call+1 (888) 871-1828

toll-free for USA

The cost of the call for other countries refers to your provider's tariffs

BlogPhysical ActivityBack and Shoulder Workout for a V-shape Upper Body

Back and Shoulder Workout for a V-shape Upper Body

Mariia Roza
Written by Mariia Roza on January 12, 2022
Fact checked by Pavel Balezin

Table of contents

Broad shoulders and a well-developed back are essential if you want to:

Get your 100% personalized meal plan by completing our 3-min quiz

Get your 100% personalized meal plan by completing our 3-min quiz

None of the known diets should be followed without considering your unique body needs, preferences, and goals

Start Quiz

In this article, we’ve gathered all the exercises we could find for the back and shoulder and divided them by muscles and equipment you will need.

What muscles are incorporated in the back and shoulder workout?

Before we get to exercises, here is a bit of theoretical information. The thing is, the back and shoulder consist of several muscles. When you perform various movements, you incorporate different muscles. Some of them make your back look thicker, some of them make your torso wider, and some help to create a V-shape body.

Knowing just a bit of anatomy is crucial to compose yourself a coherent workout that will help you avoid the overdevelopment of some muscle groups and underdevelopment of the others.

Back muscles

There are four main muscles in your back(2): Lower back, lower traps, upper traps, and lats.

The lower back is involved in almost all compound movements like deadlifts. It helps your body stabilize. The only isolated exercise for this muscle in our list will be Back extension.

The lower trapezius is a small but important muscle responsible for your posture. According to one research(3), the best way to activate it is by lifting your hands about 90-125 degrees. Most exercises focused on this muscle will incorporate this lifting movement of your hands.

The upper trapezius is a muscle attached to your neck. When overdeveloped, it decreases the angle between your neck and your shoulders. 

Lats or latissium dorsi are two muscles on the sides of your back that connect your arms to your torso. They are responsible for making your back look wider. The best way to train them is when your elbows are 45-60* away from your torso when you perform all kinds of pulldowns and rowing exercises.

Shoulder muscles

Shoulders(4) are basically delts, and they can be divided into the front, the side, and the rear delts.

Front delts are responsible for shoulder flexion. They are included in all the pressing movements when you’re raising your arm, like Bench press and Shoulder press.

Side delts are responsible for creating broad, wide shoulders. They perform shoulder abduction when you’re lifting your arm to the side, like in the Lateral raise.

The rear delt performs horizontal shoulder abduction and helps you move your arms apart horizontally. You can activate them with the peck deck machine or the Bent over reverse fly.

There are also rotator cuff muscles that are not visible in your physique; however, they’re essential as they help you perform shoulder exercises better and stay injury-free.

Back and shoulder exercises 

Some people ignore back and shoulder exercises, but that’s not the way to do it. Even if you don’t want a broad back, you have to train it to improve your posture and even help digestion(5).

Eighty percent of all the back and shoulder exercises you’re about to do should be compound movements that incorporate upper body muscles. And only about twenty percent of your exercises should be isolated movements for delts, trapezius, lats, and lower back.

Gym workout: compound movements and isolated machines

If you have access to a well-equipped gym, you can perform hundreds of exercises for the back and shoulder. Here, we’ve gathered them according to muscle groups.

Clean and press

Muscles involved: delts, arms, back, lower back, abs, chest, and legs

Clean and press is a lifting exercise that’s easiest to do with a barbell. If you don't have it, you can opt for heavy dumbbells or a sandbag. It’s a combination of two movements: Power clean when you lift a barbell and the overhead press when you push a barbell above your head.

How do you perform it?

  • Initial position: Barbell on the floor, several inches in front of your shins, hip-wide stance, overhand shoulder-width grip. 
  • Grab the barbell by pushing your hips and bending in your knees. 
  • With a flat back, lift the weight and when the barbell is at your hips level, extend your legs with power to push a bar up to your shoulders (elbows under the bar). 
  • After that, make a slight dip and drive hips forward to propel the bar overhead. 
  • Pause at that position and then lower the bar back to your shoulders, then to the hips, and then back to the floor. 

Clean and press is a technically challenging exercise. It is better to start doing it with low weight or with a naked bar to understand how your body should move at every step.

Sumo deadlift

Muscles involved: lower back and glutes are at the focus, but also trapezius, legs, arms, and forearms

Along with the back extension, sumo deadlift is probably the best exercise for the lower back. It is not as challenging(6) as classic deadlifts and, therefore, can be performed even by athletes with weak lower backs. 

