes

Scaling

4 Rounds for Time

  • 6 Hand Release Deadlifts (275/185 lb)
  • 12 Single Arm Kettlebell Snatches (53/35 lb – per arm)
  • 18 Wall Ball Shots (20/14 lb)
Female athlete on gymnastic rings
Keep working for your goals ©Hipcravo

Workouts for Shoulders and Arms – WORKOUT 7

For Time

  1. 50 Alternating Dumbbell Power Snatches (50/35 lb)
  2. 100 foot Single Arm Overhead Dumbbell Walking Lunges (50/35 lb)
  3. 40 Dumbbell Overhead Squats (50/35 lb, alternate every 10 reps)
  4. 75 foot Single Arm Overhead Dumbbell Walking Lunges (50/35 lb)
  5. 30 Dumbbell Hang Clean-and-Jerks (50/35 lb, alternate every 5 reps)
  6. 50 foot Single Arm Overhead Dumbbell Walking Lunges (50/35 lb)
  7. 20 Alternating Dumbbell Squat Cleans (50/35 lb)
  8. 25 foot Single Arm Overhead Dumbbell Walking Lunges (50/35 lb)
  9. 10 Alternating Dumbbell Squat Snatches (50/35 lb)

With a running clock, as fast as possible perform the prescribed work in the order written.

Score is the time on the clock when the last repetition of Alternating Dumbbell Squat Snatches is completed.

Scaling

  • Dumbbell load for all movements
  • Lunges with bodyweight
  • Dumbbell Overhead Squats: front squat/goblet squat
  • Dumbbell Squat Snatch: power snatch
  • Dumbbell Squat Clean: front squat

Movement Standards

Dumbbell Power Snatch: DB touches the ground and locks out fully overhead. Can switch the DB however you’d like (overhead, in front of face, at hip level, on ground). Both heads of the DB must touch the ground on every rep. It does not have to be simultaneously, but the both must touch.

Overhead Lunge: 25 foot increments. 1 DB is held overhead in a full lockout position and must switch arms every 25.

Dumbbell Overhead Squats: DB held overhead, squat must pass through parallel and stand to fully locked out. Must switch arms every 10 reps.

Dumbbell Hang Clean-and-Jerk: DB must start at the hang position, touch the shoulder on the clean, and then and in the lockout position. Must switch arms every 5 reps.

Dumbbell Squat Clean: Both heads of the DB must touch the ground, come into a rack position, pass through a full squat to extension, alternate every rep.

Dumbbell Squat Snatch: DB touches the ground and locks out fully overhead and athlete passes through parallel in the squat. Can switch the DB however you’d like (overhead, in front of face, at hip level, on ground). Both heads of the DB must touch the ground on every rep. Must alternate arms every rep

WORKOUT 8

AMRAP in 15 minutes

2 Rounds of:

  • 50 Double-Unders
  • 10 Pogo Jump Burpees
  • 16 Shoulder-to-Overheads (135/95 lb)

Then, 2 Rounds of:

  • 50 Double-Unders
  • 10 Pogo Jump Burpees
  • 12 Shoulder-to-Overheads (165/115 lb)

Then, 2 Rounds of:

  • 50 Double-Unders
  • 10 Pogo Jump Burpees
  • 8 Shoulder-to-Overheads (195/135 lb)

Finally, AMRAP in the remaining time of:

  • 50 Double-Unders
  • 10 Pogo Jump Burpees
  • 4 Shoulder-to-Overheads (225/155 lb)

Movement Standards

Pogo Jump Burpee: Chest and Thighs must touch the ground while facing the bar. A two-foot jump must take place. Once over the bar, a two-foot jump must take place to jump back over the bar.

Scaling

AMRAP in 15 minutes

2 Rounds of:

  • 50 Double-Unders
  • 10 Pogo Jump Burpees
  • 16 Shoulder-to-Overheads (95/65 lb)

Then, 2 Rounds of:

  • 50 Double-Unders
  • 10 Pogo Jump Burpees
  • 12 Shoulder-to-Overheads (125/75 lb)

Then, 2 Rounds of:

  • 50 Double-Unders
  • 10 Pogo Jump Burpees
  • 8 Shoulder-to-Overheads (155/95 lb)

Finally, AMRAP in the remaining time of:

  • 50 Double-Unders
  • 10 Pogo Jump Burpees
  • 4 Shoulder-to-Overheads (185/115 lb)

WORKOUT 9 – BODYBUILDING WORKOUT FOR ARMS

Complete the following workout in order. Rest no longer than 90 seconds between different exercises.

