5 Exercises That’ll Help Sculpt Your Shoulders and Arms

5 Exercises That’ll Help Sculpt Your Shoulders and Arms
Credit: Instagram/Alison Brie

If you’re keen to dive into a new workout schedule but aren’t too sure where to start, allow us to help. We’ll be sharing a handful of recommended exercises from the team at the Australian Institute of Fitness over the coming weeks and to start, we’re focusing on the best moves for shoulders and arms.

Kate Kraschnefski, Head of Training at the Australian Institute of Fitness, offered her insights on the best arm and shoulder exercises for sculpting over email. So, let’s take a peek, yeah?

Here are 5 of the best arm and shoulder exercises to add to your workout

Kraschnefski explained that “shapely arms and shoulders are often on the top of the #goals list” for clients. But more than that, building strength in these parts of the body is useful in that it assists with loads of practical daily tasks, from carrying your groceries to lifting kids or pets.

If you’re like to work on your arms and shoulders, here are 5 of the best exercises to start off with, according to Kraschnefski.

Arnold Press

“The shoulder muscle, the deltoid, actually has three heads: the anterior, posterior and lateral,” Kraschnefski shared.

“Effectively working them all through exercise can be great for improving overall shoulder definition, and the Arnold press hits them all in one move.”

How to do this shoulder exercise:

“Using dumbbells, set up by holding the dumbbells in front of your face with your elbows bent (as in the top of a bicep curl). Begin the move by opening up the arms laterally so the palms face forward and press up to above your head in one smooth move, before lowering your arms back to the starting position.

“Like all shoulder presses, this can be done seated or standing, or even in a tall kneeling position. Start off with 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps, with 30-45 seconds rest in between. You want the weight to feel challenging on the last couple of reps.”

Fun fact: Kraschnefski shared that this shoulder exercise was named after Arnie himself (yes, Schwarzenegger).


“Dips are a great compound bodyweight exercise that works your triceps and can be easily done at home (which is particularly good for those of us still in lockdown),” Kraschnefski explained.

How to do this arm exercise:

“Sit on the edge of a bench (you can use a chair, or lounge or even your deck), with your feet flat on the floor and your hands placed on the bench, either side of your body.

“Slide your butt off and lower it towards the ground, so your elbows reach towards 90 degrees. Push up through your hands to raise back up to the bench height and repeat.

“Try 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps, with 30-45 seconds rest in between. If you get through that easily, you can make it harder by straightening the legs or adding weight into your lap.”


Kraschnefski shared that “21s are a more challenging version of bicep curls for extra impact! By manipulating the range of this traditional movement, you’ll overload the bicep more effectively than traditional curls.”

How to do this arm exercise:

“Set up for a normal bicep curl with dumbbells or a barbell. Think about the full range of your bicep curl. For seven repetitions, only do your bicep curl in the lower half of your range. For the next seven, curl in the upper half of your range. For the last 7, do full range curls. Do 2-3 sets with 30-45 seconds rest in between.”

Upright rows

“An upright row is an effective exercise to build strength in the shoulders and upper back. These can be done with a barbell, dumbbells or even a band,” Kraschnefski said.

“This exercise will work your shoulders, trapezius and biceps, but give this one a miss if you have any shoulder impingement or neck concerns.”

How to do this shoulder exercise:

“Hold your weight with straight arms directly in front of the body. A wider grip will target more of the posterior shoulders while a narrower grip will emphasise the trapezius more. Keep your hands roughly in line with your shoulders and pull up towards your chin. Try 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps, with 30-45 seconds rest in between.”

Battle rope complexes

Full disclosure, not everyone will be able to do this one at home as battle ropes require a fair amount of space. There are some of you who will be able to pop these babies in the backyard or home gym, however.

“Most people cringe when they see battle ropes, but it is an exercise that elevates your heart rate as well as emphasises upper body movements and can be super effective,” Kraschnefski shared.

“Given that cardio activities can assist with improving body composition, it will also help you to see more definition in the body.”

How to do this arm exercise:

“Try a Tabata style battle-rope workout. Hold the ropes in your hands, brace your core and slightly lean forward, bending the knees. Alternate waving the arms, and imagine flicking your wrists. Do this as fast as you can for 20 seconds, and take a break for 10 seconds. Repeat eight times.”

If any of the above sounds confusing or you’re simply not sure of where to start, you can always ask a qualified personal trainer for assistance.


  • All of these are great if done with good form, except for 2.

    21’s are overrated and any high volume, full range of motion curl will be more effective. In 21’s you complete 7 proper reps, then 14 half reps that’s the equivalent of 14 total full range reps and not the as name 21 implies. The only time the traditional 21 format is useful, in my opinion, is if you find you’re weaker in part of the range of motion and need to focus on that portion to strengthen the muscle.
    Full range of motion will promote more muscle growth and a fuller muscle through the entire range of contraction.
    There is an alternative 21’s from Scott Herman (love or hate him) that I’ve done and prefer – instead of completing partial reps you alter your hand position and aim for 7 curls with a wide grip (elbows are at your sides and forearms are angled ~10 degrees out) which targets the inner head of the biceps more, 7 curls with a narrower grip for the outside head and then a final 7 with forearms straight ahead to roughly hit both heads equally. This way all your 21 reps are actually working the entire muscle hitting all heads of the biceps and in volume

    And then the controversial Upright Rows. As the article says, avoid with neck or shoulder issues – the problem is, for a lot of people it will be the cause of the shoulder issue. The position it puts your shoulder in at the top of the motion, especially if done with a barbell, leads to shoulder impingement for a lot of people – worse its often an injury you build to, and not the first rep that causes a bit of discomfort (though worth noting, some people have no issues with the exercise)
    Any exercise has a “risk/reward” element to it and upright rows risk of shoulder injury doesn’t outweigh its moderate reward. Especially when there are lower risk, higher reward exercises to hit the same muscle groups like face pulls, shoulder shrugs, lateral raises with a neutral grip (don’t tip the thumb down), scapular pullups etc. Upright rows are an exercise that really should not be suggested anymore, especially for beginners.

    Also keep in mind your genetics will impact the final look of any muscle due to muscle length and insertion points, as well as body fat levels – the leaner you are the more defined and the more a muscle will “pop”
    Finally, a very common mistake is only focusing on the concentric portion of any lift – that’s the contraction of the muscle. The eccentric portion should not be left to “drop” but be a controlled release of the muscle, you achieve more hypertrophy during the eccentric phase than the concentric

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