How do you perform it?

  • Stand near the bar with a wide stance, toes looking outward. 
  • Bend down and grab the bar with an overhand grip. 
  • Lift the bar while keeping your back flat. Pause at the upper point and slowly level down the bar up to the ground. 

Reverse peck deck

Muscles involved: rear delts, rhomboids, trapezius

How do you perform it?

  • You have to use a reverse peck deck machine to perform this exercise. 
  • You bend your chest to the front seat and move your arms horizontally from the front position until they’re on the same line with your back. 
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together.

This exercise doesn’t only help you build rear delts but also improves your posture and shoulders stability.

Face pulls

Muscles involved: rear delts, rhomboids, external rotators

This exercise can be performed with a handle on a machine, bar, or rope. 

The dangerous thing about face pulls is that most people do them wrong. High activation of external rotators in this exercise also increases the chances of getting injured. It’s a challenging exercise to do correctly. It might be an excellent alternative to train rear delts for people who’ve been training for years. However, beginners should avoid risky exercises like face pulls. 

How do you perform face pulls with a band?

  • Attach the band to some stable stand so that you have two ends of the rope to grab. 
  • Change the rope resistance (and the level of difficulty of this exercise) by standing close or far from the stand. 
  • Pull the cord apart and to the level of your shoulders. To do so, pull your elbows back and concentrate on squeezing your shoulder blades together.
  • You have to pull rope underneath from behind your head and back. Most people pull from the level of their face. 
Face pulls | Shutterstock
Face pulls | Shutterstock

Standing cable Y raise

Muscles involved: front, side, and rear delts

This exercise is so peculiar because it activates all the muscle fibers of the shoulders. In addition to that, you have to incorporate your glutes and core muscles to stabilize your movements. At home, this exercise can be changed by the Prone Y raise.

How do you perform it?

  • Face the cable machine. At the starting position, hands should be at the level of your hips. 
  • Grab the right handle with your left hand and the left handle with your right hand. 
  • Squeeze your glutes, preventing your back from arching, and raise your hands. 
  • Pause for a moment and slowly lower your hands to the starting position.
Standing cable Y raise | Shutterstock
Standing cable Y raise | Shutterstock

Machine press aka Seated overhead machine press

Muscles involved: delts, tricep, chest

This exercise is an alternative to the Overhead press with a barbell or a Seated dumbbell overhead press. Opt for this overhead press variation if you lack technique or are prone to injuries.

How do you perform it?

  • Sit on the bench of the machine shoulder press, grab handles, and push them up. 
  • Make a pause at the highest point and lower your hands back to the initial position. 

Cable lat raise aka One-arm cable lateral raise

Muscles involved: side delts, front delts, tricep, trapezius

This is a one-hand machine variation of the Dumbbell lateral raise. A great exercise to focus on one side of your body and keep a mind-muscle connection.

How do you perform it?

  • You will need a low pulley and a D-handle. Stand alongside the machine, left shoulder near the pulley, and grab a handle with your right hand. 
  • Keep your knees soft, back straight, and hand soft in an elbow, but straight. 
  • Raise your hand sideways, so the rope is diagonal to your body—pause when your elbow is at the level of your shoulder. 
  • Put your hand down in a slow and controlled manner.
  • When you do all your reps and sets, change the side. You can do a superset with this exercise by switching your hands after each set. 
Cable lat raise | Shutterstock
Cable lat raise | Shutterstock

Cable pulldown

Muscles involved: lats, terez, traps, delts, and biceps.

As lats are best activated when you pull hands from the position in front or above you to your back, with hands as close to the torso as possible, all kinds of pulldowns will be great to build your middle back and add width to your back.

This is the most common exercise for upper body workouts, as it involves multiple muscle groups of the back and shoulders. Studies(7) show that lat pulldowns are almost as effective for middle back activation as the king-of-upper-body exercises, the chin-ups. However, when chin-up is quite a challenging exercise, almost everyone can perform a pulldown.

Several(8) studies(9) show that the way you hold the bar matters: You can choose a narrow grip to take some of the load from lats and put it on your chest, or use a wide grip to focus solely on your lats. 

You can use an overhand grip (you see the back of your palms) or an underhand grip (you face your palms). Underhand grip might be a bit easier to perform, as it focuses more on your bicep and takes part of the load from your lats.

How do you perform it?