Rest for 60 seconds between each set.

Close-Grip Bench Press

  • 1 warm up set of 12-15 reps
  • 4 working sets of 12-15 reps
  • Rest 60 Seconds between sets

Don’t lock out the arms at the top of the movement. This will put extra unnecessary stress on the joints and reduce time under tension for your muscles, especially your triceps (more time under tension = more muscle growth).

EZ Bar Skullcrusher

  • 4 Sets Of 10-12 Reps

The EZ bar to good because it will take stress away from your wrists. Elbows need to be tucked in and maintain a slow and controlled tempo.

Single-Arm Cable Push-Down

  • 3 sets of 12-15 reps

Concentrate on your tricep and feel the movement. Stay slow and in control. This exercise is an effective way to increase the mind muscle connection and maximise blood flow into your arms.

Triceps Push-Down

  • 3 sets of 15-20 reps

Turn your hands outwards at the end of the pull to get an even better contraction of the triceps.

Standing Hammer Curls

  • 4 sets of 10-12 reps

Keep your elbows pinned in the same position and curl with each hand pointed slightly out. This will also strengthen your brachialis (the long muscle running underneath the biceps) as much as possible.

Seated Alternating Dumbbell Curls

  • 4 sets of 10-12 reps

Pin your elbows in the same place throughout the full range of motion. Rotate your hands so they’re supinated at the top of the exercise. Maintain a controlled tempo at all times. Don’t swing the weights.

Seated Preacher Curl

  • 3 sets of 12-15 reps

Squeeze your biceps as tightly as you can at the top of the movement for a count of two seconds. This will maximise time under tension and strengthen the mind muscle connection.

WORKOUT 10 – BODYBUILDING WORKOUT FOR SHOULDERS AND ARMS

This workout targets both the shoulders and arms with an emphasis on muscle growth (hypertrophy).

  • Reps mean how many times you lift the weight without putting it down
  • Sets are blocks of reps
  • Rest no longer than 60 seconds between any two sets
  • Rest no longer than 90 seconds between different exercises

For example, take the first exercise (Overhead press). It would go like this:

  • (Set 1) Lift the weight 8 times
  • Rest for 60 seconds
  • (Set 2) Lift the weight 8 times
  • Rest for 60 seconds
  • (set 3) Lift the weight 8 times
  • Rest for 60 seconds
  • (set 4) Lift the weight 8 times

Then rest for 90 seconds and move onto the next exercise.

Start light with the weights and build up over time so that you can find what feels good to you. Consistency is king. The last few reps in every set should feel hard.

SHOULDER EXERCISES

Overhead Press

  • 4 sets of 8 reps

Wide Grip Pull Ups

  • 4 sets of 12 reps

Seated Dumbbell Press

  • 4 sets of 12 reps

Lat Raises

  • 4 sets of 10 reps

Arnold press

  • 4 sets of 10 reps

ARM EXRCISES

Barbell Bicep Curls (Bicep)

  • 4 sets of 8 reps

Close Grip Barbell Bench Press (Tricep)

  • 4 sets of 8 reps

Incline Dumbbell Bicep Curl (Bicep)

  • 4 sets of 10 reps

Tricep Cable Pull Down (Tricep)

  • 4 sets of 10 reps

Standing Hammer Curls (Bicep)

  • 4 sets of 10 reps

These workouts for shoulders and arms can be introduced into any training routine, and will have great benefits for your strength, movement, injury prevention, muscle development and general fitness.

Stronger shoulders and arms will help you be effective in general day to day life. They will make lugging a heavy backpack or camping equipment easier when you go hiking, they will make you more effective at building a wooden A-frame cabin, kayaking across a lake or climbing a rock face.

kayaking in a lake next to mountains
A stronger upper body will make you fitter for life ©Saksham Gangwar

Over the long term, stronger shoulders will assist towards good posture and protect against back pain. Stronger arms make every task involving your arms, from chopping firewood to carrying your kids around, much easier and more fun.

If you enjoyed these workouts for shoulders and arms then you will also find these workouts for abs, core, legs and chest helpful.

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