Some workouts are for function, and others are about looking your best. P90X Shoulders and Arms is the perfect blend of both.
Working your shoulders and arms can certainly boost your performance in athletic activities: Build them up and you’ll throw further, punch harder, and climb higher.
But it can also help put the finishing touches on your ultra-fit look. Front and center when you rock a tank top, sleeveless dress, or snug t-shirt, defined arms and shoulders are the calling card of anyone who’s put in serious time at the gym.
They’re also fun to work, but that doesn’t mean P90X’s Shoulders and Arms is an easy workout. It’s tough, grinding, and sometimes painful. But it won’t wipe you out like a full-body blast or intense cardio session, and you’ll finish with a an enormous, motivating pump — a great sign that you’ve stimulated those muscles to grow.
What Is P90X Shoulders and Arms?
P90X’s Shoulders and Arms is a 60-minute workout structured around trisets: multiple groups of three exercises (in this case, one for the shoulders, one for the biceps, and one for the triceps) that you perform back-to-back-to-back.
You’ll do two rounds each of four or five trisets for a total of 24 or 30 sets in all. Because each exercise works a different muscle group, rest between sets is minimal, making the workout a mild cardiovascular challenge as well.
Benefits of P90X Shoulders and Arms
P90X’s Shoulders and Arms workout focuses on three muscles:
- Biceps — the two-headed “make a muscle” muscle that flexes, or bends, your elbow.
- Triceps — the three-headed muscle on the back of your upper arm that extends, or straightens, it.
- Deltoid — the triangle-shaped muscle that extends from the front, side, and back of your shoulder joint to a spot about a third of the way down the outside of your upper arm.
Of the three muscles, the deltoid is the most complex, helping you move your arm in nearly any direction — forward, sideways, backward, and overhead — which is why it benefits from being trained with so many different exercises and from so many different angles.
The action of the biceps and triceps are antagonistic (one shortens as the other lengthens). That means that as the biceps contract and work (while you perform, say, a dumbbell curl) your triceps get a mild, oxygenating stretch and the same thing happens, in reverse, when you work the triceps (with a triceps extension, for example).
This makes the trisets of P90X Shoulders and Arms an exceptionally efficient way of building recovery into your workout.
P90X Warmup and Cooldown
Prior to the workout, perform five minutes of easy calisthenics: high-knee marches, arm swings, jumping jacks, jogging in place, ride-the-pony (a wide-stance run in place), overhead reaches, and lunge skips (stand in a half-lunge, jump and switch your feet repeatedly).
After that, perform some upper-body focused stretches: head rolls, shoulder rolls, controlled arm circles, cross-body shoulder stretches and overhead triceps stretches, all for 10 to 15 seconds each.
You can also perform these moves between trisets, and at the end of the workout as a cooldown to help stave off soreness and hasten recovery.
P90X Shoulders and Arms Workout
Perform the exercises in each triset as a circuit — back to back, with minimal rest between exercises. After each exercise, write down the weight or resistance you used (12-pound dumbbells, say, or a green resistance band), and how many reps you performed so you can try to improve on your performance next time.
Perform each triset twice before moving onto the next one. Between trisets, take a moment to stretch, breathe, and drink some water before moving onto the next one.
On moves where reps are not indicated, choose a rep range based on your goal: 8 to 10 if you’re seeking size and strength; 12 to 15 if you’re seeking endurance.
Triset five is an optional bonus round for advanced trainees seeking additional stimulation.
Throughout the session, adjust the workout to suit your capabilities: Add or subtract weight, pause and take extra rest between sets, or simply stop the workout and hang it up early. P90X Shoulders and Arms is designed to be very taxing — even for experienced athletes. If you get tired, lightheaded, or start to cramp — pause, or stop altogether.
1A. Alternating shoulder press
- From an athletic stance, raise two medium-heavy dumbbells to shoulder height, palms facing forward. (Alternative to dumbbells: hold the handles of an exercise band and step on the center of the band.)