  • Cable pulldowns are performed on a pulldown machine. Sit facing the machine and grab a bar.
  • To perform a pulldown, pull the bar towards your upper chest. 
  • After that, make a slow and controlled hands extension. That is one repetition. 
Cable pulldown | Shutterstock
Cable pulldown | Shutterstock

One-arm lat pulldown

Muscles involved: primarily lats, but also traps and rhomboids

One-arm (single-arm) lat pulldowns have three significant benefits compared to cable pulldowns. 

First, it allows you to focus on a muscle you train. The thing is, when we perform exercises with two hands (or two legs), we may tend to load our strong side a bit more. This might lead to an unbalanced physique and slower development of your weak side.

Another benefit of single-arm pulldowns is that it allows you to create a stronger muscle-mind connection, which, according to research(10), can dramatically improve your performance and boost muscle growth.

The third benefit of single-arm pulldowns is that you have to incorporate your tricep and abs to stabilize your movements.

One significant disadvantage of one-arm lat pulldowns compared to cable pulldowns is that you have to spend twice as much time performing all sets and reps for both sides. You can speed up your upper body workout a bit by doing a superset. Just make shorter to none rests between the sets for your left and right sides.

How do you perform it?

  • One-arm lat pulldowns are performed with a pulldown machine but with a smaller handle. 
  • Sit facing the machine, grab the hold and pull it down, feeling the contraction in your lats. 
  • The closer your elbow to your core, the more you activate lats. 
  • Make a pause in the lowest point, and then make a slow and controlled strengthening of your hand.

Straight-arm pulldown

Muscles involved: primarily lats, but also rear delts, and triceps.

Straight-arm pulldown is sometimes recommended to people who cannot create a mind-muscle connection with their lats. This exercise helps them to feel their side back better. Because of that, some bodybuilders do several sets of straight-arm pulldowns as a warm-up before their back and shoulder workout.

How do you perform it?

  • To perform this pulldown, you have to stand facing the machine. 
  • Grasp the rope handle and bend your torso to 30-45 degrees to the cable station. 
  • Take a step back from the machine so that you can fully extend your hands above you and create tension in the rope. 
  • Your hands should be straight and your elbows “locked” throughout the exercise. 
  • Pull the cord down until your elbows are in line with your back. 
  • Pause there for a little and then extend your hands again in a slow, controlled way.

Barbell row aka Bent-over barbell row

Muscles involved: primarily lats, but also other back muscles, chest, abs, and legs

The barbell row is a compound movement that incorporates all your body; however, you can emphasize your lats if you stick to the correct technique.

How do you perform it?

  • Bend your torso at about 45 degrees. 
  • Some athletes put a plate on their back to ensure the stability of their position. 
  • Grab the bar with an overhand grip at the level of your shoulders. The starting position of the bar is your mid calves. 
  • Pull the bar to your torso until it touches or almost touches your body. 
  • Pause for a moment, and then slowly extend your hands in a controlled manner.
  • To focus on lats, choose a narrow grip, ensure that your elbows are close to your torso, and pull the bar lower, up to your belly button.

Seated cable row

Muscles involved: lats, rhomboids, traps, bicep, delts, and chest

Seated cable row is another variation of pulling exercises to activate your lats.

How do you perform it?

  • Seated rows are performed with the weight machine. 
  • Sit on the bench, face the machine, choose a handle with a narrow grip, pick the challenging but comfortable weight to perform ten smooth reps, and pull your hands to your torso.
  • To focus on your lats, keep your elbows close to your torso, and avoid arching your back. 
  • Keep the back straight or go even slightly forward. 
  • Focus on dragging your elbows down when you pull and not just backward.

Standing shrugs

Muscles involved: upper and lower trapezius

This is one of the not-so-many isolated exercises for trapezius. It can be performed with a barbell, two dumbbells, or two plates, seated or standing.

How do you perform it?

  • You just take weights in your arms at your sides and bring your shoulders up as high as possible. 
  • Stay more time at the top point and lower weight in a controlled and slow manner. 
  • There’s no need for sprinting in this exercise. 

Plate upright row

Muscles involved: traps, delts, and bicep

Plate upright row might be a bit risky even when you do the technique right. In this exercise, you rotate your shoulders internally, which may cause the pinch of your shoulder by the bones in your shoulder. This injury is called shoulder impingement.

How do you perform it?

