For both males and females, toned biceps and nicely-developed shoulder muscles add confidence and distinction to the way you carry yourself. What's more, they're undeniably sexy — even more so when they top off a lean and healthful head-to-toe physique.
That's why it's best to balance your regimen in a way that strengthens your core to harmonize with your upper body. So while there's nothing wrong with focusing on exercises that isolate the biceps and deltoids, don't work them to the neglect of other muscle groups. At the end of the day, you've got to live with the rest of your body too.
So where to start? In two separate studies, the American Council on Exercise ranked the most effective exercises for both biceps and shoulders. Let's cut to the chase and start working on that V-shaped upper body.
If biceps are overemphasized in human anatomy, it's for a good reason: they're usually the most visible muscle of the whole body. But they're also an essential muscle for most everyday activities.
While the concentration curl is king for strengthening the muscle, the biceps brachii is actually a two-pronged muscle that benefits from a variety of different exercise approaches.
1. Concentration Curl
Coming in first for best exercise for the biceps is the concentration curl. It isolates the biceps from the anterior deltoid — which has a way of stealing thunder from the biceps — but also works the brachialis.
HOW TO DO IT: Sit on the edge of a bench with your feet apart. As you bend slightly forward, brace your elbow to the side of your knee. Grasp the dumbell and curl upward.
2. Cable Curl
Bicep cable curls work pretty much the same way as dumbbell curls, with an added advantage: the cables supply constant tension throughout the exercise. They target both the biceps and the forearms.
HOW TO DO IT: Standing close to the pulley, grab the low pulley cable bar at shoulder-width with an underhanded grip. With your elbows to your side, lift the bar until your forearms are upright. Lower the bar until your arms are fully extended.
Yes they’re hard, but they’re also one of the best exercises you can do and not just for your biceps. Chin-ups also work the posterior deltoids as well as the back muscles so you’re getting more bang for your buck.
HOW TO DO IT: Perform chin-ups using an underhanded grip, then grasp the bar with both hands. Keeping your spine long, raise your chest and brace your abs for core stability. Imagine that you’re lifting your chest to the bar by pulling your elbows down to your rib cage. Pause briefly at the top before gradually lowering yourself back to starting position.
For men, broad muscular shoulders are a symbol of power and masculinity. For women, defined shoulders are sexy and smart. And then there's that little matter of shoulder strength coming into play every time we lift, carry, hug or push. While the outer shoulder muscles are the most visible, it's important to create balance by working the middle and posterior deltoids too.
1. Dumbbell Shoulder Press
Cosmetically speaking, most people are concerned with front of the shoulders, and the dumbbell shoulder press is a prime way to work the anterior deltoids.
HOW TO DO IT: Stand with your knees bent slightly and your feet parted at about the width of your hips. Holding a dumbbell in each hands, fan your upper arms outward, forearms at the vertical and bring the dumbbells to shoulder height. Now lift the dumbbells in a straight press until your arms are fully extended over head. To finish the movement, lower the dumbbells with the upper arms to the side of body and the dumbbells at shoulder height.
2. 45-Degree Incline Row
To work the back of the shoulders, try the 45-degree incline row. It works two hard-to-activate muscles, the middle and posterior deltoids.
HOW TO DO IT: Perform this exercise on a 45-degree incline bench. Resting your torso facing forward on the bench, begin with your arms hanging straight down with dumbbells in both hands. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and with your arms perpendicular to your body and forearms tilted to the floor, lift them as far up as you can, then slowly lower.
3. Seated Rear Lateral Raise
This too is a great exercise for the rear and middle deltoid.
HOW TO DO IT: Bend forward from the edge of an exercise bench with your torso touching the tops of your thighs. Grab the dumbbells from the floor. Keeping your back flat, slowly extend your arms to the sides until they're at shoulder height. Your arms should be at a right angle to your torso with your elbows fixed at a 10- to 30-degree angle. To complete, slowly lower back to the starting position.