- With a firm grip on the dumbbell in your right hand, press it overhead, rotating your wrist so that your palm faces inward.
- Return to the starting position, rotating your wrist so that the palm faces forward.
- Repeat the movement with your left hand, and repeat for your chosen rep range.
1B. In and out biceps curls
- Stand with you elbows at your sides and a pair of medium weighted dumbbells in your hands, palms facing forward. (Alternative to dumbbells: hold the handles of an exercise band and step on the center of the band.)
- Keeping your elbows close to your sides, your body still, and your palms facing up, curl the weights up to shoulder height.
- Reverse the movement, returning to the starting position.
- Pull your shoulder blades together and rotate your arms so that your palms turn outward.
- With your arms in this externally-rotated position, curl the weights up to shoulder height.
- Lower the weights.
- Alternate curling the weights forward and outward with each rep, completing a total of 16 reps.
1C. Two-arm triceps kickbacks
- Stand holding two light dumbbells by your sides.
- Step one foot forward into a half-lunge position.
- Keeping your back flat, bend forward at the hip joints until your torso forms about a 45 degrees with the floor.
- Keeping your upper arms close to your body, pull your elbows back until your upper arms are roughly parallel with the floor. This is your starting position.
- Keeping your elbows high, straighten your arms fully, squeezing the triceps hard at the top of the movement.
- Slowly return to the starting position and repeat.
2A. Deep swimmers press
- Stand with your feet staggered, elbows at your sides, holding a pair of medium weighted dumbbells in your hands. (Alternative to dumbbells: hold the handles of an exercise band and step on the center of the band.)
- Keeping your elbows close to your sides and your body still, curl the weights upward until your elbows are at 90 degrees. This is your starting position.
- In one smooth movement, curl the weights to shoulder height, then press them upward, simultaneously rotating your hands so that your palms face forward when your arms are straight overhead.
- Reverse the move, return to the starting position and repeat.
2B. Full supination concentration curls
- Stand holding a pair of medium weighted dumbbells, elbows at your sides, palms facing towards your thighs (as in the previous moves, exercise bands are also an option.) This is your starting position.
- Without swinging your body, curl the weight in your right hand up towards your shoulder, turning your right hand upward and rotating (supinating) your wrist clockwise as far as you can.
- Reverse the move, lowering the weight to your side.
- Repeat the move with your left hand, turning your wrist counterclockwise as far as possible.
- Reverse the move and continue alternating sides for your chosen rep range.
2C. Chair dips
- Stand with your back to a sturdy box or chair.
- Place your palms on the front edge of chair seat and walk your feet forward until your legs are straight and your feet are about three feet in front of the chair while your hips remain close to the chair. This is your starting position.
- Keeping your torso upright, bend your arms and legs, lowering your butt as far as possible towards the floor.
- Reverse the move, returning to the starting position.
- Repeat until you can no longer complete the movement with good form.
- Keep one leg straight throughout the move.
- Keep both legs straight throughout the move.
- While performing the straight-leg version, raise one foot off the floor, alternating legs every few reps.
- Perform the movement with your legs elevated on a chair.
3A. Upright rows
- Assume a slightly staggered stance, holding a pair of medium-to-lightweight dumbbells in front of your thighs.
- Slowly and under control, raise your elbows high, lifting the weights in front of your torso until the dumbbells are at shoulder height.
- Pause for a moment and reverse the movement, lowering the bar back to arm’s length in front of you, and repeat for reps.
3B. Static arm curls
- Stand with you elbows at your sides and a pair of medium weighted dumbbells in your hands, palms facing forward.
- Keeping your elbows close to your sides and your body still, curl the weight in your right hand upward, palm up, until your forearm is parallel to the floor and your elbow is at 90 degrees.