  • Take a plate with a close overhand grip. 
  • Pull it up to the chest so that your elbows are at the level or a bit higher than your shoulders.
  • Pause for a moment and lower the plate back until your hands are fully extended.
Upright row with a machine | Shutterstock
Upright row with a machine | Shutterstock

Front barbell raise

Muscles involved: front delts, lats, and traps

Though this exercise focuses on front deltoids, it also incorporates your upper and lower trapezius. It might be considered not the best choice for upper body workouts as it activates front delts which are one of the most overdeveloped muscles in the body.

How do you perform it?

  • Take the barbell with the overhand grip and pull it up with your arms straight. 
  • Pause at the upper point when the bar is at the level with your shoulders and then put it down.
  • You can also do this exercise with two dumbbells and perform Single-hand dumbbell raise.
Front barbell raise | Shutterstock
Front barbell raise | Shutterstock

Meadows row

Muscles involved: traps, lats, rear delts, biceps, and forearms

This exercise is not that common, partially because not every gym has a T bar. Overall, it’s pretty easy to perform, and it provides activation of all middle back muscles.

How do you perform it?

  • For this exercise, you will need a T bar. 
  • Put the weight on one side of a barbell and place another side of it in a corner so it’s well fixed.
  • Stand next to the bar, your outside leg in front of the inside leg. 
  • Take the bar with your inside hand with an overhand grip, place your outside hand on your outer knee. And start doing your reps by pulling the bar up and down. You will feel how your lats are stretching. 
  • When you’ve done your reps, switch the position and the hand.

Dumbbell workout for more controlled movements and core incorporation

You can do most exercises from the previous section with dumbbells.

For example, you can do a Bent-over dumbbell row instead of a Barbell row to train your lats. You can do Front dumbbell raise instead of a Front barbell raise to train your delts and traps. You can do a Plate upright row with dumbbells for your trapezius. The mechanics of exercises are the same; however, dumbbells give you more control over your workout. 

With dumbbells, you can make sure that you train both sides of your body equally. You can start a set with your weaker side to train it harder. If your body is nonsymmetrical, you can fix it by training with dumbbells. Doing dumbbell exercises one side at a time has one great disadvantage, though. It will double the time of your workout.

These are some good dumbbell exercises for the back and shoulders:

Side lateral raises aka Standing lateral raise aka Dumbbell lateral raise

Muscles involved: delts and triceps

Dumbbell lateral raise is the best(11) exercise for middle and back deltoids muscle activation. Its mechanic is quite simple, and you can change it a bit to emphasize some muscles or prevent injuries.

For example, instead of a Dumbbell lateral raise, you can do a One-handed cable lateral raise to change the resistance profile of the exercise and prevent injuries.

If you want to make this exercise more challenging and work more on sculpting round shoulders, you can try Lean in lateral raises (it is performed with one dumbbell and when your body is inclined at about 30 degrees).

If you have lower back pain, you can do a Seated lateral raise.

How do you perform classic Side lateral raises?

  • Stand with your abs tight, and your shoulders pulled back. 
  • Raise your hands until they’re at the level of your shoulders. 
  • Pay attention to the position of your arm: Your pinkie should be a little bit higher than the rest of your fingers. 
  • Pause for a moment, and then bring dumbbells down. 
  • Don’t lift your hands higher than the arms (your arms, elbows, and shoulders should be on the same line). 

You don’t need a heavy weight with this exercise: Your shoulders are not that strong. When adding weight to the lateral raises, remember that adding even 5 lbs might feel very much. If adding 5 lbs feels too heavy, increase your reps instead of increasing your volume with this exercise.

You can do up to 30 reps in one set. If you want to stimulate the growth of your shoulders, you can do 3 sets of any kind of lateral raises and 3 sets of any other exercise for delts 2-3 times a week.

Side to front raises

Muscles involved: delts and traps

This exercise merges the Lateral raises and Front raises. By combining the two, you work on the whole shoulder and faster your workouts. 

How do you perform it?

  • First, you do the front raise by pulling the dumbbells up in front of you. 
  • Then you pull your hands down and do the side lateral raise by raising your hands on the sides.

Dumbbell shoulder press aka Overhead dumbbell press aka Military press aka Standing/seated dumbbell press

Muscles involved: delts, triceps, traps, and upper chest

This is a classic exercise that you can do both standing or seated. 

How do you perform it?

  • Your upper arms should be parallel to the floor, and your elbows should be at the level of your shoulders. 
  • There should be a 90-degree angle in your elbows. 
  • Pull the dumbbells up to the top, over your head. 
  • Pause for a moment and then drop the dumbbells back to the starting position.
Seated dumbbell press | Shutterstock
Seated dumbbell press | Shutterstock

Dumbbell lat rows aka Dumbbell bent-over row

Muscles involved: lats, back delts, trapezius

According to studies(12), different kinds of rows provide significant muscle activation of lats and traps; however, to achieve maximum efficiency, you have to pay attention to the technique.

How do you perform it?

  • Start with your weaker side to provide the best muscle activation. 
  • Place your hand (palm or fist) and your knee on the bench, put your other foot on the side to get a stable base and grab the dumbbell with your free hand. 
  • Lift your arm by drawing your elbow back and squeezing your shoulder blades. 
  • Try to keep your back and hips in a stable position without moving them too much. 
  • Start each rep by lowering the dumbbell as close to the ground as possible to help your shoulder blades stretch and activate your traps. 
  • Keep your elbows close to the body.

Dumbbell pullover 

Muscles involved: chest, back delts, triceps, lats

This exercise is an opportunity to work on the chest and back simultaneously. It helps improve core stability and shoulders mobility along with activating your muscles. 

If you don’t have a bench, you can do other variations of Dumbbell pullover: Dumbbell pullover on a stability ball or the so-called “Dead bug” dumbbell pullover when you’re lying on the floor and have a 90-degree angle in your knees. To focus more on your lats and get a better mind-muscle connection, you can also try the Single-arm dumbbell pullover.

How do you perform it?

  • Lay on the bench; the top of your head should be slightly behind the bench. 
  • Hold the dumbbell in front of your chest. 
  • While holding your hips pressed down to the bench, make a slight arch in your back and take your hands back while keeping a small angle in your elbows. 
  • Pause at the lower point for a moment and bring the dumbbell back in front of your chest.

Bent over reverse fly aka Bent over rear delt fly aka Standing reverse fly aka Dumbbell reverse fly

Muscles involved: rear delts, rhomboids, trapezius

This exercise requires more core activation as there are no seats that keep your chest motionless. You will have to stabilize yourself with your legs, lower back, and abs. 

With this exercise, you activate the same muscles as with the Reverse peck deck. Moreover, your arms move at the same course, performing horizontal abduction. However, you don’t need a machine and can use dumbbells with this exercise. 

How do you perform it?

  • Incline your upper body, so it is parallel to the floor. 
  • Keep your knees soft. 
  • At the starting position, your hands should be hanging in front of your chest, dumbbells in your hands, palms facing each other. 
  • Start elevating your hands, keeping your elbows soft. 
  • Pause when your hands are at the level of your torso and your back with elevated hands form a “T”. 
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades and start to lower your hands back to the starting position.

Back and shoulder exercises with your own weight

During the day, we load our back and shoulder muscles by performing movements with our own weight. Here are some specifically developed exercises to boost your training routine with no weight.

Pull-ups and chin-ups

These are probably THE best exercises to build your back and shoulder muscles. You train biceps, back delts, lats, and teres by performing pull-ups and chin-ups. 

What is the difference between the two?

When you do a pull-up, you use a pronated grip (you look at the back of your palms). Pull-ups are usually harder to perform, and they provide worse bicep activation. 

For chin-ups, you use a supinated grip (you face your palms). This variation of the exercise provides worse trapezius activation.

Most people do these exercises to build lats and make their backs wider. Wonder what’s better for your back? Well, science(13) states that there is no significant difference between the effect of chin-ups and pull-ups on lats activation, so choose whatever you like more.

Can you make this exercise easier? If your back is weak at the moment and you cannot perform a pull-up without assistance, try using assisted pull-up machines. If you don’t have access to the machines, try tight bands. Put the band around the bar, step inside of it, and the band will unweight some of your body weight, as it provides some resistance.

You can also perform a progressive overload with pull-ups by hanging some weights to your belt or putting the band with some weights on your neck. 

Pull up | Shutterstock
Pull up | Shutterstock

Bodyweight rows

Muscles involved: lats, traps, delts, bicep, forearms, and the whole core

Bodyweight row is a compound exercise that makes all your body work, not only your back and shoulders but also your abs and glutes, as you have to stabilize your body. If your grip is lacking, you can use special strips so that you can focus more on your muscles and not slip down from the bar.

How do you perform it?

  • Put the bar on your waist level and lay down under the bar. 
  • Grab the bar with the overhand grip, keep your legs, glutes, and core tight and flat, and pull yourself towards the bar. 
  • Pause at the highest point for a moment, then lower your body down with a slow and controlled movement until your arms are straight again.