- Holding your right arm still, curl the dumbbell in your left hand to shoulder height, palm up, keeping your elbow close to your side throughout the move.
- Lower the dumbbell in your left hand back to the starting position.
- Complete a total of four curls with your left hand, keeping your right arm at 90 degrees the whole time.
- On the fourth rep, lower the dumbbell halfway, pausing with your elbow at 90 degrees.
- Complete four full curls with your right arm.
- Repeat the entire cycle one more time through (for a total of 8 reps per arm), keeping your nonworking arm in the static-hold position throughout the set.
3C. Flip grip twist kickbacks
- Holding two medium-light dumbbells in your hands, stand with your feet staggered and bend forward so your upper body forms a 45 degree angle to the floor.
- Curl the dumbbells to shoulder height with your palms facing down.
- Keeping your wrists in this same position relative to your elbows and your elbows close to your sides, extend your arms fully so that the backs of your hands face upward.
- Reverse the move, bringing your hands close to your shoulders again.
- Rotate your hands so that your palms turn towards the floor.
- Extend your arms backward and upwards again, this time with your palms facing upward at the end of the movement.
- Reverse the move again and repeat the movement, alternating the palms-up and the palms-down position on each rep.
4A. Seated 2-angle shoulder flys
- Sit with your spine long and your chest up, holding two medium-light dumbbells by your sides.
- Keeping your arms slightly bent and your palms facing the floor, slowly lift the dumbbells directly out to your sides until your arms are parallel to the floor.
- Reverse the move, lowering the weights to your sides.
- Keeping your back flat, hinge forward at your hip joints until your rib cage is close to your thighs.
- Keeping your torso still, raise the dumbbells out to your sides again, until your arms are parallel to the floor, contracting the muscles on the backs of your shoulders.
- Slowly reverse the move, lowering the dumbbells until your arms are perpendicular to the floor.
- Repeat the movement, changing torso angle in this manner with each rep, until you’ve completed eight reps in each position.
4B. Crouching Cohen curl
- Stand holding two light- to medium-weighted dumbbells in front of you, palms facing forward.
- Crouch forward, bracing your elbows in the divot between your kneecaps and the insides of your knees. This is your starting position.
- Curl the weights to shoulder height.
- Straighten your arms, returning to the starting position, and repeat.
4C. Lying down triceps extensions
- Lie on the floor, holding two medium-weighted dumbbells at arm’s length over your chest, palms facing each other.
- Keeping your elbows stationary and firmly gripping the dumbbells, bend your arms, lowering the dumbbells towards the floor on either side of your head.
- Reverse the move, returning to the starting position, and repeat.
TRISET 5 (bonus round)
5A. Straight-arm shoulder flys
- Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart, holding two light dumbbells in front of your thighs, palms facing you.
- Slowly raise your arms directly forward, palms down, until your arms are parallel with the floor.
- Return to the starting position.
- With a slight bend in your arms, raise your arms directly out to the sides, palms down, until your arms are parallel to the floor.
- Pause, slowly reverse the move, and repeat, alternating raising the arms forward and to the side for a total of 16 reps.
5B. Congdon curls
- Stand with your feet hip width and parallel, holding two medium-heavy dumbbells by your sides.
- Rotate your wrists so that the thumb sides of your hands face outward.
- Keeping your back flat and your elbows by your sides, slowly curl the dumbbells towards your shoulders.
- Pause briefly at the top of the move, rotate your hands so your palms face each other, and return to the starting position.
- Rotate your palms forward again and repeat the move for your chosen rep range.
5C. Side tri rise
- Lie on your right side, feet stacked, with your right elbow against your chest, your right hand on your left shoulder, and your left palm on the floor in front of your torso, thumb side of your hand against your chest. This is your starting position.
- Pushing against the floor with your left hand, raise your upper torso off the floor and straightening your left arm as much as you can.
- Repeat, performing as many reps as you can with good form.
- Turn onto your left side and repeat.
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