TRX neutral grip rows

Muscles involved: lats, bicep, forearms, traps, and rhomboids

TRX ropes can be a great addition to your gym gears. When you perform TRX exercises, you have to stabilize your core almost all the time, which means that even when you do isolated exercises for the back and shoulders, you still work on your core, forearms, and glutes as well.

How do you perform it?

  • Hold the TRX ropes and position yourself under them so that your body is at a 45-degree angle to the floor. 
  • Pull yourself up to the ropes by keeping your elbows near your sides and squeezing your shoulder blades together. 
  • Both your up and down movements should be performed in a slow and controlled manner.

Wall walk-up

Muscles involved: shoulders, chest, tricep, core, legs

This is a compound exercise where all your body has to stabilize you. It might be pretty challenging for beginners.

How do you perform it?

  • Start with the push-up position. 
  • Walk your feet on the wall and at the same time walk with your hands towards the wall. 
  • Walk up until you’re as close to the wall as possible. 
  • Pause for a moment and then start walking down the wall with your feet and from the wall with your hands. 

Pike push-up and Elevated pike push-up

Muscles involved: delts, lats, chest, triceps

Pike push-ups and elevated pike push-ups are exercises to build your shoulders and prepare for handstand push-ups. These exercises are great helpers to make your upper body stronger.

How do you perform it?

  • Stand in the plank position and raise your hips so that your body creates a triangle. 
  • Keep your legs, core, and back straight and strong. 
  • Start bending in your elbows and lowering your upper body down to the ground. 
  • Pause for a moment in the lowest point and push yourself up until you’re back at the starting triangle position.
  • Elevated pike push-ups put more emphasis on your arms and shoulders. To do them, place your feet on a bench or any other well-fixed elevation.

Plank to down dog

Muscles involved: hamstrings, glutes, and back

This exercise can be done as a heat-up or during your cool-down. It improves the mobility of your shoulders and helps you improve your posture.

How do you perform it?

  • Stand in the plank position and slowly raise your hips so that your body forms a triangle. Keep your legs, back, and arms straight. 
  • Try to make a slight arch in your upper back and open your chest. 
  • Keep that position for a moment and then return to the plank slowly and in a controlled manner.

At-home workout with little to no tools

You can surely incorporate any of the exercises mentioned above in your at-home workout. Use bottles of water instead of dumbbells, do exercises with your own weight, try different forms of push-ups and pull-ups. Here are some other back and shoulder movements you can try when gym equipment is not available:

Prone Y raise

Muscles involved: lower traps and rhomboids

This is an at-home version of the Standing cable Y raise. With the prone Y raise, you don’t only target your lower trapezius; you also improve your back mobility and your posture.

How do you perform it?

  • Lay on the floor, face down, arms and hands laying straight beneath your head. 
  • Slowly start lifting your arms, simultaneously pinching your shoulder blades. 
  • Hold the upper position for a moment, and then slowly lift your hands down.
  • Try this exercise with your thumbs down or thumbs up and see which is more comfortable for you.

Back extensions

Muscles involved: lower back

If your lower back seems to be a weak link, it’s best to add some isolated exercises for the lower back.

How do you perform it?

Lay on a chair or a coach so that your legs are parallel to the floor and your upper body hangs down. Lift your upper body by flexing your glutes and your lower back. Keep your back straight. Avoid hyperextension; instead, stop when your body is in line with your legs.

Plank with lateral arm raise

Muscles involved: delts, triceps, glutes, core

Plank is a compound exercise that makes all your body work. However, you can make it more shoulders and arms-focused by adding arm raises.

How do you perform it?

  • Stand in a plank position and perform a lateral raise. 
  • Lift one hand so that it is perpendicular to your torso and parallel to the ground. 
  • Slowly put your hand down and repeat the same lateral raise with your other hand. 
  • You can do this exercise with dumbbells or without additional weights.

Is there a difference between the shoulder and back workout for females and males?

If you look on the web, there is not that much information about workouts for the upper body for women. Women's fitness content is usually about achieving an hourglass figure, making their stomach flatter, or their bums bigger. 

What’s more, strength training for the upper body for women is not very popular because many women are afraid to lift weight and get “bulky.” However, there is no need to worry. If getting bulky was that easy, no people struggled to build muscle!

The truth is, women can do a men’s workout, and men can do a women’s workout.

There are some genetic differences between the genders, though, that you should consider to make realistic expectations about the effect of your shoulder and back workout routine.

  • Men have 10-20 times more testosterone(14) than women, which means they can build more muscles more efficiently.
  • Women have higher estrogen levels which means that they can recover quicker(15), sometimes do more reps and sets, and have more workouts a week.
  • Women have a higher fat percentage(16) than men, and they will need to make more efforts to get a shredded look.

These peculiarities can make a woman’s and a man’s workout routine look slightly different, but they don’t mean that some exercises are only for men and the others are only for women. As a female, you can still do the back and shoulder exercises that we’ve described here. You won’t get bulky, but you will increase your muscle percentage, which will help you to boost your metabolism, decrease your body fat percentage, become stronger, and look leaner.

Examples of back and shoulder workouts

To get a wholesome back and shoulder program, you can choose any two exercises for delts and back. Don’t stop on isolated exercises. Remember that 80% of your workout should consist of compound movements.

Another thing to remember is that you should train a muscle group at least twice a week to stimulate muscle growth. 

For example, if you’re using a 5-day split, you can divide your workouts as follows: 

  • Day 1: Back and shoulders
  • Day 2: Legs and lower body
  • Day 3: Arms and abs
  • Day 4: Rest day
  • Day 5: Chest and back
  • Day 6: Legs and lower body 
  • Day 7: Shoulders and arms 
  • Day 8: Rest day

Here’s what you can do to train your back

Variant 1

  • Deadlifts: 3 sets, 6-8 reps
  • Pull-ups: 4 sets, 6-12 reps
  • Chest-supported row: 4 sets, 6-10 reps
  • Lat pulldowns: 4 sets, 6-10 reps
  • Scapular pull-ups: 3 sets of 8 reps

Variant 2:

  • Pull-ups with different grips (wide grip, close neutral grip, underhand chins): 3 sets of 5 reps
  • Dumbbell pull-over: 3 sets of 10,8, 6 reps (fewer reps mean higher volumes)
  • Bent-over dumbbell row/Bent-over barbell rows: 3 sets of 8 reps
  • Seated underhand pull-down : 3 sets of 10,8, 6 reps
  • Seated close-grip cable row: 2 sets of 8 and 6 reps

Here’s a workout for your shoulders

  • Standing lateral raise: 3 sets of 12, 10, 8 reps
  • Single-arm upright row: 3 sets of 10, 8, 6 reps per arm
  • Alternating dumbbell front raise (neutral, overhand, underhand grips): 3 sets of 8 reps per arm
  • Standing Arnold press: 3 sets of 8 reps 

Some tips to improve your performance

  • Keep the mind-and-muscle connection

Research(17) shows that mind connection after some instructions from the coach like palpation of the lap, delt, or trapezius, and thinking about the muscle engaged increases the muscle activation.

  • Don’t neglect the warm-up

Studies(18) show that warm-up and stretching immediately before the activity drastically reduce the risks of injuries. As shoulders and back are prone to injuries, it is better to warm up on the upper body days. 

What’s more, pre-activation exercises can help you feel the muscles and be more focused on them during the workout. Try Lat pull-ins and Cable pull-over to get ready for back exercises. Any kind of internal and external cable rotations improve your shoulder joints.

  • The technique goes before weights

Some people start doing “ego lifting” in the gym. This is when a person shows off and grabs more weight than he or she can lift. Don’t do that. A, you can injure yourself, and B, high weights make you use momentum and move faster, decreasing your workouts' efficiency. Make slow and controlled reps to get the most of every minute of your training. 

  • Choose weights according to your needs

One paper(19) has demonstrated that lifting heavy or moderate weights helps you achieve different purposes. For example, it was shown that men who stick to heavy-load resistance training achieve their strength goals, while men who choose moderate-load resistance training get higher muscle thickness thanks to their workouts. 

In other words, choose heavy weights to become stronger and moderate weights to become bigger.

  • Stop overcomplicating things

You don’t need a rocket science degree to compose a back and shoulder program. As a newbie, choose exercises with easy technique and minimal risks of injury. 

If you don’t know how to perform an exercise, don’t do it before you make its technique clear for yourself.

  • Make changes to your routine

Changing exercises can boost your motivation and stimulate muscle activation, studies(20) show. Change your routine every eight weeks to work on all your muscle groups and keep yourself interested in going to the gym.

Sources:

  • McPherron A. C., Guo T., Bond N. D., et al. (2013, April). Increasing Muscle Mass to Improve Metabolism. Adipocyte. DOI: 10.4161/adip.22500
  • Henson B., Kadiyala B., Edens M. A. (2021, August 10). Anatomy, Back, Muscles. StatPearls. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537074/
  • Kinney E., Wusthoff J., Zyck A., et al. (2008, February). Activation of the Trapezius Muscle during Varied Forms of Kendall Exercises. Physical Therapy in Sport. DOI: 10.1016/j.ptsp.2007.11.001
  • Terry G. C., Chopp T. M. (2000, July-September). Functional Anatomy of the Shoulder. Journal of Athletic Training. PMID: 16558636
  • Daley A. J., Grimmett C., Roberts L., et al. (2008, September). The Effects of Exercise upon Symptoms and Quality of Life in Patients Diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Randomised Controlled Trial. International Journal of Sports Medicine. DOI: 10.1055/s-2008-1038600
  • Cholewicki J., McGill S. M., Norman R. W. (1991, October). Lumbar Spine Loads during the Lifting of Extremely Heavy Weights. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. PMID: 1758295
  • Doma K., Deakin G. B., Ness K. F. (2013, September). Kinematic and Electromyographic Comparisons between Chin-ups and Lat Pull-down Exercises. Sports Biomechanics. DOI: 10.1080/14763141.2012.760204
  • Andersen V., Fimland M. S., Wiik E., et al. (2014, April). Effects of Grip Width on Muscle Strength and Activation in the Lat Pull-down. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. DOI: 10.1097/JSC.0000000000000232
  • Signorile J. F., Zink A. J., Szwed S. P. (2002, November). A Comparative Electromyographical Investigation of Muscle Utilization Patterns Using Various Hand Positions during the Lat Pull-down. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. PMID: 12423182
  • Calatayud J., Vinstrup J., Due Jakobsen M., et al. (2016, March). Importance of Mind-Muscle Connection during Progressive Resistance Training. European Journal of Applied Physiology. DOI: 10.1007/s00421-015-3305-7
  • Campos Y. A. C., Vianna J. M., Guimaraes M. P., et al. (2020, October). Different Shoulder Exercises Affect the Activation of Deltoid Portions in Resistance-Trained Individuals. Journal of Human Kinetics. DOI: 10.2478/hukin-2020-0033
  • Lehman G. J., Buchan D. D., Lundy A., et al. (2004, June 30). Variations in Muscle Activation Levels during Traditional Latissimus Dorsi Weight Training Exercises: An Experimental Study. Dynamic Medicine. DOI: 10.1186/1476-5918-3-4
  • Youdas J. W., Amundson C. L., Cicero K. S., et al. (2010, December). Surface Electromyographic Activation Patterns and Elbow Joint Motion during a Pull-up, Chin-up, or Perfect-pullup™ Rotational Exercise. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181f1598c
  • Clark R. V., Wald J. A., Swerdloff R., et al. (2019, January). Large Divergence in Testosterone Concentrations between Men and Women: Frame of Reference for Elite Athletes in Sex-specific Competition in Sports, a Narrative Review. Clinic Endocrinology. DOI: 10.1111/cen.13840
  • Chidi-Ogbolu N., Baar K. (2019, January 15). Effect of Estrogen on Musculoskeletal Performance and Injury Risk. Frontiers in Physiology. DOI: 10.3389/fphys.2018.01834
  • Branco B. H. M., Bernuci M. P., Marques D. C., et al. (2018, December). Proposal of a Normative Table for Body Fat Percentages of Brazilian Young Adults through Bioimpedanciometry. Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation. DOI: 10.12965/jer.1836400.200
  • Snyder B. J., Leech J. R. (2009, November). Voluntary Increase in Latissimus Dorsi Muscle Activity during the Lat Pull-down Following Expert Instruction. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181bb7213
  • Woods K., Bishop P., Jones E. (2007). Warm-up and Stretching in the Prevention of Muscular Injury. Sports Medicine. DOI: 10.2165/00007256-200737120-00006
  • Schoenfeld B. J., Contreras B., Vigotsky A. D., et al. (2016, December). Differential Effects of Heavy Versus Moderate Loads on Measures of Strength and Hypertrophy in Resistance-Trained Men. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine. PMID: 27928218
  • Baz-Valle E., Schoenfeld B. J., Torres-Unda J., et al. (2019, December 27). The Effects of Exercise Variation in Muscle Thickness, Maximal Strength and Motivation in Resistance Trained Men. PLoS One. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0226989